The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.

 

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Why I blog… and why you should, too.

In February of 2014, I made a decision.

I started a blog.

This one.

A little over three years later, I have to admit that part of the reason I did it was because it seemed like all the cool kids were doing it.  I didn’t really think I had enough to say to make a blog worthwhile.  Anything I could say was already being said by other people who already have established blogs with large numbers of followers.  I had lots of reasons why starting a blog wasn’t a practical thing to do.

But, I did have some good reasons to try it.  I told myself it wasn’t a lifetime choice, I could easily stop doing it at any time (but isn’t that what smokers say?).  I knew I wanted to become a better writer, and one of the best things a person can do to become a better writer is to, well, actually start writing.

There have been some additional benefits that I was not expecting.  First, I found that my own blog was a great place to organize and archive things that I wanted to go back and access later.  Resources such as links to my previous presentations and snippets about news stories or other online materials go in posts or pages that get categories and tags.  Spending a few extra seconds setting categories and tags for my posts makes it much easier for me to go back and find things later when something reminds me of a useful resource.  And, I don’t have to try to remember if I saw that resource on Twitter, or Facebook, or in an e-mail, or….

Second, I have been able to incorporate the practice of reflective writing via blogs with my college students.  Reflective writing assignments in the form of neatly typed paragraphs or pages are a staple of many education courses, but I wanted to take it a step further with my students.  My class (Communication Tools and Strategies for Students with Moderate to Intensive Special Needs) was reading Ellen Notbohm’s excellent book “Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew”.  Rather than having the students write reflections on the chapters that would only be seen be me, I asked them to publish their reflections on a publicly available class blog.  Years ago, I heard Rushton Hurley tell a room of educators, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good.  If they are sharing it with the teacher, they want it to be good enough.”  There is a big difference between good and good enough.  An authentic, global audience can be the key to making that leap.

Third, when I go back and read some of my old posts, I am noticing changes to my writing style and the language that I use.  I hope I am also becoming better at getting my ideas across.

Enter “Blogging Buddies!”

ISTE’s Ed Tech Coaches’ Network is starting a new program called “Blogging Buddies”.  The idea is based on Jennifer Hogan’s “Compelled Blogger Tribe” idea from her blog.  I am committing to producing at least one new blog post each month.  I am also committing to visit the blogs of four specific individuals and leave comments on their posts once a month as well.  The second part is the “new adventure” for me.  There are a couple of blogs I peruse regularly, but most of my blog-watching comes from links I happen across via Twitter.

I look forward to getting familiar with not just the ideas that my “randomly selected” blogging buddies will produce, but getting to know something about them as people as well.  I don’t just want to know what they know about what works in educational technology, I want to know why they do what they do.

More to come….

 

 

Try Eyegaze on Windows!

Have you ever wanted to type on your Windows computer without using your hands or your voice?  A growing number of people are controlling the computer using little more than small head movements.  This technology, commonly referred to as “Eyegaze,” benefits users with motor issues that prevent them from operating a computer in ways that are considered basic to many people.  Such users may include those with ALS (aka “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), Cerebral Palsy, or Muscular Dystrophy.

In its early days, eyegaze technology was incredibly expensive.  The only way most people who could most benefit from this technology could acquire it was by participating in medical or therapeutic studies where the cost of the technology was covered.

Now, you can download an eyegaze interface program to your Windows computer for free.  Actually, Camera Mouse is nearing its 10th anniversary as a freely available program, thanks to the people at Boston College.  When paired with on-screen keyboard software, everything that you could do with the keyboard and mouse can be done with your computer’s webcam, just by moving your head.

So, where can you get on-screen keyboard software?  In Windows, you already have it.  The one that comes with Windows is perfectly adequate.  In fact, the on-screen keyboard built-in to Windows 10 includes word prediction capability.  This can make eyegaze typing significantly faster.  Eyegaze typing typically works by registering a “click” after the mouse cursor stays in the same space for a set period of time (“dwell time”).

Simpler on-screen keyboard software is also available.  Two programs that are designed to work well with Camera Mouse and incorporate a text-to-speech option are Midas Touch and Staggered Speech.

I am typing this sentence using eyegaze and the Windows 10 on-screen keyboard.

Yes, it’s slow.  That sentence took me over one minute to type.  But for a person who cannot use a standard keyboard or speech-to-text technology, typing a sentence in 60 seconds is a gateway to a fundamental communication option that opens up meaningful participation in the world.  Once a user gets more practice with eyegaze technology, they generally will want the “dwell time” reduced from one or two seconds to a half-second or less.  If I were to practice, and tweak the software settings, I could soon get to a point where I can reproduce that sentence in under a minute.

And, thanks to the technology, if I store a commonly-used sentence in a memory bank, I can reproduce the sentence in far less time than it would take me to type it conventionally, with my 55wpm fingers.

So, why would you want to use Camera Mouse and the Windows on-screen keyboard?  Here are three great reasons!

  1. The Lure of the Gadget – Some people avoid unfamiliar technology because of a fear of it not doing what is expected.  Some people, on the other hand, just can’t resist trying a technology just to see what it does.  If you’re the type who has a natural curiosity for technological wizardry, eyegaze is a super-cool interface to try out!  Camera Mouse doesn’t disable your built-in keyboard and mouse, so any time you need to bail out and shut off the eyegaze tracker, you can do so easily.
  2. Contribute to advancement – Eyegaze technology – and other assistive technologies – continue to get better because of the feedback developers get from users who try their software and give them feedback.  Most advancements in software design and capability started with a user who said, “Y’know, it would be great if this could….”
  3. Build Empathy – If you ever encounter a person who relies on such technology, you will have first-hand experience with what they deal with – both the struggle and the possibilities.  Also, should you happen to work with an individual who has difficulty using typical computer interface controls (e.g., keyboard and mouse), you can more effectively introduce and support the use of eyegaze technology for that individual.  Supplementary or alternative interfaces such as eyegaze give people with significant motor impairments a way to use computers to do many things that typical people take for granted.

For the college course I am teaching, I plan to have each of my students take a turn at using Camera Mouse and an on-screen keyboard to type a sentence.  I will not be grading them on how fast they type the sentence.  I will not be grading them on how few mistakes there are.  I don’t even care (much) if they remember the name of the program we will use or if they practice and get better at it.  My goal is for them to build empathy for the kids they will one day work with who either rely on eyegaze technology to effectively communicate, or who could significantly benefit from such technology.  When the rest of the group is in a typing class, there is no good reason why a student who does not have the physical capacity to type on a standard keyboard should be given some alternate activity that has nothing to do with typing.

But, making that a reality in our schools will require the efforts of educators who demand equity and excellence for every student, regardless of any disability label they’ve been given.

 

Supreme Court Renders Decision in Special Education Case

The current eight-member Supreme Court has handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Endrew F. v Douglas County (Colorado) School District.  The decision vacated the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.  The Tenth Circuit had decided in favor of the school district,  ruling that “the child received some educational benefit while in the District’s care and that is enough to satisfy the District’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education.”

As the case was argued before the Supreme Court, that standard of “some educational benefit” was a central issue.  Had the district in fact done enough to provide Endrew the legally-mandated free and appropriate public education (FAPE)?  If not, the parents would be able to recoup the cost of tuition for the private school Endrew began attending.

The Supreme Court’s opinion establishes that merely providing “some educational benefit” for a student does not meet the district’s obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

My thoughts…

  • How on earth did every lower court rule in favor of the school district?  This fact shows me that we still face a great number of people, in and out of the education world, who believe “every kid deserves a good education… well, but not THOSE kids.  They can’t handle it.”
  • Even in ruling for the student in this case, the Court left plenty of indication that it’s perfectly acceptable to settle for a lesser level of achievement for students who have a disability solely on that basis.  This is flat wrong.  If the student’s label were one of race, religion, or socio-economic status, there would be outrage about low expectations for the student.  Presence of a disability should be no different.
  • In its opinion, the Court holds that “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  That last phrase will be taken as permission to greatly reduce expectations for students with disabilities, but doing so violates the first part of the statement.  Defining “appropriate” progress is the core of any IEP meeting for any student with a disability.  But, wholly discarding the state’s regular academic standards is not required for developing an IEP.  In fact, the IEP should outline the steps that will be taken to permit the student to reach those standards, not what the student will do instead of them.
  • Even the NEA filed an amicus brief in support of the student, against the district.  Bravo, NEA.  In a case where many typically-vocal proponents of high-quality public education have remained strangely silent, the NEA stood for the student over the system.  I appreciate the political volatility of speaking up in this case (either speaking against a public school district, or speaking in favor of low academic expectations), but silence cannot improve this struggle.
  • The Supreme Court’s opinion in Rowley was that students with disabilities must be offered educational opportunities that are “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities,” and that standard has not been changed.

The conclusion of the opinion of the Court states, “At that point, a reviewing court may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions that shows the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”  And because the Court didn’t (and shouldn’t) define appropriate progress, it is imperative that every parent and every educator strongly advocate for appropriate progress towards the same standard every student is expected to achieve, and not a barely-more-than-minimum substitute.

The Power of Stories to Share Hope

On March 1, 2017, I saw a whole lot of awesome.

My daughter, Amelia, was invited to attend a private “Launch Party” for a brand new booklet, published by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s (CCHMC) Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (DDBP).  The booklet is titled “Sharing Hope: The Stories of our Patients and Families”, and it will be distributed free of charge to families of individuals who are referred to DDBP for various reasons.  The booklet contains brief articles written by individuals who have previously been referred to DDBP, and their family members.

[Download the booklet, PDF (6MB)]

sharing-hope-amelia
Amelia’s page in “Sharing Hope”.  By the way, that stone wall behind her is Chateau LaRoche, the Loveland Castle!

Amelia’s story is one of 26 articles featured in the booklet.  The article is a summation of the contents of my “Ten Important Things Amelia Needs You to Know” Ignite-style presentation.

I had an opportunity to meet some of the other honored guests there, and I feel very privileged to have met such wonderful people!  Reading some of their stories after meeting them just makes it even more powerful to me.  Families of people like Lily, Vineet, Patrick, Andrew, and so many more, have willingly told their stories with the intent of conveying encouragement and hope to others who are just learning what a diagnosis of “autism” or “down syndrome” or “spina bifida” will mean for their lives.

The impact of a powerful network of caring professionals is what keeps CCHMC near the very top of U.S. News & World Report’s list of best children’s hospitals.  But, there is something extra to be gained from hearing the experiences of others at a time when most families find themselves starting a journey nobody they know has gone through.

Alongside the best medical treatment available, there is something soothing about a voice that can tell you honestly, “I know how you feel.”  That’s something no medicine can provide.  And, it has a lot to do with why these families chose to own their story and tell it, rather than try to hide the diagnosis that, quite honestly, changed their lives forever.

Amelia’s diagnosis is a challenge, but it is not a shame.  She rises to meet that challenge every day.  That message of love, belief, and hope is conveyed throughout the pages of this booklet, and I am proud to be dad to such an inspiring young lady.

 

2017 Ohio Educational Technology Conference (OETC)

The 2017 Ohio Educational Technology Conference was held February 14-16, 2017, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  Thousands of educators from Ohio and beyond gather each year to learn more about technology and the role it plays in supporting educational opportunities for all students.

The Greater Columbus Convention Center is undergoing some renovation, so there were a lot of extra walls in the hallways, and some of the traditionally-available spaces were closed off.  This made finding my way around a little more difficult this year than in years past, and it seemed to have other effects on the overall conference experience as well.

Still, the Ohio Educational Technology Conference plays to its strength of being a showcase, not just of shiny tech tools, but of innovative practices that engage learners and make it possible for them to do things they never could before.  That is when implementing educational technology has its most, and best, impact.  Here are my favorite take-aways from OETC17!

  • Learning about coding an Arduino without actually having an Arduino!  Sparkfun.com – http://sparkfun.com/hourofcode – An “Arduino” is a small, programmable, open-source computer.  Through a simple programming language, anyone can learn about coding and electronics, and the associated skills of logical thinking and troubleshooting (a.k.a. “learning from failure”).
  • Tech-infused project-based learning should not be an “extension” activity made available only to those students who are already exhibiting sufficient achievement in the existing curriculum.  Many students who blossom in such environments would never get the chance to participate if they had to “qualify” by testing high enough in a traditional classroom setting first.  And such opportunities and materials are available and affordable enough now that they do not have to be restricted to just a few students based on phony readiness criteria.  Fredi Lajvardi’s story (chronicled in the documentaries “Spare Parts” and “Underwater Dreams“) is one of high expectations and extraordinary accomplishment.  The untold rest of the story is equally heartbreaking.
  • Open Educational Resources are there for anyone who wants them.  Only our own mindset regarding traditional approaches to curriculum acquisition and management is stopping us from tapping into a vast repository of materials.  Check out OER Commons to get started finding quality materials that you can use, reuse, and remix however you like!
  • There were a lot of people I missed seeing and talking with.  Not having an official OETCx “unconference” was a bit disappointing, but it actually put the responsibility back on me to create and foster those experiences for myself.  I also learned about a couple of upcoming edCamps in my area.
  • Instructional Strategy trumps Tech Infusion every time.  A well-crafted and well-delivered lesson that uses little technology is better than an ill-crafted and poorly-delivered lesson that is soaked in technology.  My goal as an Instructional Technology Specialist is to foster quality instruction first, and then tap into ways to use available technology to improve and reinforce that instruction.  The great confluence of these two concepts happens when we identify ways we would like to teach, but have never been able to before without the use of emerging technologies.
  • Praising effort vs. praising intelligence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWv1VdDeoRYhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWv1VdDeoRY

    Of course, you want to know some new (or “new-to-me”) tools that I saw at this year’s OETC, so here they are!

  • Sparkfun.com/hourofcode – a completely online programming environment with a virtual Arduino!  Get comfortable with the Arduino programming language before you get your hands on an actual board.
  • Mentimeter.com – Go beyond simple polls in your presentation slides.  Mentimeter allows you to dynamically generate word clouds and ask more evaluative questions of your audience, such as 2×2 grids and slider scales.
  • InterventionCentral.org – When applied properly, Response to Intervention is a powerful framework for raising achievement for all students (not just those identified for special education).  Intervention Central contains a host of resources, strategies, and guides that any classroom teacher can use to make their classroom instruction as effective as possible, closing achievement gaps while maintaining high expectations for all.
  • I also need to say a strong word of thanks to the great people at IPEVO.  For my “Free Google Tools to Support Access to the General Curriculum for All Learners” session, my employers at Forward Edge graciously provided a couple of IPEVO cameras as giveaways to some lucky attendees.  I use them to scan paper documents into Google Drive to execute OCR (optical character recognition).  The representative at the IPEVO booth gave me even more cameras to use as giveaways in my session, which made a few more of my attendees even happier!  If you’re looking for a good quality camera at a reasonable price to use as a document camera, or for taking advantage of the OCR capabilities in Google Drive, look into what IPEVO has to offer!

The Ohio Educational Technology Conference is not afraid to put forward ideas and approaches that challenge the way things have always been done (Case in point: Cable Green, Director of Open Education for Creative Commons touting the virtues of Open Educational Resources and how much it would reduce the cost of buying books, a couple hundred yards away from a vendor hall where publishers have paid for space to sell their textbooks).  I look forward to that energy continuing to inform the direction of OETC, and continuing to influence the choice of keynotes, breakout sessions, and incorporated events.

US Supreme Court hears special education case

On Wednesday, January 10, 2017, the US Supreme Court took up the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County (Colorado) School District. At issue in the case is, “What level of service satisfies IDEA, other education law, and legal precedent?”

A text transcript of the arguments put before the court is available from the website of the US Supreme Court.

Endrew F. has autism.  During his fourth grade year in the Douglas County School District, his academic achievement was slipping, and his behaviors became more and more detrimental to his educational progress.  The family and the district went through many of the typical hoops that families and districts are familiar with in writing (and re-writing) an IEP for Endrew.  Endrew’s family were not satisfied that he was receiving appropriate services under IDEA, and eventually took the step of withdrawing him from Douglas County and enrolling him, at their own expense, in a private school.  The family then sued the district for the cost of the private program, stating that the school failed to provide an adequate system of academic and behavioral support for Endrew.  The district countered that they met all the legal requirements and that Endrew was making enough progress to show that the district was in fact providing an adequate education.

In the last step before the US Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of the school district, stating that if there was any educational benefit at all in what the school provided, they had met their legal obligation.

Here are my thoughts after reading through the transcript and doing some background research:

  1. Words are unfathomably important.  Words like “appropriate”, “significant”, “meaningful”, and “some” come up a lot in these arguments, and in the previous case law.  Each of them is designed to give the due process system its place in examining what is reasonable in a particular circumstance.  This fuzziness may be frustrating in some instances, but it is the very thing that allows individuals the freedom to pursue what is best for a particular child and not be shackled to a particular strategy by a statute.
  2. In reading some parts of the transcript, some of the statements made by the attorneys and the justices seemed to indicate that they have a belief that some kids cannot be expected to achieve grade-level content because they have a disability.  At times, it felt like there was a presumption that “performing at grade level” is the equivalent of “performing at the same level as everyone else”.  This is untrue on its face, and I believe any classroom educator could tell you so.  However, these were not classroom educators in the courtroom (except for one Stanford University law professor).  If this case revolved around a student who was being denied a level of service due to their gender or race, I have little doubt that the arguments put forth by the attorney for the school district would be labeled as horrifically bigoted.  But, because this was a child with autism, it felt at times that there was an inherent acceptance that this child could not possibly be expected to achieve at an academic level expected of every other fourth grader.  Sad.
  3. I’m sure I have a deeper interest in this subject than some, due to the fact that I currently have a kindergartner who has been diagnosed with Autism.  This case could significantly influence the educational environment she finds herself in for the rest of her school life.  To that end, I want better for her than to have to learn in a school district that stands on “we did what we had to do by law, and that’s enough”.

I’m no scholar on the US Supreme Court, but the tone and direction of the questions and discussion as delivered in the transcript gives me good reason to think that the US Supreme Court will rule that there is a responsibility on the part of public schools to provide more than just a “little better than nothing” (or, as the Court puts it, “barely more than de minimis“) education.

The latest reauthorization of  ESEA is titled the “Every Student Succeeds Act”.  The US Supreme Court is about to rule whether we really mean “every student.”