This is why Twitter is great!

Blog

So today I was reminded of the power of Twitter. Let me set the stage a little. On Wednesday, the Open eBooks app was released and promised to bring digital materials to Title 1 schools and Special Education teachers through the #GoOpen initiative focusing on Open Educational Resources (OER). (Want to read the article from Edsurge -here it is. The White House and Michelle Obama Release $250 million “Open eBooks” App for Title 1 and Special Education Teachers)

So working in AT and interacting with students with print disabilities daily – I was pretty excited for this announcement. Now we would have another option for providing engaging digital content to our students. And with the app, the hope was to be able to use all the mobile device built in accessibility features to provide AEM to our students. I have been following this new initiative for months now – Open Education Resources and the promise of access to open, readily available digital materials. Several times on-line, I have commented that #GoOpen must include accessibility supports for all learners.

Well today I took some time to install the Open eBooks app and installed several books to explore the available features. Let’s review: app installed – check. Books requested – check. Codes installed in iOS app and books downloaded  – check. All seemed to be moving in the right direction until I tried to use the Speak Selection built in accessibility setting in iOS. And……it didn’t work. OK – maybe I missed something. Went through the settings, did some adjustments and…..I was able to get Speak Screen to work! Well, it kinda worked. It was reading but not highlighting.

Not quite what I was hoping for and I took to Twitter to chat with my PLN about this. I was instantly messaged by Chris Bugaj and Marvin Williams. What followed was an on line conversation that spanned several hours where Marvin and I worked to troubleshoot this problem. 20 Direct messages later – we had tried several ideas. Thought of ways to crack this app and make it work on a PC (it involved the use of Blue Stacks to run the Android app on a PC. Then we thought to use either Snap and Read or Text Help Read Write to read the text. Wish I could report good news on this front – but as of this writing Blue Stacks crashed my PC and I haven’t gotten it back yet!!)

It is important to point out – Marvin and I live on the two coasts of the US. I am in NJ and Marvin is in California. We haven’t spent any time face to face but through social media we managed to have a deep, technical conversation where we generated powerful ideas to solve problems.

Anyone who tells you Twitter is a waste of time is missing the big picture. Without Twitter, I don’t meet Marvin. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have been able to brainstorm solutions that could benefit my students. Without Twitter – I wouldn’t be the AT professional I am today.

Thanks to Marvin! Make sure to follow him on Twitter (@mwilliamsAT) to make him part of your PLN too.

While you are at it – make sure to join us on Twitter every Wednesday night at 8PM Eastern for #ATchat Share your insights – we can all make each other better!

 

#ATIA16 – Learn, Share & Connect

Blog

It is upon us again – ATIA! So excited for a full week of learning, sharing and reconnecting with AT friends (and connecting with friends to-be) at the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association conference in Orlando, FL.

I was reading my ATIA blog post from 2014 and saw some parallels. In 2014, I was digging out of 12 inches of snow – this week, I was digging out of 2 feet of snow! Between that post and today, I started my own consulting company and experienced some of the most rewarding work of my AT career. Now more than ever, I need the three Rs I mentioned in the original post:

Renew, Reflect, and Recharge

I am looking forward to renewing friendships with people I only get to see one or two times a year. Now in the age of Twitter (and especially #ATchat), we are able to easily talk with each other to share ideas. But actually being in the same physical space and getting to talk face to face is so powerful – and actually that is my favorite part of the conference experience.

One big change from 2014 to this year – our 2nd Annual edcampAccess International unconference! This is the way I recharge.

IMG_20150131_131212

edcampAccess International 2015 group discussion about future of AT profession

Built on principles of connected and participatory learning, Edcamp strives to bring teachers together to talk about the things that matter most to them: their interests, passions, and questions. This year – we have edcamp after dark. Our sessions will happen Friday night – allowing participants to experience the conference during the day then meet at edcamp to find ways to implement the new strategies and tools.

Last year’s event was amazing. A dedicated group of professionals stayed AFTER the conference ended on Saturday afternoon to share ideas and talk about providing tech supports to individuals with disabilities. I was proud to be part of that group and the meaningful conversations that flowed that day.

We have over 150 participants (from several different countries!) already registered and expect more once we are on-site. There is still time to get your FREE ticket. Visit our Eventbrite page and register.

Follow our hashtag to experience all the learning and sharing #edcampXs16

Make the most of your conference experience!

These tips were from my 2014 post, but they still resonate today.

Some quick tips to make it through the conference:

  • You can’t go to every session! Don’t even try. You will end up sitting it a corner of the conference center muttering to yourself about apps, iPads, Chromebooks and other things we won’t be able to make out.
  • Prioritize sessions you are interested in. If you came with a co-worker – split up and cover more ground. Even though it is fun to experience the sessions together – this strategy will let you take more from the conference.
  • Download the conference app and plan your time – atia.org/mobile
  • Make new connections – sit with someone new at lunch, strike up a conversation before a session starts. The connections you make at this year’s conference may provide you help somewhere down the road.
  • Most importantly – Breathe! Take a minute to step outside and get some fresh air.

Don’t forget – you don’t need to be in Orlando to share in the learning. Follow the conference on Twitter to learn & share.

#ATIA16

See you in Orlando!

Genius Hour Comes to Technology Beyond the Classroom with Book Creator

Blog, Uncategorized

I have been working on a project called Technology Beyond the Classroom since last summer. The project, originally funded by the Assistive Technology Advocacy Center at Disability Rights New Jersey, focuses on working with transition age students with disabilities – age 18-25. IMG_0330

The goal of the program is to provide training to ensure that the program participants can use technology (specifically smartphones and tablets) to increase independence in the areas of community living, post secondary education and employment. The original class was six weeks long and focused mostly on the basics of using mobile devices:

  • Built in apps and their uses: Calendar, Reminders, Settings, Safari, Camera….just to name a few.
  • Accessibility features – especially Text to Speech. Many of the participants weren’t strong readers so listening to text was HUGE!

In addition to learning the apps, we spent time focused on issu514vs2j4vul-_sy344_bo1204203200_es around Digital Citizenship. Many of the students use various social media tools (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) but hadn’t had training to ensure personal safety online.

My project partner, The Arc of Monmouth, has continued the program for the consumers even after the original project was completed. Last week, we started our Winter session which has expanded to 10 weeks. I was looking to add another component to the course that we hadn’t had time for in the past: Genius Hour!

Never heard of Genius Hour?? Genius hour is participant driven learning. What are you passionate about? What do you want to learn? How do you want to change the world? Whatever the topic, the goal of Genius Hour is to develop higher level thinking skills and inspire creativity. Participants work alone, in small groups, and hopefully, with community based mentors to complete their projects. In keeping with the focus of our Technology Beyond the Classroom agenda, the final projects for the Genius Hour will allow participants to use their mobile devices and more specifically, the Book Creator app, to create an engaging, electronic book to highlight their work.

So we met during week one of class to begin the brainstorming for our project ideas. The interesting thing that struck me was the feeling that the participants had never been in charge of their20160112_082809 learning. I asked them, “What do you want to learn about?” and it took some time and some prompting to start the brainstorming going. But once it started, it didn’t disappoint!

Some ideas were just things they like: dogs, bake cookies, Madden 16. Other ideas were well thought out: How to be a personal trainer? How to do a gel manicure? Not to mention my personal favorite from Jason: How to get six pack abs?

Now that we have developed some ideas, we are moving on to the next step. Researching our topics and connecting with community based mentors for collaboration. This should be a very excited project and I will keep everyone posted on our successes.

Want some additional Genius Hour resources? Check out this amazing page from Cybraryman.

 

 

Chromebit Unboxing!

Blog

20151204_141926

So exciting! I have been waiting since the summer for the Chromebit to come out and it finally arrived on my doorstep today. What is a Chromebit you ask? You could call it a Chromebook that looks like a USB drive.

What??? You haven’t heard of the Chromebit? Check out the info on the ASUS website.

Using this device – you can turn any HDMI enabled display (TV; projector) into a Chrome OS computer. All for $85!

Let’s Get This Connected!

20151204_141127

In order to use the Chromebit, you need to have an external keyboard and mouse. The Chromebit is equipped with Bluetooth to connect to your peripherals and it also has a single USB port.

After researching the options for Bluetooth keyboards and mice – I went in a slightly different direction. I wanted to create a working solution that would be inexpensive for individuals and/or schools to duplicate. I found that many of the Bluetooth keyboards were a little pricey and required the purchase of a separate Bluetooth mouse.

Enter the Logitech K400 Plus Wireless Keyboard w/Built in Trackpad

20151204_141731

I was able to get this Keyboard on sale via Amazon for $19.99! Well worth the cost and now I had a wireless keyboard / mouse combo to plug directly into the Chromebit. Keep this added expense in mind when purchasing the Chromebit.

Now the fun part – getting the Chromebit ready to connect to my TV.

20151204_141913

Not many pieces to put together – the Chromebit, a power plug and an HDMI extender cable (in case you can’t fit the Chromebit into the ports on your display)

20151204_142241

Simply remove the cap from the end of the Chromebit and plug it into your  display. In my case, I am connecting it to the flat panel TV in my office. I was able to simply plug the Chromebit directly into my TV – no need for the extender cable.

20151204_142502

 

 

Plug the power adapter into the Chromebit and you are almost there! Now power up the TV, select the HDMI input and move on the the setup.

 

20151204_142747

If you have ever setup a Chromebook – this setup is exactly the same. Connect to a WIFI network and select Language.

20151204_143016

Sign in to your Google Account and that’s it. You have your device setup. Time from start to finish – less than 10 minutes. Now I have a 37″ Chromebook for my office!

Next Steps

Check out this article from Tech Republic, “5 Tips for Getting the Most out of Your ASUS Chromebit”.  These were really helpful once I was up and running.

Also, another consideration is connecting this Chromebit to other displays – specifically, I want to use this during presentations and connect it directly to the projector in the training room. That way I can travel and only have to carry the Chromebit, power supply and wireless keyboard. In order to do that, I will be working exclusively with the Chromebit at home to determine if I can use it for more heavy duty Chrome activities (you know….multiple tabs, different applications open simultaneously, and using some of our AT extensions.

If it works as well as I am hoping, I am planning to pick up one of these HDMI to VGA adapters which will let me plug the Chromebit directly into a projector via the VGA port.

More to come once I start using it.

Are you thinking of getting a Chromebit – share your experiences. I would love to hear how you are using it.

Confessions of an Edcamp Fanatic

Blog

I am a lifelong learner. I enjoy giving presentations, going to presentations and just sharing information in general. I have become a Twitter fanatic (follow me @mmatp !) and even have been signing up for MOOCs to explore this new area of on-line learning. But my latest obsession is with Edcamps.

Never been to an Edcamp! An Edcamp is a free, participant driven learning experience where people come to share ideas, brainstorm solutions and learn from each other. An Edcamp is not like your usual PD experience – gone are the pre-made, “canned” presentations. Instead, each session grows organically from a single idea and then takes on the personality of the group. There may be instances where some pre-made materials are shared – but overall it happens on the fly.

Check out this short video that describes Edcamps.

When I thing of all the professional development I present and attend, learners do in fact fall into the three categories described by Mike Spence from Kimbell Associates:

  • The Student: This person wants to learn. The Student shows up on time, sits in the front row with his or her book open, and hangs on every word you, the instructor, have to say. The Student reads ahead, asks good questions, and completes the exercises you assign. If all the people in the class were like The Student, technical training would be easy.

  • The Tourist: This person usually wants to learn but isn’t nearly as motivated as The Student. The Tourist shows up just before the class starts, spends a lot of time getting coffee or doughnuts and chatting with other students, and sits in the back. Instead of seeing training as a chance to improve his or her knowledge, The Tourist typically views training as an opportunity to enjoy a break from the normal office routine. The Tourist may or may not complete the work you assign. Sometimes, a good instructor can find a way to engage The Tourist and turn him or her into The Student. At other times, the best you can do is keep The Tourist busy so he or she doesn’t disrupt the rest of the class.

  • The Prisoner: This person looks at you and says, “Go ahead—try to teach me something.” The Prisoner doesn’t want to learn, doesn’t want to be in training, and counts the seconds until you say, “Class dismissed.” When you notice The Prisoner in one of your classes, your goal is to convert that person to The Student whenever possible. However, you shouldn’t spend so much time and energy trying to convert The Prisoner that you wind up ignoring The Student and The Tourist.

We have all seen these types of participants in a training. Well after attending an Edcamp, I have added one more classification of learner to this list:

The Explorer: This is a person who is comfortable with their area of “expertise” but wants to continue to learn more because they are always growing, and searching for new ways to reach the people they serve. These are the people that are comfortable sharing an opinion and freely give suggestions and strategies to help others reach their goals.

Edcamps tend to draw in the Explorer because of the nature of an Edcamp. First, think about it – you arrive in the AM and there is no schedule for the day! Just an empty session grid searching for someone to fill it in. To anyone who has never been, I often describe an Edcamp as a leap of faith. You go into the day not knowing what it will look like but knowing that you will have a positive experience because of the desire of each participant to make the day work. That is powerful stuff!

The Next Step: Organize it and they will come!

Logo for the EdcampAccessNJ eventWith all that said, the next logical step in my progression is to go from a participant to an organizer. All the Edcamps I have attended have been focused on general education and ed tech supports for students. I am typically one of a few, or one of one, that works with struggling students. In order to change that, I started to organize an Edcamp focused on supports for struggling students. Karen Janowski (@KarenJan ) started the idea of EdcampAccess – with an Edcamp focused on supports for struggling students. As soon as I saw that, I knew we needed one of those in NJ. I enlisted the help of Brian Friedlander (@assistivetek) and we started planning. We have been pleasantly surprised at the response from the tri-state area – as of today we have 164 people signed up for the event!!!!

We have tapped into a whole host of resources to pull this together – encouraging professionals to come and speak on an Assistive Technology topic. We are hoping to present a well rounded assortment of sessions focused on all the supports necessary for struggling students. We also have received an incredible outpouring of support from vendors and manufacturers. Some have provided monetary donations so we can ensure the event is free for participants. Others have been generous with products and services to raffle off to participants.

Never having planned one of these events before – I am sure we could have done things better. But with the event under two weeks away, we are focused on making sure to provide a quality program to all who attend. Who knows, maybe this will inspire someone to host their own event!

Visit www.edcampAccessNJ.org for more details on the conference.

Hope to see you there!

#ATIA14: A Time to Renew, Reflect and Recharge!

ATIA14, Blog

Logo for ATIA 2014 conference and picture of Caribe Royale Hotel

Well….it’s the end of January and that can only mean one thing. No, not the Super Bowl but the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando. Not a bad choice for a conference – especially if it allows me to escape the 12″ of snow we got last week at home in NJ. Warmer weather aside, this yearly pilgrimage gives me a great opportunity to renew, reflect and recharge.

Renew

I have often said to anyone who listens (and even quite a few that don’t!), our profession is not about technology but about people. The most important take home from any conference, for me professionally, is the personal connections I make with other AT people. Technology changes – often it changes so rapidly that we can’t keep up. By nurturing these personal connections, I no longer have to “know everything” instead I just need to “know who knows” about devices and services.

The excitement of attending a conference is about renewing those friendships that have developed. For many years, I was a national trainer for California State University, Northridge. I criss-crossed the country delivering the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) to over 1,000 people. To this day, I will run into past participants at this conference and get a chance to reconnect and hear how they are making a difference to people with disabilities. That is such a powerful, proud moment and one that I look forward to every year.

While it is always great to run into past participants, the ATIA conference brings with it a guarantee of running into my three partners in crime from the ATACP days: Kirk Behnke, Kelly Fonner, and Scott Marfilius. We don’t get to see each other nearly as much as I would like but this week in Orlando gives us the opportunity to reconnect, share a bunch of laughs, and just generally “be around” each other. We spent many a week together in some city, in some part of the country – facilitating a learning experience for a group of strangers. At the end of each training, the participants would gain a powerful new network of professional resources and we would share experiences that are sometimes hard to explain unless you were there. Not that we won’t try to explain – stop us and ask us and you will usually get more of a story than you bargained for!

These three have taught me what it means to be an AT professional and I am thankful for their friendship every day. You can be sure at the conference if you see one of us – chances are that the rest of us are close by!

Reflect

It is hard to believe that 2014 marks my 25th year providing AT services. In that time, many technology tools have come and gone. The ATIA conference gives me the opportunity to reflect on our profession and the work we still need to do. No matter how high tech the tools become, no matter how many “apps” come out good quality service provision is key. Focus on best practices and quality principles in delivering services to individuals with disabilities.

If you are here this week at ATIA, enjoy learning about the “stuff” – it is cool after all – but remember that good AT services go far beyond “stuff”. Think about matching user needs/abilities to device features. Remember that successful AT implementation doesn’t end when the person gets the technology – it is really only beginning.

Recharge!

Finally, the conference has the same effect on me every year: I leave Orlando at the end of the week invigorated and ready to change the world with all my new knowledge! For all the attendees here this week I hope that you leave with the same feeling. This is an exciting, ever changed field that affords us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Don’t let that pressure adversely affect you – embrace it!

Some quick tips to make it through the conference:

  • You can’t go to every session! Don’t even try. You will end up sitting it a corner of the conference center muttering to yourself about apps and iPads and other things we won’t be able to make out.
  • Prioritize sessions you are interested in. If you came with a co-worker – split up and cover more ground. Even though it is fun to experience the sessions together – this strategy will let you take more from the conference.
  • Download the conference app and plan your time – http://www.atia.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=4469
  • Make new connections – sit with someone new at lunch, strike up a conversation before a session starts. The connections you make at this year’s conference may provide you help somewhere down the road.
  • Most importantly – Breathe! Take a minute to step outside and get some fresh air.

If you are here all week at the conference – stop me and say hello. Anybody who knows me will tell you – I love to talk!

If you aren’t here – there are two things you can do. First, make plans to be here next year!

In the short term, make sure to follow all the conference excitement on twitter – follow the hashtag #ATIA14

Enjoy the conference and I look forward to learning from everyone!

 

Read Book Creator books in the Chrome browser!

Blog

Logo for Book Creator AppOne of the most powerful book creation apps for the iOS devices is Book Creator. This app, with its straightforward user interface and ability to embed multimedia support, has become a go to app for creating content. The materials created with this app are powerful supports for students of all abilities.

For details on how to install the app and create a book – visit this great WIKI How page.

While the Book creator app will let you transfer files to other apps, some of the multimedia features do not transfer. For multimedia rich books, this lost functionality can be the difference between student engagement and just another missed opportunity.

What about using these multimedia books on other devices? Enter the Readium app for Chrome. Readium app for Chrome This app is an ePub reader that opens books right in the browser window. First, transfer your file from the Book Creator app to Google Drive. Then open the Readium app and upload the multimedia book into your browser. Once the book loads into your Readium library, simply select the book and arrow through the pages. All the multimedia elements are active so just click to launch the embedded audio and video.

Using these supports can expand the use of multimedia supports beyond the available technology in the classroom. By using the Chrome browser, these multimedia books are no longer confined to the iOS devices but instead can be accessed by any web enabled Chrome device.

The screencast below shows the process of accessing the multimedia book in Chrome. I created a simple book about the Pearl Jam concert I attended on the Lightning Bolt tour (the concert was great – thanks for asking!). This book consists of pictures downloaded from my phone, text descriptions, embedded audio and a short video clip that I recorded on my phone.

 

Contact me if you want to learn more about becoming your own digital publisher and engaging students with technology.

My Blog – I guess I need something longer than Twitter!

Blog

Well I finally broke down and starting writing blog posts on my website. I came to the realization that I needed a space for long form writing related to assistive technology and people with disabilities. While I still prefer the quick, “nuggets” of information that can be shared on Twitter – there is a place for longer writing.

I am excited to start sharing information here and I hope you find it valuable.