Newswise — Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, University of South Florida St. Petersburg is offering a new pilot course on autism that will enable students to take classes anytime, anywhere.
The course will use the hand-held Microsoft Windows' Creative Zen Portable Media Center, just released September 2004. This hand-held device can show videos, TV programs as well as play music " much like an iPod with video. V. Mark Durand, PhD, an autism expert who recently received a nearly $900,000 research grant to investigate the best ways to help parents assist their autistic child, converted his autism course to Windows Media Video files for students to watch regardless of their location.
"We believe we are the first in the world to use this new technology for teaching," said Durand, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "We are exploring innovative ways to educate our students and this brand-new technology should make learning even more accessible, particularly for parents of autistic children who are always on the go."
USF St. Petersburg student and parent of an autistic child, Stacey Solar said, "I really enjoy taking this course in this format; I didn't think it was going to be this simple. I like that this is more portable than my laptop because this gives me so much more flexibility for my coursework."
When Durand presented this pilot course at the Annual Conference of the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology last month, colleagues reacted with excitement.
"Using this type of technology for distance-learning classes on autism is a great example of how we can help not only our traditional students, but teachers and parents with autistic children to learn additional methods to help children," Durand said.
Students currently take Durand's autism course on CD, a format better than web-based courses that often have poor viewing quality, slow speeds and less accessibility for students. The same is true for PMCs, Durand said. "Students can take this device with them and watch the course in a high quality format whenever they want."
After this pilot semester with the PMC, students can take the autism course on CD or the PMC. Durand originally developed a distance learning course in New York after participating there in an assessment of autism education.
Although some critics claim that students can fall behind in these types of courses, Durand said he has spent considerable time structuring courses to keep students on track. "I keep a tight course schedule and often break up classes into smaller sections with more quizzes and tests to make sure students keep up with the coursework," said Durand, who started developing courses on CD-ROM as a professor at SUNY Albany in 1999.
The PMC has a long battery life and is more portable than a laptop, allowing students to watch up to six hours of video. Students can re-wind, pause and fast-forward and can use headphones to make the device unobtrusive. Users can also play music and watch other videos.
The PMC's are being advertised by Microsoft as technology for the future. For example, Tivo is collaborating with Microsoft to offer TivoToGo, a new software service that will enable subscribers to transfer recorded programs to the PMC. About V. Mark Durand, PhDKnown worldwide as an authority in the area of developmental disabilities, Durand has written five books including the best-selling abnormal psychology textbook used at more than 330 universities and has changed how this course is taught worldwide.
In Sept. 2004, he was awarded a five-year federal grant from the highly competitive Innovations in Research program of the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the most efficient way to help parents address their child's behavior. Durand has worked with children's psychological issues for more than 20 years, administering more than $3 million in federal research and training grants in the areas of functional communication, assistive technology, home-school training and improving the problem behaviors of children and adults with autism and other sever disabilities.