Option 2: What technology and/or methods have you used/could you use to make your instruction (whether Face-to-Face, blended, or online) more accessible to your students? How might these techniques relate to philosophies and theories of learning?
I am a huge NBA fan. And to add some context, I was bred in the competition of 1990’s basketball. Give me NBA on NBC on a Saturday with Michael Jordan about to do something mesmerizing with Bob Costas calling the play by play and I was a happy camper. There was something about those basketball games that showed me a little bit about life- the power of teamwork, that work ethic was paramount in putting the best version of yourself on the floor to compete, that teams needed all players to contribute their part to achieve the end goal.
While cheering the Chicago Bulls onto their second three-peat, I also took notice of John Stockton. (I swear this analogy is going somewhere). John Stockton is the All-Time Assist leader in the NBA’s history dishing out 15,806 “dimes” (as the kids would say these days). Watching the way he saw the floor, set people perfectly up with a pass that no one else saw coming, the way he knew what his teammate needed to be placed in a position where he was at his best was amazing. Not amazing enough to deter me from cheering for the Bulls, but amazing, nonetheless. Fast forward a few years, and as a teacher, I can once again see the correlation with John Stockton’s assists and teaching.
What John Stockton was doing was what great teachers do all the time- he found ways to do what he could to help someone else reach their potential. At the end of the day, that’s what teachers do. We give students opportunities to shine, we provide opportunities for growth, and it’s our job to “assist” them in that process. To me, assistive technology is synonymous with teaching. It is seeing your student making a cut to the hoop and saying, here you go, this will help you!
This week’s presentation by Reid, D’Arcy, Daniel and Janeen helped illustrate ways in which Assistive Technology helps students, potentials of where it can, and how teachers can utilize the platforms they work in to ensure it is inclusive and accessible for all learners.
In my career, some methods that I have used to make instruction more accessible are:
- Giving choice about what “medium” students use to show their learning
- Paint a picture
- Write a song
- Create a podcast
- Create a post that could be shared on Social Media
- Fill in the blank notes while listening to me “lecture” or watching a documentary
- Adaptive Exams- alternate space to write, matching option in lieu of lists and define, option to respond orally to journal prompts/exams etc.
- Voice to text and text to voice
After listening to D’Arcy speak about Universal Design for learning I realized that structure aligned with a lot of my practice. In the article Universal Design for Learning: A Concise Introduction, it states that the goal of Universal Design to “design an inclusive classroom instruction and accessible course materials”. Further to access the course must provide opportunities for
- Multiple modes of representation that gives learners a variety of ways to acquire information and build knowledge;
- Multiple means of student action and expression that provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they have learned; and
- Multiple modes of student engagement that tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn (Center for Applied Special Technology, 2011c).
Although I am far from perfect in incorporating assistive technology in my spaces, I was happy to see the groundwork is there for me to continue to adapt and utilize technology that allows all learners to thrive in the spaces I am privileged to occupy.
During Reid’s presentation he did a great job of illustrating what Wearable Tech is. I immediately thought of the microphone I wore around my neck this past year to amplify this voice behind a mask! But Reid was quick to point out that wearable technology is anything that differentiates learning while providing access to students (Sandall, 2016). An example he gave during his presentation was of teachers using VR to engage in experiences that are not easily accessible (even outside a Pandemic). This then led to the notion of filming experiences like Field Trips/lessons that are difficult to replicate. Filming would allow students who are unable to attend to still participate in the event. This is an interesting concept that I could see potentially benefit learners. Perhaps it is a student who is absent, or anxious about the trip. Filming the trip could also provide an opportunity for students to go home and share the experience with their families further substantiating the connection between school and home. I believe this concept could help further a constructivist approach when the students return from an event. If there was an assignment that connected to the event, the student would have to rely on the experience of others and their reflection on it. By being able to personally engage in the event, even if it is from a screen, there would be the opportunity for personal connection and thus a cognitivist approach. Of course, privacy of students in attendance would have to be considered in order to ensure LAFOIP parameters are being met. But with appropriate planning I believe that issue could be mitigated. One such example of videos available are from Land Based Educator Garrick Schmidt. He has taken this concept to an incredible level making his lessons accessible and available for students to deeply interact with.
Janeen’s portion also got me reflecting about the assistive technology I rely heavily on. Like her, I utilize voice to text and text to voice options. In an early blog post Janeen spoke about how providing oral feedback to her students allowed students to hear the intonation in her voice, to see her facial expressions and suddenly the feedback became more 3-dimensional. I have noticed the same thing in my classrooms when I provide oral or in person feedback. It evolves assessment from a mark on a page, to an interaction that breeds relationship and reciprocity. In my experience, when relationships are at the foundation suddenly asking for curiosity and vulnerability from students in future projects doesn’t seem as intimidating and students begin to take “risks” where they step out of their comfort zones to show their learning. An assistive technology of text to voice lays the groundwork of a constructivist approach of an “individual creating meaning from their own experiences” by “assuming that transfer can be facilitated by involvement in authentic tasks anchored in meaningful contexts” (Ertmer and Newby, 2013, pg. 55).
The last portion of the presentation I had the pleasure of listening and engaging with was Daniel’s break down of the social and cultural impacts. I contend this is an incredibly important aspect of utilizing and incorporating assistive technologies in our classrooms. The quote that stood out to me from a video he showed us was when a young lady who uses a wheelchair said: “If I’m thankful for an accessible bathroom, how am I ever going to be seen as equal”. She has every right to be thankful, but what shook me was she has even more of a right to have an accessible place to use the washroom! Her gratitude shows that accessibility is something that is still being fought for. Although our society has come a long way in ensuring locations are accessible, we still have way to go. Daniel pointed out that the Australia Olympics were taken to court for not having a website that is accessible for the visually impaired. It is important that as a privileged able-bodied person I continue to question and critique the dominant systems and discourses to be proactive in my approaches in my classrooms and schools.
This got me thinking about a Podcast that was talking about accessibility at South by Southwest (SXSW). SXSW celebrates the convergence of tech, film and music industries (sxsw.com). In the conversation, people were asking for SXSW to be available online and thus accessible for all people regardless of their ability to travel or access the event for a variety of reasons. They kept refusing saying it was impossible to make something of this magnitude available online. It can only be done in person. Fast forward to the pandemic, and suddenly it was available online. It reminded me of the lady being thankful for the bathroom- but why does it always take something to happen for equity to be available for differently abled bodies? That got me thinking to my classroom and something Christina said during this portion- utilizing assistive technology not only aids the students who needs adaptations, it aids all learners. The catalyst can be a diverse learner, but as an educator, why do I wait for an intervention to be needed prior to implementing it in my spaces? Good teachers adapt, offer choice, diversify instructional and assessment strategies. Utilizing assistive technology is another tool in the toolbox to ensure all students have opportunities to thrive. It is a proactive approach that honors the people that sit in those desks and gives them diverse opportunities to learn, grow and showcase the best versions of themselves.
At the end of the day, that’s what John Stockton would do- set people up to succeed, so that is what I will do too! It is essential to utilize tools that allow students to engage with the content, to amplify voices, to share learning journeys knowing that all students will benefit from diverse instructional, assessment and technologies in the classroom. So, moving forward in my classroom, I am going to be more like John Stockton. And also, Michael Jordan, because any day I can be like MJ is a good day.