A stack of print books with an iPad on top sitting on a desk in a classroom setting.

Digital Transitions #1: What You Need to Know and How You Can Help!

What tech skills and concepts do you and your students need to know to be able to complete digital materials and assessments?

Paths to Technology is a Community of Practice, bringing together creative educators, tech savvy students, families and developers.  Together, we can discuss needs, brainstorm ideas, provide productive feedback and make changes so that students with visual impairments are successful in paperless classrooms.  As our students begin using digital textbooks and online assessments, there have been endless discussions about accessibility of these educational materials, student needs and TVI needs.  Please join these discussions, share your ideas and be a part of the solutions!  Currently, the Paths to Technology community is:

While using online educational materials and assessments some students are demonstrating gaps in their tech skills and concepts.  While tech skills are important for both language arts and math, students tend to need additional concept development when doing online math.

Language Arts: Tech Skills

When reading and writing text, accessibility is rarely a problem. Online books typically include basic accessibility features, such as Headings (allows students to quickly read an outline of the materials and to jump to desired areas) and Alt Text image descriptions. Educational materials can easily be created by mainstream educators with these accessibility features.  Students can access text and write text using a screen reader and a few basic navigation commands. 

Editing requires a few additional commands, such as navigating by character, word, sentence or paragraph and setting the screen reader to read all or some of the punctuation. (Screen readers are typically set so that they do NOT announce punctuation. However, when editing, students need to know if there is an apostrophe, period, comma, capitalized letter, etc.)  The screen reader punctuation setting can be changed on-the-fly as needed. Some students are missing the tech skills necessary to find and correct punctuation and spelling errors.

Another tech-related language art skill is reading sentences or paragraphs that are assigned with a number.  The question may ask the student to indicate the number of the sentence or paragraph that correctly answers the question.  Example: “Which sentence best describes the plot of the story?”  Students need to be able to navigate back to the numbers to read the selection associated with the number then navigate back to the possible answers. 

Basic Tech Skills for Language Arts:

Technically Enhanced Items

Technically Enhanced Items (TEI) are defined as computer-delivered items that include specialized interactions for collecting response data.  TEIs can be embedded into online assignments, textbooks and assessments. These are typically interactive question types, such as:

Note: With NWEA’s MAP growth assessment, TEIs such as Drag and Drop are currently eliminated from the accessible version of the assessment.

For more information about TEIs, read the 2015 article, 7 Technology Enhanced Item Types You’ll see On Common Core Tests This Spring.

Here is a list of tech skills for online assessments listed on the Assessments, The Next Generation website.

Tech Skills for Online Assessments
Click/tap Select Object Use Text Highlighter
Scroll Select Text Use calculator
Plot Points Select Area Use Protractor
Drag and drop Select and drag/slide Use ruler
Type with text editor Unselect Use video player

Note: This information is for mainstream assessments and is not specifically geared for accessible assessments. 

To learn more about Tech skills required for PARCC and Smarter Balanced online assessments, view Assessments, The Next Generation.

Math: Concepts

Math concepts – which tend to be visual in nature – often require specific instruction when bridging between tactile graphics and digital graphics.  Just like when learning to read and write, braille students initially learn math concepts tactually.  However, when students truly understand the math concept, they can and do glean math information from accessible digital graphics. Talking scientific graphing calculators, which have been used for many years, is one example of how students with VIB have been successfully completing math assignments with non-tactile information.

During discussions about students using online math materials and assessments, teachers sometimes discover that even though the material might be fully accessible, some students struggle with math in a digital format.  Some students need additional help with basic concepts and/or transitioning concepts that have progressed from a tactile format to a digital format.  To support teachers with this digital transition process, Paths to Technology will be creating posts with specific activities on various math concepts.  The first post, is Digital Transitions #2: Math Grid Activities, is available now.

Coordinate Grid with both Y and X axis displaying 0 - 6.In math, there are many basic concepts; one fundamental concept is understanding grids.  Grids include spatial relationships, which can be challenging to students with visual impairments.  Graphing equations and more advanced math is based on the concept of simple grids.  Using and gleaning information from a scientific graphing calculator is required in high school and college; these calculators provide information about graphs verbally and through sonification, but calculators do not provide tactile graphics.  To prepare students for advanced math classes, teachers should start with a teaching grid concepts using both tactile and digital formats in elementary school as the students learn the fundamental pieces of math. 

On the Paths to Technology website is a Digital Transition section.  This section is dedicated to identifying and resolving issues as our classrooms transition to digital classrooms; also, included in this section is information on how to create accessible digital materials. Be sure to take a close look at this section and to share these resources with mainstream classroom teachers.

Future Apps

From these recent discussions, there are currently three app developers/groups that are firmly committed to and are working on developing iOS apps that specifically include games with grids.  These games are designed to help young students to learn about practice grid concepts; some of these games will also teach the tech skills such as how to navigate a grid or table using the rotor set to Rows.  As a direct result of these discussions, 3+ games are currently being developed.  Blindfold 3D Tic Tac Toe will be released in the next week or two.

Supporting App Developers

A quick and easy way to support the accessibility of apps is to rate the app or write an app review.  App ratings and reviews indicates how users feel about the app and provide feedback to developers.  Potential funding sources also look at the number of and quality of ratings and reviews.  For mainstream apps, writing about the accessibility of the app tells developers that accessibility is important!  For apps specifically created for students/users with visual impairments, rates and reviews help to providing funding for updates and future app development.

How YOU can help!

Join the discussions!  Write suggestions, needs, personal experiences, and ideas in the Comment Section at the bottom of this post or other Paths to Technology posts.  Join discussions on listservs and Facebook pages for Teachers of the Visually Impaired.  Consider becoming a Paths to Technology blogger and share your tech tips and lesson plans. Contact me directly ([email protected]) about needs, ideas and to help compile a list of:

Our classrooms are in the middle of the digital transition – accessibility should and can be fully integrated into this exciting new era of digital and online educational materials!  Digital classrooms are here and are here to stay.  Mainstream technology is incorporating accessibility features.  Educators are learning new ways to teach and embrace technology.  Developers and education-related companies are in the process of creating accessible materials – right now is the prime time for YOU to become involved so that these new materials are accessible and relevant to students with visual impairments and blindness. 

Digital Transitions #2: Math Grid Activities

Digital Transitions #3: Editing Tech Skills & Activities

Digital Transitions #4: Bar Charts (Fall Leaf Activity)

Collage for Digital Transitions

By Diane Brauner

Accessible Leaf bar chart in Pages app.

Digital Transitions #4: Bar Charts (Fall Leaf Activity)

Photo of student's finger exploring Feelif - a tablet with tactile grid overlay

Feelif: Digital Games and Digital Education

Collage of various math expressions, graphs, and angles.

Digital Math Summary Page