Assistive Technology a Boon to Problem Learners
Landmark, a two-year college in Putney, Vermont, which prepares students with learning disorders for successful matriculation in four year schools of higher education, achieves its ambitious goals with the help of various tools, including cutting edge assistive technology. The words “Dragon,” “Kurzweil,” and “Inspiration” are familiar to Landmark students and to educators who have tapped into Landmark’s array of professional development opportunities. At Landmark, the latest technology infuses communication, teaching, and learning. The campus is “wireless” and library resources can be accessed online from residence halls and faculty offices. Students must have a notebook computer; required course books are all available digitally. The library, often the source of frustration to people with learning problems, is attractive and inviting and houses both print and digital resources. Information Technology staff offers training and support to both students and faculty in the use of sophisticated technology. All reinforce the notion that education for students with learning disorders should focus less on remediation and more on recognizing different learning styles and needs. Much current thinking maintains Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not just a behavior problem but is a neurological disorder that affects learning; finding special strategies and using assistive tools can lead to previously elusive successes.
Ben Mitchell, Landmark director of admissions and fierce advocate for assistive technology, is dyslexic and hyperactive. He has personally experienced the frustrations and challenges presented by a society that, “since the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg over five hundred years ago, has been a written-language based culture.” The computer has revolutionized communications, yet, says Mitchell, students still encounter “medieval attitudes” that only reward “secretarial skills.” Unnecessarily, “lots of people in our society are marginalized because they can’t process words.” Assistive technology is any equipment or system that helps people with learning problems bypass or compensate for traditional expectations. Available to Landmark students is Kurzweil, a text to speech application that reads aloud from words on a screen, a great boon to auditory learners. On the other hand, Dragon Naturally Speaking is a voice recognition system that types spoken words. Inspiration software includes a visual mapping system that helps with reading and note taking. Mitchell says studies show interacting with texts in different ways helps comprehension. Landmark offers seminars and workshops on campus and online to professionals wanting to bring these sophisticated technologies to their schools and classrooms. A workshop on the Wilson Reading System (WRS) introduces multi-sensory structured language education. Other courses cover a range of technological approaches for helping students master reading, writing, and study skills. Landmark professor Ellen Engstrom has published a book on “Technology Solutions for Students with LD.” #
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