Monthly Archives: June 2013

Assistive Technology Review: Kurzweil 3000, A Universal Design Learning (UDL) Tool

Kurzweil 3000 is one example of an assistive technology (AT) commonly referred to as a text-to-speech tool. Because no research has been done comparing the efficacy of specific brands as AT supports, recommending the tool class for students/users, rather than a specific brand, is preferable (Holmes & Silvestri, 2012). Therefore, while this review describes the specific features of Kurzweil 3000, with few exceptions, the strengths and benefits and types of students/users described more generally describe the text-to-speech class of AT.

Kurzweil 3000 is a comprehensive learning tool that supports students with respect to reading, writing/composition, study skills and test-taking via integrated biomodal text reading (visual and audible) and a number of other in-application features, as well as a number of interfaces that bring resources such as online dictionaries and scanned documents into the application (Kurzweil Education systems, 2013.) This class of AT tools is appropriate for students who have the cognitive capacity to learn at their grade level, but not the reading capacity; for instance, students who have dysgraphia or dyslexia, visually impaired students, or students who are English language learners. (Kurzweil Education Systems, 2013a) Students who have attention deficient (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD/ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could be added to this list. As well, text-to-speech tools such as Kurzweil 3000 may be an appropriate tool (perhaps even a “tool of choice”) for students who have a learning disability (LD). Additionally, features such as the study skills supports may make Kurzweil 3000 an appropriate tool for use with proficient learners/readers, making it a universal design tool (UDL) tool appropriate for an inclusion classroom comprising students of mixed capabilities.

Full Review

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Assistive Technology Assessment and Implementation: The Family-Centred Team Approach

Question #1. What are the strengths and drawbacks of the team approach?

Strengths:

The team approach is critical, including engaging the student’s family as part of the team. The team approach facilitates the contribution of each team member’s knowledge and experience, via a collaborative, consensus building process, towards the AT decision-making and developing the best strategies to support the student. Occupational therapists contribute knowledge about positioning and physical capabilities; speech pathologists contribute knowledge regarding communication capabilities; teachers contribute knowledge about curriculum and the classroom environment; AT professional contribute knowledge about the capabilities of AT; students and their families contributed knowledge regarding contextual factors, such as home routine, cultural perspectives, support outside the school, desires and objectives. This diversity of experience and knowledge that each team member brings is an important strength. A team approach maximizes the capacity for the involved professionals and the family to serve as resources for each other through the decision-making and implementation process.

For instance, engaging the family may allow for the contribution of important insights regarding training preferences and needs, as well as contextual factors that may be potential barriers to training and AT acceptance.

A team approach that employs systematic support structures in its assessment activities is more effective at selecting and implementing AT. (Parette, et al., 2000).

Zabala’s SETT framework encompasses/facilitates a team approach, comprising the interconnected areas of student, environment, team and technology. Interconnectedness is the key point here; i.e. the interconnectedness of these four areas, and the interconnectedness of the multidisciplinary team as it works through the consensus building process effectively guided by the SETT framework. (Parette, et al., 2000)

The consensus building process – an ideal aspect of the team approach – would embody equity in terms of team members’ contributions and participation in the decision-making process. Consensus building provides a mechanism for empowering the user and family as active participants, rather than imposing/adopting passive participation. It would also empower other team members who may have limited or no experience or knowledge regarding AT. A process such as SETT can help to prioritize non-technical knowledge and consideration that impact AT decision-making and implementation.

Engaging families equitably in the team approach may help families to feel greater confident regarding the value of their knowledge and experience, which may encourage them to contribute to information resources such as the QIAT listserv and other internet/multimedia resources. Since families generally prefer receiving information and training from other families, (Parette, et al., 2000) the engagement of families as contributors to information resources may not only enhance what resources are available, but may also enhance the perceived credibility of the resources which could result in families’ increased usage of those resources. It may also increase the effectiveness of these as resources for use by professionals, as it could enhance professionals’ understanding of family perspectives. (Parette, et al., 2000)

Drawbacks:

Each team member has their own knowledge, expertise, experience, values and cultural perspectives. While this can be a rich resource to draw upon, there is also a risk that there may be miscommunication between team members, especially between family members and other team members with respect to decision-making. Team members need to be open-minded, and the team approach must facilitate two-way communication flow. For instance, consistent with their cultural practices, a family may defer to the preferences of an AT professional in the decision-making process, rather than advocating their own values, perspectives and preferences. (Parette, et al., 2000)

Team members who are professionals may not work towards facilitating meaningful engagement of the family as part of the team, which may serve to impose a passive role on the family. For instance, completing questionnaires does not represent meaningful engagement. (Parette, et al., 2000) Lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of team members can undermine the consensus-building process and impose passive roles on certain team members. Lack of cultural sensitivity can also prevent contextual barriers to AT success from being identified and addressed; i.e. the professionals on the team may not understanding the contextual factors that influence the family in the AT decision-making and implementation processes. (Parette, et al., 2000)

I would also add that literacy and language issues could pose a significant risk.

Question #2. To what extent should the family be involved?

Families are experts with respect to daily routines, available supports outside the school environment, intimate knowledge regarding the student’s capabilities, desires and life goals, and potential social, cultural and environmental factors that may influence the successful implementation of an AT for the student. Regardless of the expertise of the AT professionals on the team, this contextual knowledge that can only be contributed by the family is critical to the team’s overarching goal of findings identifying an AT that best meets the needs and supports the student. Therefore, family involvement on the team, with equity in terms of contributing knowledge and participating in the decision-making, is imperative.

The student/user should be considered as being embedded within the context of his/her family (as well as the broader social environment). Contextual factors relating to the family environment and culture are critical influences that either support or undermine the successful implementation of AT. By understanding and taking into consideration family issues that are not generally included in the AT assessment process, it may be possible to identify critical loci for family support or lack of support. For instance, if the family lacks capacity of time for AT programming at home, then AT that requires frequent programming updates would be likely to fail. However, AT that requires little programming maintenance would better match the family’s capacity, and would therefore successful adoption would be more likely. In terms of the influences of culture, for instance, individual achievement and independence may not be prioritized as a value, and therefore that student’s/family’s AT objectives may differ from those of professionals who may hold individual achievement and independence as a high priority; by not engaging the family in a meaningful way in the decision-making process, this difference in perspectives may result in an AT choice that does not fit within the student’s/family’s cultural context, and may therefore fail. (Beigel, 2000; Parette, et al., 2000). Cultural difference may also impact training needs and preferences, and engaging families within the team approach will help identify these and facilitate them being addressed. (Parette, et al., 2000)

Since families tend to prefer receiving information and training from other families, families who have experienced the decision-making and implementation process can serve as peer trainers for other families or can contribute to other resources such as online forums, etc. (Parette, et al., 2000) This is a peripheral but an important outcome of meaningfully engaging  families.

The article for this week’s forum describes a number of computer-based resources for training, information, etc., which can be especially useful for families, and for team members who have lesser experience with AT, because these resources can allow for user-set preferences, such a speed. For the more the team members more experienced with AT, these resources can deliver cultural awareness training, sensitivity towards the family’s perspectives, etc., which will ultimately inform the AT decision-making process. (Parette, et al., 2000)

Engaging families as team members may also serve to provide access to resources vis-a-vis the team network. The resources may not otherwise be available.  For instance, Parette et al. (2000) describe how access to computer-based resources can be facilitated for families by allowing them access to school computers.(Parette, et al., 2000)

A team environment can help to identify needs and appropriate ways they can be addressed, and can facilitate resource sharing such as families accessing resources via school computers.

Engaging families as team members provides opportunities for communication of family needs, preferences, etc., and exposed the other team members to the family’ culture and other contextual factors. Working through the processes of consensus building via the team approach confers an onus on the professionals / more experienced team members to engage in activities such as cultural awareness training (ex. via the resources described by Parette et al. [2000]), to gain a better understanding of the family’s perspective, with the goal of enhancing AT outcomes for the student.

The most appropriate way to ensure contextual factors are effectively identified, considered and addressed is to meaningfully engage the family in the team approach.

Question #3.  Is the family-centred team approach consistent with what you’ve experienced in your practice?

I have not yet had experience with AT decision-making for students who have special needs. However, I was involved with the case of a young child who required support that involved administering medications and the monitoring of certain health indicators on a schedule throughout the school day. The child was to attend a new school in a rural area, and a team approach was used to help the school develop the capacity needed to support the child. The team included the child’s family, the school district, principal, teacher, educational assistant, school kitchen staff, as well as a nurse and dietitian from the community’s health centre. A specialist doctor from Edmonton was also consulted. The family and nurse were able to contribute knowledge with respect to what the teacher and educational assistant could expect in terms of daily routine. The child was consulted, and helped in the process by demonstrating self-care capabilities (i.e. what aspects of the daily routine could be undertaken independently). The nurse and dietitian provided the educational assistant with training for administering the medication and monitoring health indicators, and provided training to the kitchen staff with respect to providing appropriate nutrition for the child. This process didn’t involve consensus building amongst team members with respect to what devices and care were required. Rather, it was a process that facilitated the two-way flow of information and support, and the contribution of knowledge from a number of experts, towards building capacity within the school for supporting this child. Engaging the family was not only critical to providing information and training, but also to providing the school with a sense that they could rely on the family as an ongoing resource. The willingness of the family to be involved helped to increase the school’s confidence in its capacity to support the student. So, yes, I see many similarities between the processes I experienced and those described in this week’s forum.

Much of my research current activities involve collaborating with First Nations communities. Project development is informed by the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS-2) regarding research involving Aboriginal peoples in Canada. (CIHR, NSERC & SSHRC, 2010) I see many similarities between this collaboration process and the processes described in this week’s forum. In particular, the facilitation of meaningful engagement, sharing of perspectives and reconciling differences. Through the collaboration / consensus building process, the stakeholders strive towards the creation of “ethical space”, which is the point where stakeholders’ perspectives and viewpoints overlap (i.e. share commonalities in terms of values, goals, etc.) but do not undermine or defer to each other. (Ralph-Campbell, et al., 2012; Garvey, et al., 2004; Turner, 1999) The process involves a two-way flow of communication whereby each stakeholder shares its values, objectives, needs, etc., and commonalities are identified, then a plan is developed incorporating these.

References:

Beigel, A. R. (2000). Assistive technology: More than the device. Intervention in School and Clinic, 35(5), 237-243. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20050308113347/http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/technology/at_assessment.html

Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, (2010). Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. Retrieved from http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/pdf/eng/tcps2/TCPS_2_FINAL_Web.pdf

Garvey, G., Towney, P., McPhee, J.R., Little, M., and Kerridge, I.H. (2004). Is there an Aboriginal bioethics? Journal of Medical Ethics, 30, 570–575.

Parette, P., VanBiervliet, A., & Hourcade, J. J. (2000). Family-centred decision making in assistive technology. Journal of Special Education Technology, 15(1), 45-55.

Ralph-Campbell, K., Oster, R. T., Supernault Kaler, S., Kaler, N., & Toth, E. L. (2011). Screening for undiagnosed type 2 diabetes in Aboriginal communities: Weighing the advantages and disadvantages. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and indigenous Community Health, 9(2), 399-422. Retrieved from http://www.pimatisiwin.com/uploads/jan_20112/08RalphCampbellOster.pdf

Turner, D.H. (1999). Genesis Regained: Aboriginal Forms of Renunciation in Judeo- Christian Scriptures and other Major Traditions. Toronto studies in religion, vol. 25. New York: Peter Lang.

 

 

 

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Assistive Technology in Alberta Schools

Article reviewed:

Chmiliar L.  Perspectives on assistive technology: What teachers, health professionals, and speech and language pathologists have to say. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin 2007;35(1 & 2):1-17.

Question # 1. In your view, what interesting similarities and differences are found among the three groups of professionals surveyed?

The difference in funding sources for assistive technology (AT) indicated by each respondent group was interesting, but not unexpected. For instance, I would expect teachers would observe AT funding for students being accessed primarily via school/district resources; whereas speech pathologists and health care professionals, whose practices may include children and adults, would be more likely to observe funding being accessed through government programs and community organizations, respectively. (I was surprised that insurance was not indicated as a primary source for AT funding by the speech pathologist and health provider groups in particular. I expected insurance to have been more prevalent than it was as an identified funding source in this survey.)

The differences between the groups’ responses regarding funding sources suggests a lack of continuity in funding source(s), resource availability, resource access, and perhaps even eligibility and equity, after individuals leave the elementary/secondary school system. I appreciated the author’s recommendations of a centralized funding source (such as government funding) and of equipment sharing programs. A consistent, centralized funding source for AT, as well as improve availability of equipment and more equitable access to equipment, could do a great deal to support lifelong learning and continuing professional development for individuals who have special needs after they leave the elementary and secondary school systems.

I am interested to know the proportion of respondents in the teacher group who practiced in rural vs. urban areas. This descriptive demographic information was included for the speech pathologist and health provider groups, but not the teacher group. For the speech pathologist and health provider groups, 50% and 71%, respectively, indicated they practiced in urban areas. A regression analysis identifying correlations between urban/rural location and training opportunities, training sources/modes, self-reported skill level and satisfaction with AT skills within and amongst the three respondent groups may yield critical information regarding existing gaps and where/how support/policies/initiatives could be effectively targeted.

(It would have been interesting to have invited occupational therapists and physical therapists to complete the survey, as well.)

The data seemed to suggest a correlation between training (pre-service and/or continuing professional development), current level of satisfaction with AT skills and knowledge, and satisfaction with current levels of AT skills and knowledge. Teachers, 70% of whom indicated they had had no opportunity for in-service or prior coursework in AT, also indicated the highest levels of dissatisfaction with current skill level (86% either somewhat or very dissatisfied), and the lowest levels of self-reported current skill level (76% unskilled or needing support). This indicates an important potential area for improvement, especially considering the importance of teachers as part of the multidisciplinary AT assessment and implementation support team. As the author recommends, increased access to experts as well as training opportunities and supports may significantly improve teachers’ skills and knowledge and satisfaction with their skills and knowledge.

For speech pathologists, while 97% indicated they had undertaken AT coursework at the undergraduate level, only 50% indicated they were unskilled or needed support, but interestingly 72% (compared to 76% for teachers and 69% for health professionals) indicated they were somewhat or very dissatisfied with their current skill level and knowledge. This may reflect a common feeling of not being able to adequately meet the needs of their clients with currently available AT, amongst a group of experts who work directly with clients to implement AT and who have a deep understanding of their clients’ needs and of what supports might be more useful in meeting these needs. This implication is supported by the speech pathologists’ rating availability of equipment as the second highest strategy for AT implementation, behind funding. Health professionals also rated equipment availability as the second most important strategy, behind funding.

All respondent groups indicated funding as the most important strategy for supporting AT implementation, reflecting a consensus amongst multidisciplinary teams with respect to the most pressing issue needing to be addressed.

For the funding accessed via community organizations and school district sources, I would be curious to learn in greater detail where the funding originated. Was it special funding that came from a government initiative, such as Alberta Education’s Innovative Classrooms initiative (2008-2011) (see: http://education.alberta.ca/admin/technology/classrooms.aspx)?  Or, for community organizations, a portion may be from philanthropy. In any case, the point is that direct government funding is not readily available. (Chmiliar, 2007)

Funding also impacts equipment availability, which the clinical professionals indicated as the second most important strategy for AT implementation. In contrast, equipment availability was less of a priority for teachers, who indicated the lowest levels of pre-service or continuing professional development; for teachers, time for training was the second most important strategy for supporting them with AT implementation, which would improve their ability to contribute as members of multidisciplinary teams in identifying and serving their students’ needs. A second article, co-authored by Chmiliar, in the same issue of the journal, further identify explores the lack of pre-service training as a correlate to teachers’s perceptions about their AT skills and knowledge and needing assistance in the classroom, and explores the development of the Athabasca University course PSYC 476/576 in response. (Chmiliar & Cheung, 2007).

All respondent groups indicated time to set up and program AT equipment and time for training lacking, which suggests an area that should be targeted for support/improvement.

Overall, I think the most promising impression I take away from this article is that the results for each group in terms of satisfaction level with current skills and knowledge indicated a strong desire across all the groups to pursue training and professional development to help improve their respective practices. This suggests all groups would be receptive to initiatives aimed at supporting their training and professional development.

Question # 2. From this data, what barriers must be addressed in Alberta to provide better service to individuals with special needs?

Practitioner surveys like this (Chmiliar, 2007) are very important for identifying resource gaps, etc., and informing policies and initiatives to address these.

As I mentioned in my answer for question #1, a regression analysis identifying correlations between urban/rural location and training opportunities, training sources/modes, self-reported skill level and satisfaction with AT skills within and amongst the three respondent groups may yield critical information regarding existing gaps and where/how support/policies/initiatives could be effectively targeted. Having included occupational therapists and physical therapists in this survey may have also yielded meaningful information.

The three groups were consistent in identifying the following factors as barriers to assistive technology (AT) implementation and providing better service to individuals with special needs:

  • Expense of AT / Funding
  • Time to become proficient
  • Lack of available AT
  • Availability and support to program AT

With respect to multidisciplinary teams, the most significant barrier appears to be lack of pre-service training and professional development for teachers that would allow to contribute more meaningfully to AT needs assessments and implementation. This could be addressed by adding a requirement to complete a specific AT course as part of an education degree, or by adding a requirement for AT training as part of teachers’ professional development plans to maintain their certification. Some pre-service teachers may gain AT experience through their professional terms (as a student teacher in a classroom), but this exposure would not be consistent. Some standardization, such as a required undergraduate course, would ensure commensurate levels of skill and knowledge amongst graduating teachers, and would better prepare them for the diverse needs of the students they will serve.

Increasing access to experts would help with training and professional development. Training teachers and clinical professionals to develop and maintain their own professional learning networks (PLN), and how to find the information they need, may be one option. Education students who take the course EDIT 202 at the University of Alberta (U of A) learn these skills; similar training could be incorporated into professional development plans of speech pathologists and health professionals.

Accessibility of continuing training opportunities is an issue,  as opportunities are often centralized and difficult to get to (especially for rural professionals). The author lists a number of options for training delivery. A mobile training program might also be a cost-effective option that would allow hands-on training opportunities for certain AT devices, which could supplement online training or via tele-training. As a model, I will include in my reference list, below, some articles describing the DOVE study my group undertook to assess the effectiveness of a mobile training program to enhance physician skill and knowledge and subsequent diabetes patients outcomes.(Johnson et al., 2005; Maddigan et al., 2004; Majumdar et al., 2003; Majumdar et al., 2001)

Amongst the three respondent groups, there was consensus that funding was the primary barrier. Lack of funding impacts AT availability, which was another important concern for all respondent groups. The author states:

“The provision of AT tools facilitates participation in education and fosters independence for the child with disabilities in the classroom, home, and community environments and could be seen to be as essential as glasses and hearing aids. There should be a reliable source of a minimal level of funds available for students with disabilities available at the provincial level. Although this would not eliminate the expense and funding barrier, as some equipment is very costly and low cost options may not be sufficient, it would provide a start to equipping students.” (Chmiliar, 2007:15)

I agree that a centralized source for funding has the potential to facilitate improved, consistent and more equitable access to AT. A government funding program may be more cost-effective on a ‘grande scale’; for instance, in terms of volume discounts some manufacturers/suppliers offer. As well, the administration of the program could be streamlined to reduce the duplication of administrative processes and tasks. Equity might be enhanced as individuals would not be limited by the level of resources available via their local community organizations or school boards (if available at all). This could mediate the factor of rural vs. urban residence.

Centralization could include an equipment sharing and loaning program and an equipment trial program, which the author also suggests as an option to help address the barrier of equipment availability. (Chmiliar, 2007)

Centralization may also facilitate better communication between end-users (practitioners, students/patients) and vendors/manufacturers with respect to user needs. (Chmiliar, 2007)  This may help address the clinical practitioners’ self-perceptions of being unskilled or needing support, which may stem from their experiences of not having adequate tools to support their clients’ needs.

 
Question # 3.  Would data from the jurisdiction in which you live or work be similar to or different than the data presented for Alberta?

I live in Alberta, the jurisdiction comprising the article’s study area. So, to answer this question, I will instead share some of the available resources and current initiatives, as well as some policy trends that have occurred in the education sector (with respect to individuals who have special needs) since the article was published in 2007.

At the University of Alberta, Education students are required to take at least one course on education/instructional technology. Many take the EDIT 202 course, which I just completed. Much of this course encompassed the incorporation of digital learning tools that had the potential to serve as assistive technology (AT) and mediate disabilities, with an overall philosophy of Universal Design Learning (UDL). We also were required to start a professional learning network (PLN).

Alberta Education’s Inspiring Education (2010) policy document includes as a guiding principle Inclusive, Equitable Access:

Every learner should have fair and reasonable access to educational opportunities regardless of ability, economic circumstance, location, or cultural background. Their needs and ways of life should be respected and valued within an inclusive learning environment. Some learners will require additional, specialized supports to fully access these opportunities.” (Alberta Education, 2010:32)

See: http://www.inspiringeducation.alberta.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=BjGiTVRiuD8%3d&tabid=124

Diverse Learning Needs / Supporting Every Student policies and initiatives are incorporated under Alberta Education’s Inclusive Learning Supports Branch (web site: http://education.alberta.ca/admin/supportingstudent/diverselearning.aspx)

Alberta Education’s Assistive Technologies for Learning online resource provides frameworks for AT assessment, decision-making and best practices, and sample AT toolkits. See: http://education.alberta.ca/admin/technology/atl/bestpractices.aspx

Alberta Education’s initiative supporting differentiated learning includes an online resource for teachers. See: http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/resources/cross/making-a-difference.aspx

There is a chapter dedicated to how to incorporate differentiated learning for teaching students who have disabilities. See: http://education.alberta.ca/media/1234001/11_ch8%20students.pdf

Any student in Alberta who is assessed as having special needs (including gifted and talented students) is entitled to have an individual education plan (IEP) created for them. See: http://education.alberta.ca/admin/supportingstudent/diverselearning/ipp.aspx

Alberta Education’s Innovative Classrooms initiative (2008-2011) provided school districts with a funding allocation that supported the purchase an instructional computer, projector and interactive whiteboard for every classroom. Districts could then use any remaining funds towards other technology supports, including AT. See: http://education.alberta.ca/admin/technology/classrooms.aspx

Under the umbrella of Alberta Education, regional learning consortia offer training opportunities, including in-services. See: http://education.alberta.ca/department/about/players/consortia.aspx

The Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium (ERLC) and Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia (ARPDC) offer some comprehensive online resources for education professionals, as well as training opportunities. See:

http://www.erlc.ca/

http://www.arpdc.ab.ca/

http://education.alberta.ca/media/7007858/summerinstituteregisternowposter.pdf

http://www.inclusiveeducationpdresources.ca/

http://www.arpdc.ab.ca/pd/index.html [This is a great site for resources. It includes videos, webinars and facilitated sessions utilizing a Blackboard learning management system (LMS) interface]

In addition to incorporating UDL philosophy, Alberta Education policies and initiatives are informed and guided by the technology in education trends outlined in the annual New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report. Here is a link to the preview of the 2013 K-12 report, which will be released in June: http://www.nmc.org/publications/2013-horizon-report-k12

Here is a link to the 2012 report for K-12: http://www.nmc.org/publications/2012-horizon-report-k12

The 2012 report describes how new trends in technology, such as natural user interfaces (Johnson, Adams & Cummings, 2012:33), can profoundly impact education for students who have special needs.

Here is a resource from Alberta Information Learning Service (ALIS) that provides resources for students and their families regarding planning ahead and transitioning to post-secondary education: http://alis.alberta.ca/ec/ep/pps/planning/disability.html

Alberta Education provides Program Unit Funding (PUF) for the addition of supportive services to early childhood education programming for children 3 ½ to 6 who have special needs. This includes children who have moderate to severe developmental disabilities, as well as gifted and talented children. See: http://www.education.alberta.ca/parents/ecs.aspx

In addition to these above resources for supporting teachers, many (if not all) school districts in Alberta have resources to support an AT expert. My own school division, which serves a rural area of Alberta, has a full-time position for an Educational and Assistive Technology Coordinator, and part of this position’s role is to facilitate and deliver training for district teachers.

Of course, many of the above are policies and initiatives that incorporate a degree of idealism. I do not yet have first hand experience in Alberta education system, and therefore cannot comment on how effectively these initiatives and policies are being implemented, especially with respect to the AT needs of students who have special needs.

There are, of course, online courses such as PSYC 576, which teachers could take to gain expertise. (Chmiliar & Cheung, 2007)

I think the most important thing to note is the potential for the Internet to facilitate convenient, on-demand professional development for education professionals, and access to a network of other education professionals, regardless of practice location. All Alberta schools (though perhaps not First Nations reserve schools) have internet connectivity via Alberta SuperNet. The Alberta initiative for School Improvement (AISI) network has launched an online open learning community for educational professionals. See: http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/aisi.aspx

However, the easy availability of online resources does not necessarily mediate the barrier of teacher time for training and professional development. It can be extremely time consuming to locate and review resources, and then incorporate the concepts into lesson planning, etc. In-person exposure and interaction are not facilitated by online resources, which may also limit the learning experience.

A recent study by McGhie-Richmond et al (2013) surveyed a single rural school district serving central Alberta regarding teachers’ perspectives on inclusive education. Responses regarding training and support were consistent with those from Chmiliar’s (2007) study regarding AT. These findings were also consistent with an earlier study carried out by Salend (2005) regarding teachers’ perspectives on inclusive education in urban settings. However, via a qualitative component to their study, McGhie-Richmond et al (2013) found that many teachers felt they did not need specialized training in inclusive education.

I’m not as familiar with the speech pathologist profession, nor health professionals who serve individuals who have special needs.  And I had some difficulty finding information regarding policies and programs that might support these professionals in their practices.

There is a centre of expertise at the Glenrose Hospital, (Alberta Health Services) called the I CAN Centre for Assistive Technology. This centre assists individuals by providing needs assessments, matching them with AT options and providing training, and also assisting them with applying for funding from the Alberta Aids to Daily Living (AADL) program or private medical insurance. See:

http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/services.asp?pid=service&rid=5789

There’s the Assistive Technology Lab at the U of A (Dept of Rehabilitation Medicine Research), which is doing some really interesting work with robotics. See:

http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/rehabmedresearch/atlab.cfm

There’s also the The Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation Children’s Speech Research Laboratory at the U of A, which has a number of publications listed (none of which appear to be open source journals, however). Graduate students comprise part of this lab, as do collaborators from a number of allied departments at the U of A and international institutions. The lab also receives funding from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation Research Grant, NSERC, and Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (an equipment grant). See:

http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/rehabmedresearch/nav03.cfm?nav03=71659&nav02=71657&nav01=66337

Although children, families and practitioners may receive support from engagement with these centres and labs, they are not generally accessible resources for those not directly involved in care and research at these locations. For instance, the I CAN centre serves clients north of Red Deer; clients must be referred by a health professional; and children must first access services and resources through their schools.

To maintain registration with the Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists (ACSLPA), practitioners must engage in a Continuing Competency Program (like a professional development plan) whereby they set training goals and must provide evidence of how they have met these goals. ACSLPA offers some funding sponsorship to members to help them undertake continuing education activities, including those listed here: http://www.acslpa.ab.ca/admin/contentx/default.cfm?p=1&h=9993&PageId=9993. There’s also an annual ACSLPA professional conference.

I knew that the University of Alberta (U of A) no longer offers a Bachelor’s level degree in speech pathology, so I wanted to find out more information regarding the AT exposure and training speech pathologists currently receive. Survey responses from this group indicated the majority received training and exposure at the undergraduate level. The last U of A BSc-SLP class convocated in 1993, and the current entrance requirements to the Master’s SLP program do not specifically require an undergraduate prerequisite relating to AT. Perhaps most survey respondents graduated in or before 1993. Currently, registration with the ACSLPA requires completion of a Master’s degree (individuals with Bachelor’s degree were grandfathered in when this professional entry requirement was initiated July 1, 2002) (personal communication, May 30, 2013) Currently, students gain AT exposure and training via a required clinical practicum. Since 1995, SLP Master’s students have been required to complete a course during the first year of their degree: SPA 523: Augmentative/Alternative Communications Systems. This course provides an overview of AT as well as assessment in intervention processes (personal communication, May 30, 2013). I’ve been unable to find whether a course specifically relating to AT was a requirements of the BSc SLP, or whether it was an option, in-service, satellite workshop, etc. Since the course Augmented/Alternative Communications Systems was not offered prior to 1995 (personal communications), it may be that there was no specific requirement as part of the BSc SLP. So, this may represent a change impacting speech pathologists (i.e. more newer grads) since the survey (even though the change occurred several years before the survey). If the survey were redone today, it may yield slightly a slightly different set of responses with respect to the source of pre-service training.

References:

Alberta Health. (2010). Insipring Education: A Dialogue With Albertans. Alberta Education: Edmonton. Retreived from: http://www.inspiringeducation.alberta.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=BjGiTVRiuD8%3d&tabid=124

Chmiliar L.  Perspectives on assistive technology: What teachers, health professionals, and speech and language pathologists have to say. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin 2007;35(1 & 2):1-17.

Chmiliar L, Cheung B. Assistive technology training for teachers – Innovation and accessibility online. Developmental Disabilities Bulletin 2007;35(1 & 2):18-20, 22-28.

Johnson JA, Eurich DT, Toth EL, Lewanczuk RZ, Lee TK, Majumdar SR. Generalizability and persistence of a multifaceted intervention for improving quality of care for rural patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2005;28:783-788.

Johnson L, Adams S, and Cummins M. (2012). NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retreived from:  http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2012-horizon-report-K12.pdf

Maddigan SL, Majumdar SR, Guirguis LM, Lewanczuk RZ, Lee TK, Toth EL, Johnson JA. Improvements in Patient-Reported Outcomes with an Intervention to Enhance Quality of Care for Rural Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: Results of a Controlled Trial. Diabetes Care 2004;27:1306-1312.

Majumdar SR, Johnson JA, Guirguis LM, Lewanczuk RZ, Lee TK, Toth EL. Rationale and Design for the DOVE Study: A Prospective Controlled Trial of an Intervention to Improve Care for Patients with Diabetes in Rural Communities. Canadian Journal of Diabetes Care 2001;25(3):173-179.

Majumdar SR, Guirguis LM, Toth EL, Lewanczuk RZ, Lee TK, Johnson JA. Controlled trial of a multifaceted intervention for improving quality of care for rural patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care 2003;26:3061-3066.

McGhie-Richmond D, Irvine A, Loreman T, Cizman JL, Lupart J. Teacher Perspectives on Inclusive Education in Rural Alberta, Canada. Canadian Journal of Education 2013;36(1):195-239. Retreived from: http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=rural%20alberta%20assistive%20technology&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CFYQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fojs.vre.upei.ca%2Findex.php%2Fcje-rce%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F1155%2F1469&ei=NKmnUYu_I4WEiwLB2YD4DQ&usg=AFQjCNFatM2KSdrbzYwiJTxqG1T6lGAKRA

Salend SJ. (2005). Creating inclusive classrooms: Effective and reflective practices (5th ed.). New Jersey, Merrill.

 

 

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