Thursday, November 8, 2007

I'm totally geeking out

I'm here in Boulder, Colorado, finishing my ATACP coursework from CSUN. I was altitude sick for the first night or two, but now I'm adjusting.

There is so much here. I have learned so much. I almost don't know where to begin.

Here is what I am finding out with assistive technology -- no one has the time to implement it. Jessie has a springboard with really sophisticated linguistic capacity. Jessie has really sophisticated linguistic capacity, as shown by her combining of signs. I don't know how to use her springboard to help her advance.

M. is terrified of anything that makes her look or feel different, or anything we say she "should" learn. Yet she learned how to bowl on my Nintendo wii in like 2 seconds. She was a pro at her mp3 player, even though it really should have been too small for her to see with her visual impairment. I guess they bought her a BAT, which amounts to a really neat and expensive keyboard. But, um, no one knew how to use it, least of all Melissa.

My friend Z has been a special education teacher for years. She goes on weekend retreats with us. She told how the district had failing evaluations for assistive tech, so the tech person bought them all intellikeys with the software. She does not have time to learn intellikeys and does not want to. Guess what's not getting used?

Technology is a dirty word among most the people I work with. They see it as a waste of money and time and a substitute for human interaction. In the school I work at now, I see three beautiful alphasmarts in the resource teacher's room. She'd like more but they are too much money. Yet, while in the regular school lab, I observed two beautiful laptop carts, each with 30 laptops and a wireless access point built in. Wow. Wow. This is an elementary school folks, a small one at that. A half dozen alphasmarts would cost maybe what two of those laptops would cost.

Still, though, there is something disturbing about watching the special education class in the computer lab. Computers are not a learning tool for most of them -- they are a tool of entertainment, of cutting themselves off from the world, of shutting out. The speech teacher I work for does not believe them to be a useful education tool at all. Speech is communication and human interaction. And I see how for this generation of kids, their computer use is opposite of that.

But I still think it's possible to tap into that. It requires controlling the environment, which one can do easily on a computer. Some of these guys really can't write or type or even really use expressive language all that well, but can play complicated flash games and go ballistic when it's time to turn them off. Using the computer as a communication tool might change their lives if it could be done well. A man I sat with told me how he uses smartboards as an interactive computer interface for his class. Wow. I always thought of smart boards as how business people make presentations. (Maybe I'm bitter because when I was a T.A., we had chalk boards, but the business building next door had smart boards.)

I'm so frustrated. There's so much I want to do.

I was really interested in trying to build a lending library for my area, but I have lost the will. I think I need to work in AT first, to be able to take care of my own needs by having a job that will give me health insurance as I do this. There is a certain point that paddling upstream is too difficult for awhile.

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