Redefining Assistive Tech

This week’s group presentation focused on assistive technology and prior to the presentation, I would have said that my experience with assistive tech was limited. However, the group shared a chart showing varying degrees of assistive technology from “no tech” to “low tech” to “high tech”. I have used many of the items on their “no tech” list such as pencil grips, raised line paper, slanted surfaces, communication boards, scribes, number lines, graphic organizers and some of which have been used in whole class settings. Additionally, I have used a number of the items on their “low tech” list such as visual timers, FM systems, audio books, spell checkers and so on. Following the presentation, I would say that my experience with assertive tech has been varied but that my experience with “high tech” assistive technology has been the most limited. Additionally, reading one of the related articles this week allowed me to reexamine my definition of assistive technology. The article stated that assistive technology refers to

“any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off-the-shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” (Alkahtani, 2013, p. 68)

Some of the “high tech” assistive technology I have used includes RAZ Kids and Clicker Connect. RAZ Kids is an e-reading tool that I use with my entire class during Daily 5. Not only is RAZ Kids an assistive tool as it allows for students to listen to reading, but it is also an assessment technology that uses a variety of means to assess student decoding and comprehension.

Clicker Connect is a writing support tool that I have recently started to learn about. I have some students in my classroom who have tried it out but are waiting devices and approval of the app to see if they will have access throughout the year. I think this tool would be very helpful for beginning writers and struggling writers to help improve organization, writing ease and writing skills.

Some of the benefits of assistive technology that I have experienced have been through the lens of the universal design model. Universal design for learning (UDL) calls for mainstreaming of assistive technology and creation of an environment that can be accessed by all students regardless of their ability. In one of the videos that the group presented this week, the speaker discussed how assistive tech tools can be taught to all students and eventually those who do not need it will stop using it while those who it remains critical for will continue and not feel as if they have been singled out because the tool was presented with equal access for all students. All students can benefit from Universal Design for learning. In fact, the UDL states that accommodations are “necessary for some, and good for all” (Sider & Maich, 2014).  The benefits I have experienced with my students (many of which are discussed in this article) include but are not limited to:

  • ability for students to become more deeply involved in the classroom community and greater school community
  • inspires a deeper love of learning and more positive experience at school
  • decreases undesired behaviour
  • opportunities for student independence
  • improved self-esteem and confidence in abilities
  • increased organization and classroom management

Alternatively, there are always limitations with each technology that we introduce. Some of the limitations, that I or my students have experienced include:

  • cost barriers – lack of funding
  • waiting time for approval of devices/apps
  • lack of professional development for usage of new tools
  • limited number of devices for access
  • tech related issues such as wifi connectivitiy issues

This week, I was able to redefine what assistive technology means to me and to reexamine the ways in which I have experienced and used assistive technology. I am eager to read my fellow EC&I classmates’ blog posts this week to learn about some of the assistive technology tools that they use!



Practicing with Plickers

This week, our professor Alec, asked us to explore an assessment technology that is new to us. I am choosing the tool called Plickers. I heard about Plickers a few months ago and have recently started using it in my classroom on occasion. I was able to use it a couple times last year and just this week, my current students used it for the first time.

Plickers is a free assessment tool which provides a quick and easy check for understanding from students. I chose to explore this tool because my students really liked using Kahoot! however because we only had access to 5 iPads, not all students were able to participate at the same time or they would have to participate in groups which did not provide an accurate picture of student understanding.

There was no significant challenges to setting up Plickers. It is quite easy to use and I was able to get going with it quite quickly. Plickers uses coded multiple choice cards. I chose to print the cards on cardstock and laminate them to ensure durability throughout the year. My students keep the same card all year to ensure further ease of use for me! Additionally, while this tool can be used for both formative and summative assessment, I primarily use it as a tool for formative assessment and unit reviews prior to summative assessments.

Some of the other pros for using this tool include:

  • Very simple to use for students.  They just need to rotate a card to show their answer.
  • Very simple for teachers to use the app, to scan, and to project answers.
  • Plickers cards are easy to handle, and come in different sizes typical to larger auditoriums, and in larger size fonts for younger students to be able to read.
  • Students are engaged. It’s fun! They are eager to get the correct answer because they get anonymous feedback following each question.
  • It is non-threatening to use because their names are not being used to show correct or incorrect responses. However, as the teacher, I can see their names on my phone so I can easily assess who is being successful with the questions in real-time.

On the other hand, many of us are aware of the cons of using a multiple choice assessment.

If you’d like more information, here is a review of Plickers by Common Sense Media. Or check out this teacher review: 5 Reasons to Try Plickers.

If you haven’t tried Plickers, I recommend that you do!


Web 3.0

This week, my group presented on Web 1.0 and 2.0. We discussed everything from the history of the web to theories of learning as they relate to the web to creating a collaborative document using Web 1.0 and 2.0 tools and finally to a discussion of social media which is a huge part of Web 2.0. We had just got our heads wrapped around Web 1.0 and 2.0 and then….Alec threw a Web 3.0 blog prompt at us!

What the heck is Web 3.0 anyway?

Alec asked us to think about the following thoughts:

“The web influences people’s way of thinking, doing and being, and people influence the development and content of the web.  The evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and now to Web 3.0 can be used as a metaphor of how education should also be evolving, as a movement from Education 1.0 toward that of Education 3.0.  The Web, Internet, Social Media, and the evolving, emerging technologies have created a perfect storm or convergence of resources, tools, open and free information access.” (Jackie Gerstein)

Gerstein’s metaphor of a “perfect storm” of resources, tools, open and free information access is a great description of what the web has become. We all know there are endless tools to use, information is endless and there are pros and cons to each click we make on the web. The potential effect that each of our clicks has is part of this storm. Our choices with the current web are endless but there is implications for everything we do.

This chart gives some ideas of what the world and education will look like as it has evolved in different stages of the web:

I would like to wrap up the blog post by examining the following thoughts…

This article provides some great examples of how Web 3.0 will effect education. The responses are presented by a few leading tech / education gurus. Here are a few of my favourite responses:

  • “For a generation, schools spent money on hardware and software, and the results didn’t point to the idea that these technologies were demonstrably improving learning outcomes. Now, we have millions of kinds of devices that can access the Internet. So it’s not necessarily that you have to buy one type and it equals educational technology. Eventually, all machines will be Internet-connected, and the “educational” piece will be in the way teachers use the digital world to foster learning” – @BlakePlock
  • “Another great disruption is the fact that there are people who are going to say, “We can do all this for next to nothing.” Sebastian Thrun of the Stanford AI class and his team at Udacity realized they can amortize costs across thousands of students and ultimately might be able to offer a computer science degree for as little as $500. Contrast that with the cost of a college education, and you see just how disruptive this could be”- Tim O’Reilly 
  • “Good teachers have always involved students in complex projects. But in the past, it’s been more difficult, with just the library down the hall and the teacher’s knowledge to guide them. As personal and continuous access to a Web 3.0 environment becomes a reality, teachers will be able to develop engaging, interesting and more complex assignments that are supported by a variety of resources. Students can understand more about, say, backyard bugs by engaging with an entomologist online, or earn a digital badge as they demonstrate advanced search techniques” – @OfficeofEdTech

Thanks for reading!