Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

I have written blog posts (Goose Bumps and The iPad Question) before about our A/T program.  For those who don’t know… A/T stands for assistive technology or adaptive technology.  LDAWE is fortunate that we have contracts with both of our local English school boards to provide A/T training to students with disabilities who receive technology for use in the classroom to help them access the curriculum.  The name of the Ministry of Education funding used to purchase this equipment is call SEA (Special Equipment Amount).

The good news is that both of our school boards are fairly progressive when is comes to issuing SEA Claim Equipment.  For example:

  • They issue equipment (and lots of it… more about that later).  I have heard that some school boards around the province still hardly issue any A/T equipment to students who would benefit from it.
  • They are innovative.  Instead of just issuing laptops like they have in the past, both school boards are now experimenting with new types of equipment, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
  • They invest in training.  The equipment is only beneficial to the student, if they know how to use it.
  • They are willing to change.  When given feedback that current policies around issuing SEA Claim Equipment are not working, they make adjustments to the policies and procedures to make it work.

Laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks

All of that being said… I’m feeling a little bit like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz this year.  The first full year that we provided A/T training was the 2009/2010 school year. That year we had 5 A/T Trainers on staff and we provided training to 129 students. This year, due to some changes in one of the Board’s policies, we have already received referrals for 486 students to receive training (and it’s only November). We started off the school year with 9 A/T Trainers, 1 A/T Training Scheduler, and myself as the coordinator of the program. Since the change in policy, we’ve hired 7 more A/T Trainers. I have also been busy creating new lesson plans for the new types of devices that are being issued. Also, both school boards are looking into adding classroom training as well.

Please be patient as LDAWE and the school boards work through these changes. All of these changes are great news for students with learning disabilities and ADHD in Windsor and Essex County.  I look forward to a day when all students can access the curriculum regardless of ability and without fear of judgement.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!However, with that being said, I must admit that I’ve had more than a couple dreams about A/T lately…

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, oh my!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!

Laptops and iPads and Chromebooks, OH MY!!!

The iPad

As I open the door he launches himself out of the chair, his fists are clenched and his voice is unusually harsh.

“Did you and Dad buy me an iPad?”

I stop in my tracks and ponder his question. Why would he think we got him an iPad and even more importantly, why would that make him mad.

“No we didn’t. Why?” I ask. His hands are no longer clenched and he flings himself back into the chair, a loud sigh follows.

“Because there is one in my class with my name on it”

Finally I know what has happened. The Psychological Assessment we had done privately and then shared with the school said that to access the Ministry of Education curriculum that he would need technology. Obviously the school board opted for an iPad. Which I think is very cool and forward thinking of them. But at the moment I have a very unhappy boy on my hands. So we talk. We talk about people needing glasses, braces, wheelchairs, canes and how all those things help people to do everyday things they otherwise can’t do. I emphasize that iPad’s are considered cool and that many kids will actually be envious of him. And in the end I tell him that the truth is no matter how he feels he has to use the iPad, that using it will help him especially as he gets older.

He listens to it all and I can tell he’s taking it in but nothing can make him happy about being different.

A week later he comes home and tells me how his teacher took him aside and had him dictate a story to him while he typed on his iPad. The teacher told him it was one of the best stories ever. He beamed with pride. That same night he spent most of his time on his iPad. Hopefully from here on out its all good news about assistive technology.

Technology before anyone is ready

My oldest son is in Grade 10. He received his first computer in the fourth grade. I’m not sure what kind of training his teachers received. I know that I asked and received an hour with the technology person who walked me through a hard copy printout of the one computer program he was using – Kurzweil.  At the end of our one hour I wasn’t sure I really understood it all but I was too shy or embarrassed (maybe both) to say that what would really help me would be to see it in action.  I figured I would just wait and get our copy at home and just try it out to learn the functions. It took us months to get the school to agree to send the program home for us to download it onto our home computer. By that time our son was able to walk us through the program. But he used it very rarely in class and I would be the first to admit that he was not great at typing so the computer was limited in what it could do for him if he couldn’t input.

Grade 5 was a wonderful technology year – the EA or teacher scanned in every work sheet or test into his computer and we saw great amounts of output as a result. But it was limited to Kurzweil – it seemed to me that there must be more programs that would be useful. Seems strange to buy a laptop for a student and then limit them to just one program. I occasionally asked but did not really get more answers.

Grade 6 through 10 his use of the computer fluctuated and he never really got back to the level they were at in the 5th grade.  Add to that frequent breakdowns of his computer and/or scanner and printer and his technology use is sporadic at best.

I believe technology is a wonderful tool that can open up doors that otherwise remain closed for our children with learning disabilities. But to do so, there needs to be adequate training of teachers, support staff, student and parents. There needs to be a commitment from staff that it is going to be utilized to its fullest and it needs to be taught to the student that this is the same as someone needing a cane or a pair of glasses. With the introduction of iPads, iPods and other handheld devices I believe that technology in the classroom will soon be the norm rather than the exception. I look forward to this as my youngest moves closer to having technology to access the curriculum.