Staying abreast of the latest advances in education software can be a challenge. Illinois State University employs an innovative way to keep special education teacher candidates in-the-know with the Special Education Assistive Technology (SEAT) Center.
Assistive technology are devices and systems which help people with disabilities accomplish tasks they couldn’t without assistance. The center, located in Fairchild Hall, contains equipment such as laptops, iPads, and Chromebooks that carry software that reads screens, keyboards with added features, and web-based resources that special education teachers are using in the field.
At Illinois State, instead of waiting for students to come to the center, the College of Education integrates the center resources into special education training classes, allowing students to get hands-on experience with hundreds of assistive technology (AT) devices.
“Some schools have one class, or even just a segment of one class,” said SEAT Center Coordinator Jodi Nibbelin. “At Illinois State, we have two required courses, an introduction to AT and an AT integration course. Additionally, we get exposure to AT in six additional courses that have integrated labs. We try to weave awareness of the technology throughout the program.”
The goal is not to have students memorize everything about assistive technology, but instead become comfortable with the resources available to them in the field. “When these students get out in their own classrooms, they will be able to connect solutions to problems,” said Nibbelin. “They could say, ‘I have a student struggling with spelling. I remember this software that might help.’”
Part of Nibbelin’s job is to stay in the loop of the latest technology. She works with faculty who are teaching a course for the first time, or who might not have a background in assistive technology. “A team of faculty created all the elements instructors might need to teach the topic,” said Nibbelin. “Usually, I will teach the lab the first time, then work in conjunction with the instructor. Finally, the instructor teaches the lab on her or his own, and I am there as a resource.”
According to Nibbelin, few special education programs take the step of integrating assistive technology throughout the curriculum. “The result does more than give students insights into what can benefit their classrooms, it also makes Illinois State students competitive when they enter the workforce,” she said.