Just over a month ago, the Collaborative’s alternative special education high school HEC Academy, implemented a 1 to 1 laptop initiative for all students. Each laptop is equipped with the assistive technology (AT) that allows ALL students to:
- listen to any text on the screen,
- use word prediction software to assist with spelling, and
- graphic organizer software that assists with planning for writing and note taking when reading.
Going 1 to 1 has been a long process, by some accounts it started 25 years ago…
This history lesson comes from Eva Gibavic:
Twenty-five years ago, my partner came home and told me that Dragon Systems had developed voice recognition software. We researched it, found out how expensive it was (over $1,000) and gulped! Word processing had been a big improvement, but this was revolutionary indeed. Well, as luck would have it, my assistant teacher (now a pediatrician in California), helped us access some grant money to pay for the software and we were able to convince [the Collaborative’s Executive Director] to buy us the computer to run it…another $1,000 or so with all the RAM needed to make it work. It was probably the most powerful computer in the agency at the time! While version 1.1 of Dragon was challenging, we had students with severe dyslexia dictating things that they could not spell and producing writing.
That same year, my partner came home and told me about the computer dump at UMass where we could get computers that were dead and fix them up. Off we went, led by a young techie student and an intern. Soon we had a few more computers; just word processors, really, but a boon to the writing program.
The next year, my assistant teacher went on to medical school and Adam Wenger showed up, a natural fit with MALP (Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm) in so many ways. Soon, Adam and I were up to our ears in computer parts and learning together, we outfitted MALP with a computer for each student…still word processors except for our Dragon computer, but it was a cool sight indeed to see all the MALP students typing their writing assignments! The year after that, we moved into North Amherst, where we set up the first computer lab, outfitted by UMass computer dump and donations.
Over the years, access to AT (Assistive Technology) waxed and waned, as we were able to get some additional programs and as technology improved and we struggled to keep up. We tried having a computer lab where the AT programs were available, we tried a lot of things and the most needy students we often were able to accommodate. It was a constant challenge and we did our best, never quite reaching the mark.
And now, thanks to the efforts of so many, we are beginning a new era at HEC Academy! All students have laptops, ALL have access to the assistive technology! We are now moving into integrating it through out the curriculum with the goal of universal access and design in the curriculum. It is a powerful place to be and the next stage will be a challenge, a very exciting one indeed!
The afternoon after the computers were given out, one of our severely dyslexic students emailed one of his instructors…an email with many, many spelling errors. His instructor emailed back saying something to the effect, “Dude, use CoWriter so you can get the spelling right!” And he did and he discovered Snap&Read, which is the text-to-speech program, and he was blown away with the possibilities. Cool, very cool!
In concert with these new devices, HEC Academy also became a Google Apps for Education school. Knowing that was happening, we initially thought Chromebooks could be the 1:1 solution. Once we dug in to the details of the image we needed on each machine, we realized that Chromebooks wouldn’t be a workable option. We finally settled on the Lenovo X140e (specs below). We found this machine to be more rugged with its reinforced hinges and frame to prevent damage from being dropped. Also, some of the AT software required Windows over the Chrome OS.
Lenovo X140e Specs:
- AMD A4-5000 quad core processor
- 4GB Memory
- 500GB Harddrive
- Windows 7 Pro
- Depot service warranty for laptops that remained on site, and extra theft/accident coverage on those that go off site with students
Each machine has the following software installed:
If you want to know more about this process, we’re happy to share. Just comment, email, or tweet us.
Many thanks to the amazing team at HEC Academy and to Mike Maticke and Angela Burke in the CES main offices.