ECI 833 – Assistive Technology

I have had a varying experience with assistance technology, both in the classroom and in my personal life. In a work setting, when we switched to online learning, I found it very challenging to find an effective way to present the math content to students in an online format. The access to online technology for students was so wavering, so it made it difficult to really find a plan and method to reach students in an online format. There was a deep level of conviction of wanting students to continue to learn the outcomes, be prepared for next year, and generally wanting the best for them, but for the first few days after the announcement was made, I was stuck trying to find a solution.

I knew that I wanted to offer some video format of my lesson, but a live Zoom version of this does not seem appealing. I wished I had had a laptop that was a touch screen capable of using a drawing pen, and then I was introduced to a drawing padlet. This tool is traditionally used for graphic design as a method to color and sketch logos/graphic art, but I had not thought of using it for a math lesson. And it worked perfectly!! I like to use the Smart Notebook program, and it worked great for screen recording, and then I could use the drawing pad to show my calculations and steps as I communicated how to work through different mathematical questions. Please, believe me, this new process of demonstrating a math lesson was a tricky task to learn. I had to watch the screen as I would blindly record the math and notes below on the drawing pad without looking at it. And that was difficult! My cursive is often confused with that of a primary student, so trying to now learn this new skill with some seriously lacking abilities in my fine motor skills. Maybe that would be one of my comments about assistance technologies is that there is a level of proficiency that must be attained to demonstrate effective use of these tools/programs to aid in student learning.

This article expands on the notion that the level of proficiency of teachers’ application of assistive technology has a major influence on the impact on students. I was lucky that I had ample time during COVID-19 to learn the craft of this assistance technology and perfected it through recording numerous videos and perhaps endless time. I did get sick of my own voice after I had recorded 3 hours of videos a day, 5 days a week for approximately 12 weeks.

However, my drawing pad allowed me to transfer the simple tool of writing and constructing words and numbers into a sequence that allowed for students to follow along as if they were in class. Students would watch the videos at their own leisure instead of a live Zoom session, and I felt that allowed for variable schedules and timelines to optimize learning opportunities. I felt that this assistive technology allowed for learning to continue, maybe not at the same rate, but offering new potential for growth and challenges all in one.

In this short experience of a specific assistive technology, I learned the importance of replicating an authentic and familiar way that students learn. I realized how valuable it was to master the tool I was using to deepen the impact it could have on student learning. It became clear to me to examine the missing gaps for students during this time and try to provide an assistive technology that diminishes the effect of these missing links and sometimes can bridge a solution. The tricky part in my limited experience with assistance technology arises from identifying the specific learning gaps and how a tool might be able to meet these needs. Then, it seems it would be challenging to now find the appropriate tools that effectively meet these learning needs. This process can be time-consuming and exhausting for the teacher. And, it often feels like there is never a perfect solution to this challenging dilemma, so sometimes this cycle goes on for too long.

However, there is hope with the power of collaboration with colleagues and professional development opportunities to reduce the sheer impact of this process only falling on yourself to tackle.

Please let me know what assistance tools you have used in your schools, and how this process has gone for you.


Distance Learning it Helped me Grow but Please No…

The best tools for blended and online learning that I have used or are aware of is Wacom, Zoom, Google meet, Kahoot, Edpuzzle, Remind, and Screencastify. When COVID-19 happened, we were forced to go online very quickly with a few tools and keep our students engaged and learning just like before. This was a huge undertaking. I survived but only because of a few wonderful tools. Zoom was a great way to still teach with some contact with students. Without scheduled classes, I think no work or fun would have occurred. The Zoom classes made it feel a bit more normal; we could still discuss, and students could ask questions but in the comfort of their home. I even did work out classes with the students over zoom for my Wellness 10 and Physical Education 9 courses. Through Zoom and Screencastify I made lesson videos for my math and science classes. It was great if students missed class or just wanted to go back and see how we worked through questions together; it was all there for them on google classroom. The Wacom tool made it possible for me to write like I do on the smart TV in the classroom. Therefore, we could work through problems in math as we always did and my videos reflected what it was like in the math classroom regularly. Collaboration and teamwork was more difficult though, as I couldn’t supervise the groups in breakout rooms well. I still use these videos on my google classroom. Some of them wouldn’t fully match my content as I adjust my program all the time but is so helpful for when students miss. The complete notes to how to work through questions never seems to be enough. Students have trouble figuring it out with out a visual or explanation. This type of independence seems to be rare hence the videos was a wonderful tool that came from the terrible COVID-19 pandemic. I learned about a lot of great online tools during the pandemic.

For assessment I used google forms and moodle multiple choice assessments, but also posted written assignments because it was hard to change it all to digital platforms. There was a lot of issues with cheating with certain assignments unfortunately. Photomath is a great tool to help you find answers and learn backwards but also a bad one for online education cheating. Google meet and remind kept parents and students informed about changes, reminders about assessments or to support students and guardians with the technology issues. Google meet was great for students to be able to access support from me and again I could use my digital writing tool to demonstrate how to do a task.

I mostly spoke about the positives and how these tools supported me through these difficult times, but how would I feel if I had to teach in this blended learning way or full online with Moodle through distance education? I would hate it. I didn’t like it during COVID and I wouldn’t like it now. Regardless of being more prepared if I were to do it again, it still removes my favourite aspect about my job. I enjoy interacting with students, discussing new ideas, debating, having conversations, building relationships, supporting them with the “hidden curriculum” and having fun. In my opinion I couldn’t do this at all in a full online platform and only partially in a blended online class format. Not only would I hate it, but as far as I learned through COVID it wasn’t beneficial for students either. I see many issues with online and blended learning for public education for grades K-12.  I mentioned a few times how some of the tools I used made it feel more normal, like we were in the classroom again. I was trying to recreate the classroom because this is the best place to help students be involved and excited about learning. Most students don’t have the maturity to stay focused, be involved in discussions, or complete assignments and learn in an online or Zoom class environment. There are a lot of distractions at home, and it was a lot easier for students to disengage. I am guilty of this myself. I would NEVER touch my phone in an in-person lecture in a university class. But I have in my online zoom classes.

Trust me, I tried to engage my students on zoom. Although, without parental guidance of getting students to school, a lot of students opted not to turn on their devices to sign into class. To foster engagement and get them to want to come to class, I tried Edpuzzle which takes youtube videos and allows you to pause them and ask multiple choice or discussion questions as you move through the video. I also used Kahoot for practice games before quizzes.

Students need, and most enjoy the face-to-face interaction in the classroom; online there is a lot of isolation and according to Martin and Bolliger these in-person interactions create a “dynamic sense of community”. The Edpuzzle videos I created during that time, I still use in the classroom to foster discussion. If that video with the questions was on an online moodle platform, the student could create their own opinions and ideas with those questions however it doesn’t give them the opportunity to hear other opinions or a new perspective.

I personally have an issue with the lack of movement and connection to our physical world due the technology shift in schools and not everyone has access to this technology! The government would have to provide all students with device and a proper wifi connection. Other funding is hard enough and I don’t think this will happen. Physical manipulatives and activities with peers foster appropriate relational knowledge and teamwork. There could be a similar activity online but then it is done individually on a school device. Learning with physical objects outside in the real world is a more authentic experience than virtually. If it is not possible to experience something in the real world due to funds, or distance or accessibility than virtual is the next best thing.

I don’t want to teach online and I think it is the best option for K-12 education but for graduate students it has shown to be a wonderful way for many people to increase their education. Those that don’t live by a university can continue working and going to school with this shift in remote learning. Martin and Bollinger said in one study student to student interactions were least important for graduate students and they preferred online communication tools. This makes a lot of sense, they have the maturity and drive to continue their education and engage as much as they need to be successful.

I would rather use every classroom management tool in the book to try to control an excited, chaotic, talkative, loud classroom than never get to discuss and just assess written work by students. Physical togetherness is better, and evolution has shown that is how people thrive.