Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Monthly Archives: January 2008

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Intro to Video Self Modeling – Part 1

The idea of using images or videos of appropriate behavior in hopes of getting individuals to replicate that behavior is a rather common strategy used today. We see it anywhere from exercise tapes to instructional videos. An adaptation of this strategy that you may not see as often is known as video self modeling (VSM), which involves individuals viewing themselves perform a behavior. This behavior may be something the individual already knows how to do or a completely new skill set that he or she needs to learn.

According to Dowrick (Hitchcock, Dowrick & Prater, 2003) Video self modeling was first seen back in the 1970s when Creer and Miklich used it to help a boy improve his social skills. The idea was that role-playing would increase the boy’s social skills, so the researchers video taped their progress. To their surprise the role-playing had little effect, but when the boy viewed the video of himself attempting role-playing he started having success.

Much has been done with VSM since that point, but the outcomes continue to show the same promising results. VSM has been used successfully to help selectively mute students carry on conversations, autistic students break out of patterns, individuals and students transition into new settings and much more.

Basically there are two types of video self modeling: Positive Self Review and Feedforward. The difference between the two is that positive self review is used to review a positive behavior that the student already knows how to do.  Examples of this may include following directions, getting to class on time orsitting down quietly. These are behaviors that a student has probably already performed several times before, just not repeatedly. By using positive self review, the teacher can “catch” the student performing the behavior correctly on video, then show the student the video of him or her performing the behavior.

Feedforward VSM is a bit different in that it is used to show a video of a student performing a behavior they currently have not done before. Sound difficult? It can be, but doesn’t have to. All it requires is a little creativity. Let me give you an example. A friend of mine who works with VSM quite often went to assist with an autistic student who was bothered by several things. For example, if he were to hear a student screaming it would set him off. My friend, along with the student’s teachers, talked the student into sitting quietly and doing some work while the video camera was rolling. After catching a couple of minutes worth of footage, my friend was later able to capture audio of his daughter screaming (for the purpose of creating an audio file) and insert it into the video. After editing out any non-positive behavior, the autistic student was able to watch himself sit quietly and do his work even when loud screaming was occurring. Data was collected and the negative behavior was immediately reduced after the student watched the video.

Lucky for us, VSM has now become much more affordable and easy to create than ever before. There is no longer a need for thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Many times the result you are looking for is only a video camera and some free software away. To learn how to get started look for the Part 2 of this Video Self Modeling post.

Free Screen Magnifier

I just came across a free screen magnifier called iZoom for PC’s that looks like a great option for students with visual impairments and those of us over 40 who keep sliding back from the computer screen to read e-mail!

I used it for about an hour and it has a lot of the same features found in the expensive magnifier we typical buy for students. It is easy to control with hot key commands and also has a screen reader. The reader part is limited but I have not fully explored that option. You can download the free version 1.1 from Issist a company based in Ontario Canada.
They also have version 1.2 which has enhanced performance and cost $79. Another cool thing they have which seems to be the up and coming technology allowing people to have mobile USB access on a flash drive anywhere they go is called Zoom2Go, it cost $249.

I will be interested to see if anyone else has been using this magnifier and how it is working out, post a comment to this site or e-mail me at

– Gerald Abner, AT Specialist, Jessamine County Schools

Blogs in Education

I’m writing this post for a couple of reasons… First, I believe that blogging is a great new way for educators to embrace a universally designed classroom. Secondly, after asking my class to create a post regarding blogging in education I feel obligated to at least make a short post myself.

So, why should classrooms embrace blogging? There are the obvious reasons, which include writing for a larger audience and engaging students. Then of course there are the not so obvious reasons for some that include making assignments more accessible for students with diverse needs and helping to create that universally designed classroom you will hear me mention so often.

Let me expand a little – first with the more obvious reasons. If a student is at the point to where she doesn’t care about school and is frustrated with assignments, I’m not sure that she is really interested in what the teacher thinks about her writing ability. But what if the rest of the class, or the rest of the world, may read her writings and heaven forbid – leave comments on what they think about it! That student may start to re-think what it is she is writing. No one wants his or her friends to think they aren’t smart.

The engagement piece is probably self explanatory as well. If you were a student would you rather sit quietly and write with a pencil and paper or use the internet and computer with all of its wonderful tools and resources? Yeah… me too.

Moving on to what some teachers may not realize, the accessibility features that can be used when blogging are incredible. Are your students more visually oriented than text oriented? No problem, add some pictures to support your ideas. Trouble writing due to fine motor or other disabilities? Again, no problem. Maybe your student would benefit from using one of the hundreds of specially designed keyboards that are available. If a regular keyboard isn’t available, how about using an on screen keyboard with switch access? Or maybe your students have spelling problems. Did you know that spell check is available in most web browsers now? If that doesn’t work, maybe word prediction with phonetic spelling features would do the trick. Hopefully you see where I’m heading with this. Not only is a digital medium more engaging, but it is much more flexible as well. Think about all of your struggling readers. How much help would a text reader be for them when reviewing their peers’ blog posts?

Hopefully this post has given you a few ideas. I would recommend starting your own blog just to see how simple it is. Go to or one of the many other blog utilities out there and give it a try.

Markup your PDF Documents

Most of you probably know what Adobe PDF documents are. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, they’re those aggravating documents you receive from time to time that you can read, but cannot edit. They require you to have special software (Adobe Reader – free and standard on most PCs) to open them. The good thing about these documents are pretty much the same as the bad thing: you cannot edit them. Why is this good? Well, many people, including publishers use a PDF file so that end user (i.e. you) cannot modify the content. Businesses may also use them for policy and procedure manuals, forms, contracts and more. They also come in handy when you want to make sure your document looks the same to everyone. Have you ever opened up a word document that required you to edit parts of it just so you could make sense of it all? If the creator used a PDF document instead, no matter what setting the end user had, the document (including images) would look the same as when it was first created.

The bad part of not being able to edit is also quite obvious. What if there is a mis-spelled word or you don’t like the way something reads. Maybe you just want to bold or highlight certain portions for your records. These simple functions cannot usually be done.

Now however there is a free program that gives you the best of both worlds. PDF-Xchange viewer is just that. It allows you to add your own markup to any pdf document and save it. This includes adding highlights, circles, arrows or even sticky notes. And don’t forget, it’s FREE! There are premium versions that let you do more like create your own pdf documents, but the viewer will serve your basic markup needs. If you need to create a pdf document there are free alternatives to that as well, such as Cute PDF Writer or PDF Creator. These programs allow you to create a pdf document by choosing them as your printer.

Converting YouTube and other Video Files

One of the more common tech questions I’m asked when it comes to video is how to save YouTube videos onto your computer. There are several resources out there that allow you to do this including extensions for your internet browser, websites, and other applications, but one of my favorites that was recommended by a colleague (simply because it requires no installation and can be used with any computer with internet access) is the website

Not only will Zamzar allow you to save YouTube videos to your computer in various formats, but it will also allow you to covert other files like .doc and .pdf files. To use it, simply go to their website (, upload a file, choose what you would like to convert it to, enter your email address and click convert. When finished you will be emailed a link that will allow you to download your file. If instead you want to save a YouTube video, simply go to and past the url of the video into the “Add url” box. Click Add url, choose what format you want to covert it to, enter your email address and again, you will be sent a link to download the video in its new format.

The shortcomings of this site is that conversion can take a few minutes and you have to enter your email address instead of being taken directly to the download. However, not having to install any software or have any tech skills whatsoever for it to work is a huge plus for many users. – Saving energy one search at a time

Looking to save energy while you work? may do just that. It takes the worlds most popular search engine, Google, and gives it a black background that uses less energy to display than bright white or other color alternatives. The paragraph below is directly from their website:

“In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.

We believe that there is value in the concept because even if the energy savings are small, they all add up. Secondly we feel that seeing Blackle every time we load our web browser reminds us that we need to keep taking small steps to save energy.”

All Blackle asks is that you do your part in saving energy. They recommend you set your homepage to instead of Google (after all, your searches will still retrieve the same results) and add “ – Saving energy one search at a time” to your email signature.