Improving Assistive Technology Training in Teacher Education Programs: The Iowa Model

Improving Assistive Technology Training in Teacher Education Programs: The Iowa Model

James R. Stachowiak (University of Iowa, USA) and Noel Estrada-Hernández (University of Iowa, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-817-3.ch019
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Teacher knowledge of and comfort with assistive technology (AT) has a profound effect on the use of this technology by students with disabilities. Currently, very few teacher preparation programs effectively address AT with their students. This chapter will discuss how to improve AT training at both a preservice and continuing education level for teachers by focusing on the innovative initiatives being undertaken by the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research in the preservice teacher education program at the University of Iowa. By the end of this chapter, readers will understand the pressing issues in AT training for teachers and what is being done to create a new generation of AT savvy teachers by improving overall AT knowledge and comfort levels.
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The University of Iowa’s College of Education created the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER) in 2006 to respond to the stated need of increased preservice AT teacher training by those across the state who worked with AT on a regular basis. Assistive technology services in Iowa are provided by an Area Education Agency. The state is divided into ten Area Education Agencies (AEAs) each covering large areas and containing numerous school districts (Iowa Department of Education, 2009). Each AEA has an AT team, however, these teams are small; especially when the physical size and number of districts served within each AEA are considered. Some AEA’s have over 3,000 students with AT written into their Individualized Education Plan, yet have fewer than ten AT professionals to work with these students. These constraints make it impossible for the AEA AT professionals to work with every student with AT needs on a regular basis.

Many teachers in these schools either do not have the required knowledge to effectively use the technology with the students as needed, or are not comfortable incorporating and using AT in class. Without the support and willingness to follow through of the classroom teachers, the work done by the AT professionals often leads to improper use, limited use, or AT abandonment (Cook & Hussey, 1995; Phillips, B., & Zhao, 1993). Thus, it was identified that not only is it important to provide professional development training opportunities to teachers in the field, but it is critical to create a new generation of teachers, both general and special education, that are not only knowledgeable in the use of various types of AT, but also comfortable enough to properly incorporate them in the classroom environment. To do this, it is imperative to incorporate AT education and training into preservice teacher education programs.

Although proficiency in AT for preservice teachers is emphasized in the 2001 Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) technology standards, only a few articles exist describing instructional methods for integrating AT into teacher education programs (Van Laarhoven, Munk, Zurita, Lynch, Zurita, & Smith, 2009). The Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research took this relative vacuum of information on providing preservice teacher AT training as an opportunity to create a new model program involving a combination of both obtaining information through lectures and meaningful hands-on experiences with AT commonly found in school settings. This chapter will focus on these innovative initiatives being undertaken at the University of Iowa to improve teacher’s knowledge of and comfort with AT.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Speech Recognition Software: Software that uses the user’s voice to input text into the computer or voice commands to control applications of the computer.

Universal Design for Learning: A framework for applying universal design principles to curricula, instructional materials, educational activities, and assessments to make them accessible to all students regardless of ability or learning style.

Assistive Technology (AT) Continuum: A means of categorizing assistive technology devices based on their level of sophistication, amount of training needed to use and relative cost. On the continuum, a device could be considered no-tech, low-tech, mid-tech, or high-tech.

ePortfolio: An electronic collection of traditional (essays, lesson plans, etc.) and multimedia (PowerPoint presentation, videos, etc.) examples of a teacher’s work.

Screen Reading Software: Software that reads the content of a computer screen out loud, this can be used by individuals with difficulty reading and understanding text or by individuals with visual impairments for navigation purposes.

Screen Magnifying Software: Software that increases the size of images on a computer screen to a size that individuals with visual impairments can see.

Mobile Assistive Technology Lab: A collection of laptop computers with different types of assistive technology that can be taken to and used in various settings for training.

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