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Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism, part 2

I missed that I had already posted about my mater’s thesis, but I decided to keep this post along with the original because some additional background information is here. Unfortunately, much of this information is the same as or similar to my earlier post. I apologize for this inconvenience.

Here is a PDF of one version of my Master’s thesis presentation, Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism. You may have to navigate around the page a bit to find my paper. I just visited the webpage and found several other papers by different authors on my page. I think that Research Gate automatically loads research projects that it thinks may be of interest to its readers.

This presentation was revised too many times to count, and I have no idea if I posted the final version to Research Gate. Regardless of which version this is, I think that my earlier research may be helpful to some people. There was a time that many people in special education were told to only use adapted general education supplies and textbooks. I even remember a science teacher from another school once telling me that his school threw away the special textbooks designed for students with reading disabilities and replaced those books with the same books that the general education students were using. This teacher told me that his students’ test scores went down instead of up, but some politicians of the day firmly believed that students with significant disabilities were being held back because they were not using general education textbooks and supplies.

Around that same time, my principal was conducting a tour and mentioned in front of me that my computer lab students were using the same software that their counterparts in general education use. Fortunately for me, that particular class was indeed using mass marketed software instead of software designed for students with significant disabilities.

I also heard a local politician declare that special education was a failure because we put students in smaller classes, with specialized textbooks and materials, and they still cannot pass their tests. This was a complete oversimplification because many students with disabilities are able to take and pass standard exams. It is also, in my opinion, unrealistic for a person with an IQ of 40 to be able to pass a test designed for people with IQs of 100. The educational evaluations that I read no longer state an IQ score, but the same concept still exists. How is a nonverbal student who is just beginning to learn basic communication skills going to pass the test? Why were some politicians dictating that the solution was to remove the specialized materials and expose all students to the same instructional supplies? How many of those same politicians had degrees in special education, or even in education? I heard too many times from a few popular politicians of the time that special education is a failure because students were not being exposed to the same instructional materials as their non-disabled peers. All people who receive special education services were lumped together by these politicians, regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities.

All of this made me think that I really needed to study whether or not my students with the most severe forms of autism really were helped by using software that was designed for students in general education. What I learned was that my students were able to learn to use the computer mouse more quickly when they had regular access to specialized software than when they used the same mass produced software that my students with less severe autism or intellectual disabilities were able to use. My gut instinct told me that specialized software was an important aspect of my students’ education. Now, I had the data to justify my position.

I focused on students with severe autism because this was a fairly new group of students in my school at that time. In the past, students with similar learning needs and behaviors would have been “dual diagnosis” students, diagnosed as having both a severe intellectual disability and severe autism. Another common diagnosis when I began teaching was severe intellectual disability (more commonly referred to as a cognitive delay in my school thirty plus years ago) with autistic tendencies. It made no difference to me as a teacher what the official diagnosis was. If a student would rather chew on the computer mouse or bang it on the table, it was my job to teach the student to use the mouse appropriately. But for this project, I only studied my students who were classified as having autism.

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Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism

I wrote the thesis for my second master’s degree back in 2007, but some people still read it fifteen years later. At that time, there was a huge push in special education to modify general education supplies instead of using textbooks and other supplies that were designed for students who needed specialized materials. I even knew a science teacher who had to dispose of his adapted textbooks; his school gave him regular books for his students. That teacher reported that just as he expected, and in opposition to what some politicians believed, the students fared worse in the science exam when they used regular textbooks. This got me thinking about my students with even more severe disabilities.

Around that same time, the definition of autism started changing so that more students with very severe disabilities were classified as having severe autism instead of having severe to profound intellectual disabilities (sometimes with autistic tendencies or what was then called dual diagnoses). My tipping point came when my principal was showing her supervisor my computer lab and bragged about how I was adapting regular software and supplies to fit the needs of my students and no longer using specialized supplies. Of course, the adapted equipment was only hidden for the duration of the walk-through, but in general we had far fewer adapted items in the computer lab than we had two years earlier.

After finishing this study, I no longer had to use adapted regular supplies with all of my students. My students who needed specialized equipment and software could once again use those items. I could point to my research to prove that specialized materials helped many of my students. This type of research is sometimes called teacher action research because the primary function of my research (besides being a requirement of my master’s program) was to help me improve as a teacher in my technology lab.

Here is the pdf of the slide show that accompanied my thesis, Teaching Computer Mouse Skills to Students with Severe Autism. You have to scroll down the page a bit to find the “View full-text” link. Unfortunately, this slideshow/pdf was created before I leaned how to format PowerPoint and pdfs for screen readers. I can no longer find the full paper, but this version may help some people who work with students who have significant developmental delays.

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Choice Time in My Computer Lab

Choice time in technology class is not free reign on the internet. My class is an English Language Arts/Technology class, so all activities have to be related to ELA skills. I provide students with a variety of software and website options from which they can choose their activities. Students can only choose from my preselected options. This is enough motivation to keep many of my literacy group students in their work for the entire thirty minutes. I even have a few students who choose to return to their reading program after their required time is complete, but the majority of the students need an immediate reward for completing their work.

I have six leveled choice time accounts and assign each student to one account. The first level works on basic matching and sorting through beginning letter recognition. The sixth level works on fourth and fifth-grade literacy skills. Each account has a minimum of six activities so that students can choose what they want to do. I rarely use the top-level because the stories are too long and choice time is only the final five to fifteen minutes of class (depending on how long it takes each student to work a full half-hour on the computer). The work timer pauses whenever the student takes a break, so different students in the same class may earn different amounts of choice time. This has proven to be an effective reward system for most of my academic students.

My group learning how to use the computer does not have choice time, because it is meaningless until students are independent and have academic work to complete. In fact, this group’s most advanced level is also my academic group’s first choice time level. What is work for one student is play for another. I also use that level as a bridge to my more academic software. Once students have mastered “Purple,” they are ready to join the academic group and begin the literacy application that my more advanced students work on the majority of computer class.

Each account is given a color instead of a number or a letter. This reduces any negative feelings or potential bullying when different levels are more clearly stated. Colors work well except for just a few students who want to work on their favorite color’s account instead of their assigned account. With my students, every plan that the teachers implement seems to have a  few students who have difficulty following the procedure.

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A Nice Start to 2020

I had a class last week that really surprised me. The “academic” students stayed in their work for most of the required thirty minutes before choice time. There was little of the normal complaining, and for the most part, they focused on their assignments. I am used to students quitting their reading program, and this behavior always increases after any breaks from school. One student did chew his headphone wire, but the behaviors are usually much worse after any vacation. I was determined to have all of my classes return to their technology class routines, and my efforts paid off.

This class has three students with varying verbal abilities from two-word sentences when prompted to complete sentences without any prompting. The other students are nonverbal and learning to use photographs and picture communication symbols. The three verbal students work on a literacy program in the computer lab. The other students work on basic access skills such as learning to use a mouse. On a normal day, the literacy group tries to quit their work several times a period. I choose literacy work that is also fun, but it still requires students to work on letter recognition, spelling, reading, and writing; depending on each student’s academic level.

My literacy group students in this class, and in my other classes, stayed in their work beyond my expectations providing me with evidence that an immediate return to the normal routine has nice classroom management benefits. I was unable to get any work done the last week or two before vacation (depending on the class) because the students were just too hyper and unfocused, but I was determined to show the students that school is for learning. We have a routine; we follow it; we earn choice time. I have only seen one day’s worth of students because of scheduling issues on Friday, but I sincerely hope that our first full week back goes just as smoothly as Thursday went.

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Blue Marble University Review

I am delighted that I made the choice to attend Blue Marble University. The education that I engaged in will aid me in carrying out my current and future responsibilities.

I  just finished a personal review of my time as a doctorate student by going back through my private student portal and saving the information that was posted to all of my classes. Sure, as with any technology subject, some of my current skills will probably be obsolete in ten years (instructional technology is constantly changing), but I am confident in my ability to learn to use new techniques, software, and hardware for my ever-expanding bag of tricks to help my current school and all future endeavors.

Blue Marble University was a great fit for me. Is Blue Marble University for everyone? No, some people need fully accredited universities that are located in the United States for licenses required by their professions. But people who are interested in expanding their skills or who have a general interest in innovative alternative education will benefit from investigating their offerings.

Click on this sentence for a more detailed discussion of my Doctor of Science in Instructional Technology at Blue Marble Discussion.

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Review: D.Sc. Instructional Design and Technology

I am very pleased with my education at Blue Marble University. The lessons that I learned help me in my current career and may assist me to begin a second career when I retire from teaching. I am delighted that my D.Sc. in Instructional Design and Technology has been evaluated as equivalent to a United States Ed.D. degree by a foreign transcript evaluation company!

This was a successful program for me. I previously earned masters’ degrees from two different accredited United States universities and am working under two teaching certifications (special education and instructional technology). I chose a different path for my doctorate. I know people with Ph.D. degrees from prestigious accredited brick-and-mortar United States universities who could not find work in their fields. Nothing is certain in life regardless of our choices, but I am happy that I took a chance on Blue Marble University. I wanted a better balance between practical, theory, and research classes than I felt that I could get at typical American universities.

Thank you, Blue Marble University! I already use much of what I learned with the students and staff in my current job, and anything that helps me to be a better teacher and technology coordinator is a good thing.

I chose Blue Marble University after researching various options. I chose Blue Marble University’s Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Instructional Design and Technology program after having been accepted into three well-respected (including one quite prestigious) post-graduate (master’s degree required) programs in fully accredited United States universities. I had to drop out of each of these programs because of now-resolved personal issues that needed my time and full attention. Instead of returning to one of my previous universities, I weighed all of my options and chose Blue Marble University, knowing full well that it is not a legally accredited university. I did not dislike the other programs; I just felt that Blue Marble University could also help me to achieve my personal goals. I particularly enjoyed the larger number of project-based courses. The less expensive tuition was a very nice bonus! As I told one of my bosses, I liked Blue Marble University’s balance between educational theory, advanced practical skills, and personal research.

If knowledge and practical skills are what you are after, you can learn them at Blue Marble University. My original idea was to go to a U.S. university then become a college professor, but I know too many out-of-work professors. I decided to take a different path. I love teaching children, and once I decided not to become a professor, I was free to choose an alternative educational path. Blue Marble University will not be for everyone. Some jobs and further study opportunities require degrees from fully accredited universities. I am very pleased with Blue Marble University and the education that I received. My focus was on learning new skills to help me help my students and my school as a whole.

I am extremely happy with my doctorate program at Blue Marble University. One transcript evaluation clearly states: “JEANNE ELIZABETH STORK holds the U.S. equivalent of a DOCTOR OF EDUCATION IN INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEM DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY awarded by Regionally Accredited Universities in the United States.” There are foreign degree and transcript evaluators that will give you positive results when evaluating degrees and transcripts from Blue Marble University, but you might have to try several different companies (or you might have success the first time). Some employers and schools only accept evaluations from their own narrow lists of pre-approved foreign transcript evaluation companies, which may or may not give you a positive degree evaluation. Maybe soon more evaluators will see the benefits of alternative educational studies; that would be nice.

I am pleased with my decision and encourage anyone who is considering innovative alternative education to look into Blue Marble University’s Doctor of Science in Instructional Design and Technology. I am also aware that this doctorate may not meet the needs of everyone who is looking for a doctorate program, depending on the requirements of current and future employers. Many employers will accept the foreign transcript evaluators who provided me with positive evaluations but not everyone. My work does not offer a pay increase for having a doctorate degree, so it was not as important for me to attend an accredited university that is accepted by my current employer. As I previously mentioned, there are no guarantees in life even for graduates of accredited United States brick-and-mortar universities, but I feel prepared for whatever the future may bring.

Blue Marble University was the correct choice for me.

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Specialized Computer Lab Ideas

M.S. Educational Technology Specialist

My first master’s degree was M.S. Edu. in Special Education: Severe and Multiple Disabilities from Hunter College in New York City. My second master’s degree was M.S. Educational Technology Specialist from New York Institute of Technology. That second degree is what eventually convinced me to begin my journey toward obtaining a doctorate. I have decided to make public the presentation that I created for my second master’s thesis. I am very proud of my research presentation and have posted it to ResearchGate. A pdf of that presentation is also included toward the bottom of this page.

I compared two different types of software that could be used to teach students with severe autism to click a mouse button. At the time, teachers were required to adapt general education materials to the needs of students in special education. Many people in government had the philosophy that students in special education would show educational improvement if they had access to the same experiences and materials as their general education peers. My research showed that students learned better using software that was specifically designed for their developmental levels and educational abilities and needs. After this study, I was given more freedom to use software that was specifically designed for the needs of students with significant disabilities if their educational needs could not be reasonably met using general academic software.

The presentation contains a large number of statistics; my advisor at the time loved statistics. But there are also some real-language slides that summarize what all of that math means for any readers who are not math-people. I was happy that I could create something that both helped me to earn another master’s degree (and become “highly qualified” by being certified in my subject area as recommended by No Child Left Behind) and also helped the students in my school and beyond. The research is over ten years old now, but the struggle continues to find appropriate ways to teach our students with the most intensive learning and language delay difficulties.

View this document on Scribd

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Virtual Worlds One

I have recently studied several tools that can be used to include virtual worlds in instruction. Google VR, Alice, and the former Heritage Key’s King Tut’s Tomb are all included in this paper.

View this document on Scribd

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K-12 Online Learning Platforms

I looked at five of the online learning platforms that are currently being used by schools. What I discovered is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The platform that a school or school district chooses to use will be determined by a number of factors such as course accreditation, teacher individualization, teacher-created content, target students, home versus school use, and the ever-elusive price. Before recommending any online learning platform, I would need to have additional details about how the service would be used and I would need a more thorough hands-on evaluation of each company’s product(s).

Click anywhere on this sentence to open my report in a new tab.

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Virtual Reality Exploration

I conducted a lesson using virtual reality (VR) with my students the week of Halloween. Everyone had a wonderful time! Many of my students learned to use the goggles independently while working on their communication skills in a novel activity. Although this lesson was a success, I will not be using VR on a regular basis because I generally work on more targeted individualized English Language Arts, fine motor, and technology skills. Click here for Jeanne Stork’s paper about using virtual reality with my students with significant disabilities, “Gaming 2 Interactivity and Engagement Lab.” I am very excited to be adding virtual reality content to my teaching toolbag.

Jeanne Stork’s Virtuality Exploration on YouTube:

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Specialized Computer Lab Ideas

Dragging Objects on Interactive Whiteboards

I had a student last week who had difficulty learning to drag a picture from one place to another on his classroom’s interactive whiteboard. His finger kept popping off of the board and he didn’t understand any of the vocabulary terms that I was using. I tried phrases such as, “keep your finger on the board,” “press harder, and “don’t take your finger off of the board.” I should have known that the last one did not work because many of my students have difficulty with terms such as not and don’t. Even though this student was verbal, I resulted to taking his hand and guiding him a few times (often called hand-over-hand assistance or full physical prompting). After a few guided trials, the student was able to move the picture a few inches. I’m sure that with even more practice he will learn the helpful skill of dragging items to desired locations on the interactive white board.

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Creating A Screencast: Setting Preferences for Students with Disabilities

The description that I included on YouTube is not visible when the videos are embedded into WordPress (click here for the page with another embedded videos). I have included that information here and added more information about the video’s content.

The screencast portion of this video was recorded in Camtasia’s trial version, and I edited the entire video in the trial version of Camtasia, so the watermark is highly visible. I am evaluating this software to determine if it is something that I would like to purchase. So far, I’ve found the zooms easier to manage than in iMovie, but iMovie fully integrates the videos and photographs in my MAC’s Photos application. I may decide to purchase Camtasia for projects that require many post production zooms, although up until now all of my zooms have been done with my camera’s optical zoom.

These directions are for Apple’s Macintosh computers running MAC OS 10.11.6 (El Capitan). Other Apple operating systems have these functions, but they may look a little different. Below are the basic steps that I demonstrated in the video.

Screencast Introduction Transcript:

Hello! I’m Jeanne Stork. I teach in a computer lab for students with significant developmental delays due to severe autism or intellectual disabilities. My students use Macintosh computers, either iMac desktops or MacBook Air laptops. This is how I make some adjustments to make the computers easier for them to use.

            System Preferences: The system preferences are located under the apple in the upper left corner of the screen.

            Accessibility Preference:

Display: Shake Mouse (Some students play with shaking the mouse, but it helps students with attention and visual perception difficulties who often lose track of where the cursor is located on the screen.)

Audio: Play Stereo As Mono (for students who hear better with one ear than the other and would miss a stereo channel)

Increase Double Click speed (to reduce accidental double-clicking from my repetitive clickers)

Mouse:

I do not use wireless mice because many if my students pound the mouse. Wireless mice break easily.

I increase tracking speed to reduce the need to pick up and reposition the mouse.

I make the two major buttons the primary click (left-click) and turn off all other buttons because the vast majority of my students do not know how to click one button at a time or how to differentiate when to only left-click.

I turn off scrolling to further simplify the mouse for my students. The scroll function can also interfere with the educational software that I use.

My students enjoy playing with the mouse, so the more options that I can turn off the easier it is for them to complete their work.

Trackpad Preference:

Point and Click:

Turn off all options

Increase tracking speed

Scroll and Zoom:

Turn off all options

More Gestures:

Turn off all options

Screencast Conclusion Transcript:

As you saw, I spec up the mouse and trackpad so that the cursor moves fairly quickly and the mouse and trackpad don’t have to move all that much. This prevents students from hitting each other with the mouse as they are moving too far to the side, moving the mouse off the table as they are dragging the mouse toward them, or even dislocating the mouse from the wire if they get frustrated because they need that extra inch and the mouse just won’t move. With the trackpad, sometimes my students will actually move their finger off the pad onto the frame of the computer itself and wonder why nothing’s working. Well, of course nothing’s working, they’re not on the trackpad, but the students don’t understand that, especially in the beginning. As students progress, I can give them fewer adjustments, but I tend to keep the adjustments on just because it makes my life easier. I don’t have time between classes to readjust computers. But if necessary, I can always make individual adjustments. Feel free to explore and see what works best for you. Thank you.

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Voice-to-Text Struggles

I often attend workshops that include learning about adaptive technologies as part of my job. My school district generally has about six workshops a year for what we call “technology liaisons,” the person who volunteers his or her time to help the school with instructional and adaptive technologies. Adaptive technologies include just about any technology that can help a person with a disability in school, at work, at home, etc.

This brings me to my struggles with voice-to-text applications. My shoulders have both been injured at work and neither one likes repetitive motions, such as typing. I can lift a ten-pound box chest high, but I cannot spend two hours at the computer. So, I decided to experiment with voice-to-text software that lets me speak into my computer. I tried two different brands, both of which promised to improve as I type. The more I use the software, the more accurate they should become. Unfortunately, I have discovered that even speaking these two simple paragraphs requires me to do a lot of editing on the keyboard. For me at least, typing and taking frequent breaks is more effective than using voice to text software. This field of assistive technology has improved a lot in 10 years, but it does leave me concerned for people who have no ability to use the keyboard.

For now, I will only resort to voice-to-text when absolutely needed. My shoulders are healing, but slowly. Many of my students will never be able to type.

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Wired Versus Wireless Headphones

Many of my students put the headphone wire in their mouths. Some are on the developmental level where they are mouthing many things in their environment. Other students just have a long-standing habit of mouthing objects. Either way, it becomes a sanitary issue, and bite marks can ruin headphone cords. There is very little electricity running through my cheap headphones, so I am not concerned about the children getting hurt.

Some people have asked me to switch to wireless headphones. These cost more upfront but ideally last longer. The problem is that if they are dropped (or thrown), they also break easier. Sometimes, headphones accidentally fall off a young child’s head because even most child-sized headphones are too large for some of my students. Sometimes, the headphones receive quite forceful assistance to reach the floor either because the student has sensory issues and does not want to wear headphones or because the student is angry with the computer or a staff member. I even have a few students who would rather tap the headphones like a drumstick than do their work. All of these forces would break a wireless transmitter.

For now, I’ll stick with wired headphones. Biting or pulling headphone wires does happen more often than dropping, throwing, or tapping headphones, but I am concerned that these incidents would increase the overall cost per computer. If the school ever has extra money and wants to purchase wireless headphones, I will not turn them down. It would be interesting to see if they really do last long enough to justify the extra expense.

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Easy Way to Disable a Mouse Button

two-button mouse with folder paper towel under one button to disable it

Okay, so I have a collection of mice that are new but the model is old. I also have students who are not able to differentiate between left-clicking and right-clicking. These mice cannot be programmed in the computer’s system preferences, and the companies no longer have the drivers on their Web sites. My solution? I folded up a small piece of paper towel and very carefully inserted it in the edge to prevent the right button from clicking. I had to try a few different placements to make sure that the button was disabled without the paper towel activating the click internally (so that the  right button acts as if it is always down). I needed two small paper towel pieces for another mouse, one on the right edge and one on the back edge (near the user’s wrist). Ideally, I could just program both buttons to left-click, but this is a cheap alternative when programming is not available.

Some people remove the paper, but so far I have remained calm. Some of my students pull out the paper, but it is easy to replace, so I don’t worry. If I make a big deal out of telling the students to leave the paper alone, I can guarantee that it will be removed more often. Some staff members have pulled out the paper, possible so that they can right-click themselves or because they think a student put it there. Again, I just replace the paper. I think that most of the teaching assistants and therapists who use the computers have finally gotten used to my low-tech adaptation. Many students love playing with paper and string, so I expect that the paper will always be occasionally removed. I would rather have the students play with the paper than with the mouse or headphone wires.

This method does not teach students to avoid the right mouse button, but it does prevent students from accidentally right-clicking on everything. Many of my students are not adept at using the mouse in general, so I want to make it as easy on them as possible.

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Halloween Costume?

Would any of my coworkers know what this costume represents?

computer programming punch card costume

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Benefits of Cloud Storage

A popular method of storing documents is cloud storage. True, our documents are not stored on an actual cloud in the sky, but they can be accessed from any Internet enabled computer or mobile computing device (i.e. smartphone). I learned a big lesson on the benefits of cloud storage this weekend. I created a nice folder of blogging materials then left that folder on a computer at work. It contains material for staff development workshops that I facilitated over the past two to three years, that I either developed or found on the Web. I have about five blogs worth of documents that were going to be turned unto blogs here this weekend. Now they will have to wait. Sure, I carry thumb drives with me, and transferring the documents to a thumb drive would have also worked. It was late, I’d been at work about ten hours, and I was tired. I’ll work on those blogs soon, but don’t ask me when soon is.