Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Think "Out of the Box" Assistive Technology #SXSWedu

Notes from SXSWedu 2012 panel discussion/concurrent session.

Differentiation techniques for sped or GT students work with ALL kids; when you learn methods to use with students who have special learning needs, you learn how to best teach all children.

Gaming has the expectation that you will not always be right the first time. It promotes continuous learning.

Microsoft has been working with Kinect technology and autistic students. Technology removes barriers and helps them interact with the world. Using the Kinect to interact with the computer supports movement and motor skills which are much more difficult to promote in other settings. They are highly motivated by making their character move on the screen and even will play with peers.

The differentiation/personalized learning that students with learning challenges need actually benefits ALL students as we move toward a paradigm of personalized learning for all students.

Student centered classrooms benefit all types of learners. Personalized learning plans which identify the learning needs of every student and identify a students' interests, strengths, and talents. Relevant Meaningful 21st Century Tasks (PBL) and relevant data provided to teachers so they can continue to customize learning.

Renzulli Learning System Personalizes on 4 dimensions:

  • Academic strengths
  • Interests
  • Preferred learning styles
  • Preferred expressive styles
Renzuli contains a catalog of 40,000 curated learning resources and assignments are automatically differentiated to each student's profile. Originally developed for GT students. Renzuli was recently acquired by Compass Learning.

What does the ideal classroom look like?

There is differentiation from the level of meeting learning deficits to personalizing based on student interest. Diagnostic and pre-emptive tools are used. Teachers need training around very innovative learning styles. How teachers are trained earlier in University is critical. 

Industry does not give its employees course content and then ask them to fill out a T/F quiz. They are asked to demonstrate competency based on what they have learned.

What is the role of social media in preparing teachers for these classrooms of tomorrow?

Social media makes it possible for teachers to collaborate in a way they have never been able to before. The best learning teachers get is by collaborating with other teachers, not from workshops delivered traditionally. With time, tech tools, and access to one another, teachers could solve many of the problems we face in education today, including addressing students with special needs.

It gives teachers a spirit of empowerment and a way to fight the establishment in a professional way. Policy can only take us so far; teacher collaboration is what will move education forward. 

How do we look at students on a daily basis?

Empowering students to look at their learning unleashes the X-Factor in education. Students still need support from teachers, but can be encouraged even in traditional schools to pursue their own interests. We have to move to a student-centered model. Schools are currently configured to move a large number of students through with a small number of staff. Individualizing learning will cause us to have to think about the structure of our schools.

Clearly defined competencies, and the ability to learn with a variety of different teachers, are key factors in moving toward deep personalization.

Final thoughts: What one thing would you like the audience to focus on?

There is no one thing. But one thing you can do is share what you have learned and do not be afraid of stepping out of the box. Teachers have so much passion. Taking a leadership role should not be something to be feared. 

Trust students to direct their learning even though we are held accountable for outcomes. Take some risks along those lines.

In a fiercely difficult teaching environment with budget cuts and high demands on teachers, the best teachers still find a way to teach the whole child in spite of policies  to the contrary.

Don't forget your passion as an educator.