Archives for August 2016

August 22, 2016 - No Comments!

Learning About Assistive Technology

I’ve spent most of my adult life as a disability rights advocate. I have worked in spaces where disability was a prominent part of the conversation and in other spaces where it wasn’t even considered until I said something. I’ve never taken a formal class in special education, disability rights, or assistive technology...until now.

Sketch note of five people with text below

Sketchnote CC-BY-NC @RhianonElan.

I’m excited to embark on a new journey in the field of assistive technology (AT) while continuing my work as a Digital Learning Specialist in the Boston Public Schools. Over the years, I have worked with people with disabilities who use AT and I even use it myself. In my current professional role, I support teachers with technology integration through a combination of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and design thinking. I’m part of a team that provides blended professional learning through webinars, videos, in person trainings, and web resources. AT plays a vital role in my professional participation, and I’ve gotten the support that I need by being consistent and vocal about my needs. I am also intentional about the big picture, which is what drove me to want to pursue graduate studies in AT at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In my program, I want to enhance my understanding of the ways that technology can be used for teaching and learning for all learners. Too often, those in the margins get ignored or are not given opportunities to participate fully, meaningfully, and with their chosen voice - in activities, academic conversations, employment, and social spaces. I profoundly understand what this means, and this is what drives me to learn more and to innovate.    

This drive was solidified a few weeks ago when I attended Camp CreATe organized by Therese Willkomm and Stacy Driscoll of ATinNH, New Hampshire’s State Program on Assistive Technology. The organization focuses on training, education, and outreach on assistive technology and provides assistive technology services. I spent two days learning about both low and high tech tools for assistive technology and had the opportunity to fabricate low tech solutions with Therese's guidance. I later found out that one of the Boston Public Schools’ occupational therapists attended the program. We spoke about the highlights of the program for us and are excited to continue the conversation this year on making the connections between AT and IT more visible. I expect that there will be shared resources, videos, and webinars that will emerge from this.

In addition to applying what I learned at Camp CreATe, I will be taking online classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I’m excited to take the classes, share and apply what I have learned, and gain a new perspective as a student of online learning. With the latter, I will admit that it has been a challenge to be an online learner because so many online classes are inaccessible to deaf and hard of hearing learners. I am fortunate to have support from UIC’s Disability Resource Center to help ensure that my online journey will be accessible with captioned videos and webinars. I expect that in addition to sharing what I have learned about AT that I will also share what to do and not do in online learning - because learning does go beyond K-12 education.

Here’s to lifelong learning!

August 1, 2016 - No Comments!

Reflections on BLC 16

From July 19-22, 2016, I was able to attend and volunteer at the annual Building Learning Communities Conference (BLC 16) hosted by Alan November. I heard many positive things about this conference and was encouraged to volunteer by fellow Boston Public Schools educators. It was exciting to attend a local conference that was educator-driven. The program included talks by programmers, students, edtech leaders, artists, and early childhood educators. Themes at the conference included mindfulness, creative computing, and early childhood education. After taking a week to reflect on my conference experience, there are five areas that I would like to explore in-depth in the coming months.

1. Curation

I attended a session run by Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) on curating digital resources. She shared a lot! It really made me think about being purposeful with the tools that I use for curating personal and professional work, including those I recommend to others. Curation is one of the skills that we should be teaching both students and teachers. As more media is created globally, how can we be purposeful with our own curation - for our own learning and for the learners that we work with? And, how might we encourage these learners to curate resources on topics of interest to them that they may also share and build upon with others? A key part of this conversation is the why, which includes the open sharing of free resources, the responsibility of attribution, and the potential of remixing.

2. Visual Notetaking

As a visual thinker, I often visualize my notes as I write or type them. After seeing great sketchnotes from educators like Sylvia Duckworth (@SylviaDuckworth) and Silvia Tolisano, I knew I wanted to be one of those educators. To move to this next level, I read book chapters, presentations, and blog posts on sketchnoting, privately experimented with sketching on various apps and programs, and studied the visual language and structure of sketchnotes. What I was missing was a purpose. Thanks to Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) for her workshop on sketchnoting and my volunteer role as a session scribe at BLC16, I used Microsoft's OneNote to sketch several sessions and Linda Liukas' keynote. I have since created several more sketchnotes and found the two programs that I like best: Notability and OneNote. Silvia emphasized that you don't have to be a fine artist to produce an effective sketchnote. Sketchnoting gives you the freedom to present ideas, thoughts, and points in visually interesting ways. These ways can be linear or organic, colorful or monochromatic, and have minimal to no text present. Try sketch noting a quote, a short talk, or an idea that you've been mulling over, and then share it with the world. You may be surprised - I know I was when Linda Liukas tweeted me back after seeing my sketchnote!

3. Makerspaces

Assorted makerspace items on a table.

The little bits table at BLC 16.

I had the opportunity to participate in my first makerspace with my friends from the Lesley University STEAM Team (@LesleySTEAM). It was great fun to see participants create with little bits, produce a stop motion film, and code using Scratch and MakeyMakey. I found myself at the little bits table since I had not created anything with them before. Twenty minutes of play was enough to spark my interest in playing with them more. Makerspaces aren't new in education, but they are new to me as a participant, so I hope to participate in more in the near future - particularly those that focus on including learners in the margins, such as students with disabilities. I'm interested in seeing makerspaces that demonstrate inclusive design - that is, taking universal design principles and assistive technology into consideration.

4. Scavenger Hunts

I participated in my first scavenger hunt at BLC 16 with Amy Burvall (@amyburvall), and it was a blast. While some people chose to work in teams, I worked by myself because I had a clear vision for what I wanted to capture around Boston. I quickly set off to photograph the Boston Duck Tour bus, street textures, the Os Gemeos mural on Stuart Street, spots in the Boston Public Garden (including the Good Will Hunting bench) and a bike rack where many bikes are stolen. Our purpose was to photograph items that connected to a challenge that Amy presented. I loved how she used Google Plus in a creative way to present challenges and encourage us to use various apps that called for drawing, creating collages and word poems, hashtagging, and creating ThingLinks. I would love to lead one of these in the near future for our teachers - or at least share how they could create one for their students! If you are interested in seeing the results of this scavenger hunt, check out the #MobileSapiens hashtag on Twitter and Google Plus!

5. Computational Thinking

This year, Massachusetts recently passed new standards in digital literacy and computer science. There are four strands, one of which is centered around Computational Thinking. I'm very interested in seeing how teachers locally and nationally are addressing computational thinking at all grade levels. I'm also interested in exploring what professional learning looks like around teaching computational thinking - in particular for those teachers who come from non-computer science backgrounds. For computational thinking to be pervasive, it has to be interdisciplinary. In her keynote, Linda Liukas shared her journey with using visual storytelling to teach about computational thinking. The below sketchnote is a summary of main points from her keynote that stood out to me. This is only the beginning, and I'm pretty excited to see how my own learning evolves on this topic in the coming months and years.

Sketch note of Linda Liukas keynote.

Sketchnote of Linda Liukas keynote. CC-BY-NC R. Gutierrez.