Author: Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud. State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia


All students require a comprehensive assessment in order to select appropriate learning tools. A Learning Media Assessment (LMA) is one way of evaluating learning tools that may be appropriate for students with vision impairment in terms of determining their current and future needs. At the heart is gathering critical evidence of how students use different senses to interact with their environment. It assists educators in analyzing this evidence to confirm the student’s primary learning medium. A strong multi-disciplinary team is required to have input into this process.  As a consequence the LMA identifies:

  • Learning strengths and medium options
  • Educational needs
  • Data relevant to determining students' primary learning medium – vision condition, stability of vision, functional vision skills, stamina and efficiency in current learning medium
  • Future directions and learning pathways
  • Contextual and family considerations
  • Technology solutions, purposes and options  (M.C Holbrook, & A. Koenig,  Renwick Centre Conference Paper, November, 2001).

The LMA is described in detail in Corn & Koenig's Learning Media Assessment of Students with Visual Impairment (1995). It provides a systematic methodology for collecting and analyzing the data necessary for effective decision-making.  Further work by Corn and Koenig (1995) provides educators with other assessment tools to evaluate the effectiveness of different Print Media for students with low vision.  Current research indicates that the process underpinning LMA must be one of ongoing evaluation to ensure that students with visual impairment are provided with quality learning options responsive to changing needs and individual purposes.

Student Participation

Students with visual impairment who have taken an active role in the assessment of their needs through the LMA require opportunities to network with other students who are using specialist technology.  Peer support and peer tutoring can be used extensively to develop students' capacity to use their technology effectively.  Some students may be the only one with a visual impairment in their particular grade or school. For this reason specialist resource teachers can arrange camps, seminars and workshops which provide the opportunities for co-operative learning. In this state (Tasmania 2003 - 05), there have been a series of structured camps and workshops which are designed to:

  • Build skills with particular equipment such as the Braille Note, Prisma Video Magnifier, or ScannaR
  • Create user networks and enable students to find applications such as email to sustain ongoing informal contact
  • Provide students with learning experiences which give them the opportunity to utilize technology within broader everyday life
  • Provide students in rural/remote areas with direct contact with other students with visual impairment and the time for shared dialogue and the interchange of ideas on how their technology works within their program.

This photo shows two students with visual impairment participating in a regional workshop on the Braille Note undertaken in Tasmania in 2004. The sessions were lead by Ramona Mandy, National Blindness Products Consultant for Humanware in Australia. As a leading company representative and also an experienced and regular user of the Braille Note, Ramona was able to personalize learning to each student participating in the workshop. 

 

At the same regional workshop, students experiment with independently using the ScannaR.  The ScannaR is a flat-bed scanner that will scan and read any text document.  The hard drive capacity will record up to 500,000 pages of text.  It has the capacity to link directly to a Braille Note for file transfer of scanned documents. This means that student have instant access to a Braille document in a portable manner.  In Tasmania (2004), a ScannaR was placed in the regional library, so that students with visual impairment could visit the library select texts, independently scan documents and then transfer a Braille file to their Braille Note. More information on the ScannaR is available on the Humanware website cited earlier in this chapter.

 

Positive Outcomes of Technology

Some of the positive outcomes of access to a variety of technology tools and the skills to utilize these effectively have been noted by students and their supporting teams (Tasmania 2004 -5).  These include:

  • Students are now able to move more fluidly between different learning mediums and focus on success with their learning.
  • Students who are primarily Braille users indicate that access to refreshable Braille and the ability to download material into Braille via their Braille Note has increased their success and significantly increased their participation in all aspects of the curriculum.
  • Resource teachers believe that this approach which encourages students to be multi-skilled is in line with the requirement of flexibility and problem-solving that are such an integral part of curriculum delivery.
  • Support teams believe that the focus is always on building lifelong learners who are proactive and empowered decision-makers, confidently able to articulate their technology needs and use it for fulfilling roles in life.
  • Early access to technology has influenced students’ readiness to take on more sophisticated solutions.