Supporting Student Success
at Middlesex County College:
An Exemplary Adaptive Technology Lab
by Ellen C. Farr
Students with disabilities at Middlesex County College are hearing voices, and because of it, they are succeeding in college far beyond their expectations. These students frequent the Adaptive Technology Lab of Project Connections, and the voices are computer-generated, reading aloud their textbooks and assignments to improve their comprehension and writing. The lab, funded by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education Special Needs Grant Program, provides students with disabilities enrolled at the college with the technology tools they need to succeed in their academic work. Equipped with a myriad of specialized programs, the lab is designed to assist reading and writing. The strength of the lab, however, does not rest solely on its technology; rather, its unique strength is that it is staffed full-time with an expert in assistive technology.
Staff Provide Support
Managed daily for the last five years by Seham Mohamed, the lab offers students the benefit of one-to-one support. Having earned a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Alexandria University and a degree in Computer Science from Middlesex County College, Seham can relate to the demands college students encounter. She is especially sensitive to the unique needs of students with learning disabilities and stresses that she is available to support them as needed. Her hope is that the lab is recognized as “a tool in students’ hands to get through college.” She reminds students that “if they use the lab more often, they will do better in school.”
Students who are associated with Project Connections or registered with the disability support office qualify to use the lab, which is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. These students, most of whom have learning disabilities, make use of the ten stand-alone PC stations, four scanners (including a high-speed scanner) and two laser printers to assist them in reading textbooks and/or writing papers. Of the programs available, Kurzweil 3000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems), Inspiration (Inspiration Software, Inc.) and Read and Write (TextHelp) are most frequently used. Others programs to boost reading and writing include WYNN (Freedom Scientific Inc.), Write:OutLoud (Don Johnston, Inc.), Draft:Builder ( Don Johnston, Inc.) and Dragon Naturally Speaking (Scansoft). Students with visual impairments use ZoomText (Ai Squared) for screen magnification, and Jaws (Freedom Scientific Inc.) for screen reading.
Seham teaches students to use the programs during their initial lab visit and supplies a self-authored handbook detailing tutorials for each program. She then monitors student progress by tracking time spent in the lab and the type of software/hardware used. She is able to make recommendations for improvement based on this data.
Additionally, Seham operates a lending program from which students may borrow an AlphaSmart or Dana (AlphaSmart, Inc.) portable notetaker, books-on-tape from the Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, four-track and mini tape recorders, and Franklin Spellers. This is a popular feature of the lab; students visit Seham early to guarantee that they will be able to borrow a device for the semester.
is involved with the Faculty Ambassador Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Through this grant, Seham conducts workshops to increase faculty awareness of the lab in hopes that they will better understand adaptive technology and advise their students with disabilities to visit the lab for assistance.
Reaching Out to High School Staff and Students
New this year, to supplement the annual open house Project Connections hosts for high school staff involved in transition, Seham will conduct training workshops on Kurzweil 3000, AlphaSmart, Inspiration and Dragon Naturally Speaking. Her intention is to increase awareness of assistive technology at the high school level so that students will begin college more knowledgeable about the programs available to assist them. She hopes the outcome of the training will be two-fold: that students will have access to much needed assistive technology while still in high school, and that as a result, students will be better prepared for their transition to college.
Combining a knowledgeable, dedicated coordinator with state-of-the-art technology, the Adaptive Technology Lab at Middlesex County College stands as an excellent model for improving student success.
For additional information on Project Connections:
Ellen Farr is an alumna of The College of New Jersey (M.S. in Educational Technology) and a member of the staff of CATIES (Center for Assistive Technology and Inclusive Education Studies).