Monday, May 18, 2015

Co-Design as a Driver of Pedagogical Innovation in Autism Education...

New technologies are often a catalyst for improving accessibility tools for individuals with disabilities.  However, the reverse is sometimes true as well.  In what ways and under what circumstances do disability perspectives act as a catalyst for technological innovation and a reformulation of design processes?  Rather than approaching disability as a problem to be solved, to what extent can an embrace of disability perspectives on accessibility designs lead to new generative outcomes?

In a new paper submitted to the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (JITP), my co-author and I examine the pedagogical effects that mobile and cloud computing technologies have wrought in autism education – specifically, their transformational roles in enhancing portability, training, data collection and analysis, and synchronization.

A central component in autism education today is Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA.  While proven to have yielded positive outcomes, it remains unavailable to many impacted individuals. Factors contributing to this include an extensive time required to (a) design individualized teaching procedures, (b) train caregivers and therapists to carry out procedures consistently, and (c) collect and analyze data on a frequent basis to guide decision-making.

Mobile apps and cloud computing technology have emerged as crucial tools in the field over the past decade.  They have increased the portability of individualized materials and curriculum, the automation of data collection (resulting in more available time for analysis of said data), and the synchronization of relevant documentation amongst caregivers and treatment providers, who may be required to make decisions about treatment quickly under certain circumstances.

For example, we explore one case involving the evacuation of a family home in the middle of the night as flood waters neared. The family of six, including a 16-year old boy severely impacted by autism, was brought to the township’s high school gymnasium, serving as a shelter for the neighboring community, for over two days. The child’s mother brought his iPad (much to the disbelief of the firefighters who performed the rescue) and was able to create a narrative story using actual pictures to prime him for the unexpected situation.

We argue that there is a further, enormous, and as yet largely unrealized potential gain to be had in terms of large-scale data analysis through an incorporation of Data Science techniques, and the emerging field of “Big Data”.  While the aforementioned software tools assist the educator in data collection and instantaneous metric calculations based on performance, these are still, by design, highly individual-centric.  However, from an institutional perspective, or for the purposes of large-scale research studies, additional insights could be gained by deploying Big Data algorithmic approaches to the analysis of massive data sets of varied and complex structures in order to reveal hidden patterns and previously unknown correlations than those that could have been meaningfully analyzed even a few years ago.

Additionally, as integral as mobile apps and cloud computing have been in leading pedagogical innovation in autism education, the notion of co-design – specifically, the ability for the “users” of the software to play a large role in actually designing the software – is immensely significant.  The educator-practitioners implementing ABA techniques exemplify the blurred line that has emerged between researcher and designer by enabling the customization of software on-the-fly to suit specialized needs or unexpected circumstances, and this holds true for both less-credentialed and more-credentialed practitioners in addition to parents, researchers, and other stakeholders as well.  Software that facilitates easy incorporation of co-design principles, allowing broader participation in the design process determining what exactly the software will do and how it will do it, we argue, will continue to be the preferred tool of choice in the field.

Ultimately, the trend of ABA practitioners incorporating mobile and cloud computing technology into their pedagogies for autism education is highly likely to continue.  It will also inevitably evolve, and that is where co-design and its multistakeholder, collaboratory approach is ripe to play a leading role in guiding future technological and pedagogical innovation.