Saturday, December 22, 2007

Where is Web 2.0 for Intensive Special Needs Teachers and Students?

The entire idea of Web 2.0 is that the internet is the operating system, as in the you don't need software on your computer because everything you need is online, and users create the content, for example users create the blog entries and the
videos on You Tube.

Learners with and teachers of intensive special needs have some places where the network is the operating system, such as Route 66 (the online reading program for adolescents with severe special needs) and eLr. We also have lots of user created content, for example all of the sharing on Learning Grids, Intellitools Activity Sharing and the Boardmaker Yahoo Group (as far as I know barely anyone uses the official Boardmaker sharing). (BTW, isn't it nice of us the do so much of the work for these companies who charge us an arm and a leg for their software?)

There are also some online communities like Ning groups (which I have stopped using because Ning is waaaayyy too slow) and interactive sites, like those listed in the last post. And there are plenty of special educators blogging, twittering and otherwise using the tools of generic Web 2.0.

But where, oh where, is Web 2.0 for intensive special needs teachers to create materials entirely online and allow others to access them. Why aren't we accessing Boardmaker, Classroom Suite and Clicker 5 online? (Although off line software is still needed for those of us who do not have internet access at work.) Why aren't we able to create the content online and then access it from any computer? We would save a fortune on the flash drives and thousands of hours of time that we currently use to move content from our laptops to classroom computers. It would be amazing to access content that creators allow others to access and have students use that content without downloading it, un-"zipping" it and installing it.

Why can't we create Dynavox, PRC, ChatPC and other AAC pages online, save them online and then access them on any internet connected computer? Can you imagine how easy it would be for teachers and speech therapists if they could log into an AAC users account, program AAC pages and then log out, only to log back on during the school the next day and download the new pages onto the student's AAC device.

That way no student would ever have to leave there AAC device with the SLP overnight for programming. Imagine how great it would be to allow any AAC user to log into their account from any computer (at school, at home, at Grandma's) plug in their switch if needed and communicate -- especially when the AAC device batteries die, the device has to be shipped back for repairs, or the device was just left behind for the day. There have been many days when my ChatPC users have used the back up on the classroom computer to communicate because the device is "in the shop" or forgotten at home.

Nothing will take away the need for portable AAC devices, but online content creation and access would create instant back up options for students. Companies could provide access for users and their support teams as part of purchasing the device (like how Dynavox currently provides e-mail) and allow those people to decide whether or not the content they create can be accessed by others with accounts. Additionally companies could offer temporary access to those interested in trying out there operating systems as part of AAC evaluations or training workshops. Support teams could start creating content while health insurance or medicare/caid is processing the paperwork and have full sets of pages ready when the new device arrives.

Special needs software companies and AAC device makers need to get on the ball here. It is not time for excuses like the potential cost of doing this, but time for action. For web 2.0 to be for everyone they (special needs software companies) need to help build it. Not only that, but if the legacy companies don't get moving new upstarts will start moving in offering these options. (Boardmaker is already seeing some competition from online sites that allow SLPs and teachers to create communication boards.)

Web 2.0 for intensive special needs... where are you?

P.S. If those of you from companies like Dynavox are reading this and get started on this I would love to be a beta tester.... um and get some kick backs.


  1. Hi Kate
    A few of us are thinking the same thing. The digital divide seems to be getting bigger and bigger. You might want to check out one new tool however.
    Crick are releasing a new online called WriteOnline. Has lots of great features listed but no reference to visual supports.

    I also know that Widgit are working on the symbol based email program similar to their Webwide symbols based browser.
    It seems they're the only two companies (both UK based) starting to work towards web based tools.

  2. Kate,
    Great post! There are many applications for learners with less severe special needs. But the ability to create and access content anywhere at anytime is needed for all populations.
    You've asked an excellent question. Let's hope for some answers.

  3. nice post,i have been been using flash cards in my classroom,which has been very easy and effective to use,wanted to share it with you..


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