23 March 2007

CSUN 2007/ E. A. Draffan: Technology and Training for Higher Education

Because students who need to use Assistive Technology at the university level will most often enter higher education knowing nothing about it - whether in the US, UK, or anywhere else, the need for fast, effective training is essential.

But what kinds of training works? What does it accomplish? How can we make it better? and, perhaps most importantly, who exactly needs to be trained?

Mrs. Draffan, of the University of Manchester (and soon to be at Southampton) presented "Innovative Practices in AT Training for LD (Dyslexic) Students," which looked at the results of pre- and post training surveys in England, where, a strong data-base exists because the government provides grants to students to acquire appropriate devices and conducts the evaluations and the training. And because Mrs. Draffan is one of the leading lights of post-secondary technology, she also provided vast insight into what is really needed.

The first thing is clearly that, in the UK as in the US, primary and secondary education are simply not doing their job (see "Toolbelt Theory" below). In the telephone surveys of 455 dyslexic students only 11% had knowledge of Assistive Technology before their encounters with the evaluation and training programs. Actually, based on my American experience, this seems quite high (which is depressing). So, perhaps, the first people who need training are those running, and teaching in, our primary and secondary schools.

The survey also showed that 95% used prescribed hardware and 91% were satisfied with it. 82% used prescribed software and 91% were satisfied. 75% thought the software was easy to use and 84% thought the hardware was easy to use - but - only 46% had really received formal training.

The highest happiness quotients came from scanners and text-to-speech systems. The greatest difficulties - but also the biggest satisfactions - came from Speech Recognition.

None of this is surprising. All of us who have trained know that it is easier to teach hardware than software - fewer choices, fewer variations, more straight-forward solutions - and we also know that without effective training software gets ery confusing, and Speech Recognition without training typically goes nowhere.

The survey also found that even "satisfied" students might not be using their assistive technology to their best advantage. Typically, Mrs. Draffan said, students used just five of the control features in Text-Help, and were similarly limited with other software. They also seemed to struggle with some of the prescribed choices, reporting problems that were probably predictable in Dragon, and issues with text-to-speech voices that might have been solved by selecting a different software package.

But the biggest difficulties lay in the intersection of this technology and the university environment. After all, I know all about technology, and all about accessibility, but when a professor "hands" me a paper in bitmapped PDF form, I am still going to struggle mightily. I might get a "virtual printer" to access it and then spend hours cleaning it up. Or I might - if the print quality is unexpectedly good - print it out and scan it back in with optical character recognition, but still, the conversion process taps out all the energy I might have spent reading the article itself.

So, who has to be trained? Yes, add university faculty to the list.

OK, but what needs to be done differently in training? Students, Mrs. Draffan pointed out, wanted short training sessions, but preferred them at their home. This is as hard (travel expense for trainers, scheduling) as it is understandable (long training sessions get less effective, public space training, or training on unfamiliar computers, is difficult). Students with laptop computers seemed to do better, because they could carry their own computers into on-campus training. So laptops might be the route -I prefer them for students myself because they make computer use a constant, support in-class activities, and are much easier to carry in for repair when that is needed.

Students also wanted task-based training, training specifically geared to their academic needs. And they wanted "just-in-time" training. This suggests that trainers need to be better connected to the university and the departments within the university, and that training must be far more specific. It also indicates that drop-in centers, call lines, Camtasia "videos," on-line, etc. might need to be experimented with.

But there is something else. Many students rejected training because they felt themselves to be "good with computers." "Good with computers," however, as Mrs. Draffan indicates, rarely translates to effective and appropriate use of AT devices without training. And the training offered in England was all "pre-university-start" training. And two things come into play (in my opinion): First, students do not know what they will need to do in a university before they get there, so the training is disconnected from reality. Second, adolescents do not like to admit to adults that they are weak in tech areas. Mrs. Draffan and I agree that training after the first semester works better, because they have discovered what does not work. But we also know that it is hard to get students back for that second go-round.

Well, the report suggests essential things:
1. Training in the right time and place - and that will not be the same for all students. But comfort is essential.
2. Training that suits the users abilities and ICT skills - it cannot be "over their head" or treat them as "babies"
3. Training based in the tasks to be undertaken - typical assignments, university websites, Windows and mac environments, class scheduling software, all must be explored.
4. Training that introduces the most needed elements of the AT system - perhaps those "five buttons" - and expands later.
5. Training via Alternative Formats - drop-in facilities, Just-in-Time support by phone, forum, or website, Notes that annotate the training, Quick system crib sheets and guides (A4 or 8.5x11), Audio/Video/Flash versions, Multimedia CDs or downloads, and screeb grabs (screen shots) made during the training that relate directly to task performance, Camtasia recording.

The full report and recommendations are coming... watch for them.

- Ira Socol from Los Angeles

from E.A. Draffan: links-
How to create a talking book in PowerPoint 2003 by Jonathan White of South Cheshire College.
Creating Talking Books in PowerPoint
AviScreen Classic capture software

1 comment:

Axistive said...

Excellent article and useful links. It's a bit comforting to think that when the next generation gets to college they probably won't be so unfamiliar with assistive technology.