This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend Tech Forum in Tarrytown, New York. Tech Forum is an annual educational technology conference organized by Tech & Learning magazine. While the conference was not strictly about assistive technology, much of what was presented and discussed is applicable to what we are doing in the AT Program at Kildonan. The conference was well attended by educators from across the tri-state region and beyond, and it allowed me to network with other teachers and continue spreading the word about the great things that are happening at Kildonan.
Opening Keynote – Dr. Punya Mishra
Dr. Punya Mishra gave the keynote address. Dr. Mishra is a professor of educational technology at Michigan State University. During his lively, entertaining talk, he stressed that today’s teachers need to creatively repurpose available technologies in order to give their students meaningful, appropriate learning experiences. He said two things that struck me as particularly relevant to Kildonan’s Assistive Technology Program. The first is that “most technology is not designed for education, BUT users redefine technology.” That is very true for technologies like dictation and transcription software. Dyslexic students are taking productivity tools and using them to compensate for their difficulty with writing. The second is that “technology changes HOW we teach.” An example of that axiom is how we teach the writing process in the AT Program. Using Inspiration software has allowed us to streamline the process for dyslexics, taking them from brainstorming to completed essay without any wasted steps. Dr. Mishra has fully embraced technology as a vital part of education in the 21st century, and his address encouraged all educators to do the same.
Evolving Models of One-to-One
After the keynote, I attended a morning breakout session on how schools are embracing the idea that all students should have their own computing devices in the classroom, from laptops to smartphones to tablet computers. Representatives from three schools shared their stories on how they made the decision to go to one to one computing and how they implemented their programs. I was particularly impressed with Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, which recently put an iPad into the hands of each of its students. The administration and teachers at Xaverian are not sure where the iPad will lead them in their educational journey, but they are willing to take a chance and discover it together with their students. In terms of assistive technology for dyslexic students, one to one computing is almost essential. The majority of students in Kildonan’s Assistive Technology Program own their own laptops and software in order to have 24-hour access to the tools that help them complete their schoolwork.
Special Education Technology: Roundtable Discussion
After lunch, I was able to talk with other teachers about using technology with students who have various learning differences. It turned out that I was the only private school educator at the roundtable. While my public school counterparts shared stories of bureaucratic red tape in regard to using assistive technology, I was able to tell about the freedom that I enjoy at Kildonan regarding the implementation of AT for our dyslexic students. While public school teachers are often locked into one or two specific technologies, I am fortunate to be able to explore the array of AT that is available in order to determine what will work best for our students. It was an eye-opening discussion, and it reminded me how lucky I am to be working at Kildonan.
Web Tools that Rock the Classroom!
The afternoon breakout session that I attended was called, “Web Tools that Rock the Classroom!” It was moderated by Adam Bellow and Lisa Thumann, two dynamic presenters who are leaders in educational technology. In just over an hour, they presented close to thirty Web 2.0 tools for education. While none of the tools are specific to assistive technology, they all are useful and can be employed to engage a variety of learners. Please explore these classroom web tools.
Tech & Learning magazine put together a great day of discussion and learning. The Tech Forum conference is now in its tenth season, and I highly recommend it to educators who are interested in innovative ways to reach their students in a society driven by technology.
Mr. Jamie P. Martin
Thursday October, 27, 2011 at 09:50AM