[bct] Re: Frustrations with how AT is taught

  • From: "Alan Schlank" <aschlank@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2006 13:42:19 -0500

Hi Debee,

Of course you are right and your standards are not too high.  I, like you,
have been in this field for a long time.  After my thirty plus years with
the government in the computer field, I taught four years at a small
nonprofit agency here in the D.C. area mostly teaching basic computer skills
to agency clients.

What I saw too often was that the students were not ready for college.
Nowadays you don't go to college without a strong grounding in the use of
computers.  (This also goes for other basic skills such as mobility, basic
literacy skills for blind people, keyboarding, etc.).  To my mind, at least,
there is simply no excuse for someone trying to attend a college or
university without these basic skills.  Perhaps I am old-fashioned, but
these are simply things that have to be mastered first.  They simply should
not need to be taught by you or anyone else at that level.

Yes, I am aware that there has been a dumbing down process at many schools.
But how can a blind or learning disabled student expect to achieve
self-confidence and success in their studies without the basic skills to be
successful?  Well, perhaps I am just getting old and curmudgeonly.

Alan Schlank

-----Original Message-----
From: blindcooltech-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:blindcooltech-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Debee Norling
Sent: Friday, March 24, 2006 5:08 PM
To: Blindcooltech@Freelists. Org
Subject: [bct] Frustrations with how AT is taught

I just had a very frustrating experience I thought I'd share. I'm curious
what you others think.

I work at a community college where I'm in charge of alternate media. Our
Access technology specialist, (I'll call it AT for short) is a sighted guy
and he's part-time. He is a speech pathologist with a ton of experience
teaching dragon. He really doesn't know JAWS all that well, but he is smart,
concerned about making the campus accessible and seeing that courses are
truly inclusive. I hesitate to criticize such a caring guy, but he does
teach JAWS with a keystroke cheat sheet at his side. And I'm sure he
couldn't use the computer with his screen turned off.

I think this guy's one downfall is that he is typical faculty; he teaches a
few classes and just isn't here full-time.

We are always trying to encourage our print-impaired students to use the
computer more, and we try to wean them away from depending on their mom
reading aloud, or using large print or whatever. We want them to be
conversant with Microsoft Word for preparing their papers, and with Kurzweil
or similarly appropriate AT for reading their books.

We have a new blind student, I'll call him John Doe,  who recently started
taking tests on the computer using JAWS and word. John has been brailling
out his tests and I've been transcribing them in to print. But we all want
to see John become more independent.

Today, our AT guy got  John all set up, but   he couldn't stay because he
only gets paid for an hour or two on Fridays.

John spent four hours taking his test and then he printed it.
Unfortunately, he printed 200 pages of gibberish. There was nobody available
to help him. I work several buildings away from the computer lab, I'm
encouraged to focus on my learning disabled students, and the guy who is
supposedly in charge of the lab is never there because he isn't paid to be

So John is a beginner. He's been taught how to type in Word, how to use a
few simple JAWS commands and how to print. He hasn't been taught how to
save. He doesn't know what saving is. So he simply waits until his test
period is over,  gets escorted back to the disability services office and
tells his story there. John also has a physical disability so he needs help
getting from one building to another. But in no way is he mentally impaired;
he's just very new to computers.

At this point I am called. Even though they don't want me doing faculty's
job, they want me to fix computer issues when everyone is in a panic and
nobody  knows what to do. I get there, and John has very carefully closed
out of Word the way he was taught and his four hours of work are lost. They
were never saved.

This happens all the time because our AT guy teaches keystrokes and not
concepts. He shows people how to read the previous word, but not how to
cope when things go wrong.

I've noticed in general that AT people tend to get hung up teaching what to
me seems very silly; students will learn how to bold and center, but they
won't know what to do when they need to copy a file off a CD on to a flash
drive. Even when people are taught how to save, they frequently have no
concept of file management. I'm forever bailing out people who saved a file
in the wrong folder and now they cannot locate it.  Just a few days ago, my
boss, an able-bodied social worker type was in a huge panic because she
thought she'd lost her power-point presentation for some important meeting.
I have JAWS on her computer because I'm always rescuing her, and this time
she'd put it in "My Pictures" instead of on her desktop. Someone else
recommended she save to her desktop so she could find things. I'd like to
sit her down and teach her how and where to properly save, but she wouldn't
sit still long enough.
She knows all sorts of fancy tricks in Power Point, but she panics so much
that even the simplest file management tasks seem to thoroughly flummox her.

But even more than able-bodied, the print impaired, in my opinion, need a
firm foundation in how to think. Multiple-choice tests and memorizing steps
to perform a procedure do them no favors.  In our AT lab, the command to
read the title bar in JAWS is not taught , because it isn't necessary to
complete the assignments. But that means when the focus goes south, the JAWS
users have no skills for coping.

My biggest beef with AT, which is a micro-example of how all computer
courses are taught here is that people are taught rote methods for
accomplishing tasks.   They can create a formula in Excel but they can't
troubleshoot a printing problem.  They can use JAWS to spell the current
word, but they can't restart it when it crashes. They are taught where
programs are located on computers in our lab but not how to poke around an
unfamiliar computer to find stuff. They know how to change fonts but not
how to insert a paragraph from a document in a different directory.

It seems a crime to me to teach computer stuff using a paint-by-numbers
Sometimes I work with a new blind student, especially when I have to rescue
him from something that happened while I was off doing my real job, and I'm
always amazed at just how much hand-holding these people need. Are my
standards too high, or are we just doing a really lousy job of teaching AT
these days?


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