Speaker: Philip Di Mattia, Director, The Campus School, Lynch School of Education, Boston College
Philip Di Mattia, the second US keynote speaker reiterated the comments of his colleague, David Scanlon, that he did not come in a manner of "we know, you listen". Rather he wished to share both their experiences, hopefully for the benefit of the attendees at the conference.
Di Mattia's presentation addressed two topics of interest: the development of special educational needs in the US and its philosophical underpinnings, and secondly, new assistive technology to help the learning of seriously disabled students.
The idea for the Boston College Campus School emerged during the turbulence of the 1960s: the civil rights struggle, the murders of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the possibility that the US would become a two class society. Boston College sought ways to help reform and challenge the inequalities and exclusions in US society at that time. Responding to requests from faculty members, the College created a Campus for special education. While the College has, since its founding, always taken steps to promote justice, this was a particularly courageous initiative considering the amount of debt they were in at the time.
The Campus benefited from the involvement of 250 volunteers. Even from its earliest days, it sought to benefit challenging youngsters who have major health care impairments.
The Campus continues to focus on children with multiple disabilities and major health care needs. In this environment, specialists observe and learn about each other's specialities. Every child completes and competes in a comprehensive assessment programme. The testing helps to achieve a higher accountability basis but teachers focus more on what they are doing and why, rather than on their students exam results. The Campus is not a typical environment however and often children will require 30 minutes health care work for 10 minutes teaching.
Di Mattia commented that "complete integration of education may be possible in a perfect world but we do not live in a perfect world". He follows Piaget's view as to the purposes of education, which is that the child grows to realise that they are an "entity within entities". He stressed the importance of a welcoming environment, where children can maximise their ability and take up their full role in society and as human beings.
In 1994, computer science professors in Boston College sought research funding for the development of a device that would interface directly with the computer without the use of a mouse or other traditional means of technological communication. To get funding for this research, they needed to demonstrate some real world applications. They made an approach to the Campus School, who immediately saw the benefits for people with severe impairments.
Nine years on, through this partnership, "EagleEyes" has evolved. EagleEyes is a camera mouse that tracks the movement of the eye on to the screen. The technology is particularly applicable for severely handicapped people without language capacity or body/ voluntary head movement.
Di Mattia demonstrated three applications:
Through this technology, it is expected that some profoundly disabled children may experience regular classroom curriculum for the first time.
The case of Amanda, a nine-year old child with cerebral palsy and severe communication disorder, was cited as an example of how technology could give students with severe disabilities the possibility of being able to access the regular school curriculum alongside peers in a mainstream classroom setting. Amanda has utilised EagleEyes to be a participator and not a spectator for the first time. Her mother has proved to be her strongest teacher and, according to her, "it allows Amanda to participate with her own words".
EagleEyes software can be used with any software. It can be used for instruction and is very well developed for distant learning. It is available on universal license for $95 (a free trial is also available) at http://www.cameramouse.com