Technology has proven its ability to be a useful tool when educating students in the classroom. But when it comes to teaching kids with a range of learning disabilities, technology has the power to help them succeed like never before.
That is certainly the case of Toronto’s YMCA Academy, as assistive technologies play a huge role in education at this alternative high school, that offers specialized programs for students with learning style differences. The YMCA Academy was founded in 2003 with five students and has grown to almost full capacity at 70 students.
From day one, technology has been built into the school’s programs and remains pivotal to not only its success, but also to that of its students, said Andras Nagy, teacher and technical analyst at the YMCA Academy. CDW Canada has been working with the YMCA Academy since 2013 implementing a variety of security, server and storage solutions.
CDW Canada’s involvement with the Academy extends into the security standards it uploaded into each device. For example, geo-tracking capabilities for laptops; if they’re misplaced, they can be easily found. For network security, CDW Canada installed an AirWatch endpoint security solution for the entire YMCA of Greater Toronto Network which also protects students at the Academy from the dangers of the web.
“We are dealing with an age demographic that is often exposed to many dangers of technology,” said Nagy. “Being able to work with CDW Canada and relaying our needs to them resulted in a safe online environment for our students — one that’s not oppressive and still allows them to do their work and reap the positive benefits of the web.”
Due to the exceptionalities of the students, configuring the new technology and software is key so they’re intuitive and easy for them to use. To do this, Nagy consults the Individual Education Plan (IEP) that the Academy has put in place for each student. The IEP tells him each student’s needs so he can implement the necessary tools, such as speech-to-text or text-to-speech for students with motor issues, for example. “If they have other sorts of obstacles, these technologies break down those roadblocks and allow the students to complete their education while in this setting,” continued Nagy.
In addition, because many of the students are on the ASD spectrum, trying to minimize things like long loading times or crashes is also important as this can heighten anxiety and frustration, which makes it more difficult for them to learn.
The Power of Assisted Technology in Learning
In 2017, YMCA Academy was the winner of CDW Canada’s Teaching with Technology Twitter contest. The school received 28 HP ProBook x360 laptops, which will help increase the knowledge and use of IT tools in the classroom.
CDW and Microsoft asked the students to explain how Microsoft and Windows technology could enhance their specific classroom experience. The YMCA Academy went the extra mile and linked together various student testimonials showcasing the importance of assistive technologies.
“They created a page on the school’s website (ymcaacademy.org) to explain how assisted technologies make it possible for them to learn, which really made them stand out,” said their senior account manager at CDW Canada.
For example, one student explained that the speech-to-text technology enables him to focus on his thoughts, ideas and answers to questions as opposed to focusing on how to write them correctly. While the speech recognition in Microsoft Office allows him to complete his school work on-site at the Academy, with the new laptops he will now be able to do this when on field trips – something he couldn’t have done in the past.
Not only do these assisted technologies help break down obstacles to learning, they also prepare students for their future lives outside of the classroom in a world that’s being transformed by technology.
“We are looking forward to using these new lightweight laptops on our next camping trip or visit to the ROM so we can continue the experiential learning outside of the classroom,” said Nagy. “With help from CDW Canada, we can ensure that learning is borderless.”
“Being able to work with CDW Canada and relaying our needs to them resulted in a safe online environment for our students — one that’s not oppressive and still allows them to do their work and reap the positive benefits of the web.”
BY: Sarah Lysecki