AGOSCI 2013 Day One Part the Second

So onto the second part of yesterday, well in reality the only other session I attended but didn’t mention in Part One. And it is quite fitting I think that the session I am about to discuss has its own posting. You see, for me at least, it is the session of the conference. At least it is now. Emily Wailes presentation was entitles ‘Adapt to Connect’: The role of the communication partner. I have to be honest and say for the first half an hour I was seriously pondering my choice in sessions as it was very much the statistical report on the research Emily conducted. Yawn.

But then the second half. WOW! And I use that word deliberately as she had a Big Mac button programmed to say WOW! See it turned from dare I say boring research stats to the real world. And it was disturbing yet not totally unexpected. Her research with people with an Intellectual Disability really hit home as I could draw immediate links to a large number of the people my organisation supports.Emily tried I think to present the findings in as positive way as possible by saying 65% of support workers use an appropriate communication act that matches the communication needs of the person. All I heard was 35% are abusive of peoples rights and needs and it cannot be permitted to go on. But then it got worse, with data suggesting only 19.5% of staff use an appropriate visual or tactile act! 19.5%!

But the least surprising bit of research showed that the greater the complexity of the communications needs of the person the less likely there will be a good match. People with a profound ID need tangible cues to make informed choices, but they are only used in a quarter of the engagements therefore an informed choice is unlikely – if that isnt clear cut abuse I dont know what is.

Emily reinforced for the audience that AAC isnt JUST about a bit of hardware or software, it needs to include friends, family, interpreters and advocates. By this stage, to steal my new favorite expression from fellow Tweeter Kate Munro, I got my #rantypants on! Communication is a basic human need that is often forgotton or overlooked. It was so refreshing to hear Emily state that it needs to be on everyones agenda, all of the time. It needs to sit at the top of a house meeting, a service delivery meeting, a management meeting and definately at a Board meeting. If we leave it up to the ‘experts’ and to the SLTs/SPs only nothing meaningful will change.

Sarah Blackstone spoke in the opening keynote about everyone needing to pull up a chair at the table – we need to make it a priority.

Thank you Emily for your thought-provoking, timely presentation. I lost sleep last night, not just because of your content, but because it really pulled together the other themes in earlier and later sessions. It concerns me that there is this widespread gap not just in New Zealand and Australia but I would say globally that needs fixing. Fixing to give those that need a bit of help the help they need. Fixing to restore basic human rights, respect and dignity. I certainly do not profess to having the answers or solutions, but it is clear from the inspirational group of people attending the conference that there is focus, drive and a real desire to work together, across borders, across professions to make a change.

But just one more thing…

It seems appropriate to paraphrase the late Steve Jobs in this postings title, after being surrounded by his products on conference last week. Wasn’t that long ago conferences were owned by Windows devices, and the one or two with Apple products were quietly mocked. The Inclusive Learning Technologies conference was literally all iPads, iPhones and Macbooks… I sat very quietly in the back with my Win7 laptop and Android & Windows phones…..

I wanted to share my top 5 learnings from the conference. There were so many to choose from but this I think sums it up nicely…

5. We are not alone. If this conference was only able to highlight one thing it would be that no matter when in the world we come from we all face the same challenges, the same issues and we are all looking for the answers. It would be a huge error to underestimate the power of having 1200 like-minded individuals come together to share ideas. Ian summed it up nicely in his closing session I think – if we all go away and put into practise one thing that helps 8 people then that is 9600 people whose lives we have changed. Teach 8 colleagues who help 8 people and we can change the world (okay so I ever-so-slightly twisted his words, but the general concept is the same). And sure, some of us were IT professionals, or teachers, or OTs, or speechies or parents but there was a sense of commonality between us all, a desire to just help and support others.

4. Don’t think outside the box… Think like there is no box! One of the early gems. Throw away the rule book, and just do it. If someone says you have to get from point A to point B but it is too difficult, go via all the other letters until you get there – its the outcome that is important, not just the path. Life is a journey, embrace it.

3. SETT – Students, Environments, Tasks and Tools, putting the individual first. It aint rocket science! Ties into my number 1 point below. SETT is such a wonderfully simple framework that can deliver life-changing results. If you replace student with individual it opens it up to anyone, not just a tool for the classroom. Thank you Joy Zabala from bringing this to the conference.

2. UDL – Universal Design for Learning calls for multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression, multiple means of engagement. What I really like is it employs a graduated scaffolding approach to supports i.e. only have the supports that are needed and remove the ones that aren’t. And isn’t that what we all want to do? I sometimes think we amplify someone’s disability by putting in too many supports and getting in the way

1. YOU. It has been said time & time again but still such a valid message – technology won’t fix anything. It takes people using it with clear strategy to deliver results. In one of the sessions, someone said ‘Deploying technology without a clear strategy is a waste of time and money, like a computer in a classroom with no software’ and how true is that.

And a couple of quotes from the conference that hit home

For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

Disability is not a fixed thing: it depends on the environment. AT can be used to remove barriers.

Finally this pearl from the wonderful Mr Ian Bean:

Intercourse dancing. Apparently what we did at the conference dinner, and no it is not what you think! First time I can recall people getting into the gala dinner venue, then dancing while we wait for the entrees, then dance in between courses aka inter-course dancing!

Inclusive Learning Technologies Conference – Day 3 Summary

I am wondering where the time has gone. It only seems like a few short hours ago I was landing at Coolangatta Airport excited to be attending the conference. Now here I am back in New Zealand, no longer sleep deprived (I can SO understand why these things only happen every 2 years!!) and eagerly waiting for the 2014 conference. But first a recap of the last day…..

I chose to attend the keynote presentation from Joy Zabala – ‘Raising the Achievement Bar with Universal Design for Learning‘. Whilst it did have a specific focus on the education sector and the teachers in the room I got a lot out of it. After all we are all still learning and the skills are as applicable to a 5 year old as an 70 year old, an able-bodied person and someone with a disability.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a big topic and Joy did extremely well to distill it into a 90 minute slot. Basically UDL supports the design and implementation of a flexible, responsive curriculum that provides opportunities and reduces barriers in instruction. Its about providing appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges for individuals and important note here – appropriate is the key word. Joy gave the baby walking analogy to explain. When a baby is learning to walk we as parents hold both hands initially, then as confidence and skills develop we remove one hand then the other. Yes baby might fall over or stumble, but we don’t rush in and go back to step 1 right. We might hold one hand again for a short period then remove that support and before long baby is walking. UDL likes a graduated scaffolding approach to supports – only have the ones that are needed by the individual, not the ones we think they need.

There was some talk about the GPS approach to UDL. This is where we need to focus on the end destination and stop obsessing on how we get there. FANTASTIC! I think we all get locked into a certain way of doing things and whilst there may be a way that you want someone to achieve a goal, are different route that gets the same result is equally as valid and more importantly, person-centred. As an interesting aside, Steve Wozniack was in Auckland recently talking, and in a video clip of part of it he was saying a similar thing, its well worth watching (hopefully there are no geographic limitations on the clip). The place to go to find out more about UDL is their website – www.udlcenter.org

Quote of the session for me?

Nothing miraculous happens automatically when you put a child and a computer into the same room

The session I attended after morning tea was entitles ‘Helping Every Young Person to become Cybersmart and Cybersafe‘. It was run by  Greg Gebhart and focussed on what I would call the real basics and things I would assume most people would already know about – Cyber bullying, digital footprints, and excessive use. As it happens it was a flawed assumption. Most of the content is available from http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/ and there are some really good resources available on the site.

Outstanding session for me was the ePortfolios for Very High Needs Students run by the team from Kimi Ora school down in little old NaeNae (thats Wellington, capital of NZ for those of you overseas…). Now I may have a slight bias being a Kiwi and all, but the work these guys have done is amazing! Using Blogger they really have changed peoples lives in my opinion. They have established a tool that allows everyone that is important to an individual to be part of the conversation to assist and support them. And best of all to celebrate with them. Sitting in the back row it was really interesting to see peoples faces and listen to some of the side conversation going on – ‘Wow why didn’t we think of that’, ‘great idea we need to try it’ and so on and so on. Throwing Pinky bars and chocolate fish before lunch on the last day was a stroke of genius too!

The killer app?‘ was the final, formal session of the conference, led by Ian Bean from the UK. It was a humorous, reflective look back on some of the technologies that have been used, from the Apple II through to the modern iPad. Unfortunately Ian had to cut his session a little short, like more than a few of us he enjoyed the conference dinner and dancing a little too much and his voice was shot. He did manage to identify the killer app for us though, in great theatrical style that I think only he could achieve. The Killer App is YOU!

Thats right. There is no single piece of technology that will solve a problem. Its all in the people that use it, that support it and that make it happen. This has been one of the themes that has come out of the conference for me and I have had a number of conversations in breaks with people about the same thing. As Joy said in her session, handing a bit of tech to someone and then walking away won’t make it work or solve anything.

To all those involved and making the conference happen, the team at Spectronics, the sponsors, the speakers and most of all everyone that came together from across the world to make this conference as special and magical as it was I thank you. There are so many new friendships and connections made from the 3 days that I hope will be lasting and we can keep up the momentum of what has been an extraordinary few days (until ILT2014 anyway!!). It is not often you get to have so many people from different parts of the wider disability community together to share ideas and all with one goal – to make the lives of individuals better with a person-centred focus to the supports they need.

In Maori we have a saying that I think is a very fitting way to close off not only this blog post, but the conference as a whole

He aha te mea nui?

He tangata.

He tangata.

He tangata.

What is the most important thing?  It is people, it is people, it is people.

Inclusive Learning Technologies Conference – Day 2 Summary

Day Two of the conference and can I just say it is the best little conference I have been to in AGES! Although I was corrected on that earlier by Angie Hibberd who did remind me it isn’t that little!
At some random point this morning today (unofficially) became Slipper Day. Yes, you heard right. Slipper Day. Remember those slippers that I said were in the conference satchel? Harmony threw down a challenge for people to wear theirs today

I only saw her and Trina in them but rumour has it there were a couple of others floating about, yes including me.

The day proper started with a very entertaining  keynote presentation: What works? Assistive technologies + Literacy Strategies for learner success delivered by Jason Carroll. Now Jason went through four common categories of applications; Text-to-Speech, Study Supports, Word Prediction and Graphic Organisers. With each category he delved into the technologies that work, the facts surrounding the efficacy of the category and final offered up some strategies for implementation. For text-to-speech for instance he described how it increases comprehension, speed & endurance, attention and accuracy of text editing. Strategies for deployment include tape assisted reading, paired reading (which can be a person and a computer), and writing and revision processes. The key takeouts for me from Jason’s session was a repertoire of strategies can improve student performance, but the strategies need to be properly modelled with explicit instruction. My quote of the day also came from this session:

Make one change for one student and they could change the world.

Introducing Improv: The breakthrough AAC Framework was the next session up for me. I thought it was a good session, and I think the other 5 or 6 people that joined me thought so too, plenty of lollies in the room. Definitely the smallest turnout so far! Improv is aimed at users that are literate, it is all text-based as opposed to a lot of the graphical systems out there. It is also Windows-based, no iOS platform needed! On the surface it looks like a nice bit of code. There is a ‘quick chat’ menu that users can use to say hello, goodbye, positive responses and negative responses, all of which are customisable and randomization of responses is available. Different ‘stories’ as they call them can be opened based on time parameters. A story is simply a grouping of predefined sentences that relate to a particular topic. For instance, at 9am a new story for school may be available with school-related sentences pre-built and the appropriate vocabulary on stand by. Creating a new story appears really easy and it will automagically run off to Google to download articles relating to it to create a new vocabulary.

After lunch I really got into the ‘Taking AAC on iPad to the next level: Overview of the new Proloquo2Go Features‘ session. Its a product we are already trialling on four iPads in respite so I am reasonably familiar with it. David Niemeijer was presenting and he mentioned that the product stops the ‘therapyizing’ of people, in that instead of someone asking the individual if they want a particular thing it allows the individual to express what they want, when they want it. I would take it a step further and suggest that it allows the individual the same freedom of expression as the next person, it enables them to have a voice of their own. The next release (which I am led to believe is a free upgrade) has a number of nifty enhancements including the ability to change the screen layouts, prioritising words and in the next release again multi-lingual support and the ability to record words in your own voice. The big new feature I am personally looking forward to is the ability to have profiles. In a respite setting there may be multiple users accessing the tool. It is going to be fantastic to be able to create custom profiles for them, so they have the words they want, not what someone else wants.

Free and easy?‘ was my last session of the day, and nothing against David Harraway the presenter, but I didn’t get anything out of it. For me it was all a little disjointed and haphazard, a bit like free software at times really. I am hoping for the sake of the others in the room that some little gems were discovered in it all, but for me it was a fizzler….

I was smart in my session selections and deliberately left a couple of slots free so I could get around all the exhibitors stands. Past conferencing experience has taught me that tea breaks and lunch breaks are THE worst time to visit them so I was pretty chuffed with myself as I sauntered around them. Saying that, I still have half of them to pester! I think tomorrow is going to be a very busy day!

One final note. For the past two days every session I have been to has had a person-centred approach towards people with disabilities, whether it be the way an app can be set-up for the individuals personal preferences or how different models and strategies are applied. This really shows a maturing of the disability sector as a whole across a number of different countries and I think we should all be applauded for this.

And with that, it is time to think about a nap before the conference dinner – where what happens at dinner stays at dinner!!

Inclusive Learning Technologies Conference – Day 1 Summary

Firstly can I just say how professional everything is. Lots of helpful, friendly staff about that are only too happy to assist and have a laugh. The conference bag is packed with paper, which I know we can’t really get away from, water which I know will be needed and, best of all… SLIPPERS! I was on the lookout for someone wearing them today, not one to be seen.. maybe tomorrow!! Interestingly though no lollies, not a deal breaker, just interesting.

The exhibitors space is just wonderful. For a techie it really is like nirvana! I can see me spending far too much time here! So onto the conference itself. The opening was just FANTASTIC! Nothing like a bit of ‘We will rock you’ by Queen accompanied by an equally upbeat presentation to get the event off with a bang.

Keynote presentation: bit of a review of the last 2 years (since the last conference). Was interesting to hear that the iPad was launched on the last day of the 2010 conference – they are everywhere this time. Was also a nice acknowledgement of the Christchurch earthquake – thanks guys. Best quote of the opening salvo for me?

“Don’t think outside of the box, think like there is no box”

Kelly Fonner was next up. Geez talk about a little American dynamo! Not sure how many Red Bulls she had before getting on the stage but man she was wired! Jokes aside, Kelly is very very knowledgable and years of experience in the disability sector. A self-proclaimed quitter, she apparently dropped out of her PhD course because the lecturers were wrong and clearly hadn’t been in the real world for a while! Finished with an inspirational video of a man by the name of Bernie and his use of technology. Was a timely reminder about why we were all there.

iPads Transforming Learning at Warringa Park School was the first breakout session for me. Was interesting to hear their journey and why they went with the iPad. Key takeaways for me:

  • Providers need to work with schools to get continuity for students
  • Ensure there is an internal champion (they had an iPad Coach)
  • iPads allow students to learn differently

Next up, ‘Making websites accessible to people with cognitive Disabilities‘. For me there wasn’t too much new here, all technical aspects I have heard before from W3C. Did discover a product called Browse Aloud which makes it easier for people with disabilities to interact with a website

Lunch involved a lot of queuing for food. Was nice to get outside for a bit though, enjoyed the Queensland sun for half an hour.

Avoiding  the technolusion: What does it really take for success with technology?‘ was really interesting. Much more of an even gender balance in the room, and bit more of a technical talk. Learnt quite a bit from this, including the definition of technolusion – apparently it is a belief that technology alone has the power to remediate and cure. In other words, technology is a silver bullet. News flash – IT ISN’T! Also discovered SETT (Student, Environments, Tasks, Tools) which is a mapping tool to identify the best solution for the individual. Will be keen to get this implemented when I get back to the office. Favorite quote from the session

For people without disabilities, technology makes things easier.

For people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

I mixed it up a bit with the next session, and went to listen to Harmony Turnbull talk about ‘How to be a Good Speech Pathologist‘. This was a real wildcard session, but I managed to get a few insights into communication tools and needs. Got a new word into the lexicon too – Andragogy.

The last session of the day was my personal favorite. Kelly Fonner was back again and just as passionate talking to the session title ‘Challenging Assumptions: High Tech for individuals with Intellectual Disabilities‘. This content had the most immediate applications for my organisation and I have a couple of pages of applications to investigate. It was the video played though that got me most excited (and I am now on a mission to get a copy of it!) as it showed the possibilites that technology can enable. The smart home was fantastic, and a very good example of how individuals can be supported to live independently in the community. The GPS app for the bus added to this and was a nice example of whats possible.

All in all it was a very full day, very enjoyable though and met some new people during the course of events. Tomorrow looks like another full-on day, with hopefully an opportunity to spend some time looking at the exhibitors booths.

I’m leaving… on a jetplane… I DO know when I will be back though!

Finally. After what seems like months of waiting I am now starting off on the journey to the 2012 Inclusive Learning Technologies (ILT) Conference on the Gold Coast. Flying direct into Coolangatta courtesy of Air New Zealand (or rather their code-share partner Virgin Australia) today so missing the pre-conference fun but will be on-site at Jupiters Casino and Conference Centre for the remaining three days.

So what is this conference all about. From the conference website:

Hosted by Spectronics, the conference focuses specifically on “inclusive learning technologies” – technologies designed to advance independent achievement for people with disabilities and/or students with learning difficulties. It includes sessions looking at these technologies in the following three interest streams.

  • Struggling Students
  • People with Complex Communication Needs
  • People with Disabilities

This has an interest to me as we have already started to roll out iPads to some of our respite houses at work to aid in communication so it will be interesting to see what other applications, both software and hardware, are available on the world stage that we can bring back to little old NZ. This is the first conference that I can recall where I have had to be ruthless about the sessions I attend – more often than not there were several on at the same time I wanted to attend, doesn’t happen very often. Thanks to the free Wi-Fi at Jupiters I am intending to do regular Twitter updates during the day from each session I attend and a daily blog posting here of the days activities and thoughts. If you are on Twitter follow the conference hashtag of #ILT2012 for other attendees tweets as well!

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