The cyber world of tech-enthusiasts is all-a-buzz over Bellevue College’s new use of school-wide learning management software to aid autistic students with collaboration skills. Bellevue College in Washington is home to Autism Spectrum Navigators, a support and skill development program for students with ASD. Throughout this past academic year, the Navigators have employed a new resource for aiding autistic students in collaboration with small academic groups. The software, Canvas, has a discussion board feature through which teachers and students can share assignments, grades, and interactive materials including audio and video. The content is manageable from smartphone and tablet interfaces as well, enabling continual access to the course dialogue and mediating the social component of learning. Sara Gardner, the manager of the Navigator program, asserts that since appropriating the Canvas discussion board feature for autistic assistance, the program has seen a marked increase in confidence and communication among students. Gardner advocates for the use mediating social tools for autistics. On the spectrum herself, Gardner telecommutes for part of each week to lessen exposure to social interactions that can be disrupting and strenuous for individuals with ASD.
Of the members of Navigators, students who utilized the Canvas program have completed more courses than those not involved in the program and have improved their grades overall. Brain Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure (the company responsible for Canvas), has a six-year-old daughter on the autism spectrum. While Whitmer did not intend for the program to be utilized particularly for autistic students, he comments on the success of Bellevue College’s adaptation saying, “It’s great to hear about how Canvas can help with autism, and that’s something I’d like to continue to help with in the future.” [i]
[i] Hambien, Matt. “Bellevue College Looks to Online Software to Help Autistic Students Collaborate.” Computer World. N.p., 28 Apr. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. <http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9238727/Bellevue_College_looks_to_online_software_to_help_autistic_students_collaborate?taxonomyId=18&pageNumber=2>.