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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Would any of my coworkers know what this costume represents?
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.
In my previous post, I mentioned that I was eager to attend a workshop on Unique Learning System’s (https://www.n2y.com/products/unique/) new student activities and individual data collection. The expert canceled at the last-minute, so I volunteered to show what I know. I had gotten to work over an hour early, fortunately, so I was able to update a workshop I gave in June and present that. My knowledge of Unique is limited, but I filled in the time with additional Web sites to fill up the two-hour session, after I showed a brief demonstration of Unique Learning System’s new student interface and data collection. The morning was fine; people who were not interested kept their voices low and were not too disruptive. I still need to find out what I missed from the workshop that I was supposed to attend for cluster teachers (teachers who teach a specific subject instead of having a class of students).
The second day of preparation was split between meetings and setting up our rooms. It is impossible to be completely ready for students in the time allotted, but my room at least looked neater than it was when I first walked in the building. I made sure that there were chairs for all of the students in my larger classes and a few extras for the paraprofessionals (teaching assistants) who come in with the students. I am glad that we had two days to prepare for the students, occasionally we only have one day.
The students arrived on my third day of work. I am a bit upset to see that I teach one less class and have a cafeteria duty instead, but I understand that the school had to but more teachers in the cafeteria. The students I teach often are runners. Our cafeteria has five doors, so we need enough staff there to prevent students from leaving on their own. I feel that cafeteria duty is not why I have two master’s degrees, but the safety of our students has to come first! I don’t like but, but I do see that it is necessary. Besides, maybe another teacher will volunteer for cafeteria duty and the schedule might change. It’s unlikely but possible.
As always, there is a wide variety in my students. I have classes where most of the students do not talk and I have classes where almost everyone is verbal and the few nonverbal students use communication devices. I have students who know how to read and other students who are still in the everything-in-the-mouth stage of development. I think we have five different types of classes in my school. Yes, there are many students with challenging behaviors, but we are the right school for that. In general, I think that this is going to be a great year!
My new school year begins tomorrow, and the students arrive on Thursday. Right now, I’m thinking of everything that I want to get done before the students arrive. Unlike most years, I will not be conducting a professional development workshop. Instead, I will be attending two workshops, one if which I actually got to choose! Many of my students are non-readers, and about half of those are nonverbal. I will be learning about improvements (I hope!) to News2You’s Unique Learning System that helps teach students to click on or tap picture symbols instead of words. I used to use this when they had activities that I could download onto my computers, but I stopped about two years ago when they stopped supporting the program I use (IntelliTools’ Classroom Suite (now by AbleNet). Now, News2You has improved its online access and individual data tracking, so I hope I can return to using it. I hope to spend most of Wednesday setting up student accounts and developing lesson plans for this new and exciting Web-based program.
Of course, the more mundane aspects of running a computer lab also have to be addressed. I need to make sure that all of the computers are running properly and request toner for the printer. I updated and re-imaged everything the last week of summer school, so the computers themselves should be fine. But what about the mice, the keyboards, and the headphones? Just because everything worked on August 15th does not mean it will work on September 6th. Hopefully, all will be well! My next project will be to set up four stations with adaptive devices for students who cannot use a mouse, but that may have to wait until later in the month. The biggest problem will be finding the time to do all of this in one day while fielding problems from all of my colleagues. Hopefully, I’ll be able to leave on time Tuesday and Wednesdays. The day is officially over at 3:00 pm, but (as many teachers will tell you) it rarely actually is.
I am truly looking forward to seeing my old students and getting to know the new ones, in spite of all of the work that the beginning of the year entails. It will be a great new school year! I will add pictures of the lab (without any students for legal reasons) when it is ready.