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Assistive Technology Corner...

iPods in the Classroom – A Parent Primer

By Randi Sargent

Educators and assistive technology pros are abuzz about ways to use Apple’s iPod Touch and iPhone to support special education students in the classroom. With the release of Apple’s new larger iPad, the potential for these supports has now expanded to help children and adults who have difficulty using small screens. Here’s what you need to know to help your kids learn with these types of assistive technology (AT).

Applications (or apps) are software programs for use on the iPod Touch (no phone/data service required) and iPhone (AT&T phone/data service required). In addition to using these devices to listen to music, there are thousands of apps. Many are free; some are low cost; others cost hundreds of dollars. All apps use touch screen technology, which makes them easy to use, intuitive, and appealing to kids of all ages and abilities. Apps are only available on-line at http://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/mobile-software-applications/id36?mt=8. In the Education category, you can choose from a vast selection of apps and games, designed to teach early math skills, reading, writing, songs, art, foreign languages, sign language and more.

Eric Sailers and Samuel Sennot, two speech pathologists, have identified apps that are particularly beneficial for special education students, and support learning in the areas of augmentative communication, organization, reading, writing, math, music, art, educational games, and accessibility aids. Apps for note taking, videos, flash cards and e-book readers with text-to-speech make learning on the go easier than ever. Apps developed especially for students with autism provide visual schedules and reminders/prompts, communication systems, reward systems, behavior tracking and timers. There are apps that address the needs of individuals with vision and hearing impairments that include Braille and ASL. Review the growing list at www.scribd.com/doc/24470331/iPhone-and-iPod-touch-Apps-for-Special-Education.

Reasons to Love iPods:
  • Portability – Their small size makes it easy for ambulatory kids to carry them around so they have the schedules, visual prompts, and communication aids with them. They are also great for keeping kids entertained in the car and waiting rooms!

  • Easy to Use - Finger touch driven, on screen keyboards, no mouse required.

  • Lower Cost - The Apple devices cost between $200-$800, significantly less than dedicated augmentative communication devices. Many apps are free or cost less than $5.00. Note: If the device you want is less than $500, your family may qualify for the Assistive Technology Mini-loan program. Learn more at www.massatloan.org/aboutmaatminiloan.htm.

  • Visually Appealing – High quality images with lots of visuals.

  • Ability to Import Your Photos (the iPhone includes a camera; the iTouch and iPad do not).

  • Coolness Factor – Looks like the iPhone all kids use, making it a great tool for closing the learning gap between students with special needs and those without.

Other Things to Consider:
  • Accessibility - The small screen size and icons may make it inaccessible for students with fine motor issues. The new iPad, with it’s larger screen and icons, may resolve this issue, for some. Visit the Assistive Technology for Apple and MAC Users forum at www.ATMac.org for information about accessibility of Apple products for individuals with disabilities.

  • Sound Quality – After all, iPods were designed to play personal music. You need separate speakers to make the sound audible in the classroom. The iPad is supposed to have louder sound, without requiring additional accessories.

  • Lack of Camera – The iTouch and iPad do not have a camera feature, but you can import your own photos.

  • Who Pays? - Insurance does not cover computer-based devices in most cases and schools may not be willing to purchase them. But, check with your school’s AT specialists; they may have trial devices to loan out. Data service can add $30 or more a month to your phone bill.

  • Are They Allowed in School? - Check with your teacher or special educator about their policy for using phones or hand-held devices in the classroom.

  • Fragility - These devices are small and somewhat delicate. They are not designed to be dropped or thrown, which may be deal breaker for some students. Repair costs are substantial.

  • Theft or Loss - Will your child be able to keep track of it at school? Specialized apps make the iPhone and iTouch a rich educational resource for children with special educational needs. They are cool, fun, and it gives them some independence. But, don’t let your kids near yours if you ever want to use your phone again!

Randi is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy who relies on assistive technology for mobility, communication and daily living. Randi is also a member of the MassMATCH AT Advisory Committee, and the Federation Board of Directors.