How technology is helping a teacher connect with visually impaired students

Originally posted on Microsoft News Center

The scene in Robin Lowell’s high school algebra class mirrors classrooms across the country. The teacher is at the front of the room, patiently explaining tricky math concepts. Students frequently raise their hands and ask questions when they’re stuck.

Two differences set this classroom apart: the students are visually impaired, and the teacher is a three-hour drive away.

clip_image001Lowell (Miss Lo to her students) teaches math remotely to students at the Washington State School for the Blind. She uses Microsoft Lync from her Snoqualmie, Wash., home to start a video conference and talk integers with the students in Vancouver, Wash., roughly 140 miles away. The result is a lively, interactive lesson that makes the distance between them an afterthought, she said.

“It is basically like being in a real classroom,” Lowell said. “Lync’s clarity and reliability has improved the teaching experience a lot. The only time we have had problems with Lync is when I lost electricity.”

The Washington State School for the Blind has long embraced technology in the classroom; since 2003, its distance learning program has connected teachers and students throughout the state. This is the second semester the school has used Lync, and it’s been a positive experience for teachers and students alike.

“It makes it easier that if we have problem, we can talk to Miss Lo,” said Chris, a visually impaired student in the algebra class. “And if I get snowed in at home in Spokane, with Lync I wouldn’t miss my class!”

The students sit in a classroom with a webcam and a large display monitor in front of them. Using laptops, screen readers, braille displays and Lync, the students can take notes during the lesson, share their work with Lowell, and get help via IM. With Lync, Lowell can launch a virtual whiteboard where she can write numbers and equations. Student can share their desktops with her so they can work together one on one, or Lowell can share her whiteboard with the entire class and walk them through a problem step by step. And because she can see the students, Lowell knows when they need extra attention or help.

For more on the story about how the Microsoft Lync team came to help the School for the Blind click here.

If you are interested Lync’s accessibility features, check out this blog post.

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