Autism Village

Topher Wurts, father of a 13-year old son with autism, is developing a mobile app called Autism Village. According to Wurts, the aim of this app is to “allow people in the autism community to add, rate and review different restaurants, museums, parks, playgrounds and other locations based on ‘autism friendliness.’”

I don’t know about you, but I wish there were more apps like this that catered to individuals, and friends and family of individuals, with specific mental or physical disabilities. I also feel like there ought to be similar apps involving education. One way this could be done would obviously be to have apps for rating and commenting about the level of “friendliness” of a school’s campus and facilities. Although there likely already exist ways to find out this kind of information, it may help for these people to hear more input from those who actually have experience dealing with the challenges posed by such disabilities. In this regard, I also feel such apps ought to tap into input from educators and administrators. People in these professions are privy to experiences and information that many are not (e.g. what assistive tech is best for a specific problem, or what places are best for education/recreation activities), and their input could go a long way in informing not only the users of apps like these, but their developers as well. At the same time, these kinds of apps could also be useful for educators themselves, helping them to plan out class activities, field trips, etc.

Click here if you’d like to help support Wurts’s kickstarter for Autism Village.

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Google Classroom

Google has come out with many new apps and features recently, and many of those can be used for various purposes, including education (e.g. Google Docs, Drive, Mail, Calendar, etc.). Up until recently, all these different Google apps could only work separately from each other, as stand alone apps; they weren’t interconnected in any significant way. Teachers and students could still use them, but their applications in education settings were limited. However, Google has addressed this issue with one of their newer apps, Google Classroom. With this new app, teachers and students need not jump between all the various different Google apps just to send out a file to everyone, or turn in an assignment – this can all be done from within Classroom. It also possesses some of its own unique features, which make this app particularly well suited to educators. For example, teachers now have the ability to send out individual copies of an assignment to students in a class, the ability to grade assignments using any point scale, and the ability to correspond with students about particular assignments.

Google Classroom also caters to student needs as well – ever turn in an assignment early, only to think of a change you wish you had made before submitting? Not a problem. Classroom allows students to actually “unsubmit” assignments so that they can make any changes, and then submit the revised assignment, without any sort of hassle or confusion. Additionally, teachers are able to “return” an assignment to student, with commentary, thereby allowing them to inform students of any changes they need to make before resubmitting later.

Google Classroom possesses many other features as well, all of which help to make it extremely practical. However, it does seem to possess its own shortcomings. For one, it requires that everyone in a class have Internet access. That being said, the app is available for mobile devices, along with all the other previously mentioned apps. That, in addition to it being cloud based does offer teachers and students certain advantages. However, being cloud based does carry some potential risks with it. The app also seems limited in the types or formats of assignments that it can be used with. Despite all this, Google Classroom is a very versatile app that can be used to help organize a classroom and the interactions between students in teachers in a way that allows for immediate feedback, takes into account specific student and teacher needs, and it can effectively help to free up some of the limited classroom time.

Click here for a review and tutorial.

ArtistWorks

ArtistWorks is an online music lesson program. By acquiring teachers who are virtuosos on their respective instruments and using online videos, ArtistWorks has created a system whereby students are able to not only access lesson videos at their own pace and discretion, but also record videos of themselves in order to receive feedback from their teacher as well as fellow students. The system seems like a pretty well rounded attempt to a straightforward concept – to make professional online lessons available to as many students as possible, while still providing a way for them to interact with their teachers. This spirit of mass reach is also reflected in their pricing, which is lower than most in-person private lessons ($90 for 3 mo., versus ca. $25 for 30 min. lessons). The technology seems to possess many advantages over traditional video lessons, particularly its Video Exchange system. However, in this interview, founder David Butler seems to omit what seems to be some glaring inadequacies of this lesson system.

First, allowing a student to completely control his/her own pace possesses some drawbacks. Butler attributes the logic behind making videos available in this way to his own observations of in-person private lessons, where he noticed that the content of most lessons tent to be a repeat of the previous week. Butler however fails to address the role that practicing (or lack thereof) will play in this, and instead attributes it to student needs. While it is certainly important for students to have some control over the pace of their learning, this degree a freedom presents risks for “slow learners” (as Butler puts it). Particularly, it ignores the very real possibility that a student may be learning slowly for reasons other than innate ability or practice habits (e.g. poor match between student and teacher, lack of motivation, or personal resources such as time). It also makes it very easy for students to get too far ahead of themselves – students may think they are ready to move on, and then try to do so prematurely, or they may simply get impatient. This is very important, since a strong grasp of the fundamentals in invaluable, and is already difficult to get students to spend enough time on them.

Another thing that Butler strangely omitted was the role of sound quality in his video system – even though he makes a few mentions of the use of good lighting and different camera angles in lesson videos as one of ArtistWorks strengths. While this is definitely advantageous for students, it is equally important that they also have good audio feedback. However, this can only be guaranteed if both the recording quality and the playback quality are good. Since this would require students to have access to good quality speakers or noise cancellation headphones, it seems unlikely that most students would be able to take full advantage of this lesson system. This can be especially detrimental during more advanced lessons, where subtle nuances in performance become increasingly important.