ATU479 – The PATINS Project with Daniel McNulty

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Daniel McNulty – State Director – PATINS Project
PATINS Facebook
Daniel’s Email: dmcnulty@patinsproject.org

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Daniel McNulty:
Hi, it’s Daniel McNulty and I’m the state director of the PATINS Project and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to episode 479 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 31st, 2020.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Daniel McNulty, the state director of the PATINS Project right here in Indiana. He’s going to be on to talk about some of the challenges that COVID’s presented, as well as just some things that he’s looking forward to in the new school year and a little bit about universal design and how that just fits into everything. Don’t forget if you ever do want to reach out to us, you can always call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or drop us a line on Twitter @INDATAProject. Now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
You feel like you don’t have the time to sit down and listen to a full 30-minutes, 60-minute, 90-minute or 120-minute long podcast? Well, we have just the thing for you. Check out our sister show, Accessibility Minute. This is a one-minute podcast that talks about some of the cool things in assistive technology, but gives you just a little taste of it so that you can go out and do some research and check them out on your own. So if you’re looking to learn more about assistive technology and if you’re looking for something that isn’t going to take up all your time, check out Accessibility Minute available wherever you get your podcasts.

Josh Anderson:
Our guest today has been on our show a couple of times. The last time they were on was in 2018 and well, the world of education has changed a little bit since then. As schools are beginning to work on reopening here in Indiana, we’re lucky enough to have Daniel McNulty, state director of the PATINS Project on to talk about how they’re gearing up for the school year and how they’re ensuring that they’re providing the needed supports to all learners. Daniel, welcome back to the show.

Daniel McNulty:
Thank you so much. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Josh Anderson:
We’re really excited to have you on and talk about this kind of unique situation we’re all in, but for the folks who are maybe new to the show and haven’t heard you on here before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Daniel McNulty:
Yeah, absolutely. So long story short, my background is in special ed and has been in special ed for the last 20 plus years. I started as a para professional, worked as a classroom special education teacher and as the technology coordinator with the PATINS project, and now the state director with PATINS project for going on nine years. Yes, my whole professional career really revolves around special education and education in general, and mostly assisted technology and accessible educational materials and universal design for learning and really, just helping and Indiana’s public schools to fill up equitable access to the general ed curriculum for all students.

Josh Anderson:
And you kind of started mentioning it there, but can you tell our listeners about the PATINS project and what it does, why it’s there and how it helps?

Daniel McNulty:
Yeah, sure thing. So PATINS project has been around since 1995 and we started as an assistive technology project and have morphed into universal design for learning and accessible educational materials as well. So in 2006, we opened the ICAM, which is the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials. That’s where all of the centralized formats of textbooks and core related materials come from. We support all of that through a filter or an overall lens of universal design for learning, so with the materials being accessible and the strategies and techniques and the environment itself being as successful as possible from the ground up, and then we can apply some assistive technology tools and resources on top of that on a more individualized basis. So everything we do for the state’s public schools are free of charge. We work with the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana Department of Administration to make that happen.

Daniel McNulty:
We work with all the schools on professional development and technical training and consultation. We have lending libraries and we ship hardware and software to schools to trial for six weeks at a time, take data to see what works, what doesn’t work and send it back to us if it doesn’t work and let us help you find something else. We do a lot of support with regard to accessibility of the materials. So not only textbooks, although we do a lot of textbooks, but worksheets and formative assessment on a daily basis and things that the teachers are just developing in the classroom sort of on the fly sometimes and making sure those things are developed in an accessible way, both for students and for their families, which has become even more important in recent months, which I think we’re going to talk about.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, that’s a perfect lead in. I swear you’ve done this before then. Daniel, I wanted to start by talking about it because I found some really great resources through PATINS, so I wanted to talk to you about your continuous learning support during COVID-19. What are some tools that are available there for learners and teachers alike?

Daniel McNulty:
Yeah. Great question. So when this first started happening, we kind of saw it coming even before the official analysis for me. So we started getting things ready. On one hand, we went into sort of overdrive mode and started working double time to get things out there as quickly as we could and figure out what teachers were going to be needing the most and most frustrated with, and most confused by and try to get some things out to help with that. But on the other hand, it really wasn’t that big a shift for us. I think there’s a couple of reasons that I think are worth noting as we go forward because I think, and this is just my opinion, but I think we’ll be in a state of flux where we’re back and forth between virtual or continuous learning and in-person learning and there’ll be a combination of both or a hybrid model if you will.

Daniel McNulty:
So I think there’s some things that schools can start to think about to be better prepared for when things change. We know from this experience that things will change unexpectedly. So one of the things that I think helped us to be a little more ready than some folks is that we already have all of our materials in an accessible format. We were already doing quite a bit of work on the go, meaning not tied to one chair and one desk rate hours a day, but working wherever we have the opportunity to work. Sometimes it’s here. Sometimes it’s there. Sometimes it’s with other people. Sometimes it’s by ourselves, which means that we have to collaborate and connect with our colleagues on the line frequently daily. The other part of that is we are in the habit already of providing services virtually. So we do a lot of trainings and technical assistance and consultation online, but we also do it online in collaboration with our colleagues.

Daniel McNulty:
So sometimes one of the past specialists might go to a school in person, but they might Skype in or Zoom in on go to meeting and one of the other PATINS specialists to bring in their specialty, but not necessarily required to drive across the state to get there. So we’ve had those sorts of things in place for several years, which I think really helped us be… It really enabled us to just say, “Okay, let’s snap our fingers. Now, we’re ready to go into this other mode and start producing stuff.” Rather than take a period of time to feel the shock and to get accustomed to it, we were kind of ready to go. So I think that’s a big lesson learned that the schools and other offices can maybe look at it and start to prepare for a little bit and probably realistically, they have already at this point.

Josh Anderson:
Were there any major challenges that you or your team faced when everything kind of completely shifted to online learning?

Daniel McNulty:
Honestly, I wouldn’t say there was any major challenges. There were certainly things we had to figure out how to do differently. Probably the biggest one that came up right away was our technology expo, which is our statewide event that we hold in April, but we hold it in the spring every year and we have for, gosh, 18,19 years, something like that, and has always been in person. So all of this came about in March and the decision had to be made pretty quickly after all the planning and the booking of spaces and equipment and food had already been taken care of. The decision had been made pretty quickly, if we’re going to stay to that in person or if we were going to make it virtual. So we did make it virtual and we decided we’re just going to make this decision move forward quickly and made this happen.

Daniel McNulty:
So that was, I would say it was a challenge only because it was something that had been done for so many years in person, all the plans had already been made in person much like the position the schools were in. Everything was already in place for an in person learning experience with most students and then suddenly a switch. So having those other things that I mentioned previously in place allowed us to make that switch pretty effectively. And we actually had double the people register for the online event than we typically have for the in person event, which brought about some interesting questions and we added some questions to our posted survey to try and figure out why. What was it? Was it just easier to get to? And that was part of it. So I think there’s some real benefits. We talked about that in a minute too, but I realized it’s just a second ago, I didn’t fully answer your question. You asked what were some of the things that we were offering as continuous learning support?

Josh Anderson:
Yeah.

Daniel McNulty:
One thing that we did right away was we had open office hours twice a day, every day of the week, Monday through Friday. That was kind of a tough thing when the whole Zoom bombing thing started. So that might be another little challenge that came up because to have open office hours, you don’t have people registered. They just kind of show up and you don’t know who they are or where they’re from until they come in and tell you. So we had a couple of those instances and my staff is super professional and just handled them like professionals. So thanks for your time and remove them from the room and moved on with the other people that were there and it was not that big a deal.

Daniel McNulty:
So that’s one of the things we did, open office hours, which I think was really beneficial to the teacher who is just feeling overwhelmed or the administrator or the therapist or anybody else and didn’t quite even know what questions to ask first. They just knew they needed help. They didn’t know what to do first and it’s kind of like, “I got to figure this out. I got to figure it out for tomorrow.” So they could just pop in, in open office hour, ask any question they wanted and we would walk them through things, talk through things, show them things, just let them play with Zoom, if they wanted to just play with Zoom, that sort of thing.

Daniel McNulty:
We also put out a lot of, a listing of several sorts of things to consider. So accommodations and continuous learning, some resources like cashing resources and how to make your digital content accessible because I think we’re probably on the same page that a lot of people feel like is digital, it’s already accessible. Really, the opposite couldn’t be more true. Sometimes if it’s digital, it’s absolutely not accessible. Whereas if it’s paper based, we can do things to it usually to make it accessible. But we put out some guiding questions, some policy kind of questions to ask your team and start developing some policy around this providing supports for our professional development guide, so the trainings that we were already offering, and that was the other thing that I think we did pretty well before all of this that allowed this to go even more smoothly for us. Most of our trainings, I would say 99% of our trainings that we do in person, we can also do online. It might look a little different, feel a little different.

Daniel McNulty:
It might be a little shorter, a little longer, but we can transfer those to online pretty easily. We also have a Twitter chat that we host every Tuesday night at 8:30 PM Eastern time. So that was still going on during all of this as well, but it was something we had been doing for several years. So it was not a new thing to us. It was just something that happened to fit really well during this continuous learning period. So those were some of the things

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. You kind of brought this up a little bit kind of earlier. What are maybe some changes that you kind of hope are permanent or some good things that you really see coming out of this big shift?

Daniel McNulty:
Yeah. That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked it because I talk about that quite a lot, or I think about it quite a lot, so I guess I talk about it to myself quite a lot. But there’s some really good things that I think are going to happen here or could happen here. I kind of used the burner analogy. We’ve already always talked about these things for years and years and years and these things being accessibility and access to technology and designing things, universally accessible. A lot of times, we’ll hear things that sort of boil down to, “Yeah. I know that’s important, but it’s not the most important thing right now,” or, “Yeah. We want to do that thing, but let’s focus on it next year,” or, “We don’t quite have the resources yet, but we really want to do it.”

Daniel McNulty:
So to me, it’s like yeah, so you just keep putting it on the back burner. It keeps going on the back burner. So you still see it. You still smell it cooking back there, but it’s on the back burner. When all this changed and everything went to closed buildings, not closed schools, but closed buildings, everything had to change very quickly. Things that weren’t accessible were able to be dealt with, or maybe replaced, or sometimes even just pushed aside when it was in person in the buildings. But when everything had to be done from a distance, those things that were not accessible became glowing, red hot, and it was not like it was just now on the front burner. It was the only burner. It was like, This is the only choice now. It has to happen.

Daniel McNulty:
So I hope that that’s one of the changes, positive things that comes out of going forward from all of this is that everywhere, not just schools, but everywhere realizes that when we create things and purchase things and curate things to be accessible from the start, we don’t have to back out and do things to make them accessible later. What that does is it allows us to move forward with teaching. It allows us to move forward with assessing and guiding and instruction in general, rather than spending our time on something that could already be finished. So that’s one of the things. I think there’s also a lot to be learned about devices themselves and especially schools that are one-to-one. The schools that did decide to go one-to-one before these changes were a lot of times, in a better place, but not all entirely in a better place.

Daniel McNulty:
What I mean by that is we’ve come across some places that were one-to-one, but they were not sending devices home with students with IEPs, for example, which is very much not okay. It’s a common practice to say something like, “We’re going to provide an iPad…” for example, “… to all kindergarten through second graders. And then third graders through fifth graders get a Chromebook. And then sixth graders through 12th graders get a something else.” I completely understand that from an IT support point of view, but if we knew anything, it’s the one tool is always the wrong answer if we’re applying it to every student. So whether that be a printed textbook, or an iPad or a Chromebook or whatever it is, if we’re talking about one tool for all people, that’s always the wrong answer. So it has to be individualized. We saw that really clearly during all of this.

Daniel McNulty:
So even as some of the students were allowed to bring their devices home during this quarantine period, it may not have been the right device for them and it may not allow them to do the things that they needed to do that may hay have worked at school because there may have been other computers or other devices or the teacher right there to help. But at home, it just wasn’t the right devices, so they didn’t have access to their instruction. There’s also some examples of things like braille, and braille books are very expensive. There’s some examples we came across with braille books not being sent home for fear of them not coming back, which is also completely unacceptable and devices that are extremely expensive, like a refreshable braille device or a voice output device in some cases not being sent home.

Daniel McNulty:
So I think there’s some real policy evaluation and possibly change or addition to be looked at there with some schools, but really in general, thinking about designing things universally from the ground up, that things don’t always have to be turned in on paper and they don’t always have to be accessed via paper using visual reading, for example, and finding flexibility in how students receive information, how they interact with information and how they respond to information and making that just your way of work all the time, whether you’re in person or at a distance. The school districts that were doing that sort of universal design and providing choice and flexibility in how students receive and respond to information, the ones that we’re already doing that were in a much, much better place to do this continuous learning because students already had that choice.

Daniel McNulty:
It was already built in. It wasn’t assumed that you had to have paper and pencil or that you had to use your eyes to visually decode text or that you had to respond by handing a piece of paper to your teacher, that you had some choices. So within that, it’s thinking about the materials themselves and the text. Is the text actually real text or is it a picture of text? So scanning in or taking a picture of a worksheet and sending it on the learning management system to a student is not accessible text. Even that student is able to decode it with their eyes and read it in a traditional way, they may need help from their families, which we know is the case and we know for sure we’ve got families at home who can’t read very well. So they need that text to be accessible.

Daniel McNulty:
We need the images to be tagged with distractions and including things like newsletters and data and reporting forms. A lot of surveys went out, but not all of those surveys were accessible. So if you’re sending us surveys that are not accessible to perhaps the families that need to respond to them the most, then you’re not even getting that feedback. I think some of those things that we’ve realized and can talk about, and I thank you for doing this because it doesn’t need to be talked about as much as possible, can really provide some positive changes for all kids, not just students with disabilities going forward, but for all kids who might just need things a little different way, but maybe don’t have a formal special education program in place.

Daniel McNulty:
I think creativity, I think to really make this happen, teachers and administrators and therapists and everybody had no choice, but to go into creative mode instantly. They had to do something different. To know that you have to do something different and it’s got to happen right away tomorrow and no choice, you have to be creative. Sometimes we get comfortable in the way that we are doing things, even if we know it’s not the best way of doing it. “It works. We’ve been doing it for 20 years. I get by and students seem to be doing okay,” there’s really no, I call it forced creativity in those sort of situations. So I think the forced creativity that happened with everybody as a result of the pandemic is another positive going forward. So I probably talked way too long there, so I’ll stop and I’ll let you guide me next.

Josh Anderson:
No, no, no, not at all. You brought up great points. I think I really liked you bringing up universal design because kind of like you talked, you have folks with IEPs and maybe they have some accommodations in place, but really with everything, especially shifting as quick as it did, having that universal design, having that built in for all different kinds of learners, because you have kids who maybe don’t have an IEP or have never really had any challenge in school, but they did so well with that in person instruction, or now mom and dad are both working from home and they’re a little stressed. So I have some anxiety that I didn’t have before. If hose lesson plans are completely accessible to all, then they can use different tools to be able to help them as well.

Daniel McNulty:
Absolutely. And I wanted to mention, I almost forgot. I wanted to mention that we have on the PATINS website, we have a universal design for learning lesson creator. There’s two versions of it. One is one long form and the other one is the form broken up into pages. You can also download the whole thing as a PDF and kind of look through it beforehand if you want to. It’s too comprehensive to use for every single lesson. So what I tell teachers is to do it twice a year, do it two or three times a year with two or three of your lessons and you just started thinking along those lines of designing with flexibility and choice in mind, rather than designing from what you’ve always done or from a scripted curriculum, for example. So that is on our website. It’s free and yeah, it’s a great way to get started with exactly what you were talking about.

Josh Anderson:
Well, then you may have already kind of answered this, but if we can narrow it down to one thing, what are you most looking forward to in this next school year?

Daniel McNulty:
Most looking forward to… I think schools really don’t ever stop and I think that it’s a common misconception. People think all teachers have summers off, must be really nice. But the reality is I know very, very few teachers who truly take a summer off.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah.

Daniel McNulty:
So the point there is education never really gets to pause and reflect and sort of retool. They’re always kind of moving on with the next thing and the next student and the next problem and the next barrier to be overcome. They never stop and kind of look at what’s working, what’s not working and throw out the things that aren’t working and let’s try something different. I think right now, we kind of have the opportunity to do that a little bit because we have to, we’ve been forced into it. We’ve been kind of forced into or required to look at the things that don’t work in a university design sort of way and replace them with something else. I think the thing that I’m most looking forward to is coming back as the school start coming back, whether they come back fully online, fully in person or some hybrid, as they start coming back to their students, I’m really looking forward to working with them on that.

Daniel McNulty:
Sometimes when you start to work with somebody on something completely new, it’s very overwhelming. If they’re coming to learn something new with the mindset already that something has to be different, that I know change is inevitable, you’re already past that hard first stage. So getting… And I really kind of despise the term, “buy-in,” but I’m going to use it anyway. You kind of already had that buy-in if folks know that something has to be different. I can’t do things the way I already always did them because it’s just not even a possibility.

Daniel McNulty:
So I’m really looking forward to working with schools knowing that going forward, that schools are in the mindset of being creative and ready to try something new and ready to fail. I don’t want that to be taken as a negative way. I want it to be very positive. I think we learn our greatest lessons and we learned the things that we never forget through failure. So I think we’ve gotten in this mindset that failure is just always a negative thing, that it’s always a bad thing. To me, I’d really like to move forward and see failure as little opportunities to grow, little opportunities to do a better the very next time. I think if we support that with our educators and our educators support that with our students, we’re going to see deeper learning all the way around. So I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Daniel, if our listeners want to find out more about the PATINS project and maybe access some of those resources you talked about, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Daniel McNulty:
Yeah, sure. Our website is probably the best way to start to find us and that is www.patinsproject.org, www.patinsproject.org is a great place to start. You can find us all on there and find all the other resources that I mentioned, plus a ton more. You can also follow us on Twitter. You can like us on Facebook.

Daniel McNulty:
We have a YouTube channel where all of our PATINS TV episodes are hosted and there’s a lot of really good content in short digestible chunks there. So most of the videos they’re, at least most of the most recent ones are five minutes or less. All of the stuff we do is, almost all of the stuff we do is available for professional growth points for teachers as well. Some of the short videos are not quite yet, but one of the things we’re working on is putting those into our little chunks of information that the teachers can go through, those five minute videos and get to that hour chunk and then receive PGPs. So I’d say those are probably the best ways to reach us. You can reach out directly to me as well. My email address is just dmcnulty@patinsproject.com. That’s P-A-T-I-N-S-P-R-O-J-E-C-T.org. I’m sorry, it’s .org, not .com. [crosstalk 00:25:09].

Josh Anderson:
I was about to ask.

Daniel McNulty:
So it’s dmcnulty@patinsproject.org.

Josh Anderson:
All right, perfect. We’ll put all that information down in the show notes so folks can easily find it. Well, Daniel, thank you so much for coming on today. We may have to have you come back on after the semester is over and to see if there’s some lessons learned or kind of best practices that you kind of found out because I know we’re all kind of learning this as we go along. And like you said, luckily at least those of us in the AP world, we’re a little bit uniquely kind of positioned because we’d done some of these things before, but I know that as we keep learning, you’re a great resource for those teachers and I know you’ll be there to help them along. Thank you so much for coming on the show and talking all about it.

Daniel McNulty:
I appreciate that. It’d be my pleasure to come back in the spring. As a final thought, I think let’s just really have a grace and patience with one another, and let’s see really awful about how we define whenever our new normal is going to be. Let’s not just go back to what we might know or be comfortable with, unless we also know that it is best practice that offers the kind of flexibility that doesn’t necessarily require a brick and mortar building. So really to just create grace and patience with one another and realizing that we’re all learning as we go.

Josh Anderson:
Very well said. Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @IndianaProject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.