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COMMUNITY LEARNING

Qual-IT
Following an acquired brain injury in 1991, Peter Tester’s life moved in a new but ultimately rewarding direction. He now offers tuition in information technology to learners with severe neurological difficulties as part of a project to enhance their quality of life. Here, Peter focuses on the benefits and challenges involved.

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work as part of a specialist team which offers Enhancing Quality of Life (EQOL) provision to learners with severe neurological difficulties. The team consists of four tutors, two of whom have brain injuries, and twelve learning facilitators, including one who has a brain injury. The service we offer includes options to attend communication sessions, art, ceramics / pottery and information technology. Enhancing Quality of Life (EQOL) is free at the point of delivery, and learners can access it while they continue to meet their individual learning goals. EQOL has been part of the provision offered by the Division of Student Entitlement at Somerset College since September 2002. The University of Cambridge, the Learning and Skills Development Agency carried out research to evaluate programmes for people with profound / severe and complex learning difficulties and to encourage and support additional provision throughout the country. We became a pilot college as a result of this. The majority of the learners have acquired brain injury, but a small number with brain injury from birth are included because this is the most appropriate course for them within the college. Some learners are mobile with good oral skills but memory difficulties, while at the other end of the spectrum we have learners who are manual wheelchair users with limited use of their hands, severe communication difficulties and unusual sleeping and waking patterns. Learners are referred by the local hospital, speech and language therapists, Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust, social services, private nursing homes and individuals. The referral route is by phone, e-mail, letter or in person to the curriculum leader Julia Tester. She then meets with the prospective learner and the referring agent to discuss interests, support needs, health and safety issues, staff training requirements and goals.

learners range in age from twenty one to over seventy. Goals are set through discussion with carers, learner and tutor and range from a learner showing that they can consistently use the mouse buttons to moving the mouse to the left or right as directed. One particular learner, who has been with me for nine months, had an initial goal of ‘Use mouse button’ and has a current learning goal of ‘Follow instruction to access Internet’. At the other end of the spectrum a learner has the goal to ‘Follow instructions and produce 10 pieces of work on Leisure and Tourism’, the current topic. Another learner with memory impairment has goals to log on independently (including his password), receive and send e-mails and produce a PowerPoint presentation on Leisure & Tourism. Learning facilitators monitor and record progress towards goals on a pre-printed record sheet. This record is shared with the learner and carers at regular reviews either at college or at the learner’s care / nursing home.

READ THIS IF YOU WANT TO • GET MORE OUT OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY • COLLABORATE WITH COMMUNITY LEARNING PROJECTS • SEE EXAMPLES OF GOAL SETTING

Goals are set through discussion with carers, learner and tutor
Sessions start with a group activity such as taking part in an online crossword. This is to encourage communication but also to allow for learners to come in at different times (due to transport issues) without disrupting the presentation of the day’s IT activity. During these group activities learning facilitators assist learners who have little or no speech and provide symbol or sign options or encourage hand squeezes to make choices. Using the interactive whiteboard, I then demonstrate the task of the day. This might be searching the internet for information on the current topic or using the information found to create PowerPoint slides. Learners are encouraged to ask questions and ample time is given for them to do so. Learners then access their e-mail accounts to communicate with each other and to receive an e-mail from me as part of the input of the session’s lesson.

To encourage and enhance their use of the mouse, some learners follow individual learning plans and use Intellipic’s software or the online games which are part of the EQOL website (www.eqol.co.ok). The class cupboard has a Giant Tracker Ball Mouse, various shaped joysticks and Intellikeys. The computers have Intellipics software installed and each learner has accessibility settings, including sticky keys, configured with their log-on. We find the Giant Tracker Ball Mouse helpful for some learners with problems using their fingers as it allows them to manipulate it by rolling it with their palm. The joystick has proved beneficial for two learners who find it hard to open their hands fully as the slim grip allows them to manipulate it without needing to have a wide grasp. Intellipics – a beautiful piece of software based on images has been excellent for learners who are unable to follow text. I have found the Sticky keys setting helpful for learners who are unable to lightly press and release keys.

One-to-one support

Linked curriculum

The curriculum for all the EQOL topics is linked so that lessons have the same focus. My role is to deliver information technology (IT). I follow the topics of the communication lessons but with the learners using the internet and email to gather information. Classes of about five 22

Most learners require one-to-one support and it is beneficial if the person supporting has knowledge of the subject and of the learner’s needs. Absences are an ongoing difficulty and cannot be planned for, or always dealt with through replacement. If we have enough notice we can sometimes call in a relief staff member (although the relief team is not large). The other option is to ask the care home to send in support for that session and if they have enough staff on rota they will often do this. On a practical level the need to keep copious and detailed records to evidence every small step forward is sometimes a burden on staff who are only employed to deliver / support on specific sessions. Late arrival and early departure of learners due to dependence on community or care home transport also causes minor disruptions to sessions but we plan the lesson delivery to minimise this difficulty.

SPEECH & LANGUAGE THERAPY IN PRACTICE SPRING 2008

COMMUNITY LEARNING When considering the learners’ own barriers one of the greatest must be severe memory impairment requiring constant repetition. Due to this, the pace of the session is slow and we regularly return to previous learning in order to maintain and further develop skills. No one would feel that these difficulties in any way detract from the rewards of seeing increased confidence, self-esteem and communication blossoming within the groups. Another bonus is hearing and reading the views of carers and families on learner progress. progress with their learning. On the internet we found AbilityNet (www.abilitynet.org.uk) and also learnt from Speech & Language Therapy in Practice, in which we read an article about CATS (Computers and Therapy Support) and their project with IT and people with brain injury (Styles et al., 2006). We then made contact and have been to meetings. We work closely with the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust, local care / nursing homes and social services. We have had contact with the excellent ABIES (Acquired Brain Injury Education Service) at Evesham College, and we attend various brain injury conferences. This year Julia attended a conference at the Royal Neurological Hospital where we learned of cutting edge work being carried out with brain-computer interfaces. We aim to offer teaching and learning online for those who are too unwell to attend college. The developing website www.eqol.co.uk will hold lessons that can be accessed from nursing and residential homes and we will work closely with the carers there. This is a new venture and the college is allowing Julia and me to work with a group of new learners at their home to establish how best to implement this outreach distance learning. The college also offers care home staff access to some of the training provided for college staff, and this is reciprocated. Whilst we feel we have developed some expertise we realise there is still a great deal to learn. We are excited about the possibilities of e-Learning and welcome comments and ideas relating to our website. Peter Tester is an EQOL IT tutor at Somerset College, e-mail peter@eqol.co.uk. For further information about EQOL at Somerset College, contact the Curriculum Leader Julia Tester, tel. 01823 366525, e-mail: julia@eqol.co.uk. See also Tester, J. (2007) ‘Shifting perceptions’, Speech & Language Therapy in SLTP Practice Summer, pp. 4-5.

news extra
Sight after Sixty
The Eyecare Trust has highlighted the consequences of elderly people missing out on regular eye checks, such as depression and falls. A ‘Sight after Sixty’ investigation found that more than a quarter of those surveyed said the quality of their vision restricts their daily routine and more than half said it prevents them from reading books and magazines. False perceptions about the cost of checks and glasses seem to be a barrier. The charity wants to raise awareness of the importance of regular checks. As well as enabling early detection of medical conditions, this ensures people can have the correct prescription and so prevent vision-related falls. http://eyecaretrust.org.uk

Personal development

Finally there is our own personal development and growth of communication skills. I am told that I used to have hesitating gaps when I was delivering to the class and that now I speak louder and more fluently. I do feel more relaxed addressing a group.

Dependence on community or care home transport causes minor disruptions to sessions but we plan the lesson delivery to minimise this.
My background is in computer programming, and I had my own business prior to a brain injury resulting from a car accident in 1991. I have specific difficulties in recalling names but I am able to learn facts. After my disability I successfully completed my Certificate in Education, LeTOL (learning to teach on line) and ITOL (implementing teaching on line). I believe that my own memory difficulties enable me to have greater understanding of our learners as I too need strategies for learning that can be employed by some of them. I find that the rate of delivery of the lessons needs to be steady and – particularly - that topics need to be clearly separated to avoid the confusion caused by trying to hold simultaneously onto several threads of thought. Vital to the success of our work is evaluating and supporting each learner in finding the hardware and software that enables them to

Read for pleasure in 2008

The National Literacy Trust wants reading for pleasure to come top of the literacy agenda in 2008. The organisation also suggests that a greater emphasis on non-traditional media such as magazines, websites and e-mail will engage more young people with reading and help them to see themselves as readers. www.literacytrust.org.uk www.yearofreading.org.uk

Dyslexia pilot

• REFLECTIONS

• DO I TAKE ACCOUNT OF INEVITABLE PROBLEMS WITH COMMUNITY TRANSPORT IN MY PLANNING? • DO I FOLLOW UP ARTICLES AND USE CONFERENCES AND THE INTERNET TO EXCHANGE IDEAS, RESOURCES AND EXPERTISE? • DO I VIEW MY WORK AS A LEARNING CONTEXT FOR BOTH CLIENTS AND PROFESSIONALS? How has this article been helpful to you? Are your clients getting the opportunity to access community learning? Let us know via the Spring 08 forum at www. speechmag.com/Members/

A pilot scheme to help children who have dyslexia has been launched in England. A result of the ‘Every Child a Reader’ programme, the scheme will provide intensive support for children in 10 local authority areas, half receiving one-to-one Reading Recovery support and the other half receiving one-toone tuition from specialist dyslexia teachers. Funding has also been provided for Dyslexia Action to run Partnership for Literacy pilots in a further 10 schools and for the British Dyslexia Association to develop their helpline. www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk/ www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

Reference

Styles, V., Woodward, S. & Davies, A. (2006) ‘Windows of opportunity’, Speech & Language Therapy in Practice Autumn, pp. 24-25.

Teacher training

Resources

• Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust www.birt.co.uk/ • Intellikeys and Intellipics – www.synapseadaptive.com/intellitools/IntelliKeys.html • Joysticks and roller balls/trackballs, keyboards and a range of mice - www.techready.co.uk/ Assistive-Technology/Trackballs-and-Joysticks • Sticky keys - www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/learnmore/tips/le1.mspx • Track Ball Mouse - www.dyslexic.com/itemdesc.asp?ic=2225&eq=&Tp=

Speech and language therapist Gillian Bolton would like to hear from speech and language therapists and teachers who would be interested in attending a training day to become APEC course leaders. APEC2 (Assessing and Promoting Effective Communication) is a training package for use in schools which Gillian wrote about in our Winter 06 issue (www.speechmag.com/ Members/). www.apectraining.co.uk / tel. 01788 576488
SPEECH & LANGUAGE THERAPY IN PRACTICE SPRING 2008

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