When it comes to researching new assistive technology strategies online, time-pressed educators often feel like they’ve been hit with a fire hose. A more effective way is akin to sipping from a garden hose, said Chris Bugaj, a sought-after assistive technology strategist.
Bugaj spoke recently at the AssisTechKnow conference, a collaborative of Kent ISD, Michigan’s Integrated Technology Supports, Michigan Council for Exceptional Children and Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning. The conference drew more than 250 educators from across Kent ISD and beyond.
Participants included special education and general education teachers, speech, occupational and physical therapists, school psychologists and school administrators. There also were parents hungry for the latest in tips and technologies available to educate special-education students, English-language learners and at-risk students.
A hallmark of the conference: All the presenters walk the talk, said Kindy Segovia, Kent ISD’s assistive technology supervisor.
“All the presenters are practitioners,” Segovia told the group. “They’re teachers coming out of classrooms and therapists. People are getting practical hands-on ideas for tomorrow.”
Too Much Information
While iPads, Chromebooks and interactive whiteboards are indeed educational allies, when it comes to researching for new ideas online, educators often just do a Google search. The problem is they are inundated with everything related to the topic, said Bugaj, a host of A.T.Tipscast podcasts and member of the Loudoun County, Virginia Public Schools’ assistive technology team.
That’s what Bugaj called the fire hose. A better option than that frustration, he said, is to think of professional development as micro-moments that make information easier to intellectually digest — the equivalent of sipping from a garden hose.
Bugaj offered some ways to achieve that goal:
- Email signatures. Instead of signatures that simply indicate you’re away from your computer, provide appropriate links to websites, podcasts and YouTube. “If someone is emailing me, chances are they need something, usually resources,” said Bugaj, who offered his email links as an example.
- Websites. Some educators prefer websites that are “static” so they can count on finding the resources they want when they want it Bugaj said. Others prefer those that regularly update with new hyperlinks. A way to bridge the two is through a social networking service such as Diigo.com that enables users to add new hyperlinks, comments and share bookmarks of web documents. “Why is Diigo so cool?” Bugaj asked. “Because the next time they need something, they can find it themselves instead of emailing me or you.”
- DVDs. They are a great resource when educators live in areas that do not have high-speed Internet, but he recommends keeping videos to around eight minutes.
- Podcasts while driving to work. “How many times can you hear Taylor Swift say, while driving to work, she’s ‘never, ever getting back together again’ over the radio?” Bugaj said to laughter. “I challenge you to, one day a week, listen to a podcast.”
Podcasts address three needs, Bugaj said: limited time, ease of use and no need for high-speed Internet. “More importantly, you can share them with teachers,” he added.
- Strategy-a-Day calendars that include hyperlinks to innovative initiatives. Instead of setting such calendars on an already cluttered desk, Bugaj recommended posting each day’s strategy where it stands a chance of getting read: inside the bathroom stall.