Using iPad technology to assist students with intellectual disabilities

“Class, please take out your iPads and pencils.”

If the work of four TCNJ graduate students catches on, educators might soon be using iPads to teach students with intellectual disabilities.

At a fall 2011 national special education conference, Rachel Adelman, Kristen Lewis, Theresa Lombardi, and Danielle Travisano demonstrated how using iPads to show videos modeling exemplary behavior is an effective method for teaching career and career-related social skills to college students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The four graduate students presented their research at the State of the Art Conference on Postsecondary Education and Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, a meeting of higher education faculty and staff, policymakers, and advocates for special education. The conference aims to make the “vital experience” of postsecondary education “an option for students with intellectual disabilities through the dissemination of policy developments and promising practices” in teaching, said TCNJ Associate Professor of Special Education Richard Blumberg, who accompanied the students and also presented at the conference.

The TCNJ students’ video-modeling pilot project is one such promising practice, Blumberg said.

According to Adelman, the project was conducted with the participation of students from TCNJ’s Career and Community Studies Program (CCS). CCS is a college-based liberal studies program that prepares students (ages 18 to 25) with intellectual disabilities for adult life through academic rigor, career discovery, and preparation and peer socialization as part of a diverse community of learners.

Adelman, Lewis, Lombardi, and Travisano, all of whom are CCS mentors, worked with a CCS student to analyze a social skill or vocational task that the student struggled with. “We then created a video on the iPad that highlighted that particular skill,” said Adelman. “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.”

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

Blumberg, a cofounder of TCNJ’s CCS program, said that through their research the four graduate students learned that “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.

“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,” continued Blumberg. “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.”

Lombardi said it was “refreshing to be among professionals, researchers, educators, students, and families who 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 workplace.”

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

This is the third year that TCNJ has supported student attendance at the conference, Blumberg said. The students’ conference costs were paid by a Federal Department of Education Grant to enhance and extend the CCS Program at TCNJ, and to support high schools in the preparation of students with ID for postsecondary education, he said.

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