Volume I Number 1, January 1994

Department: K-12

Anne Pemberton

Beginning a New Venture and a New Year

The premier issue of a journal must be a time to look ahead, as surely as the birth of a new year occasions similar flights of fancy. Can we predict the world to come? Will we be ready for the opportunities it will create?

Special education, like much of the education community, is in transition - scrambling to update and realize the potential of available technology. That technology now has the capability to tailor both input and output to the needs and preferences of the user. Accommodations as extensive as a light talker or robotic arm, or as simple as changing colors on a text-filled screen to ease a reading disability, are possible.

In some places, special education lags behind regular education in the availability of hardware, software and teacher training, yet on Long Island, in Virginia, in Seattle, and elsewhere, special educators have been among the pioneers developing educational applications for the Internet. The small groups and flexible curricula of resource and self-contained classes are well-suited to exploring the vast new world. Networks provide an efficient way to distribute content that makes individualization of educational experiences a reality.

Determining the content of the Internet that will be of value to K-12 education, and especially K-12 education for special needs students, is the challenge before us. To explore what may work, what will work, and determine what does work, and what accomplishes the unexpected, will be the task of cadres special educators and those who work with them on the Internet. Teachers and students can share the results of their experiences and observations; these experiences, combined with the output of projects, can also become archives for researchers' in academia.

The Chatback Trust UK and Chatback USA provide content for special education classes around the world from their headquarters in tiny Royal Leamington Spa in the middle of the English countryside. Tom Holloway, a retired IBM executive, spends the trust funds on hardware, software, access, and training for handicapped students and their teachers around England. The Chatback projects are made available on the Internet through St. John's University on Long Island, NY.

There are five chatback lists distributed by St. John's mainframe. Chatback Chatback@stjohns.edu, is a key discussion list used for planning and sharing among the teachers and others involved in Chatback projects. Talkback Talkback@stjohns.edu, originated as a place where students could post the outcomes and responses to the Chatback projects, but it has evolved as a place where students share comments, questions and stories with one another and with the other Chatback adults. Some of the adults assume character roles in their communication with students. Sherose, Z-Man and Doinngg from the project Far Star entertained students of various ages and levels of "belief", and this year's attraction is BW Unicorn, also known as Uni, -:).

Most of the 1993-94 Chatback projects are on lists of their own, but the Nigel Palmer's Bird Tables are discussed on Talkback. The Bird Table project can be a short unit or a year- long (or longer) roject for any classroom with a well-placed window. Students design and construct a bird feeding station they can view from a classroom window. Students write reports on building and stocking the bird table, and describe their feeding station's and feathered visitors. The reports are uploaded and shared with Talkback.

Three more Chatback projects have lists of their own. First is The Time Capsule timecap@stjohns.edu. Pat Davidson collected suggestions of items to be included in a time capsule which was sealed to mark the end of 1993. The list is archived, so that if you missed it, you can get a copy of everything posted to the list from St. John's gopher.

Memories of England memories@stjohns.edu, the brainchild of Tom Holloway, Director of Chatback, helps survivors of World War II in Europe share their memories of those times with school children around the world. Introducing, kidintro@stjohns.edu, asks students to pair up and write an introduction of each other, and post it.

To get involved with the Chatback projects, you should first subscribe to the teacher's list, Chatback. Bitnet and other systems may let you subscibe through their reader, but if not, just write to the listserv at St. John's and subscribe to receive the list via email. Write the following one-line message:

  • To: listserv@sjuvm.stjohns.edu
  • Subject: Subscribe Chatback Firstname Lastname

Introduce yourself and describe the students you work with. Learn more about the current projects and those in the planning stages. When you're ready, subscribe to Kidintro, Talkback, and perhaps Memories, too. Share the mail with your students, and let them begin to participate just as soon as they seem ready. All of the Chatback projects are flexible enough to allow you to participate with just one student, or with an entire class. And always, help is just a quesion away on the Chatback list.

There is, of course, no reason that special needs students cannot participate in the wide range of online projects intended for regular students. Information on projects suitable for special students but aimed at ALL of education, is posted to Chatback chatback@stjohns.edu and Altlearn altlearn@stjohns.edu. Altlearn is a discussion list among teachers and others interested in learning disabilities and similar conditions. Several Altlearn regulars routinely re-post announcements of projects from the corners of the Internet to these two lists.

In closing, let me first of all introduce myself as a special education teacher in a rural high school in Virginia, then ask "y'all" to think about some possibilities. As we've read in this issue, there is a wonderful source of information on rehabilitation for various handicapping conditions being built at St. John's. What information could be added to the Rehabilitation gopher that would be of use to K-12 special education, mainstream, and inclusion teachers? Would up-to-date medical information be helpful? How about tools for assessment? Research on educational methods? Transitioning and vocation resources? Reviews of software? Hardware sources and resources? Would it be useful to have some of that information provided so that students can learn to do their own problem-solving and advocacy? Or should we devote most of our attention to developing curriculum- driven resources for student lessons? Please feel free to share your thoughts on these questions, and to suggest ideas for future "K-12" department news to me, Anne Pemberton or to Bob Zenhausern.

Invitation to Join NCIPnet

Readers of _Information Technology and Disabilities_ are invited to join NCIPnet, the electronic network of the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP). NCIP, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Projects is a joint effort between Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC), a nonprofit research and development organization, and the WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston's public television station. NCIP's mission is to improve outcomes for students with disabilities by enabling practitioners (e.g., teachers, technology specialists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists) to effectively use technology, media and materials (TMM) to enhance instruction.

NCIP's Goals:

  • To develop a knowledge base about the use of TMM to assist students with varying disabilities
  • To develop an approach that brings together practitioners, administrators, parents, and consumers to promote innovative uses of TMM with students with disabilities
  • To support NCIPnet
  • NCIPnet is an emerging electronic mail and bulletin board system that links administrators, practitioners, parents, and consumers nationwide. Members of this "telecommunications community" have joined to:
  • Explore the most effective instructional practices for students with disabilities
  • Discuss ways that TMM can be used to enable, enhance and extend these practices
  • Share information about what promotes or hinders the successful use of TMM
  • Gain feedback and advice from colleagues on common issues and concerns
  • Share expertise and experience among schools and districts throughout the country.

NCIPnet currently has over 150 registered users from all over the country, and we are adding more daily. The primary participants are individuals who seek and accept responsibility for bringing about change in the integration of technology for students (K-12) with disabilities. You can join this telecommunications community. All you need is a computer, a modem, and an enthusiasm for sharing ideas about your work with others in this field. NCIP's dial-in number is toll free. For more information, please contact Denise Ethier.

Pemberton, A. (1994). Beginning a new venture and a new year. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 1(1).