Penn State Mont Alto student Brian Henne faced many of the same adjustments to college life as other first-year students, plus one more. Henne, who plans to major in psychology, has low vision and could not see the information that math instructor Deborah Mirdamadi was displaying in her MATH 022 College Algebra II class.
After carefully evaluating his needs, a disability support staff member got to work and came up with an unusual solution: an interactive whiteboard app for the iPad called Doceri.
“In my math class, my professor used a smart board to show us how to solve the problems we were learning about,” said Henne. “Due to my low vision, I could not see the board and needed something to help with that.”
Before the class had begun, Henne sought help to accommodate this challenge from Kendra Wolgast, disability contact liaison for the campus, as well as the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS). However, said Wolgast, because of time delays, Henne was still left without the assistive technology he needed well into the course.
“Brian has difficulty seeing anything presented at the front of the classroom, even if he sits in the front row. Additionally, Brian is able to see better when the format is white letters on a black backdrop. He also has difficulty seeing handouts and quizzes distributed in the classroom, Wolgast explained. “The handout challenge was easily fixed by having the faculty provide large-print versions of handouts. If the information was provided online through ANGEL, Brian was able to view it without problems by utilizing his laptop with the zoom feature and inverting the contrast,” she added.
Eventually, Wolgast learned that Henne had stopped attending class, although he was still making good progress in the course by reviewing lectures that Mirdamadi created using OneNote, then posted in ANGEL. “When I approached Brian and asked him why he wasn’t attending class,” Wolgast said, “he shared with me that going to class was confusing for him because he was unable to see what she was lecturing. In thinking about this, it made total sense! In all of the other courses he was taking, he could easily sit through a lecture and take in all the information auditorily and remember it very well; Brian has an impeccable memory.”
She added, “When it comes to a class when visual and auditory need to work together, it presents a new challenge. While Brian did not see this as a concern because he had the ability to go online and review the lecture notes in his dorm room, I encouraged Brian that this is a challenge we needed to get under control now, because it was unlikely future faculty would post their lectures online in the same manner.”
Wolgast brainstormed what the optimum technology solution would be. She said, “My initial thought to solve this challenge was to get an extra computer screen installed at his desk in the classroom to view lecture projections. However, in talking with our campus IT department, I found this was not truly an option because of the way everything in the classroom was wired.”
Then, learning that Brian Young, instructional designer in Information Technology Services who regularly visits campuses, would be at Mont Alto, she set up a meeting with him to discuss a workable solution for Henne. “Luckily,” said Wolgast, “he was able to talk with some of his colleagues and gathered some ideas that we were able to implement. Thus the idea of utilizing Doceri in the classroom was born!”
Doceri (http://doceri.psu.edu/) is an application that can be used with any computer to control the computer with an iPad. By using Doceri, said Wolgast, “Brian has the ability to view what is being projected on the screen in the classroom at his desk with inverted contrast and the ability to zoom. This has allowed Brian to not only hear the lecture in his math class but to also follow along with the lecture visually with the iPad.”
Henne said that the Doceri app “gave me a way to see what she was doing on the board on my own personal screen that I could actually see. The original setup process was a bit of a challenge, but beyond that, I found it fairly easy to use. I thought it was a great solution.”
Henne noted that Doceri was also of help in other classes. “It helped me by allowing me to access ANGEL and look at the PowerPoints we were going over in psychology,” he said.
While Wogast said she considered Doceri to be a “good” solution, she said that there were pitfalls involved as well, including simply trying to get all devices synchronized to use the app. Another challenge is that “technically Brian has the ability to control the screen the instructor is using. We implemented options on the iPad to lock the screen during lecture, but the ability to control the screen is still a concern,” she said.
According to Wolgast, a larger concern is that “in the future, in order for the instructor to project their notes on the screen, they will have to write their entire lecture on either a laptop like Mirdamadi has, the smart screen at the podium, or on an iPad. Finding an instructor who is willing to stop writing on the board and write on a small screen is not going to be easy.”
Wolgast said she is hoping that BBVS can assist Henne in the future by providing a portable closed-circuit TV device. “This device will allow Brian to see what is being written on a chalkboard or whiteboard in the classroom and not be limited to projections,” she said.
Until another solution is implemented, however, Henne said, “Doceri is a great program for those that need it.”
“Brian has said multiple times that he is actually glad that the technology from BBVS hasn’t come through,” added Wolgast, “because if it had, we may not have even considered the use of Doceri and the iPad as an option. I think the story of Doceri has shown me that we have to continue to look for the best solution, not just a solution.”