Our guest bloggers this month are Casey Schmalacker, Academic Coach and Samantha Feinman, MS.Ed., TSSH., Program Director at New Frontiers in Learning. This is part two of a two-part series (click here to read part 1).
Utilizing Technology for High School and College Students — Smart Pens, Tablets, and Word Prediction Software:
The benefits of assistive technology cannot be underscored; however, all assistive technology will not necessarily benefit all students. It is important to find the right systems to help each student’s individual needs. In order to maximize the benefits, it is important to research the different technological resources available. Below are three examples of how assistive technology can be utilized to overcome academic hurdles: Smart Pens, Tablets, and Word Prediction Software.
Tablets and Computers
With the advancement of technology, hand held computers are becoming more common. The use of these hand-held devices is slowly permeating into the academic field, finding particular use for students with ASD. Independent developers can create applications to address specific needs, but the digital aspect of reading materials is one of the most important benefits of these new devices. These devices can address fundamental difficulties a student may face, such as fine motor difficulties affecting the ability to turn the pages of a book. By utilizing a tablet, the frustration that manifests from these complications can be avoided (Stachowiak, 2010). Further, digital copies of lecture materials allow students to manipulate these notes in ways that can be beneficial. This can include, but is not limited to, increasing text size, color coding, sharing of notes, or incorporating supplemental notes or comments (Stachowiak, 2010). Digital books allow for a seamless experience for reading, allowing students to have all of their books in one place, along with supportive resources such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and online search engines.
Assistive technology is extremely important for students that struggle with content heavy courses. Many times, ineffective listening skills and poor note-taking skills are the primary obstacles preventing comprehension of class lectures (Boyle, 2010). Smart Pens can be utilized to alleviate such hurdles. A Smart Pen is “a pen that contains a recording device, which when used with its accompanying notebook, links written notes to what was recorded at the time the note was written” (Stachowiak, 2010, p.5). As students are taking notes, the pen matches up the location of the notes to the time of the lecture, allowing students to review the contents of the lecture in tandem with specific locations in their notes. This allows students to supplement their notes with portions of the lecture they may have missed or misunderstood. The audio files can be transferred to the computer, in order to make a more seamless experience of reviewing notes. Further, research has demonstrated that classrooms who share Smart Pen audio files online tend to have lower numbers of accommodation requests for notes and note takers (Stachowiak, 2010).
Word prediction technology is found as a feature in many computer word processing programs today. These programs, such as Co:Writer, provide students with a list of up to thirty possible target words after typing the initial letters of the word they are attempting to express. This software assists individuals in the writing process by changing the concentration from the physical activity of typing to the mental activity of processing and planning which words to use to express thoughts. The use of word prediction has led to an increase in the fluency and quality of students’ written work (Peterson-Karlan, 2011). Word prediction can support word retrieval issues, spelling difficulties, and writing breakdowns, and has been found to increase content legibility, spelling accuracy, and writing efficiency (Handley-More, Deitz, Billingsley, and Coggins, 2003; Evmenova, Graff, Jerome, & Behrmann, 2010). Additionally, the results of a study conducted by Mirenda and Turoldo (2006) found that students using word prediction software led to an increase in writing stamina and a decrease in writing frustration. By removing the distraction of spelling errors and the frustration of the mechanics of writing by hand, there is an increased emphasis on content, allowing students to maintain focus on the topic at hand.
Using assistive technology to support individuals with ASD helps to overcome the limitations that have made academic success elusive for students in the past. It is important to start using technology to support learning in college while students are still in high school, as the work is more manageable and allows time to master the technologies, leading to improved preparation for the higher demands of college level curriculum. Getting systems of assistive technology put in place as early as possible will allow for higher levels of academic independence as the road to college approaches.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Samantha Feinman, Program Director, New Frontiers in Learning at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is part two of a two-part series (click here to read part 1).
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