The Future of Apps in the Classroom Interview by Deborah Dixon The world of assistive technology has changed dramatically over the past few years with the emergence of a variety of new devices and an ever-exploding repertoire of apps. To understand better the impact and the future of these treatment tools, a number of questions were posed ... School Matters
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School Matters  |   October 01, 2011
The Future of Apps in the Classroom
Author Notes
  • Deborah Dixon, MA, CCC-SLP, director of school services, can be reached at ddixon@asha.org.
    Deborah Dixon, MA, CCC-SLP, director of school services, can be reached at ddixon@asha.org.×
Article Information
Augmentative & Alternative Communication / School-Based Settings / Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / School Matters
School Matters   |   October 01, 2011
The Future of Apps in the Classroom
The ASHA Leader, October 2011, Vol. 16, 30. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.16122011.30
The ASHA Leader, October 2011, Vol. 16, 30. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.16122011.30
Interview by Deborah Dixon
The world of assistive technology has changed dramatically over the past few years with the emergence of a variety of new devices and an ever-exploding repertoire of apps. To understand better the impact and the future of these treatment tools, a number of questions were posed to assistive technology and apps expert Samuel Sennott, a PhD candidate in special education at The Pennsylvania State University.
What are the biggest changes in the use of technology and apps over the past few years?
The evolutionary changes include articulation cards going into a digital form, the widespread use of fun and useful apps for various speech and language skills, and some neat audiology tools moving to the consumer platform. Yet, the really revolutionary things are happening around augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The number of people obtaining AAC tools is exploding. Until recently,only 10,000–20,000 people were obtaining AAC systems. With the explosion of affordable and powerful new mobile-based options, that number has spiked.
There’s also the hard-to-quantify “coolness” factor. The older, traditional devices (“clunkers”) are being replaced with new iPads, iPhones, and iPods, some of the most celebrated and coveted technology of our time. For children or teens walking into schools this year, as well as for adults, the iPad is simply cool. It has the potential to be a powerfully inclusive tool. It is putting a lot of pressure on the field to create more attractive AAC systems.
The average price of AAC systems has fallen from $7,000 to $700. The price drop presents an innovators’ dilemma for the incumbent AAC-focused companies, but it is a huge opportunity for the field to serve a greater number of people.
Apple’s newest operating system is to be released very shortly, bringing very important options for people with physical impairments, including a new framework called Assistive Touch. It really should empower a huge number of people who have complex communication needs and involved physical accessibility needs.
Note: The Coordinating Committee of Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication, has expressed concern about starting with a device of any sort, instead of completing a comprehensive assessment to determine what best matches the student’s needs. Because iPads are cost-effective as well as more socially acceptable, parents and districts often move directly to these devices without doing the assessment and/or engaging the right professionals in the process.
What lessons have we learned since we’ve embedded technology into assessment and treatment?
We are just getting started in this area. First, speech-language pathologists have never had tools capable of capturing data the way the new mobile devices can. From data on individuals who stutter to articulation to AAC, we have an opportunity to really understand how someone is responding to intervention. Yet, the biggest lesson is that just because we have the tools, doesn’t mean we are using them.
Have the many new systems that compete with the iPad resulted in any changes?
Not as much as I thought they would. The go-to device is still the Apple iPad, and also the iPhone and iPod touch. For instance, HP just discontinued its new tablet, the TouchPad, but Android tablets are getting better and people are certainly buying and using them. There are apps for Android, but the robust selection of apps is on Apple. They are all just tools, yet it seems like parents and clinicians prefer the Apple ecosystem.
What do you see as the future for the use of apps?
The landscape is about to mature. What I hope for, and believe will happen, is that the next phase will more fully harness the research base that we have and combine it with some groundbreaking innovations. This maturing of the app landscape into a set of even more powerful evidence-based tools will give speech-language pathologists a number of key enhancements. Easier and faster customization of materials is certainly going to be a big part of the landscape. The ability to provide ongoing treatment and to monitor student progress from afar is just getting started. Tools for individuals who are multilingual should mature. Yet the big leap forward is that new forms of speech and language treatment are going to be developed. With these powerful new mobile tools, we simply have a whole new dimension of opportunity to explore, develop, and refine.
As we move into the future it is important to focus on grounding ourselves in evidence. There is a temptation to “be all about the tools,” but we know better and need to combine good treatment and teaching with these new and powerful devices.
Contact Samuel Sennott, ME, at samuel@psu.edu.
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October 2011
Volume 16, Issue 12