Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Journal 8: Adaptive Technology


Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is any way of communicating other than through spoken language, such as through the use of writing, signs, symbols, facial expressions, or communication aid tools.  While we all utilize such methods of communication every day, AAC is most prevalent among those who are unable to speak, hear, or otherwise communication through spoken language.

Low-Tech Communication Tools

The most commonly used AAC tool is one that requires no technology: sign language.  Those who lack spoken language can communicate exactly what want to say through the use of sign language.  Sign language is also commonly used by children and adults who have mental and/or physical disabilities.  An incredible advantage to sign language is that it can be used easily in classrooms that are integrated with both mainstream and special needs students.  Teachers who are fluent in sign language can sign lessons as they are teaching them, assuring that deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students are able to follow along, while not taking away from other student's class time.

Another commonly used low-tech AAC tool is the picture exchange communication system (PECS).  PECS was originally conceived in 1985 as a tool to aid individuals with autism spectrum disorder, and has since become a integral part of communication with people who have a wide variety of disabilities.  PECS involves the the student learning how to use picture based cards to ask for or specific things are to communicate ideas.

 What Is PECS?

  The system requires a communication partner who also understand PECS and can honor the requests made through the cards.  Students using PECS begin their studies by learning how to use one card at a time to ask for specific items or to do specific activities.  The students then learn how to create simple sentences by using several cards at once. They also learn how to answer questions and to describe their surroundings and what they are feeling.  PECS is commonly used in classrooms as it allows students and teachers to easily communicate with each other without disrupting students who do not use the system.

High-Tech Communication Tool
DynaVox is an example of a very high-tech AAC tool.  DynaVox is a speech generating device, what allows those with limited or no speech to generate messages and have those messages spoke from the device in a computerized voice.  This device is very effective for many people with language disabilities, as it is very versatile in that it responds to several different forms of inputting messages.  The DynaVox will create a spoken message from a picture that is tapped by the user or a message that is typed into the keyboard, but can also track eye movement and puffs of air.  The latter two capabilities are extremely useful for those with severe physical handicaps, as they are not always able to successfully select pictures or type on a keyboard.  This tool would be very effective in the classroom because listener would not necessarily need to be proficient in the workings of the devise.  Most teachers and aids would be able to communicate with a DynaVox user very easily, regardless of their handicap.


Input devices are tools used to input information into computers, such as keyboards, scanners, and mice.  However, certain tools are specifically made for those with disabilities that affect language and communication.

A hardware device that provides aid to those with disabilities that affect motor skills is the IntelliKeys keyboard.  This keyboard works similarly any regular keyboard would, but it has an increased surface area and more space in between keys, making it easier to hit the correct key more consistently.  The IntelliKeys keyboard can be connected to any computer through its USB port, making it easily usable on school computers.

A software device that is intended to help those with physical and cognitive disabilities is the Word Prediction software.  This software predicts words that are being typed based on the first few letters of the word.  A drop-down list of possible words appears and the desired word can be selected.  This software decreases the number of keystrokes that need to be make in order to type a desired message, and therefore decreases the number of mistakes made.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Journal 7: My Personal Learning Network

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is one's web of friends, acquaintances, professionals, and resources centered around improving oneself as an educator.  There are many different ways one can build their PLN;  a few of the tools I incorporate in my PLN are Twitter, Blogger, Diigo, The Educator's PLN, and Classroom 2.0.

One of the tools that I use most often to expand my PLN  is Twitter.  Following specific topics such as "#edchat," "#ntchat," and and "#sped," allow me to see other educators in the Twitter community and the things they post.  Often times the postings of these educators are related to topics I am interested in and I can use their resources to learn and share with my online community.  In addition to my fellow technology classmates, I am following several educators in various fields from around the country.

My Twitter network includes principals, teachers, former teachers, parents of special needs children, educators focused on incorporating technology into the classroom, and other aspiring educators like myself.  All of the people I follow regularly post articles or links to tools they find interesting or helpful.  I frequently investigate these resources, and often "retweet" them to my followers.

An additional feature of Twitter that I have become increasingly involved with is the concept of "chats."  Chats are congregations of people who want to engage in an online conversation about a certain topic by posting with a specific hash-tag at an agreed upon date and time.  I recently participated in "#Edchat," a popular chat for educators and those interested in education that covers a wide range of topics from chat to chat.  I participated in #Edchat on 11/1/11 at 9:00 P.M. PST.  The topic of the chat was "Is the rift often found between IT people and classroom teachers a real issue?"  Many people had differing views on this topic, largely based on widely varying personal experience with working with IT people in either a positive or negative manner.  There were disagreements during the discussion, but they remained civil and participants were open to other viewpoints than their own.  It was interesting to see so many people with such different backgrounds and experiences participate in a discussion and share their thoughts on an issue that many educators struggle with.

This instantaneous flow of information among people with similar interests is an incredible tool for teachers and anyone aspiring to be an educator.  For example, if I as a teacher in a special education classroom had a question about how to engage high-behavior students in learning activities, I could simply "tweet" this concern to my network on Twitter with several relevant hash-tags and I would likely receive many responses from educators with experience in the area.  Accessing such information from people from around the world is a surprisingly simple task when using tools such as Twitter.

Another tool I often use when searching for resources is Diigo.  Diigo is a social bookmarking tool that allows me to create a library of resources I find on the internet that I find interesting and want to access later.  "Tags" can be attached to these websites, articles, or tools, which allow others to see what I have found when searching for that specific tag.  Conversely, I can search various tags and see what others have added to their library.  If there is a Diigo user with whom I share similar interests, I can follow that user and stay aware of interesting resources they find and learn from them, not unlike the way in which I follow users on Twitter.  I follow several educators on Diigo, all of whom regularly add relevant resources to their library.  I often find interesting resources in the library of a user I am following and after researching it, share it with my Twitter or Facebook network.  Upon finding a resource I find helpful or that I think others will benefit from, I give it a "PLN" tag.  This allows me to build a wealth of resources that I refer back to and share with my various networks.

In addition to Twitter and Diigo, I have recently joined the Educator's PLN, a social network created through Ning.  Upon joining EduPLN, I created my profile and began searching for people and resources.  Several of the people who I follow on Twitter and Diigo are also part of the EduPLN community.  The latest article I read on EduPLN was written by a Twitter user who I avidly follow, Lisa Dabbs, also know as TeachingWithSoul.  She is the founder of the New Teacher chat on Twitter (#ntchat), as well as The Teacher Mentoring Project, which was the topic of this specific article.  Ms. Dabbs created this online group project with the hopes of helping new teachers implement the many things they are learning in the first years of their teaching careers.  She made the point that new teachers are often very enthusiastic about new ideas and concepts to utilize in their classrooms, but they often are overwhelmed all the things that come with being first, second, and third year teachers.  This often leads to those exciting ideas being pushed to the wayside.  The Teacher Mentoring Project is aimed at opening lines of communication between new teachers and more experienced teachers who may be able to help them figure out ways of implementing all of the new and exciting things they are learning about, while staying up on their responsibilities as new teachers.  Ms. Dabbs points out that the benefits of this project go two ways.  Not only are the "mentees" helped by the guidance of the experienced teachers, the mentors are also enhancing their teaching skills and developing both personally and professionally.  The article can be found here.