CONNECTING TO LEARN

Reviewed by Dr Ger Craddock, Central Remedial Clinic

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New technologies are playing an increasingly important role in our daily lives—in how we communicate, work, study or socialise. The Internet, computers, mobile phones and digital communications make instant global access. Technology is advancing rapidly and, as with the rest of society, it has had an impact on people with disabilities. There is a good deal of evidence to support the view that technology can greatly assist people with disabilities to overcome the barriers that exist within their environment. This is particularly true in providing access within education for students with disabilities. However, it is extremely important that the relationship between education, disability and technology is considered in greater depth and this requires looking at more than the individual and his/her environment. This has been central to the work of Dr Marcia Scherer, whose new book Connecting to learn: Educational and assistive technology for people with disabilities, joins her already published and highly acclaimed Living in the state of stuck: How technology impacts the lives of people with disabilities.

Scherer is a psychologist, assessment and evaluation specialist, educator and assistive technology (AT) specialist—but more uniquely, her approach recognises that AT solutions are only practicable if the person is central to the process. It is this element of Scherer’s work that makes her books invaluable to all involved within assistive technology. In Connecting to learn, she explores how, for students with disabilities—and in particular for students with visual and hearing disabilities— individual characteristics, school/home environments and technology itself can lead to isolation and a lack of ‘connectedness’ in education. This, in many instances, can lead to learning difficulties for the individual student. She expands her unique approach of the person first, based on her MPT (matching persons with technology) model, presenting a comprehensive approach to matching the right assistive technology device to the needs of each student with a disability. Research has established that the person must be satisfied that the technology ‘fits’ both themselves and their environment, if it is not to be abandoned

The book is divided into five key sections

  • Learner characteristics and preferences
  • Environments for learning
  • Technology for access to information and instructional delivery
  • Matching learners with the most appropriate technology and strategies for their use
  • Connecting to learn.

This final section is of particular relevance to Irish education and legislation. Scherer writes about the ‘statement of need’ and makes particular reference to good practice within Irish services. Connecting to learn provides a step-by-step model for assessing and evaluating the needs of individual students and finding the right assistive technology, particularly, but not only, within an educational setting. It is a practical book with information on the prevalence of vision and hearing loss, outlining the implications for students. Scherer describes desirable and less desirable effects of educational technologies, outlining individual learner preferences and needs. Quotes throughout the book from students and teachers covering the various technologies they use in their schools and daily life give the many empirical and practical points a human dimension. The book offers a wealth of practical advice on the selection of educational assistive technology. Although written in the context of the provision of technology in educational and other settings within America, Scherer’s advice also provides a wealth of information and possibilities for school principals, policy makers, teachers, health professionals, parents and (not least) students with disabilities within an Irish context.

CONNECTING TO LEARN: Educational and Assistive Technology for People with Disabilities by Marcia J. Scherer (2003). American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. 296p. ISBN 1 55798 982 6. $49.77 (Available from the American Psychological Association, 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8LU) Seen on www.amazon.co-uk for £24.00-