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CULTIVATING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY EXPERTISE IN PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS THROUGH A PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT MODEL

L. King, J. Williams

East Carolina University (UNITED STATES)
Having the knowledge and confidence in assistive technology skills is vital to being a successful special education teacher, particularly for new teachers. The use of assistive technology (AT) in the classroom is increasing as more teachers infuse the principles of universal design for learning into their instructional practices. While AT remains linked to the individual education plan (IEP) by its legal definition of ensuring that it is linked to increasing function for the individual student with disabilities, the actual use of AT in the classroom has expanded to allow teachers to meet the individual’s needs in small and large group instruction by offering alternative means of representation, engagement, and expression. Rather than being something solely used by the individual with a disability, the AT is also used by the teachers and all students in order to access and engage with the curriculum in more dynamic manner. Therefore, it remains important, as Edyburn and Gardner (1999) shared over 15 years ago, that special education teachers be both knowledgeable about and comfortable with the use of assistive technology (Narian & Surabian, 2014).

One of the major challenges for teacher education programs has been in how to effectively embed the AT curriculum throughout a program of study. In many cases, lack of faculty knowledge about AT is a barrier to pre-service teachers receiving the content (Michaels & McDermott, 2003). In addition, recent research shows that institutes of higher education noted that access to AT continues to be a challenge (Baush & Jones, 2012). Bell, Cihak, & Judge (2010) found that acquiring skills for AT was also particularly difficult for teacher candidates who are working through alternative certification programs. Teacher candidates should have the opportunity to explore and learn about technology and pedagogy in a scope and sequence type of approach allowing them to better understand the connections of different types of technology to content, thus learning how to teach using technology appropriately, including being able to try the technologies themselves (Narian & Surabian, 2014).

This session will illustrate how one university embedded AT knowledge and skills in a scope and sequence approach through a professional development model linked with the campus’ assistive technology center. The center teaches professional development sessions on AT to special education and other education undergraduate majors, graduate students in special education, occupational therapy, and speech and language, and instructional technology courses that all education majors complete as part of their required curriculum. Topics of professional development range from an Intro to Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning session to specialized AT sessions, such as alternative augmentative communication and alternate access. The sessions are offered through the on-campus laboratory and through a distance education model using the Blackboard platform and a virtual computing lab, which allows remote access to AT programs for distance education students. In addition, opportunities for leadership building in the area of AT will be shared to demonstrate how the pre-service teachers begin sharing their knowledge and skills in the community prior to graduation.