Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Debate Over Smartpens in the Classroom

by Shelley Haven, ATP, RET – Assistive Technology Consultant

New technologies for learning also create new challenges.  This is very evident with "smartpens" which capture a student's handwritten notes, record audio, and link the two together.  Devices like Livescribe’s Echo® can be incredibly helpful to students with dysgraphia, slow auditory processing, and other issues that impact their ability to effectively take notes.  Students can listen more, write less, and selectively review sections of the recording later by tapping their written notes with the pen.

The challenge is the pen's ability to audio record, so laws or policies that specify what can and cannot be recorded in class apply.  (These also apply to other notetaking technology that record – e.g., digital notebooks like Microsoft OneNote, various iPad notetaking apps, smartphone recorder apps, etc.)

I'm not a lawyer – nor do I play one on TV – but here is what I've gleaned from websites, list serve discussions, and my work with schools on this issue.  In short, there are no hard-and-fast rules that apply in every state, every school, or every situation.

Concerns center around three issues: intellectual property, student confidentiality, and teacher rights.

At the college level, a professor might object to recording on the basis of "copyright infringement."  One list serve post by a student claimed that her professor forbade her to use the smartpen because the lecture was his "intellectual property."  But what if the student uses it as an academic accommodation?

Institutions have different perspectives about this.  For example, the student handbook at Vermont's Middlebury College states: “Where a particular accommodation results in a verbatim transcription of a classroom lecture or presentation…[these] are the intellectual property of the individual professor, Middlebury College, and/or both,” and sharing these with anyone without prior written consent is prohibited.  Institutions may employ an agreement for use of recording devices as an accommodation, such as this form from North Carolina State University.

At the K-12 level, recording teachers (as well as students who speak up) raises fears that a questionable off-hand remark or disciplinary action might become the latest YouTube sensation.  States’ laws vary on use of recording devices in an educational setting, with some generalizing this to fall under laws regulating recording of phone calls without prior consent.

In California, Education Code Section 51512 says use of a recording device by any person, pupil or otherwise, without prior consent of both the teacher and the principal "disrupts and impairs the teaching process and discipline" and as such is prohibited.  However, the last paragraph appears to provide an exception for accommodation-related recording, saying "This section shall not be construed as affecting the powers, rights, and liabilities...as provided for by any other provision of law.”  This might include the ADA or IDEA rights of a student who needs recording as an accommodation.  So which takes precedence?

The key may be striking a compromise on a case-by-case basis that balances the needs and rights of all involved.  I've helped a few schools work out solutions.  For example, in one school we determined that the district's board policy took precedence, and thus the "site administrator" (the principal) could make final decisions.  The pen would only be used in certain circumstances (e.g., lecture portions of class but not discussions) and the student, parent, and teacher would sign a document indicating that they understood and would abide by the agreement, similar to this downloadable "Acceptable Use Policy" form for classroom recording.

Schools across the country are exploring other solutions that balance the educational benefits of technology like the Livescribe smartpen with the rights and confidentiality afforded to those being recorded, for example:
  • Only use pen in certain classes, or during certain times in class.
  • Pen is owned and retained by school; recordings are uploaded to computer controlled by school; teacher has 24 hours to approve recording before providing student access to it.
  • Teacher (not student) uses pen under a document camera to teach, then shares the “Pencast” (file including both the notes and audio) with all students.
  • For some activities, all students get to use a pen, or a limited number of pens are distributed to students on a rotating basis.

As with many emerging technologies, new capabilities raise new concerns and questions, so solutions are evolving and always a moving target.  Remember the furor over electronic calculators in school and how they would single-handedly destroy math instruction?  We seem to have survived that and even integrated the use of calculators into instruction.  I am sure we will do the same here.

Have you experienced smartpens in the classroom or been denied their use? If so, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Join us at the AT Network's annual AT Forum

Calling all AT Network members! Join us for the AT Network’s annual in-person training and networking event.

AT Forum Overview
The AT Network’s annual AT Forum will be held on Wednesday, February 29th from 10am to 4pm in downtown San Diego. This in-person event is a great opportunity to network with AT Network members, work on issues of mutual concern and receive training. Click here to register before the Wednesday, February 15th deadline.

I'm not yet a member. How can I join the AT Network?

It's simple. Click here to complete the AT Network membership application. Click here to learn the benefits of membership.

AT Forum Registration Information
To review the AT Forum agenda and to register, click here. Lunch will be provided for all registered participants. The deadline to register is Wednesday, February 15th.

Why is the AT Forum held in San Diego?
The AT Network is scheduled in tandem with the annual CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego. The AT Forum is organized and sponsored by the AT Network. The AT Forum is not affiliated with the CSUN Conference. If you would like to learn more about the CSUN conference, click here.

AT Network Forum Agenda and Location Information
When: Wednesday, February 29th
Where: Columbia Center Building, 401 West A Street, San Diego, CA 92101, 3rd Floor, Room 300

Agenda Overview:
10 AM - 10:30 AM   Welcome and Introductions
10:30 AM - 12 PM   Small Group Discussions/Networking
12 PM - 12:30 PM   Reports to Large Group and Discussion
12:30 PM - 1:30PM Networking Lunch
1:30 PM – 4 PM      iPad Training with Debbie Drennan from Parents Helping Parents

iPad Training Description 
Do you know people who are swept away in the iPad tidal wave? Are you curious about how to make the iPad more user-friendly for people with disabilities? This presentation will focus on how to make the iPad user-friendly for all individuals. First, we will explore accessories for the iPad, including stands, cases, speakers, switches, etc. that can make the iPad more accessible. Then, there will be hands-on time with the built-in accessibility features on the iPad’s OS5 operating system. And, if there is time, there will be an opportunity for you to share your favorite apps for individuals with disabilities. Come, learn, and share!

iPad Training Note: The AT Network will provide a limited number of iPad 2s with the OS 5 operating system for participants to use. If you have your own iPad 2, please bring it and make sure to update it with OS 5 before you come.

Click here to register for the AT Forum before the Wednesday, February 15th deadline.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Introducing Rachel Anderson

We are excited to announce that Rachel Anderson has joined the AT Network as our new Information & Assistance Advocate. She will be answering the AT Network’s Information and Referral line (800-390-2699), updating the AT Services Directory, and organizing outreach efforts. 

A little bit more about Rachel: 

Rachel Anderson, CFILC’s Information and Assistance Advocate, has worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations in educational outreach, volunteer management and advocacy roles. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, Policy and Management and was awarded a fellowship as a future female leader in the nonprofit field.

Speaking Spanish fluently, Rachel has lived and worked in Central and South America as well as five different states in the U.S. She is passionate about national and international social justice issues and CFILC’s mission, and is very excited about her role in the AT Network—which is giving information, referrals and assistance to the public in regards to all things related to assistive technology.

Rachel recently moved from Oregon to California with her husband and is happy to be in sunny Sacramento. She enjoys walking around midtown with her dogs, Victor and Jara, and meeting new people. 

Welcome Rachel! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Charter Schools and Assistive Technology

By Kim Cantrell, CFILC’s Director of Programs

Do charter schools welcome students with disabilities? Turns out, not so much.

I was listening to the radio news a couple of weeks ago and heard a segment on charter schools in Florida. They discussed how many of Florida’s charter schools will not enroll students when they deem them to have “severe” disabilities, citing cost as the biggest reason. According to the report, charter schools can get away with this—even though they receive public funding—due to a loophole. The NPR Morning Edition report states:

“Where special education students attend school is determined by their Individual Education Plan (IEP). That plan is developed by the student, parents, school officials and therapists. The IEP team won't send that student to a charter school that isn't set up to serve disabled students. School districts design a systemic plan to educate students with disabilities. Charter schools do not. Their solution is often to refer students back to the traditional public schools.”

Wow. Students with disabilities are being turned away from publicly-funded charter schools because they lack the infrastructure to provide services. Based on this loophole, it doesn’t sound like Florida’s charter schools have much incentive to change things. Not only are students with disabilities being pushed away, students currently attending charter schools in Florida may not be receiving the assistive technology they need because their school is not designed to identify and meet students’ needs.

What does this have to do with California? According to researchers from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this trend of exclusion continues in other states, including California.

Have you heard of students with disabilities being denied admission to California’s charter schools? Are students enrolled in charter schools getting the assistive technology they need to succeed? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The AT Network is on YouTube!

by Rosemarie Punzalan, CFILC’s Web Accessibility & Training Specialist

The AT Network held a variety of trainings, vendor forums, virtual brown bags and other meetings. They were recorded on a webinar platform such as Talking Communities or Elluminate Blackboard Collaborate, which required you to download a small plug-in the first time you use the software. Due to some organizations that have firewall to prevent a user with limited permissions like downloading a web start plug-in (Java is an example) not being able to access the AT Network’s Archived Webinars can be frustrating. For the first time, the AT Network Training Program has completed its portion training pilot project and that is making some of the recorded webinars available on a few social media web sites like AT Blog, Facebook, and YouTube. These resources can be viewed on a variety of platforms including mobile devices like an iPad, iPod, iPhone, Motorola Xoom, etc.

The following recorded webinars are now available on AT Network’s AT Blog, Facebook, and YouTube Channel:

Please note: the above webinars with live captioning were recorded. We tried our very best to edit the video and its captioning for social media purposes. We apologize in advance for the captioning delay.

To stay up to date with AT Network’s Training Program I highly encourage you to subscribe to our social media resources:
We are constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of the AT Network’s Training Program. As a valued AT Network Member how you rate our trainings, vendor forums, virtual brown bags and other meetings helps us determine what trainings you would like to see in the future.

What would you like to learn about assistive technology in 2012?