Learning takes place in virtually every corner of Perkins’ campus. At the Student Center, a sun-filled space inside the Grousbeck Center for Students & Technology, students of all ages participate in a range of activities designed to strengthen vocational and social skills while introducing them to accessible technology. Samuel Shaw, who leads programming at the Student Center, discussed with Perspectives how these technology initiatives are transforming education at Perkins.
What is the purpose of the Student Center?
It’s about bringing people together to approach an activity with technology. We start with the really young kids participating in an activity like interactive story time with a SMART Board (a large touchscreen connected to an iPad). The iPad app reads the story and the students take turns doing a swipe gesture or hitting a button to turn the page. Over time, you show them something else, like a cool app, and they can navigate it because they know these basic gestures. Eventually, they learn how to type and then write emails, which are huge skills to take to a job. We’re reinforcing these skills in a fun way.
What’s your most popular program?
The Radio Perkins studio is probably the biggest draw. When I started at Perkins we had two radio shows – now we have 19. There are a lot of kids who get on the radio and open right up. Their teachers ask, “How do you get this kid to even talk? He’s totally quiet during the school day.” One of our students who has a sports show even worked to increase his braille reading skills so he would sound better on the radio.
How do Perkins students benefit from technology?
Technology enables all of our students to do various things. At a minimum, students can learn how to stay connected to the world through technology. That’s huge. Entertainment and creative outlets are next, where the students find things they are passionate about and continue their technology skill development. The final stage is identifying potential job skills, like audio engineering and sound recording. We have so many kids who have spent their whole lives training their ears to interpret the space around them, so we started doing creative sound projects. A person who’s blind could go work for news and television stations and do audio editing.
What is your long-term vision for the Grousbeck Center?
A hub for new technology across campus. I had a teaching assistant from the Deafblind Program bring a Google Glass (wearable headset computer) here one day for us to explore. That interaction led to multiple cross-departmental projects that we are now working on to discover more of the device’s potential. I want more people to utilize this space to develop those kinds of creative ideas. This type of exploration empowers our students and for Perkins could lead to new technologies that we could develop and share with the world.
How did you end up at Perkins?
I never knew I was going to work in education, let alone special education. But I think that’s one of the things that’s made me successful – I haven’t come in with preconceived notions of students’ limitations. I’m constantly trying to think of ways to develop everyone’s skill sets. That’s the biggest thing for me – learning never stops. If you’re learning, you’re going to become a stronger person and help more people.