Developing leaders in assistive technology

“If we train 50 teachers, that’s huge,” says Patricia Politano, clinical assistant professor of disability and human development.
Photo: Robert Dupuis-Devlin

Sometimes, students need additional supports such as assistive technologies in the classroom to help them succeed.

So there’s also a need among schools, especially in urban, low-income communities, to have teachers trained to develop and implement evidence-based assistive technologies to help students succeed.

Faculty members across campus are working together to bridge the gap and train elementary, middle school and high school educators to be leaders in assistive technology interventions, assessments and policies.

Through Project ATLiS (Assistive Technology in Special Education), more than 50 educators will receive federal funding to participate in a 16-month program taught by UIC faculty members in the College of Education and College of Applied Health Sciences.

“We’re going to take current special education teachers and develop their expertise in evidenced-based intervention and practices in special education, and give them additional coursework in assistive technology to develop their leadership skills,” said project coordinator Daniel Maggin, assistant professor of special education.

Maggin and Patricia Politano, clinical assistant professor of disability and human development, have designed an interdisciplinary program that prepares educators to develop, implement and evaluate the use of assistive technology for students with multiple disabilities. Educators can earn advanced Illinois special education endorsements in assistive technology and multiple disabilities to work with students aged 5 to 21.

Educators will also attend an assistive technology seminar series that focuses on leadership skills, and participate in a community of practice post-graduation year in which they will demonstrate their leadership skills in assistive technology.

“With these leadership skills, they will assist colleagues to meet the needs of students through curriculum development and support teachers who may not have expertise so they can really impact the lives of students with special needs,” Maggin said.

Participants are being recruited now for the first cohort, which will begin in January. Courses will be delivered on campus, with some online and blended options.

Through a partnership with Chicago Public Schools, the project will recruit in urban, underserved communities, Maggin said. Not all participants will be from Chicago, Politano added — rural schools in particular are also underserved in terms of assistive technology interventions and assessment.

“Our unit has been serving schools 100 miles outside of the city, so we see a need beyond just Chicago,” Politano said.

Many school districts, such as Chicago Public Schools, have assistive technology teams, but they are understaffed, Politano said.

“If we train 50 teachers, that’s huge,” she said.

UIC’s assistive technology unit also offers a graduate certificate program and a mobile assistive technology consulting service to schools, Politano said.

“There aren’t enough experts — we want to get away from the expert model and have more leaders throughout the state,” she said. “The more people we can train, the more students can benefit from assistive technology.”

Working together, faculty from the east and west sides of campus can train educators to maximize the potential of students with special needs, Maggin said.

“Interdisciplinary, collaborative work really is essential when working in complex environments like schools,” he said. “I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of working with the assistive technology unit and other service providers on campus to provide the most vulnerable students in our schools with the necessary support so they have a successful and meaningful post-school life.”