Jan 2012

Lasered Pics keyguards

blogEntryThumbnailLasered Pics is a company that specializes in creating keyguards for iPad AAC apps. The keyguards can be especially helpful for individuals with physical disabilities who demonstrate unintentional mis-hits during augmentative communication. Lasered Pics offers keyguards for several iPad AAC apps including Proloquo2Go, TouchChat, Tap Speak Choice, Sono Flex, Assistive Chat, Grace - Picture Exchange, MyTalk Tools Mobile, My First AAC, and many others. A majority of the keyguards are made of clear acrylic, and they have suction cups to attach to the iPad screen for given apps.

Lasered Pics provided me with a Proloquo2Go keyguard (retail price: $19.95) for the medium item size in landscape orientation. I’m intentionally mentioning the specifications because customers choose the item size, landscape orientation and other options when ordering on the Lasered Pics website. The company states that it’s important to choose the appropriate options when ordering a keyguard, otherwise there will be a delay in the ordering process. I’d like to add that choosing the appropriate options is also important for the user’s experience. If the keyguard specifications aren’t appropriate, physical access to the AAC app can be hindered rather than facilitated.

I personally tested the Lasered Pics keyguard designed for the latest 1.7 version of Proloquo2Go. Using the default factory settings in the app, I attached the keyguard to align with the medium sized buttons in landscape orientation. It was easy to achieve a firm suction to the device via the four suction cups. Plus, I liked how the home button on the device was covered by the keyguard, which is especially helpful to keep users from “accidentally” exiting the app. When accessing the items, I was easily able to tap them via the cutouts in addition to scrolling pages when necessary. I was also able to rest my hand on the keyguard and then touch an item, similar to the access manner of many users with physical disabilities. One thing I realized during testing was that it’s very important to accurately align the keyguard with the app’s buttons. At first I didn’t, so it made access much more difficult.

All in all, I liked the Lasered Pics keyguard because it’s a well made product and it’s very intuitive to use. There’s really no instructions necessary to use the keyguard. As I mentioned before, it’s just important to have an accurate alignment between the cutouts and the app button. If you want to learn more about the Lasered Pics keyguards, please visit the website.

Featured App of the Week

blogEntryThumbnailI am honored to have ArtikPix featured as the app of the week on speechlanguageneighborhood.com. Amanda Backof, who runs the website, informed me yesterday of this honor. When you visit the home page of Speech Language Neighborhood, you will see ArtikPix featured. You will also see several free downloadable homework sheets for various sounds that coincide with the content in the ArtikPix iOS app. Since the last time I blogged about Amanda’s ArtikPix homework sheets, she has added practice materials for the following sounds: initial r, vocalic r, l blends, and s-blends. Plus, it’s my understanding that more ArtikPix homework sheets will be coming soon. So, please check out Speech Language Neighborhood this week while ArtikPix is featured!

Thanks to Amanda and Symbolstix for allowing personal use of these homework sheets. Under subscription terms, the homework sheets are not for re-sale.

Apple education event

blogEntryThumbnailToday, Apple held an education event where three announcements were made: 1) An updated iBooks app for reinventing the textbook, 2) A brand new app called iBooks Author for anyone to easily create interactive books, and 3) An updated iTunes U for making it free and simple for anyone to take courses anywhere. I followed the event via live blogging on Engadget, and I’m going to summarize the first two announcements:

1) iBooks app for reinventing the textbook
The first announcement is regarding iBooks for reinventing the textbook. As students are beginning to use iPads, there are remarkable things happening. But, there are challenges in education including increased class sizes and reduced budgets. Nonetheless, Apple wants to help accelerate the use of iPads in education and make it even easier to integrate the iPad into the curriculum. They plan to do this for textbooks because they understand the problems with textbooks. Textbooks are heavy, they're expensive, they wear out, and they’re not durable, interactive, searchable, or updatable. The iPad, however, is portable, more durable than paper, interactive, searchable, and current. And, until now, the main obstacle for the iPad as a textbook is the lack of content. Fortunately, the main textbook companies including Pearson, McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have joined forces with Apple to create interactive textbooks that look great and are aggressively priced at $14.99 or less. As many of you know, textbooks can traditionally be very expensive, so $14.99 is quite a bargain. The major textbook companies are launching high school textbooks first for math and science. And, I can confirm there are titles available as of today. Just download the free iBooks app, then go to the iBooks store and download the free samples or the full books.

2) iBooks Author app for anyone to easily create free interactive books
The second announcement is regarding iBooks Author for anyone to easily create interactive books. Apple wants everyone to have the opportunity to create their own interactive books (not just the textbook companies), so there will be more book content available. Any Mac owner will be able to create interactive books using a Mac app called iBooks Author. This app is available for free today and is compatible with OS 10.7, Lion (if you don’t have 10.7, you must update your operating system in order to use the iBooks Author app). Traditionally, it’s hard to create books, but Apple is hoping to change that with iBooks Author. A number of templates are included in the app that can be used to help people get started. You’re able to use templates that include text (from a word processing file such as Word), photo, and video placeholders. You can also create cool interactions, but it appears you’ll need to know how to write code in Javascript and HTML. Before you finish your book, you can utilize an easy to create glossary tool. Finally, you’re easily able to do a preview on the iPad and then submit to the iBooks store for publishing.

Apple ended the education event by discussing research showing that student achievement is largely based on student engagement. It looks like Apple is going to facilitate student engagement with their two iBooks initiatives. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

Interview with Alex Dunn

blogEntryThumbnailI am pleased to have Alex Dunn participate in an interview in which I asked her five questions regarding her involvement with interactive whiteboards. Alex Dunn is a Speech-Language Pathologist for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), located in Oxford Mills, Ontario. She has been devoted over the last 16 years to exploring creative service delivery models to ensure ALL students, including those with severe communication challenges achieve the goal of meaningful educational and social participation. Most recently Alex has led the team that created Smart Inclusion, an initiative that combines assistive technology with emerging technology (i.e., interactive whiteboards, iPads, SMART Table) and theory to support inclusion – making the impossible, possible for ALL students. Alex has shared her passion for the inclusion of ALL students across Canada, United States, UK, Spain, Germany and Puerto Rico and has just been named the Smart Exemplary Educator of the Year for 2012.

Below you will find the five interview questions and her responses:

1) What types of students are you using interactive whiteboards with?
Smart Inclusion, research, which included the use of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) began four years ago when we were challenged to try to include several students who had severe communication challenges into the general education classrooms. Smart Inclusion involved using SMART products and other assistive and emerging technologies, coupled with critical speech language pathology and educational pedagogy to increase participation and achievement for ALL students including those with severe disabilities. Smart Inclusion is spreading throughout the world, and although originally designed to meet the needs of students with a range of disorders who were nonverbal or minimally verbal (e.g., Autism, Developmental Disability, Cerebral Palsy, Angelman’s Syndrome), we have discovered that the IWB as part of a universal design for learning (UDL) toolkit facilitates learning for all, “necessary for some, good for all.”

2) How do you use an interactive whiteboard with your students?
IWBs are generally used to facilitate academic and social participation, in whole class or small group, for my students with communication challenges in regular education and system classrooms. The IWB is used as part of a UDL Toolkit in combination with other emerging technologies (iPads, Document Cameras, Nintendo DSi, SMART Table, laptops, manipulatives like WikkiStix and paper pencil tasks) to facilitate a centers-based approach that spans kindergarten to high school. In education, the pendulum appears to be swinging to iDevices and other tablet technology but I am believer in maintaining a toolkit of approaches to allow for the most flexibility when offering multiple means of representation, engagement and expression. The critical piece that IWBs continue to offer my students is the ability to apply Carole Goossen’s Aided Language Stimulation principles, which I struggle to do with the tablet or other technology supports.

3) How do you feel interactive whiteboards are beneficial to student learning?
From research data collected from 2007-2009 (research articles and graphic data can be found at smartinclusion.wikispaces.com).
Special needs students participated with peers in small and large group classroom activities to a greater degree in 2008-2009 compared to the previous school year.
  • All students in the classrooms were highly engaged in classroom activities using Assistive and SMART Technology. Engagement was defined by teachers as “attentive, interested in activities, not disruptive, excited about learning.”
  • Teachers reported that they were doing “more teaching, less behaviour management” with the entire class. There were significant decreases in referrals to the school office and serious behavioural incidents for several students (including some of the Smart Inclusion target students) whose behaviour had significantly impacted classroom participation and learning in previous years.
  • Special needs students were not only more engaged and participating to a greater extent in classroom activities with peers, but teachers felt students were meeting their Individual Education Program (IEP) goals sooner than expected. Some teachers made more adjustments to the IEPs than they felt was typical compared to their past practice.
  • Standardized language assessment pre- and post-data reveal that all students demonstrated growth in their speech and language skills; all students’ communication skills had improved to a greater degree when compared to growth over previous years1.
  • Teachers felt that diagnostic and on-the-spot assessments were enabled and helped inform their programming (i.e., precision teaching).
  • Classroom teachers began using what was previously thought to be “special needs” software with all students during both small and large group instruction.
  • Principals reported in interview that piloting the project in a small number of classrooms throughout the district created “proof of concept”, enabling them to plan on taking “the calculated risk” of integrating Smart Inclusion theory and technology into more classrooms within their schools.

4) What's one tip for using interactive whiteboards with students?
Do not be afraid to put any technology, including interactive whiteboard technology in the hands of your students = amazing things happen. If I can only give one tip I would suggest that we as educators see our roles as facilitator, taking advantage of teachable moments as they occur and that we need not limit our students by being “sage on the stage”; we all have something teach and we all have something to learn. When students complete tasks themselves, they are more invested in the outcome. During a recent assignment on animal classification, parents and educators watched in amazement as ALL students made one discovery after another as they explored Notebook in groups, (Notebook is SMART Technologies software that ships with the IWB). One boy discovered animation while another girl uncovered creative pens, and as both students announced their discoveries proudly, other students raced to over to learn how to apply these “finds” to their own group project.

5) How did you and your colleagues receive funding for interactive whiteboards?
Initially in May of 2008, 10 students with severe communication challenges were identified as eligible for a Ministry of Education Special Equipment Allowance (SEA) grant in Ontario Canada to purchase equipment for the fall 2009. This equipment included a SMART Board along with a variety of application software and AAC tools2. With SEA funding the purchased equipment follows the student anywhere they move within the province. Many Districts in Ontario continue to fund IWB through SEA. For us at our District, once we had proof of concept, Principals started funding using peripheral budgets. Charitable organizations and local companies began to support local schools with equipment. We also obtained some SMART Technology and as well as other emerging technologies through research grants.

"New Year, New You"

blogEntryThumbnailAs my wife has been watching an increased amount of QVC this holiday break, she's been repeating a slogan, “New Year, New You.” I have a hunch that QVC says this to promote their products, but I think there are other perspectives regarding this slogan. As the new year is now upon us, a “New You” could involve a new diet, a new workout regimen, or what I’d like to pursue for this blog post: a new professional development plan.

A new professional development plan ought to include taking ownership by following online resources. I’d like to think that I contribute a fair amount of resources you can utilize. For example, I frequently share information regarding iOS apps and accessories, in addition to speech-language intervention strategies. Here’s how you can follow me to receive professional development:
Of course there are many other online resources besides mine to follow. If you have a hard time knowing where to begin, you might want to check out online resources that I follow frequently for professional development:
Just like a new diet or workout plan would be discussed with your friends, a new professional development plan ought to also be shared with your friends. You may choose to suggest me as a Facebook friend, share this blog post on Twitter, and/or tell a colleague about an online resource using traditional word of mouth. It’s up to you as you begin the New Year with a New You!

Note: The above image was used via a Creative Commons license, and the original image can be found here on flickr.