Podcasting in Special Ed:
Knowledge Bank New Generation
Celebration Video of Web2.0 trials, October 2008
Podcasting in Special Education (students with Autism)
When you hear the words “Autism” or “Special Education”, what springs to mind? In 2008, I was seconded from my position as a classroom teacher in mainstream schools, to work with various schools in our Region as a Teaching and Learning coach. One school I was placed in to work for one day a week, was the Echuca Special Development School. As a teacher from a mainstream education, placed in a Special Education school to support students and staff to use technology in more innovative and effective ways, I did not get a “crash course” in children with special needs, autism, or special development needs. I just landed in the situation. The students with their repetitive movements, funny sounds, no eye contact, etc. seemed so foreign and strange, yet the staff seemed so open and broadminded…I was confused!
Luckily I had something to fall back on: In 2007 I was granted 20 days of teacher professional leave, and I spent it learning about podcasting as a potential educational tool. Now I thought pod/vodcasting may be a wonderful tool to trial and use in this new situation.
Looking at Autism, it seemed clear that there is a natural connection between most students with Autism, and visual-with-verbal cues. They love certain kinds of music, and it relaxes them. They need something to “buffer” them from loud noises and prepare them for sudden changes in their routine, which may cause undue stress, exhibited in actions like rocking to and fro, making funny noised, flailing arms and physical tics. There seems to be a natural affinnity for computers and technology, even to the point where some students with autism can learn to communicate via computer keyboards.
I really wanted to get into that world of the students, and reach out to them where they lived (inside their heads.) I suggested the idea of using podcasts with these students, to the staff at the school, and got a positive acceptance from six members of the staff. But, we needed money! So we applied for a grant with the Knowledge Bank New Generation (Web 2.0 trials) group, and got the $4000 we needed to get started. Finally, we could buy some MP3 / MP 4 players, and start trialling some podcasts with the students.
The student and teacher views are captured in the Celebration Video at the beginning of this page.
Our results were immediate and astounding. In the following section you will find some examples of videos and actual vodcasts staff made.
One student before, during and after listening to the podcast (images blurred to protect student)
In the video above, observe the student before, during and after the podcast.
Before: The student is very active, feet off the ground, no eye contact, noises, tics, flailing limbs.
During: Student calms down, sits quietly with feet on the ground, arms still, even smiling at times
After: Student able to make eye contact, talk in a calm voice, answer questions rationally, smiles, jokes, says about the podcast: “This works. (I feel like) a spirit has left me.”
Several other kinds of podcasts were trialled:
Information about major new events (like school camps)
Information Vodcast about upcoming camp: One kind where the teacher told the student about new events about to occur – students could take this podcast home and listen to it several times during the evening so they could come to school prepared for the change that was about to occur. An example of such a podcast is given below (Swan Hill podcast.) The results were that the students that used this podcast, did not have any “negative events” during the camp. This is a first, since it is usually a very traumatic time for some of the students, and the fact that there was no major events like in previous years, indicate that the students found the podcasts really valuable as a tool to prepare them for the camp, and use during the camp. It also proves that the students could become more independent of the teachers, as the teachers did not have to be present to tell the students about the new event all the time. Yet, the students could listen to the podcast in the teacher’s voice, which saw them interact with others in a more appropriate way. The teachers did not have to make several paper copies of the photo stories (students used to rip the stories up after listening to the teacher explain the content of the story), but instead had to make one podcast for all the students, and that was enough to see all the students through to and during the camp. This podcast is now saved on the school’s intranet, and can be used again (with minor modifications if necessary) for next year’s camp.
Camp Vodcast (right click and choose Save As to download the example of the vodcast): Copy of Example of a podcast for Swan Hill camp
Informative podcast: One way of using podcasts with Autistic students, is to make a little “video” that will prepare the students for a new activity or event. Teachers used to make paper “photo stories”, but these don’t work as effectively as the students tended to tear the paper, and loose the stories. The teacher also had to be present, telling the “story” to the student several times per day. The teachers decided to make the digital photo story about an upcoming school camp, and trial it with the students to see if the process would enable the students to become more independent of the teachers. Here is an example of the podcast. (NOTE thatsome faces have been blurred to protect the identity of the students in the photos.)
Information about everyday events outside of the school
Teachers will also use podcasts to support and scaffold behaviour outside of the school. This may include podcasts made for students to help them when they go shopping. Here are examples of such a podcasts:
Example Vodcast – Going to the Milkbar (Right click and choose Save As to view the videos quicker): Milkbar Podcast
Going shopping (Right click and choose Save As to view the videos quicker): Going Shopping
Example of preparing student to stay with his grandmother instead of going home (Right click and choose Save As to view the videos quicker): josh staying at nan’s
Classroom rules and rules when in the yard
Another kind of podcast is the type where the teacher tells the student the classroom or yard rules. This podcast is looped so the student can listen to it over and again, for about five times. This is followed by baroque music, or music that usually calms the student down. The results were amazing yet again. One student had about four major incidents in the yard every week, but after listening to his podcast before going into the yard every day, he had no major incidents for two weeks. In the third week, the teacher forgot to give the student his podcast before sending him out for lunch. During that lunch, the student again had a major incident in the yard.
Another kind of podcast that works well is the daily timetable. The students can look and listen to the teacher telling them about the daily activities.
A podcast that shows the student all the different parts of her day on a Wednesday. It uses BoardMaker pictures instead of photos, as she is used to seeing similar pictures in her paper version social stories and timetables.
Example of the daily timetable (Right click and choose Save As to view the videos quicker): Wednesday timetable_0001
Introduction to the school (new students, parents, etc.): Teachers made a vodcast showing the different parts of the school, and telling the new students about the school. Teachers were introduced in their own voices.
Music to calm students, and to “buffer” them from noise
Music works really well to calm students, and to give them the opportunity to listen to their MP3 players in busy, noisy areas. Some students could not stand loud places (fast food outlets, shopping malls) before having their MP3 recordings to listen to. This gave them the opportunity to be with the rest of the group in this busy, noisy place, without seeming out of place, yet “removing” themselves from the noise by listening to their own music. This gives the student a much higher tolerance for the noise that would otherwise see them leave the venue (and the group). This raised their independence and socially acceptable behaviour levels.
The following video shows a student talking about his state of mind while using the podcast (music that calms him) in a noisy take-away outlet. He was able to stay in the noisy place with his peers, using the music to buffer him from the loud noise. This creates a little space for the student to be within a bigger place, yet act as if he is part of the bigger space. It makes him more independent and increases his capacity to act in a socially acceptable manner in the “real, outside” world.
(Right click and choose Save As to view the videos quicker) Podcast-to-buffer-student-from-noise
Lowering Stress Level
Here is another way that music can support the students: The student featured in the video below had been very upset after hearing that one of his friends was taken to hospital. He immediately asked if he could listen to his music on the MP3 player. After spending about five minutes listening to the music, his whole demeanour changed. He was calm, appeared very relaxed, was able to smile and sit down while talking. To view the video, click on the link below:
(Right click and choose Save As to view the videos quicker) After-getting-upsetting-news_0001