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ATU527 – Whiteboard.chat with Elisa Wern and Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles

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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.

Special Guests:

Elisa Wern, M.Ed, OTR/L, ATP

atotcc@gmail.com

@wernedat on Twitter

And

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD. ATP

hillary@hillaryhelpsulearn.com

@hillary_atp on Twitter

 

www.Whiteboard.chat

100 Things to Love about Whiteboard.chat: http://bit.ly/wb100things

Wakelet of Resources for Whiteboard.chat: https://wke.lt/w/s/UrvxkO

 

Transcripts are brought to you by:

INTRAC – www.relayindiana.com
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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

 

Elisa Wern:
Hi, this is Elisa Wern, and I’m an assistive technology specialist and occupational therapist.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
I’m Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, and I’m also an assistive technology specialist, but I’m a special education consultant.

Elisa Wern:
This is your assistive technology update. (Music)

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 527 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 2nd, 2021. On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Elisa Wern and Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles on to talk about whiteboard.chat. If you’d like a transcript of today’s show, they’re always available over at Eastersealstech.com and our transcripts are generously sponsored by InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at indianarelay.com. Thank you for listening, and let’s go ahead and get on with the show. (Music)

Josh Anderson:
As some of the children of America bask in the warm embrace of summer break, I wanted to talk about a cool piece of learning and collaboration tech that was brought to my attention called whiteboard.chat. Well, today we’re lucky enough to have Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles and Elisa Wern on to talk about this unique learning tool and how they’re making sure to keep it accessible to learners of all different abilities.

Josh Anderson:
Hillary, Elisa, welcome to the show.

Elisa Wern:
Thanks for having us.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
Thanks for having us, Josh.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, I’m really excited to talk about whiteboard.chat. I’ve got to look at it a little bit, but I, I really can’t wait to dig into it, but before we do that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves?

Elisa Wern:
Hi, my name is Elisa Wern and I am both an occupational therapist and a RESNA certified assistive technology professional so, I work full-time in a school system providing OT and AT supports and then, I also have a private practice where I do some consultation and training in the areas of occupational therapy and technology for students who have learning challenges.

Josh Anderson:
Nice.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
I’m Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles. I, too, am an assistive technology specialist. I work in a K-12 school system in the great state of Maine. I also consult as a special education consultant and consult to school systems and agencies and individuals on assistive technology, accessible educational materials and universal design for learning.

Josh Anderson:
Perfect. Well, again, welcome to the show, but now on to the tech. To start off just what is whiteboard.chat?

Elisa Wern:
So, I think even before we say, what is whiteboard.chat, I think it’s important for us to say, what is an accessible tool? Really, what accessibility about for me is, simply just making sure everyone can access it and use what’s being presented and participate in the activity. So, whiteboard.chat is not a product that was built by educators. It’s parents of students who saw a need during the pandemic and built a software. So, it is a hundred percent web-based software that is used for interactive activities, being able to complete things, whether they’re live during instruction or during collaborative activities.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
It’s such an amazing tool and I’m so glad you said that too, Elisa, about accessibility because we have users in our line of work that use assistive technology in order to access tools, especially web based tools and a lot of those tools are not designed with accessibility as the guiding force for that. So, somebody who might use a screen reader, for example, or who uses text-to-speech software, or uses switch access or alternate methods of access for technology might not be able to access a tool if it’s not designed to accommodate or to support those tools first, but whiteboard.chat has done such a great job of making sure that, not only do they have a variety of learning activities and modalities that go cross platform, they’ve also been really great at committing to making sure their design is accessible first. That’s really powerful for kids with disabilities who are using that assistive technology in order to access, engage and express throughout the whole entire process of their learning.

Josh Anderson:
You both brought up good points there, and I’m sure you probably see this in education even more than I see it in the places and the areas that I touch, of most things are made and then accessibility is that afterthought that you find someone who maybe uses a piece of assistive technology. “All right, how do I make this work with it,” as opposed to building that in at the very beginning, which always seems to work a whole lot better,

Elisa Wern:
Absolutely. Looking at it first and foremost, from a perspective of “how can we make sure the maximum amount of users can access it with very little change to the platform,” and then knowing that it is compliant and compatible with other software on top of that for those students that need that, I think, is definitely key. Again, like you said, a lot of times it’s an afterthought, but the folks that whiteboard.chat did a great job of making it a forethought.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
They totally did. I mean, they’ve gone above and beyond, in terms of supports that they provide, even when we’ve given them feedback or we’ve asked for something in addition, they’re so receptive and they’re quick and very responsive to it. In some cases, they’ve even made improvements on already an existing accessibility tool and made it even better by adding a feature or two that we hadn’t even thought about.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
It just opens up the playing field for all of our learners and that’s something that serves to honor them. When you have a student that is so used to using something completely different than everybody else, but then finally has the opportunity to participate just like everybody else does with their tools and their assistive technology tools, it is very, very empowering, but it also feels like there’s a sense of belonging, that I belong in this environment, I can access what’s in this environment. I can engage, I can collaborate and I can be a part of this environment and I don’t have to wait and I don’t have to be separate from it. I am fully included, therefore, I belong and that is why we just love whiteboard.chat so much, just for that commitment to accessibility.

Elisa Wern:
Just for clarity’s sake, neither Hillary or I work for whiteboard.chat. We’re just folks from the outside that love it. As an example of what Hillary was talking about, I reached out to them because I had a student who was working on the concept of counting money and identifying money. I saw a feature in their platform that I thought might work with it, but money wasn’t really there yet and I didn’t know, and within about 48 hours, he had a test whiteboard up for me that said, “Hey, does this do what you want it to do,” and it absolutely did. A teacher can put in, basically, a drop box area, they drag over a dollar and up on top of it, it says a dollar which can be read with Microsoft Immersive Reader, one of those tools that they built in from the very beginning, so they can work on adding money.

Elisa Wern:
Since then, they’ve expanded that to pretty much every currency that has been requested is now available to learn that practice of counting money. Again, they had US dollars up and coins up within 48 hours of me saying, “Hey, do you think it could do?” Similarly, as an OT, I do a lot of handwriting work, and they added a drop zone with handwriting recognition within about a week. I met with them and said, “Hey, this is one of those things we’re kind of struggling with a way to do in teletherapy. Is there any way to integrate that?” Within about a week, they had a handwriting recognition as a feature.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. I’ll definitely dig into to some more of those features, but one thing Hillary, I know that you said, especially with, as being collaborative, I bet that’s very empowering for the students that they can actually, in real time, collaborate with their peers. Maybe something they weren’t always able to do in the classroom are always able to do on some other different platforms.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
Exactly and you don’t have to be physically in the classroom in order to do that. One of the great things about having devices that are connected, you have that access. You can be at home, you can be at school, you can be wherever you need to be in order to collaborate. If I need extra time, I can go back and review it and go back and collaborate again.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
The flexibility and the versatility is so great and I also have that wonderful story about accessibility when they added Immersive Reader, which you can take a pdf file and drop it into whiteboard.chat, and it will pull it out of Immersive Reader. I had this one file that it kept getting the text mixed up, it wasn’t laying right and I asked them about it and showed them what was happening and they said, “Well, how about this? What if we edit it, made Immersive Reader, the text in it, editable so you could put things where they need to be?” I have a user, in particular, that loves to manipulate text, in terms of accessing with their assistive technology, and it was a game changer for me. I can put things in and now have it editable and manipulate it and do what I need to do. It’s so cool and that was done in less than a day.

Josh Anderson:
Wow!

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
Totally blown away.

Josh Anderson:
That’s just amazing to have somebody that responsive, that can actually get that. It kind of sounds like, and I don’t know these folks, and I know that you don’t work for them, but it almost sounds like they actually have some experience, maybe with the disability community or perhaps they’re just folks who really want to make things work a whole lot better. Who knows?

Elisa Wern:
Yeah. They are not from the educational space at all. They’re they’re software designers by practice, and they’ve just talked to teachers and taken teachers input and really looked at what best practice is in designing a software, which I think is even more incredible. It’s not like they came to the table with a forethought or vision, “Hey, we want to make this as accessible as possible.” It’s they had teachers ask for accessibility and they were like, “Well, of course,” and they built it in from the very beginning.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. You both kind of touched on some of the things that whiteboard.chat can do. Can you just elaborate, tell me some of the other things that you’ve been able to have success with it with?

Elisa Wern:
Absolutely. One of the things I’m going to send you for show notes is a PDF that we have created, a group of white board.chat ambassadors. It’s called a hundred reasons to use whiteboard.chat and each of those a hundred reasons is linked to a YouTube that explains that feature in more detail. So, in terms of my highlights about, either what makes it unique or what makes it kind of really exciting in our sphere to have access to, A) it is free. The only thing that is charged for now is the option to have long-term storage of your whiteboards and you can get around that if you don’t want to pay for storage, by making sure that you refresh your boards before they expire, they all show up with an expiration date. In the school system, one of the things that’s super important is privacy, and they are COPPA compliant and they have their privacy right up on the front to where any school district wanted to utilize it, that they could see, very clearly, that they meet the privacy standards.

Elisa Wern:
In terms of things that it can do that I’ve struggled to find other great replacements for other options for, it has the ability to have an embedded video chat with a student. So, if you’re working with a group of students or a student and the student’s really struggling, you can have a video chat just with that student, right there in the moment, and work on problem solving it. You have the ability, as a teacher, to see all of your students work all at once as they’re working in a grid view and what’s nice about that, is that then you can also choose, if you see that Johnny is doing amazing, you can choose to spotlight his work and show it to everybody else, but without his identifying name so it doesn’t say this is Johnny’s work. You’re just spotlighting a student that got this problem correct.

Elisa Wern:
I think that’s very powerful and a lot of other things in terms of being able to embed YouTube videos and other media that you maybe record so that students don’t have to go out and then come back in, especially for students that struggle with mouse skills. It’s a lot to ask them to click out on an external link, to go out and then come back into the whiteboard. In terms of inclusive features, just being able to get in, you can invite by a link or a QR code. You can put some restrictions on pages so they have to do other pages before they can do the next page. It’s got tons of built in tools, in terms of math tools, like I was talking about with math, with money, being able to make letter tiles super quickly for being able to do working with words, bingo boards. Hillary, what else do you have that I haven’t mentioned?

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
It’s more like what can’t it do because it does. I mean, you can even code in the thing. It has widgets to do coding. It has widgets to do graphic organizers, icons, ASL. It has American Sign Language. It has things related to science, weather, hobbies, different types of currency, not just American, there’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, like eight or nine, at least different types of clothes, different types of manipulatives, letters, alphabet, phonemes-

Elisa Wern:
Yeah. Musical notes and [crosstalk 00:13:45] Yep.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
If you have a touch screen device with a stylus, you can draw or use your finger. All of this is just amazing and the great part, it’s all in one place. There’s nothing extraneous that you really need to do. If you need to monitor what the student, like you said, you can use that video feature or comment feature, or those other collaborative features. You can set time limits on how long the boards are up for. You can really customize and really, it’s up to your imagination how you use this. It’s phenomenal.

Elisa Wern:
In terms of diversity of students, not just considering students who have maybe a physical disability or a learning challenge, sometimes it’s just a student who comes to us as an English language learner. It has the ability within the chat box to translate to a hundred or more languages so a teacher can give student guidance and that student can translate it to the language that is their primary language so that if you’re explaining something, the teacher have to know whatever that student’s main language is. The student can choose to translate it into their primary and known language.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, I bet that makes it so much easier for that student, just to actually get that instruction, as well as, I’m sure, making it easier on the teacher to make sure that you are getting that information to each of your students.

Elisa Wern:
Absolutely because I think, just like with students who have disabilities, students who have language learning challenges, their first go-to is to not indicate that they’re having a trouble or they need help so, they’re just going to pick the path of least resistance, in that regard, which is, continue on as if I’m doing it and don’t ask for help. Don’t ask for clarification.

Elisa Wern:
Whereas the help can be built-in, in ways that a student doesn’t have to self-declare, “Hey, I’m really struggling with this,” which I think is nice and I mean, from the teacher’s perspective, like Hillary was saying, it’s all in one. You can embed a Google doc, you can embed Google slides. You can export things. Everything can be within one thing, so in terms of doing lesson planning, especially in this time period where, here in Florida, we’ve had students that were in this high flex model where some of our students were at home and some of our students were in person. Every student can access it no matter where they are and they’re seeing the same thing, they’re learning the same thing, or if they miss a day of school, they could go back and see, what did they do in that activity? What makeup work do I need to so?

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And one of the features that you kind of talked about, I love the being able to talk to the student one-on-one so you’re not in a Zoom meeting or having everyone on there, even in a classroom it’s very hard to get called out by the teacher, whether it’s for more help or even, like you said, for doing good, sometimes you don’t want that center of attention on you, either way. That’s great that you can still get that one-on-one, while still collaborating as a whole class.

Elisa Wern:
Absolutely and I think one of the things that we’ve seen become more and more important over this last year and a half is also the ability to do some social-emotional check-ins with students because we know, for as traumatic as the last year and a half has been for us adults, we’re going to take that and magnify that for some of our students. They have stoplight check-ins built in, they have other ways to do, either incentives or just social-emotional, like, “Hey, I need some help.” They can raise their hands and only the teacher sees that their hand is raised and that teacher can be like, “Hey, I’ll be there in a minute,” Or they can click that hand raise and it takes them right to the student’s board so they can see what is the student doing or having trouble with.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. Whenever I walked into to talk about it, I was really excited about the collaboration and all those pieces but really, in talking to you, I’m much more excited about the one-on-one, about the singularity of being able to help each student in their own way.

Elisa Wern:
Right and I think along what the collaboration, I mean, you could set up a whiteboard.chat document so that you’ve got a collaborative activity going on and yet maybe it’s parallel to what you do in the classroom. You’ve got students working with each other, but maybe you pull a student or two aside and you want to work with them more intently or problem solve something with them. Some of those same features are enabled whether you’re doing a collaborative activity or everyone’s working on the same thing, but on their own separate boards.

Josh Anderson:
Nice, very nice. Well, we talked a little bit ,and you kind of touched on this, but, we have a little bit of time here. Can you tell me a story about someone that you were able to really assist using whiteboard.chat?

Elisa Wern:
Hillary, you got one?

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
Yeah, aside from the Immersive Reader one. Having the money and having the ability to auto calculate it in that workspace really helped someone who was struggling with counting money. In one of our settings, we put the whiteboard up and put the money in and just kind of modeled it and then they could see how much it would be, just to kind of spot-check their thinking. So, they’d use it as a check to check their understanding of how much things… Which really, really helped because they also had that motor aspect of dropping that into, because we kind of gradual release it where the teacher and the student would do that actual assessment, on a meet screen, because it was remote, and then the student would go back and practice.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
So, having that kind of release with that guidance support was really instrumental. Also, just even having that sideboard where it’s almost like a parking lot, if you need extra help and support, let’s open up the board and you can put your questions or we can have a conference, has been really, really cool and it’s a very discreet way to do that so you’re not having to post in the chat that you need help or… Sometimes kids are not as forthcoming in asking for help so giving a place to do that through whiteboard.chat is pretty cool. Those are just some off the top of my head, what we’ve done so far. Elisa, what do you have?

Elisa Wern:
I mean, I think a lot of what my big success stories come back to are us being able to have a student who maybe has some disabilities, do a task. Maybe it’s done a little differently than everybody else, but they’re working in the same platform, in the same space and give them the ability. Maybe they need tiles and manipulatives to do it whereas, another student is typing in the numbers and that definitely has happened before. And, math is one of those really difficult spaces to accommodate students, sometimes, because it’s not as straight forward as English language arts, in my mind and I think for math, that is where one of these things, or what many of the tools in whiteboard.chat are most powerful. They have a standard graphing and a graphing calculator built in, they have speech-to-text built in.

Elisa Wern:
I have a couple of students that, instead of them trying to type, or them trying to pull a letter down, they’re using speech-to-text to try to get their problem in or talk through their answer and that enables the student to be able to just participate. Again, completing the task, maybe it looks a little different, but they’re completing the same task and demonstrating their knowledge, just in a little bit different way and leveling the playing field in that regard. The teacher still has full assurance that they’re mastering this content.

Josh Anderson:
Yep. They’re still getting to where they need to be. It sounds like it’s much more than just accessibility. It’s almost that full inclusion thing, that I know we all, in our fields, really try to get to, and it’s always that last hurdle of getting that full inclusion, where everybody can work together and maybe not learn the same way, but learn the same things, together.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
Right and it’s so great to have that integration with Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams, to have that ability to post right within your LMS. It’s an extra step, that you don’t need to do. It’s just right there and your students have what they need, when they need it. That, to me, is super important, that it’s not something extraneous. It’s not something that’s an afterthought. It’s just there.

Josh Anderson:
You brought up a really good point. Maybe this is maybe the last question so I don’t run out of time, but Hillary, how would you say that the user interface is on a teacher level? I mean, you’re both ATPs. You’re used to maybe working in that space a little bit more, but I know for a lot of teachers, this last year was a big challenge, just because they’re not that tech savvy. They might be great teachers. They might be amazing in the classroom, but just that technological part was a challenge. So, how would you say the user interface is on the teacher level?

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
I’d like to give teachers a huge bag of credit here because that’s a hard thing to do in a pandemic, is to learn something, but it forced the issue of not underestimating the importance of tech and not underestimating the importance of assistive and inclusive technology for all learners. I think that that’s something that out of all of this, that I hope keeps moving forward, because that’s super, super important. I think for teachers, the interface is easy. Some teachers could get overwhelmed if you don’t focus on one or two features. So, looking at what a teacher is trying to accomplish as a goal, so it becomes more of a coaching opportunity, for me, as an assistive tech to find out, “What is their goal, what are they trying to do,” and, “How does this help to either enhance a strength or support a challenge in that way?”

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
It does that on so many levels. I’m showing them that interface. It’s really easy. Sometimes the best way to show them is to pretend like they’re the student so they get to see it on both ends. Some teachers need to see what it’s like on the learner experience, so putting them through the rigmarole of what it is to be a student in that platform is important, but then some other teachers just want to play with it and they just want to… “So just give me a couple of things and I’m good to go.” We talk about relationship building with students, relationship building with your staff is just as important, so that not only do you get buy-in, but also, they know that they’re supported and that they can come to you with support when they need to come to you with that support, or just the permission “I don’t know the answer and I’m coming to you for some help,” and, “Let’s process that together and figure it out so that you have the best experience.”

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
I’ve given that to a couple of teachers and I’ve had that same variability. Some have run with it and some have said, “Can we sit and meet and talk a little bit more and you can show me?” Or need to put them through as the student with that student experience so they can start to think, and also, teachers need that permission to be able to think creatively and to do what’s best for students and that’s something that I’m hoping that’s at the other side of all of this, still remains to be the case. Teachers work really hard and they do so much and have been asked to do so much in a short amount of time and so, I think it’s a great opportunity to thank them for taking tech on, in this forced way, but also to continue to use it and realize how important it is. Teachers are super important on that. It’s all about how you use the tool.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. I think I will have to agree, I think, as a parent, that every parent in this country and probably the whole world, gained a whole new respect for teachers over the course of the last, however many months, after having kids at home and maybe having to be a little bit more involved in that teaching component than ever before. Our hearts go out and I think we’ve all gained a new respect for the work that they all do. Well, if our listeners want to find out more about whiteboard.chat or maybe about either of you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Elisa Wern:
We’ll definitely give you a couple of links you can put in the show notes, and that will give you some information on both whiteboard.chat, as well as, the best way to find us if you have questions. I would encourage people to just go to whiteboard.chat, is the web address, and just start playing around with it. Again, the guides I’ll send you for show notes have a couple of getting started links and those kinds of things in it, which might be easy to jump in that way.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We will make sure to have those all in the show notes. Well, Elisa and Hillary, thank you so much for coming on the show today and telling us all about your experiences with whiteboard.chat and all the great things that it can do and especially just the inclusive tools that it has built in there and the way that they’re willing to, seems like, build in more every time asked, so that is awesome. Thank you again.

Elisa Wern:
Absolutely. Thanks Josh.

Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles:
Thanks Josh.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @indataproject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA project Easterseal Crossroads, our supporting partners, or this host. This was your assistive technology update and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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