So it’s pretty much no secret that Renay has always been very well versed in technology. If you ask her, the story goes into something about early introduction, a cart rolled in during kindergarten, but never being able to touch the ‘sacred school computer’. Until the third grade and suddenly there were enough computers for partners of 16 students. Those early days of computers didn’t really fuel curiosity but they filled a skill need. So when other paraeducators see Renay responding to technology problems, they think she’s the end all and answers all the questions about computers.
But that’s not just it. Renay has talked about technology before. It’s been a significant part of her life and clearly is the mainstay of ParaEducate’s success. But we spent some time with Renay observing how she works with students in computers. It’s time to look at how one teaches a students, even those with disabilities how to go through the steps of using a computer even in an unfamiliar program or app.
One of the hardest things is to talk someone through the steps of doing something on the computer, especially if you see what they’re doing and you know you could do it a million times faster. Whether through trained motions or visual memory, the process for saving a file, finding a file, or even opening a file has very similar steps since computers moved further away from keyboard only input. Sometimes it’s just talking through the steps: Use the mouse, find ‘file’, choose save as. Depending on the student, Renay may also use a finger or a pen to visually target the area that helps with the steps.
Despite the fact that computer skills are one of the most obvious job skills, step back and remember it’s all right for the student to learn from the experiences with the computers or other digital devices. Let the students try the device without you stepping in. In more advanced classes, especially surrounding robotics and computer programming part of the learning is literally built into the struggle. But especially with some students, be aware of how much they are struggling to make sure they are not beginning to hate using computers. It is a hard balance, but everyone deserves to learn to have fun with computers.
Renay also memorized all the basic commands, but that’s more a reflection of her age—the keyboard commands were required “back in the day” because the mouse wasn’t quite available. There are lists that are available, but the basics for both Apple, Chromebook, and Windows based machines are the same. This takes out some of the time one might use to go through certain commands. Google this and print it out and carry with you if you’re not one to memorize these commands. But by using the commands will make things much easier.
While Word or GoogleDocs are pretty similar, other apps like PowerPoint or Google Slides are extraordinarily different but accomplish the same task. Additionally Google Sheets and Excel both have nuances that result in slightly different outputs especially when graphing. So how to become more comfortable with them? Start with remembering: the basic commands are the same. Realize that you have a goal with every basic application: to produce a product.
Imaging software is a lot more complex, but starting with looking at the screen. Find icons you are familiar with first. Things that look like paint brushes can be altered quickly and produce interesting images. Stepping deeper are selection tools and these all look very different. More advanced imaging software can yield 3d printing. This requires a level of accuracy and understanding of visualization programs that may take a few trials.
Go ahead, take some community college classes to learn how to use specific software. There might even be classes at an adult school close to you. If you’re working with a student and they are on a web based learning system for a class, see if the teacher can add you as a ‘student’ to let you get familiar with the interface when you aren’t trying to peer over a student’s shoulder. While I have you thinking about that, realize the program of Hour of Code doesn’t actually have an age cap. You might not be thrilled about learning to code with a cartoon character designed to attract very young children, but it will help you learn process and strategy for solving computer based problems for coding.
Other places to get stumped is potentially using the school system for saving files. Some have save to device, others have a cloud storage system. Knowing how to get the student to save and how to help the student search is important. And while we’re on the subject of saving, file names need to be useful. Fifty copies of “untitled documents”, especially two that may have been created the day before is not very useful. Encourage the student to write the purpose of the file as the save name, no matter how the document is saved. Some computer classes require specific saving conventions.
While we’ve covered a range of types of programs students may be asked to use, ideally, you should be very comfortable with a word processor and a presentation software. The database/spreadsheet software is a bonus. Get familiar with the basics. Know where things are, find out what some extras are. Be good in those and realize that every class will at some point be writing something like a paragraph eventually. Be confident with keyboarding. If you do not know the traditional layout of the US keyboard, spend some time with typing games (there are many free online). Get used to the keyboard, improve your typing speed.
While not everyone needs to be an expert, being able to help students with technology so they can learn to properly use it is very important in the world we live in today. Taking these little steps on the outside can help you give skills to students who will find these skills very necessary in their future.
While We Have You Here
We have confirmed our guest blogger! We cannot wait to introduce you to her and her story! Coming soon!
Just in case you missed it…
ParaEducate will be at Cal-TASH March 2 and 3. Find us and many other education resources and exchange ideas and find out what is on the horizon for self-advocates and special education.
Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.