By Patricia (Pati) Ruiz
The NSF 2016 Video Showcase: Advancing STEM Learning For All featured 65 videos under the “Broadening Participation” keyword. This topic is an important one for those of us who work in the classroom. I learned through the Cyberlearning 2016 conference that the NSF established the Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance Program between 2006 and 2009 to address issues of engagement and education in computing and computationally-intensive disciplines across the K-20 education landscape.
One underrepresented group discussed in the NSF video showcase was students with diagnosed learning differences. Two of the videos on this topic were very interesting to me – these were Diverse Learning Technologies: Helping students with LD, ADHD, and ASD reach their full potential in STEM and Accessible PhET Simulations for Diverse Learners. In order to learn more about working with diverse learners, I spoke with Amar Abbott, a High Tech Center Access Specialist and faculty member at Taft College. Here is our conversation:
Question: You watched the Diverse Learning Technologies: Helping students with LD, ADHD, and ASD reach their full potential in STEM and Accessible PhET Simulations for Diverse Learners videos from the 2016 NSF Video Showcase. What did you find interesting about them?
Amar Abbott: I thought that they were very informative and I especially liked that all of the videos had closed captioning embedded. This makes them accessible to a wider audience. Also, I learned a lot about the technologies that are being developed for helping students with learning differences.
Question: How might these videos inform your practice?
Amar Abbott: These videos have helped me think more deeply about cognitive load and helping students and teachers monitor learning. One question that came up for me is: If a tool provides some support for the cognition of the student, what can the community [around the student(s)] also do to help support cognitive learning? In addition, I would also like to learn more about the situative and social supports that might help students.
Question: What will you do with what you learned from these videos?
Amar Abbott: I appreciated the introduction to Landmark College, their resources, and research group there; it’s a great model. Their focus on UDL is especially excellent because their work stems from direct experience. I am going to try to visit Landmark and hopefully develop long-term relationships with the researchers and students there.
As for the accessible PhET Simulations for Diverse Learners project video, I learned a great deal about what affordances learners need for activities like simulations. The video was to the point, and I like that it highlighted a blind student working with the PhET Simulations. Projects like these puts accessibility in the forefront and that helps all learners.
It was great to hear Amar’s thoughts, and as a teacher, I will be interested in following both of these projects. I am especially interested in what the University of Colorado team discovers about how simulations “are shaped by sociocultural norms of science, [and] can also be used to change the traditional norms of how students engage in the classroom.” This work will be helpful for everyone interested in broadening participation and engaging all learners in STEM topics.