New assistive technology research focuses on iPad, communication skills


Most of the projects for 2010 dealt with communication skills.

Most of the grant-winning projects for 2010 deal with improving students' communication skills.


In what might result in great new strides for assistive technology, the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) has announced the winners of its “Tech in the Works 2010” competition, which funds innovative projects that pair researchers with industry vendors to improve educational outcomes for all students—and especially those with special needs.

NCTI will award $20,000 to each of four researcher-developer teams this year. Each winning team has pledged to match this amount to facilitate its research project.

“Tech in the Works,” which began in 2005, promotes collaborative research in developing innovative and emerging assistive technologies. Funding for the competition is provided by NCTI’s own grant money, which comes from the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

“The key part of this program is collaboration,” said Heidi Silver-Pacuilla, deputy director of NCTI. “What’s crucial to getting these projects from the lab to the people who need it most … is the partnership between researchers and vendors.”

The four winners this year are:

1. “Touching Lives and Creating Abilities: Social and Communication Skills with the iPad.” Researchers Scott Renner and Margaret Flores of Auburn University have partnered with PUSH Product Design to improve the social and communication skills of young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using Apple’s iPad.

Taking advantage of the iPad’s large touch screen, PUSH will develop communication software and podcasts designed for the device. The communication software will target children’s communication skills, and the podcasts will target their social skills. The podcasts will display social story interventions using words, pictures, audio, and video. Once the software and podcasts are developed for the Apple iPad, Auburn University’s Assistive Technology department will assess their impact on children’s social and communication skills.

According to Renner, who heard about the contest through his university, the competition’s goal of using collaborative research to improve educational results for all students fit perfectly with the university’s new Center for Disability Research and Services.

“Being an individual with a disability, and knowing how assistive technology and other types of technology have improved my quality of life, furthers my passion to conduct research in this field,” said Renner. He said it would take about five months to collect, analyze, and compile the data into a comprehensive research report, but the development of the new software and the social stories will begin immediately and will be ready for implementation this summer. The final report will be completed by January 2011.

2. “Efficacy of the GoTalk Express 32 for Increasing Communication.” Researchers Susan M. Bashinski, Melissa Darrow Engleman, and Alana Zambone of East Carolina University have partnered with Attainment Company to examine the effect of Attainment Company’s newly developed GoTalk Express 32, a voice output communication device, on the communication rates of individual learners who have disabilities.

GoTalks are battery powered augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) devices used by people who can’t communicate well by speaking. Another person (a teacher, classmate, sibling, or friend, for example) records messages the user likely will need, and these are linked with an overlay of pictures, words, or symbols that help the user remember where to find these messages. Users can “talk” simply by pressing on a picture to play a message, allowing them—maybe for the first time—to communicate quickly and easily just by pressing a button. The Express 32 has the added ability to play multiple messages in sequence.

Bashinski, whom Attainment contacted for the competition, said her research has “consistently focused on issues associated with, and strategies for improving, the nonsymbolic and symbolic communication skills of learners who experience multiple disabilities, including deaf-blindness. One of Attainment Company’s primary foci is the development of materials for effective instruction with learners who experience intellectual disabilities; this is a perfect match with the population of learners with whom I conduct research. Nearly all participants in all of my studies do have some degree of intellectual disability.”

Bashinski said research will start immediately.

“I believe, in my soul, that all learners do communicate, and that all learners’ communication skills can be improved,” said Bashinski. “The onus is on us, as their families, friends, and educational team members to make this happen.”


Researchers: Even violent video games can be learning tools

Panelists discussed how people learn and how games can be engineered to be even more educational.

Panelists discussed how people learn and how games can be engineered to be even more educational.

You’re at the front lines shooting Nazis before they shoot you. Or, you’re a futuristic gladiator in a death match with robots. Either way, you’re playing a video game—and you might be improving your vision and other brain functions, according to research presented May 27 at a New York University conference on games as a learning tool.

“People that play these fast-paced games have better vision, better attention, and better cognition,” said Daphne Bavelier, an assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester.

Bavelier was a presenter at a daylong symposium on the educational uses of video and computer games from NYU’s Games for Learning Institute. The event was another indication that electronic games are gaining legitimacy in the classroom. (The University of Wisconsin-Madison also hosts an annual conference on educational gaming.)

President Barack Obama recently identified the creation of good educational software as one of the “grand challenges for American innovation,” and the federal Department of Education’s assistant deputy secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton, attended the conference as well.

Panelists discussed how people learn and how games can be engineered to be even more educational.

“People do learn from games,” said J. Dexter Fletcher of the Institute for Defense Analyses.

Sigmund Tobias of the State University of New York at Albany said an Israeli air force study found that students who played the game “Space Fortress” had better rankings in their pilot training than students who did not.

He added that students who played “pro-social” games that promote cooperation were more likely than others to help out in real-life situations, such as intervening when someone is being harassed.

Bavelier’s research has focused on so-called first-person shooter games like “Unreal Tournament” and “Medal of Honor,” in which the player is an Allied solder during World War II.

“You have to jump into vehicles, you have to crouch and hide,” said Tammy Schachter, a spokeswoman for game developer Electronic Arts Inc.

Bavelier said playing the kill-or-be-killed games can improve peripheral vision and the ability to see objects at dusk, and the games can even be used to treat amblyopia, or lazy eye, a disorder characterized by indistinct vision in one eye.

She said she believes the games can improve math performance and other brain tasks as well.

“We are testing this hypothesis that when you play an action video game, what you do is you learn to better allocate your resources,” she said. “In a sense you learn to learn. … You become very good at adapting to whatever is asked of you.”

Bavelier believes the games eventually will become part of school curricula, but “it’s going to take a generation.”

Schachter said the purpose of “Medal of Honor” and other games is to have fun, and any educational benefits are a bonus.

“Through entertainment, these games test your memory skills, your eye-hand coordination, your ability to detect small activities on the screen and interact with them,” she said.

Not everyone is a fan. Gavin McKiernan, the national grassroots director for the Parents Television Council, an advocacy group concerned about sex and violence in the media, said that when it comes to violent video games, any positive effects are outweighed by the negative.

“You are not just passively watching Scarface blow away people,” McKiernan said. “You are actually participating. Doing these things over and over again is going to have an effect.”

Bavelier said games could be developed that would harness the positive effects of the first-person shooter games without the violence.


Report: Percentage of high-poverty schools rises

The percentage of public schools where more than three quarters of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—a key indicator of poverty—has increased in the past decade, and children at these schools are less likely to attend college or be taught by teachers with advanced degrees, reports the Associated Press. The findings come from a special report on high-poverty schools included in the 2010 Condition of Education study, which reports on a broad range of academic indicators across K-12 and higher education. The U.S. Department of Education report, released May 27, found that high-poverty schools rose from 12 to 17 percent between the 1999-2000 and 2007-08 school years, even before the current recession was fully felt. By comparison, the overall poverty rate for children increased from 17 to 18 percent, leading researchers to believe that a higher percentage of poor kids were signing up for the federal lunch program. In all, there were 16,122 schools considered high poverty. Daria Hall, director of K-12 policy development at the Education Trust, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said students at high-poverty schools tend to start out behind their counterparts at low-poverty schools and get less support at school…

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Supreme Court gets RIAA copyright case

A case testing the meaning of the so-called “innocent infringer’s” defense to the Copyright Act’s minimum fine of $750 per music track that is downloaded or shared illegally has landed at the U.S. Supreme Court, Wired reports. The case the justices were asked to review May 26 concerns a federal appeals court’s February decision ordering a university student to pay the Recording Industry Association of America $27,750 ($750 per track) for file-sharing 37 songs when she was a high school cheerleader. That decision reversed a Texas federal judge who had ordered defendant Whitney Harper to pay $7,400 (or $200 per song). The lower court, without a trial, had granted her the innocent infringer’s exemption to the Copyright Act’s minimum fine, because the teen claimed she didn’t know she was violating copyrights. The appeals court, however, said she was not eligible for such a defense, even though she was between 14 and 16 years old when the infringing activity occurred on LimeWire. The appeals court concluded that the Copyright Act precludes such a defense if the legitimate CDs of the music in question carry copyright notices—but Harper’s attorneys argued she should get the benefit of the $200 innocent-infringer fine, because the digital files in question contained no copyright notice. The High Court justices have the option of taking the case and issuing a ruling, or declining to hear it altogether…

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Time Warner, Universal push back at iPad

Time Warner and NBC Universal have told Apple they won’t spend the time and money to rework their Flash-friendly video libraries to make them compatible with the iPad, CNET reports. CNET’s story refers to a report in the New York Post, which cites unnamed sources. Apple’s iPad has roared off shelves in the United States since its U.S. introduction in April, helping the company move past long-time nemesis Microsoft in market value. But some say the power has gone to the company’s head, and they point to Apple’s tussle with Adobe Systems over Adobe’s Flash software as one indication. The iPad doesn’t support Flash, an all-but-omnipresent application for creating and viewing web-based animation and video. Apple says the software is proprietary, outdated, insecure, and unstable—but the pushback from Time Warner and Universal could indicate a growing frustration with Apple’s need for control. Still, many other major media entities, including Disney, CBS, CNN, and Fox News, offer at least some iPad-compatible content…

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Privacy groups say Facebook changes don’t go far enough

Facebook’s new privacy changes haven’t been enough to satisfy its most vocal critics, CNET reports. A group of privacy activist groups said in a joint conference call on May 27 that they’re hardly ready to declare a truce, even after Facebook simplified its privacy settings for users—including slicing the number of settings from 50 to around 15 and consolidating seven pages of choices into three pages. Most, if not all, of the groups on the call have been lobbying for new government rules targeting social-networking sites. The Federal Trade Commission is considering just that, with an announcement expected late this year, and related legislation is being drafted in the House of Representatives. “We want legislation to address this massive and stealth data collection that has emerged,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy, adding that he wants “opt-in” instead of “opt-out” data sharing. In an interview with CNET, Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt rejected that argument: “I’d say that our efforts to educate our users have been pretty unprecedented. We required more than 350 million users to go through a process that required them to check their privacy settings.”

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3D gaming firm, Duke Medical School team up for virtual training

Virtual Heroes, a Raleigh, N.C.-based firm that focuses on so-called serious games technology for use in education and training, has teamed up with Duke University School of Medicine to use virtual reality and 3D technology for medical training, LocalTechWire reports. The two organizations have collaborated to develop a first-person video game (3DiTeams) for use in medical education. On May 27, the two said they would partner on efforts to further develop training tools. “This partnership brings together two world-class organizations with complementary resources and a shared commitment to advancing and improving medical education and training,” said Jeffrey Taekman, assistant dean for educational technology at Duke…

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“iGeneration” Student Survey Reveals a Shift in the Way Teens Learn

With Classroom Boredom and Distractions Topping the List of Daily Challenges, Schools Integrate Online Learning to Re-engage High-Tech, High-Touch Students

Portland, Ore., May 26, 2010 – Since their earliest memories, today’s “iGeneration” has been wired, Wi-Fied, mobile, virtually augmented and i-computed like no other generation before them. A recent “Beyond the Classroom” online survey of 13- to 17-year-old students commissioned by Aventa Learning™ revealed, not surprisingly, that these teens are turning to outside resources and technology to stay challenged and engaged.

“Middle and high school students live in a world of customization, instant gratification and feedback, so real-time, one-on-one learning is what makes sense to them,” said Dr. Caprice Young, President and CEO of KC Distance Learning, which owns Aventa Learning, and former President of both the California Charter Schools Association and the Los Angeles Unified School District. “Our data shows that more than half of the students said that the easiest way for students to learn something new is by practicing and watching, which is one of several critical reasons why we need to re-wire our educational approach.”

With students constantly competing for attention in the classroom – a mere 18 percent said they get the attention and the help they need all of the time – online learning has been gaining momentum in overcrowded and underfunded schools across the U.S. Instead of being bored or falling prey to distractions, which nearly 50 percent said they were, online learning has helped more teens get the individual, immediate instruction and mentoring to allow them to consistently practice and watch what they need to learn.

“The last time we made a radical shift in education was when we moved from a one-room school house to individual classrooms,” Young continued. “The iGeneration is challenging the current system and we need to listen – after all, they are our future.”

In fact, teens are already voicing their need for a change in the traditional school day with nearly 90 percent saying that if they were in charge of their school, they would offer more electives, allow students to take online classes and pick the time of day they took classes. And, they revealed that potentially adding back in drama/music, foreign language, Advanced Placement® and writing courses to the curriculum might help increase the popularity of “being in class” as the favorite part of their day.

Teens are College-Bound, but are They Ready for the 21st Century?

The good news for parents and teachers is that nearly 90 percent of teens said they are planning to enroll in a four-year college, community college or technical program when they graduate from high school and 43 percent ranked going to college at the top of the list when asked if they could do anything when they graduate.

But as the number of classrooms shrinks and the student population grows, middle and high schoolers feel like they are being lost in the shuffle. Sixty percent said that when they fall behind in their classes, they have to ask for help or don’t get the help they need to catch up, and more than one-third confirmed that they have to ask to be challenged when they are doing well.

Preparation for “21st Century” skills is limited as well, as a majority of students are using technology for online research or to use PowerPoint and Excel, but not much else.

“Ninety percent of the teens surveyed said that their schools have computers that are connected online, yet teens are only directed to take advantage of what’s at their fingertips at a very basic level,” Young continued. “The potential to take the activities that students are using on a daily basis, apply critical-thinking skills and turn them into age- and generationally-appropriate learning opportunities is limitless.”

Schools Offer Online Learning as a Solution

In addition to maximizing how and when teens use technology to create an enhanced learning environment, when social factors like bullying (55 percent of respondents confirmed it is an issue) enter the picture, school administrators and teachers are turning to online learning resources like Aventa to help pave a new path.

Young believes that online learning is the “great equalizer” because it ensures that teens in every location have access to high quality teachers and consistent curriculum. Programs like Aventa, which in conjunction with school districts, give students new options to learn at their own pace and have a one-on-one relationship with educators whether they’re in need of more assistance, looking for more accelerated classes or simply prefer to learn in a medium that they have grown up with. For more information about online learning, visit

Survey Results at a Glance
• Classroom boredom (42 percent) and distractions from other kids (48 percent) topped the list of daily challenges of students
• Teens are voicing their need for a change in the traditional school day
– More than half said that the easiest way for them to learn something new is by practicing and watching
– Nearly 90 percent said that if they were in charge of their school, they would offer more electives, allow students to take online classes and pick the time of day they took classes
• Teens are college-bound, but are they ready for the 21st century?
– Good news for parents and teachers
– Nearly 90 percent of teens said they are planning to enroll in a four-year college, community college or technical program when they graduate from high school
– 43 percent ranked going to college at the top of the list when asked if they could do anything when they graduate
– But overcrowded classrooms have left teens feeling like they are being lost in the shuffle
– 60 percent said that when they fall behind in their classes, they have to ask for help or don’t get the help they need to catch up
– More than 1/3 confirmed that they have to ask to be challenged when they are doing well
– Student interaction with technology is limited to a very basic level
– Despite 90 percent of students having computers that are connected online at school, the majority are using technology for online for research or to use PowerPoint and Excel, but not much else
• Over half of students said that bullies are a problem at their school (55 percent)

About the Survey
The Aventa Learning “Beyond the Classroom” online survey was designed and analyzed by Ketchum Global Research Network and fielded by Braun Research. The survey was fielded to a national sample of 500 children age 13- to 17-year-olds from April 20-24, 2010. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.4%.

About KC Distance Learning, Inc.
KC Distance Learning, Inc. (KCDL) is a leading provider of online learning programs for middle school and high school students including core, Foreign Language, Honors, and AP® courses. Since the first programs were introduced in 1974, the company has enriched the lives of more than 260,000 students through high quality online education programs.
KCDL provides accredited online education directly to families through its Aventa Learning programs, its iQ Academy® programs, and its Keystone Schools programs. Aventa Learning programs have served and benefited more than 1,750 institutions with online learning programs, including credit recovery, individual courses designed to augment existing school curriculum, and complete virtual school solutions. KCDL also offers iQ Academy programs, statewide online schools operated in conjunction with public school districts or charter school management organizations to serve the education needs of grade, middle and high school students. iQ Academy programs are public school programs, and so are tuition-free for in-state residents. Keystone Schools programs are the nation’s leading online school programs for middle school and high school students.


Pearson Takes Top Honors in Prestigious Ed-Tech Awards Competition

Digital Programs Recognized for Personalized Learning Solutions for High School and College Students

NEW YORK – May 27, 2010 – Innovative education technology programs from Pearson took top honors in the prestigious 2010 Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) CODiE Awards. CourseConnect, a library of customizable online courses for colleges and universities; and MathXL® for School, a powerful, yet affordable, Web-based program that offers middle and high school students homework, tutorials and assessment tools for math, are winners of the highest honor awarded by the ed-tech industry.

The CODiE Awards celebrate outstanding achievement across the software, digital information and education technology industries. The evaluation process includes a rigorous review of nominated products by subject matter experts, analysts, journalists and others with deep expertise in education technology. This year’s 27 education CODiE winners were selected from more than 327 nominations submitted by 124 companies.

“With technology, learning can be personalized across the K-20 spectrum, taking into account student skills and abilities, learning styles, comprehension and progress, while making accommodations throughout the instructional process for both acceleration and remediation,” said Don Kilburn, CEO, Pearson Learning Solutions. “Our CODiE winning programs are prime examples of how online solutions can help schools, colleges and universities ensure that all learners achieve at the highest levels. Pearson is honored to be recognized with these prestigious awards from our colleagues in the education technology industry.”

A CODiE Award winner for Best Postsecondary Course or Learning Management Solution, CourseConnect is a library of customizable online courses with recommended course descriptions, syllabi, lessons containing rich media, graphics and interactivities, discussion questions and assessment banks. Perfect for either a fully online or blended learning environment, CourseConnect delivers exceptional instruction and assessment, innovative instructor tools, and best-selling, class-tested textbooks – all essential components for directly affecting student retention and results. Customizable modules provide engaging, easy-to-follow content mapped to specific learning outcomes. Each course provides instruction, opportunities for reflection, self-assessment and practice, and activities that encourage learners to apply their knowledge and extend their learning beyond the classroom.

Honored with a CODiE for Best Mathematics Instructional Solution, the MathXL for School program is based on the widely adopted MathXL, which is currently helping millions of students at colleges and universities around the country master core math skills. Now, for thousands of high school students, MathXL for School is the bridge to college readiness between secondary-level and college-level mathematics. With a proven track record of increasing student success rates at both online and brick-and-mortar schools, MathXL for School features an individualized study plan based on pre- and post-assessments that helps students monitor their own progress, allowing them to see at a glance exactly which topics they need to practice and linking them directly to tutorial exercises with interactive learning aids. Exercises can be regenerated with new values for unlimited practice.

About Pearson
Pearson (NYSE:PSO), the global leader in education services, education technology and school solutions, provides innovative print and digital education materials for preK through college, student information systems and learning management systems, teacher professional development, career certification programs, and testing and assessment products that set the standard for the industry. Pearson’s other primary businesses include the Financial Times Group and the Penguin Group. For more information, go to

For more information, press only:
Lisa Wolfe, L. Wolfe Communications, 773-227-1049,


Software could ease pain of Windows 7 migration

InstallFree says their technology is less about virtualization and more about problem-solving.

InstallFree says its technology is less about virtualization and more about problem-solving.

The migraine-inducing process of migrating Windows from XP to 7 could get easier now that virtualization developer InstallFree has released InstallFree Bridge 2.0, a program that reportedly eliminates software compatibility issues.

InstallFree said this latest product should help speed up the migration of schools and businesses to Windows 7. Bridge 2.0 does this by giving users the ability to run older versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer and other applications on Microsoft’s newest operating system—a process the company calls the “application repackaging business.” (Read “School IT chiefs mull Windows 7.”)

InstallFree says its software creates isolated, modular, and portable virtual applications that can run on any version of Windows and be updated on the fly. These applications integrate seamlessly with the user’s environment and communicate with the operating system (OS) and other applications without making any changes to the underlying OS file system or registry, according to the company.

“The typical problem is that you install an app, and it isn’t compatible with another app or program or breaks that app or program. By isolating these applications, these problems won’t happen anymore,” said Alon Yaffe, director of marketing for InstallFree.

Even though Windows 7 has an “XP Mode,” which allows users to run a virtual edition of XP from inside Windows 7, Yaffe said this mode is more of a “one-off, or niche solution,” that isn’t effective if you have multiple conflicting applications.