Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Monthly Archives: January 2012

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Staying up to Date

The most common question I am asked when I speak at a local or national conference is “How do you stay up to date with all of this stuff?”  While it would be nice to be able to say that I travel the world going from classroom to classroom and lab to lab to find only the best products and practices, it really is much simpler than that.  There are two primary ways I stay up to date:

There are 3 or 4 national conferences dedicated to Assistive Technology that I try to attend at least two of each year.  They are:

In addition, there are tons of state and regional conferences available all over the United States that are great ways to network and learn about new products and strategies.  This year, I will have the opportunity to visit Australia to speak at Spectronics’ Inclusive Learning Technologies Conference, which looks to be a great time and learning experience.  So in short, there is no shortage of opportunities to learn and network in this area.

Traveling to one conference, much less multiple conferences isn’t easy for most folks.  And even if you do get the opportunity to attend one, you can never get around to every session available.  Because of this, I use blogs and news feeds from several sites to stay up to date.  If you aren’t familiar with a feed reader, now is the time to learn.  A feed reader basically takes any frequently updated content with an rss feed (think news sites and blogs) and puts them all in one place for you.  This way you don’t have to visit 10 or 20 different sites each time you want to see what’s new.

I personally use Google Reader and check it at least once a week.  It is a great way to pass time when flights are delayed or I am waiting somewhere.  I will typically have over a thousand items I can look through when I check it.  Not that I’ll ever have time to review everything, but it is always nice to just skim through and see what sticks out.  I can also sort it by date, topic, etc…  If you do decide to start using a feed reader, be sure to subscribe to this blog!

I also like to read through the QIAT Listserv.  You can sign up at  Note that is a very active listserv so you may want to setup the emails to go into a folder until you have time to read them.  I am also becoming more and more of a twitter fan.  If you follow the right people you can learn about tons of useful sites and products in no time.  Follow me at

This may be a longer answer than those asking the question wanted, but hopefully it helps!

Apps from TechSmith

I use TechSmith programs often.  You may not be familiar with the company, but I bet that you have heard of some of the products they offer such as:

  • Camtasia – Create high quality screen videos in many different formats
  • Jing – Free site that allows you to create screen videos and images to share
  • SnagIt – Advanced Screen Capturing Software
  • – Site that allows you to upload and store videos, documents and more from any platform.  Limited storage is free, reasonable prices for upgrades.
In addition to these products, TechSmith, like most other companies, are now getting into the app market.  I’ve enjoyed messing around with two of their apps and thought you may as well.  Specifically, the two apps I’ve viewed are:
  • ScreenChomp – ScreenChomp allows you to create quick and easy video tutorials on your iPad.  It consists of a whiteboard, markers and several editing features.  You can create a tutorial and upload for others to view online in minutes.  And it’s free!
  • Coach’s Eye – This one is obviously geared for coaches who want to video players, then review the video in slow motion and add audio and drawn comments.  However, this same app could be used for tons of educational purposes such as professional development feedback, video self modeling, student projects and more.  This app is for the iPhone or iPod Touch. Cost is $4.99 in the app store at the time of this writing.

Interactive Timelines

The use of graphic organizers in classrooms have been shown to be an effective practice for some time now.  Graphic organizers can be anything from a Venn diagram or KWL chart to an interactive web based support.  These types of supports help students make previously invisible connections visible.  Now before you get too excited, there isn’t any evidence that I am aware of that says if you walk into a classroom, hand out a “graphic organizer” worksheet and walk away that you will see a bump in achievement.  The goal here is to increase engagement, not bore kids to death.

So keeping engagement in mind, there is a particular type of graphic organizer that you may find beneficial: Time-lines.  Commonplace in many classrooms, time lines are created to show events, outline a story, develop a family tree and much more.  While this can all be done with paper and pencil or arts and crafts, web based software now allows students to not only add much more information to time lines, but also collaborate on them with other students, embed in blogs and forward out to others.

A few sites to check out that allow you to develop these types of time lines for free include:

As with most web based software, you can create a limited number of items for free with these sites, then opt to pay for premium features.  Consider creating a time line to use for teaching content to your students, or allowing your students to demonstrate their knowledge of content.

Learning Styles

Are you a visual learner?  If not, maybe you are more auditory or kinesthetic?  If you are not sure, don’t worry because there is no shortage of websites or preference assessments you can purchase that will help you determine what type of learner you are.

I bring this up because learning style preference assessments are nothing new.  I remember when I first started in the field of Universal Design for Learning these were common amenities used to help determine the best way to present information to your students.  I recently just deleted a post on this blog from a couple years ago that listed free preference assessments you could find online.

Here’s the problem… According to a recent literature review published  in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning styles assessments into general education practice.”

This will come as a shocker to many of you.  It did for me.  But this is a great example of what happens in classrooms everyday.  We continue to do things others have done because we assume it works or because it is what we did when we were in school.  You will probably want to take the time to read through this article yourself.  It is simply titled “Learning Styles, Concepts and Evidence” by Pashler, et. al.  A couple of the main takeaways for me include:

  • There are tons of studies that reference learning styles, however, “very few have included methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles.”  So even it you read something discussing how important learning styles are, it wasn’t likely from a strongly run study.
  • They are quick to mention the difference between preference and disability.  Most learning styles assessments involve preferences, where students say they prefer one method over the other.  This is different than using visual or auditory supports with students because of a disability.

I hope you give the article a read.  Whether you agree with it or not, it has been a great discussion point at sessions I present because it forces folks to really think about why they are doing what they are doing in schools and classrooms.

AT vs IT (Instructional Technology)

Definitions are funny things sometimes. For example, if there is a student with a disability in my classroom and she receives an iPod Touch to help with basic study and time management skills, she has assistive technology. However, if everyone in the class has an iPod Touch it is instructional technology. That just seems odd…

I work quite a bit in co-taught classrooms that have a mixture of students with and without disabilities.  What’s interesting is that if I can introduce a new technology to these students, such as iPods or a Smartboard, all kids benefit. A student with a disability may use it to increase communication while a student on the advanced placement track may use it to move onto more advanced content.

Having said this, it is important to realize that just because you put technology in a classroom that achievement doesn’t automatically increase. I’ve yet to find a device that makes a person smarter, but I’ve found plenty that makes instruction more efficient and engaging. For real change to occur, in addition to the technology, you need a teacher with an open mind that is willing to experiment and that will take the time to learn what works and what doesn’t.