A humorous instructor of mine back in high school wasn't a huge fan of taking her class down to the school computer lab; so to get around our school's technology policy, our teacher joked that since books, pen and paper were technically technology, we were in fact using technology all the time. While this was obviously a little bit tongue-and-cheek, it's true, really: even modern technology is so diverse and can be applied in so many different situations and classrooms. My learning partner is a chef's instructor at a cooking school; I have no formal, professional classroom instruction under my belt, but am writing about the education of students with special needs (e.g. students with physical or cognitive disabilities). Therefore, when we selected the theme of "technology in the classroom," we agreed to write about our own subject matter as I wasn't sure what technology in these fields could possibly have in common. I believe we both were under the impression that “technology in the classroom” would remain an extremely loose theme, but that our fields would have completely different reasons for technology use; and, similarly, that the roles we play as instructors would be completely different.
Of course, I shouldn't have been so skeptical. Throughout the conferencing experience, it became clear that our results are nearly identical. Technology is an incredibly powerful force in the classroom, and benefits and empowers all kinds of people in many diverse educational settings.
Jonathan found that technology works great in a cooking school. In many cases, a picture is worth a thousand words, and computers and iPads greatly illustrate this adage. Jonathan described how students can watch videos of culinary techniques, which can obviously be paused, re-wound or replayed as needed. It is easy to see why this multisensory approach would work better than trying to jot down directions all the time or look at paper diagrams. Of course, you can't pause a video to ask the computer a question, so this hardly minimizes the role instructors play. Instructors can, however, feel freer to provide a self-directed learning approach to their classes, helping out as needed.
This is certainly true of assistive technology as well, which does not teach any specific subject matter, but can help out with its comprehension and application. Professional AT educators and mainstream teachers alike can often use a similar self-directed learning approach: granting a certain amount of latitude to students in terms of the pace they are comfortable in learning and utilizing technology in the classroom. When I discussed the article “Assessing Adult Student Reactions to Assistive Technology in Writing Instruction” by Julie Muellet, Eileen Wood, Jen Hunt, and Jacqueline Specht, I described this self-directed learning approach in action: when provided with a dozen different types of special education technology, students self-selected which products they were most comfortable with, and eventually gained the skills to help their peers and only call upon a tutor as a last resort.
If I were a professional in the AT industry, I might offer students guided training programs to learn how to use their technology, but allow power users to skip the training if they don't feel it's necessary. As a mainstream classroom teacher, I might give a student with a print disability wide discretion about how he wants to direct the learning experience to suit his needs (e.g. whether he is more comfortable recording my lectures in audio format, or perhaps bringing a laptop or iPad into the class to take notes that way). As a person whose idea of cooking involves throwing some meat into a pan and placing it into the oven, I didn’t know the first thing about cooking school—but it’s great to know that technology allows many different kinds of instructors to play similar roles. This was the most valuable information I learned from my partner.
The conferencing experience was certainly a step outside my comfort zone, given that my learning partner and I have never met in person, and had to arrange to meet totally independently rather than relying on structured "group time" in the classroom. Nevertheless, in this age of globalization and efficiency, this is a very important skill to have.
Mueller, Julie; Wood, Eileen; Hunt, Jen; Specht, Jacqueline (2009). Assessing Adult Student Reactions to Assistive Technology in Writing Instruction. Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal Spring 2009, Vol. 3 Issue 1, 13-23. Retrieved from http://cclsw2.vcc.ca:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=38216954&site=ehost-live