Benefits and challenges of technology for learning
The past few years have seen a revolution in the use of mobile technology. Phones, iPads, tablets … one can hardly keep up with the latest gadget. With the introduction of these devices and a myriad of apps, we are provided with a new method of learning that is both beneficial and challenging for those with communication needs. The benefits of these devices for users include the fact that they are intuitive, motivating, engaging and predictable; they use a multisensory approach, are socially acceptable and ‘cool’ to use. Benefits for parents, teachers, and therapists include the fact that many apps allow for personalised learning, and most important of all in this time of cost saving measures, the iPad saves on time preparing materials, plus the costs of photocopying and laminating!
Some of the challenges for users of these devices include the fact that a certain level of IT skills is required to support their use, they may be too distracting for some, and for others they may be just ‘another screen time activity’. There is limited solid research to support the use of these devices and trying to find the right app, among the hundreds and thousands of apps available, can be very time-consuming.
But whether we agree or disagree with the way technology is advancing, it is clear that the tablet devices are here to stay. No more than when we were introduced to the TV, you cannot un-invent them. In my opinion we should therefore turn our attention to how these devices are used and managed. Factors for consideration include the length of time using the device, what exactly is being viewed or played on it, and is it being used as part of a joint activity or in isolation.
The iPad as a therapy tool
I have been using the iPad during therapy for almost three years now and I have found it to be an invaluable tool, but only in addition to other traditional methods. It can be more motivating for some and act as a bridge to generalising skills learned. However, I have also found that there are very few suitable speech and language therapy apps available, particularly Irish-made ones.
Recognising this gap, I set about creating an app to work on actions/verbs in basic sentence structures, targeting both receptive and expressive language skills. I wanted an app that would not only be a resource for speech and language therapists and teachers in clinic and school settings, but more especially an app that would be suitable for parents and tutors to use in home and everyday environments. The result is Actions in Video—an app to bring speech and language therapy into your home.
New app to support communication
Actions in Video contains 49 core action words, using three key evidence-based approaches—video modelling, graphic symbols, and colour-coded systems. Each action has three individual videos so that the user gains a clear understanding of the action. One of the unique features of the app is that some of the ‘actors’ have special needs and do a great job in carrying out the actions. The graphic symbols were specially commissioned and allow for clear representation of the person, action and object.
The app is suitable for pre-schoolers, children with language delay and disorder, people with autism, Down Syndrome, SLI, of hearing impairment. It is also useful for adults with acquired brain injury or with aphasia, or anyone who needs support in planning and constructing grammatically correct sentences, such as those learning English as a second language. The ‘lite’ version is free to download. It has free tutorials and some free sample activities, which allow one to check out its suitability.
We shot the videos in the Irish countryside during the brilliant sunshine of last summer, giving spectacular views that may attract some extra tourists! We have even used the words ‘go maith’ in the reward feature, to make it distinctively Irish. While the app is distinctively Irish it has been downloaded in many countries around the world. Dawn Ferrer, a speech and language pathologist in San Francisco, has used it with many clients in her practice. One of her comments was:
Today I used your app with a 5-year-old boy with Down Syndrome. His 8-year-old sister was with us too, helping out as a language model. It was perfect for this little guy… his sister commented ‘this app is really good for him. He’s doing really well.’ Later when she saw that someone in the video also had DS she said to her brother, ‘Hey he kinda looks like you.’ I think she was happy that people like her brother were represented.
The app was officially launched recently by Brian Crowley, MEP. Brian spoke about the challenges people with communication difficulties experience. He stated that we should grasp every opportunity and means available, including technology, to help people understand and to communicate.
As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, I hope that Actions in Video will be a useful therapy resource for Irish parents, teachers, therapists or, indeed anyone who is supporting a person with communication needs.