Journal of Educational Controversy


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Innovative Uses of Technology to Meet the Needs of All Students

Meeting Diverse Needs with Technology
Linda Schleff
Woodring College of Education
Western Washington University

Chelsea confidently swipes through the multiple pages of apps on my iPad until she spots the one she is looking for. Then she calmly, but firmly, guides her little sister's probing fingers away from the 'home' button. This four-year-old, who has been diagnosed with autism, can independently navigate the complexities of iPad technology, but she is unable to verbally communicate her wants and needs to those around her.

This is where the services of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) come into the story. Following a meeting in Chelsea's preschool classroom where family, school district team, and E-ATRC director informally brainstorm to consider technology tools that might benefit this young student, the family applies for and is awarded an 'AT Grant to Families' that provides $200 to support them in purchasing technology that they believe will benefit their child at home. Now Chelsea has her own iPad that will travel between home and school to support communication and learning across her customary environments. To hear the center director speak about the benefits of the E-ATRC's AT Grants to Families program watch the brief video clip here: Western Window Episode 23 (start at 15:10).

Assistive Technology (AT) is a term defined in disability law and is, essentially, any item that improves functioning for an individual with a disability. However, time and experience have shown us that many of these tools, when made available as standard tools in general environments, will support others with a wide range of diverse needs, as well, including, but not limited to:

   Those with more commonly occurring disabilities such as learning, behavior or attention challenges,                                                                       

   Young children or aging elders,

   People who are English language learners, and

   Any one of us who doesn't spell well!

Consider, as an example, an FM system that amplifies a teacher's voice making it easier to hear and understand. Our first thought might be that a student with a hearing loss could benefit from this technology. But think of others who might be supported as well from having the teacher's voice highlighted as something critical to attend to in the environment. English language learners, students who struggle to maintain focus and attention, in fact, any of us may 'tune in' better when the person speaking picks up a microphone. See examples here.

 Similarly, software or an app that will read text on the screen out loud (text-to-speech), highlighting each word as it is spoken, can improve access to content for a student with a learning disability or an adult who is learning a language. One of these applications, called Snap and Read can even adjust the readability level of text materials to meet the needs of an individual reader, whether their need is due to a learning disability or to learning a language! You can learn more about these applications at Don Johnstons website.
Other applications can 'predict ahead' and suggest, based on commonly used grammar, the word a person might want to type (word prediction) thereby benefitting an individual with fine motor challenges (by reducing the number of keystrokes required) or anyone who doesn't spell well. Learn more about Co:Writer, also from Don Johnston.
Assistive technology has historically benefitted individuals with disabilities and has been most often considered for those with significant, complex disabilities. It has also frequently been complex and costly, until recent decades as the number of technologies has increased exponentially. As this has occurred, affordable tools have become more available to meet a wider range of needs across an array of increasingly diverse users.

No to Low-tech


High Tech

Pencil grips


Powered Wheelchair

Bar Magnifier

Adapted Keyboard or Mouse

Eye Gaze Hardware/Software

Noise canceling headphones

Specialized software

Speech Generating Device
 These tools range from simple non-digital supports to 'mid-tech' tools to 'high-tech' devices - see above for examples. For more specifics about AT basics, AT decision making, technology tutorials or additional AT resources visit the Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO) website at
The Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) is located on the Bellingham, Washington campus of Western Washington University. It is one of the resource centers of Woodring College of Education (WCE) where next generation teachers, nurses, and human service professionals are trained. The E-ATRC's primary charge is to work with these WCE professionals-in-training to support them as they learn about the technology tools that can benefit their future students, patients and clients.
In addition, the center director is able to collaborate with local families, educators and othersin the community who are interested in learning more about assistive technology. All local users of the E-ATRC are welcome to browse the myriad items on the shelves and are also invited to check items out from the AT lending library to use them with individuals with whom they live and work.

Assistive technology can increase participation and improve performance in school, support equitable access to information, and enhance quality of life for a variety of individuals. To learn more about assistive technology or the E-ATRC and their services visit the center website.
The author, Linda Schleef, is Director of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center. She is a Special Education Teacher, a Senior Instructor at Woodring College of Education, and is credentialed by RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineers and Assistive Technology Society of North America) as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). You can contact her at    

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Interview with Michael Karlberg on the Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education Resistance to Iranian Oppression

An Interview conducted by Austin VanKirk, Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Educational Controversy
The Bahá’í faith is one that teaches peace, equality between men and women, and supports the validity of all religions. Despite their peaceful messages, members of this faith are targeted and discriminated against fiercely in Iran, the country which saw the birth of this religion. The current Iranian government uses this cultural group as a scapegoat, placing the blame on Bahá’ís for every national misfortune and problem The nature of Bahá’í oppression is government-orchestrated, operating in a system that removes members of the faith from their employment and prevents their education. Despite the direness of the situation, the Bahá’í plight receives precious little media attention.

In his article, “Constructive Resilience: The Bahá’í Response to Oppression,” Dr. Michael Karlberg discusses the resilience of these people. In my interview with him at Western Washington University on April 10th, Dr. Karlberg proposed that the reason for the scarce media coverage is due to the non-violent and non-adversarial way in which Bahá’ís respond to their oppression. Were their response charged with bullets and bombs, media outlets would grant them more attention.

But the Bahá’í situation in Iran has come to the attention of the Journal of Educational Controversy because of a unique and special way they are organizing to resist oppression. The Bahá’í Institute for Higher Education—BIHE—is a network of educators working to give Iranian members of this faith access to higher education. Prevented from attending or ousted from Iran’s universities, Bahá’ís have come together, along with educators from around the world, to share knowledge with those who seek it.

BIHE classes operate mostly online. According to Dr. Karlberg, who himself teaches such courses, BIHE online courses operate nearly identically to standard online courses. Instructors from around the world who are experts in their fields teach online courses. Some classes do meet in-person, but this isn’t as common given its increased risk and complexity.

BIHE set down its commitment in 1987, and since then now offers thirty-two university-level programs in Sciences, Engineering, Business, Humanities, and in other fields. A strong belief in education has been a longtime commitment of the Iranian Bahá’ís when approximately eighty years ago,  Bahá’ís established the first schools for girls in Iran. Previously none had existed formally. Today, Iranian girls can attend school, Bahá’ís and non- Bahá’ís alike, because of the Bahá’ís’ commitment to education and equality.

Dr. Karlberg has been involved with the institution for about three years now after being approached by BIHE. He teaches his courses in English, with most students being able to understand the language. Students who do not speak English well or at all, receive assistance by their fellows, demonstrating a communal commitment to education. Participating in these online courses does pose risks for the Iranian Bahá’í students, who face imprisonment if caught. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for students to have to drop their courses due to some governmental intervention.

Even though the students of BIHE face constant danger and are obliged to learn under non-traditional conditions, the quality of education is not diminished. As proof, an increasing number of universities are accepting the validity of degrees awarded by BIHE and accept students from BIHE into masters and doctoral programs. Though the pitfalls are many, Iranian Bahá’ís are unwilling to forsake education and remain resilient against the attempts of a regime to bar them from it.

The tenth year anniversary issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will feature a special scholarly article on the topic.