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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.”

3. “Interactive Storybooks for Deaf Kindergarteners.” Researchers Becky Sue Parton and Robert Hancock of Southeast Louisiana University, and Dan Hoffman and Curt Radford of Lamar University, have partnered with Burton Vision to study how storybook sharing can serve as a bridge between American Sign Language (ASL) and the language of English print books for deaf children. Conceptually, the project aims to use a real book in combination with a mobile computer so that deaf children and their parents can have story time in a more natural way while developing both languages and tracking progress.

For young deaf children who receive information primarily through ASL and are learning to read and write in English proficiently, a system similar to Accelerated Reader does not exist, according to the project’s abstract. To address this issue, the researchers have designed a project called MBA Bound. (“MBA” stands for “Multimedia Books & Assessment.”)

The system includes a hard-copy book with embedded radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, an RFID reader, a netbook, modified LAMBERT software designed to launch video clips of the story in ASL, and specialized Burton Vision software for students and teachers to use in assessing book comprehension. Team members will partner with six schools for the deaf to test the MBA Bound project for its feasibility and its effect, if any, on storybook comprehension.

4. “Seeing the Possibilities with Videophone Technology.” Researchers Judith Emerson, John Bishop, and Linda McDowell of the University of Southern Mississippi, and Toni Hollingsworth of the Mississippi Deaf-Blind Project, have partnered with Sorenson Communications to implement a face-to-face social networking program for students with deaf-blindness who often lack opportunities to develop meaningful relationships because of the challenges that combined hearing and vision loss create for connecting with other people and accessing information.

The term “deaf-blind” brings to mind a person such as Helen Keller, but in reality, deaf-blindness has many forms and affects learning differently for each person, the project’s abstract states. Deaf-blindness does not refer to a total inability to see or hear, and many individuals with dual sensory impairment have some residual vision and/or hearing. The project aims to provide evidence that, with the use of Sorenson Videophone Technology, students who are deaf-blind are capable of benefiting from available technological innovations.

To read about the projects in more detail, click here.

“As you can see from the winners that were chosen, most of the project proposals we received dealt with communication skills,” said Tracy Gray, NCTI’s director. “We believe that being able to communicate with peers and with others, not only in a classroom, but on a much larger scale, is becoming increasingly important to students and younger generations—and the technology and interest in the field is reflecting this.”

The winning teams will be highlighted in upcoming NCTI case studies and will share preliminary findings from their research at the 2010 Technology Innovators Conference in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15-16.

“We know that too few children with disabilities are learning with technology that could help them achieve greater academic success, as well as independence,” said Gray. “This [affects] their academic future, as well as [their] quality of life. The competition is a major vehicle we use to bring awareness to the educational community about the value of AT for learning.”

Links:

NCTI

Tech in the Works 2010

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Communication and Collaboration for More Effective School Management resource center. The ability to work together on group projects is seen as an increasingly important skill for the 21st-century workplace, and a growing number of schools are rewriting their curriculum to include opportunities for students to communicate and collaborate as a result.
Go to:

Communication and Collaboration for More Effective School Management

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