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TCNJ graduate students’ iPad project shines at national special education conference

From left to right, Blumberg, Adelman, Lewis, Madeline Will (Vice President, National Down Syndrome Society Policy Center), Lombardi, Travisano

EWING, NJ… Class, please take out your iPads and pencils.

If the special education project of four graduate teaching students from The College of New Jersey catches on, teachers may be using iPads to teach students in the future.

Students Rachel Adelman, Kristen Lewis, Theresa Lombardi, and Danielle Travisano conducted a pilot demonstration — on how videos modeling exemplary behavior on iPad technology can be used to teach career and career-related social skills to college students with disabilities — at a national special education conference on Nov. 4, according to Associate Professor of Special Education Richard Blumberg, who accompanied the students.

The “State of the Art Conference on Post-Secondary Education for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities,” held at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, was an excellent opportunity for the students to show the results of their project, said Blumberg, who is also the director of the College’s Center for Autism.

He added that the aim of the conference, a national meeting of higher-education institutions, policy makers, advocates, students and family members, is to make the “vital experience” of post-secondary education “an option for students with intellectual disabilities through the dissemination of policy developments and promising practices” in teaching.

The students’ video-model pilot project is one such “promising practice,” noted Blumberg.

“They learned… iPad technology helped students to learn skills quickly and improved the quality of their skills. They also found that students with disabilities were more independent using the iPad as a learning tool, and that students liked using it. Using the iPad seemed to increase their motivation to learn skills,” said Blumberg. “This is important to the field of special education because it provides another promising practice in the area of … instruction that takes place outside the classroom.”

According to Adelman, the project was conducted with the participation of students in the Career and Community Studies Program at the College. Each graduate student worked with a CSS student to task analyze a social skill or vocational task that the student struggled with, she said.

“We then created a video on the iPad that highlighted that particular skill.  Each video incorporated not only the visual of doing the steps to complete the task, but it also gave the student a subtitle at the bottom that read each step aloud to the student.  We then collected data on how much support the students needed after watching the iPad video,” said Adelman.

“It serves as a tool that can accommodate students with disabilities on the job so they can rely less on a job coach. Students can watch their job tasks broken down in simple steps on the iPad, visually, verbally and auditory,” explained Lewis.

All the students said that the conference was a meaningful opportunity to share their project with other individuals that “truly care.”

Travisano presents her data.

“It was also so refreshing to be among professionals, researchers, educators, students, and families that truly care about this area of special education and learn about all the ways that they are making a difference. It feels good knowing that I was able to contribute to this conference with our use of technology. The significance of our project is to give people with disabilities the feeling of independence especially in the work place,” said Lombardi.

“The students’ presentation was very well received. Their work stimulated a lot of conversation among the conference participants and the students and I will be submitting a paper to be included in the Conference proceedings,” said Blumberg. “… I think experiences like this will make them teachers who reflect on their practices to improve student outcomes.”

The group is planning to conduct a study in the spring and submit their findings for publication, noted Travisano.

“I loved everyone I worked with and was extremely proud to be involved.  I am so happy that I participated in this project and I am excited to continue with it,” she said.

According to Blumberg, this is the third year that the College has supported student attendance at this conference. The students’ conference costs were paid by a Federal Department of Education Grant to enhance and extend the Career and Community Studies Program at the College of New Jersey, and to support high schools in the preparation of students with ID for post-secondary education, he said.