Behind the scenes at APH: Reflections on my experiences as an Executive in Residence
Jane Erin, Ph.D., The University of Arizona
In the spring of 2010, I began to talk with APH personnel about how I might gather data related to student performance on the Woodcock-Johnson III (WJIII) achievement test, which had recently been published in braille. I had no inkling that this project would lead to the unexpected opportunity to become an Executive in Residence during 2010-1011. It was a little like winning a trip to Disneyland, with the promise of new adventures in the development of materials and equipment. Was I visiting Fantasyland, Adventureland, or Tomorrowland? What wild rides would I experience? And what would I discover about the larger-than-life characters that I had met each year at the Annual Meeting of APH?
As I complete my experience now as the fourth Executive in Residence at APH, I still view many aspects of my experience as a visit to a magical place. APH graciously accommodated my preference for intermittent visits to Louisville during 2010-2011. I was able to extend my residency across five visits between September and June, spending a total of six weeks at APH. During this time I gained new knowledge and a more complete understanding of the extent of the services that APH provides to children and adults with visual impairments. The intermittent schedule required some reorientation on each visit, such as figuring out how to access my APH email or remembering where the coffee cups were kept. However, it provided me with the opportunity to see many products progress through the production process, beginning with development by project leaders and ending with the "airplane" taking off (APH code language for a product being placed on the market). When I first visited APH in September, Karen Poppe was designing Tactile Town on the computer, and on my last visit in June, I observed the meeting in which the plans for production were finalized. In September, Terrie Terlau described her Talking PC Maps and Burt Boyer showed me his plans for a tactile version of Best for a Nest. In June, Terrie's maps were in the catalog and Burt's book was in production. The experience of seeing project leaders conceive, nurture, and develop new products was powerful; it will leave me with a sense of reverence for every APH product I encounter.
The project that brought me to APH was working with Project Leader Barbara Henderson to collect and analyze data from the braille version of the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, Braille Adaptation. As a widely used instrument for assessing student achievement and a useful tool in identifying learning difficulties, the WJIII includes a battery of tests that evaluate a variety of skills in mathematics, reading, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling. In 2010 the WJIII Braille was adapted by Dr. Lynn Jaffe assuring consistent administration of an instrument that is now appropriate for students who are blind but also allows for some comparison of skills with the general population. The project is well underway, but because we need large number of scores for the data analysis to be useful, the effort will continue through next year. In the early fall, we will request more anonymous copies of student score sheets, and we hope to be able to complete the statistical analyses of these data by the end of next school year. Please look for the announcement in the fall APH News about our continuing need for student scores for this project.
In addition to the WJIII project, I also became involved in a wide variety of activities that added to my understanding of partnerships between APH and practicing professionals. In September, I participated with Jeanette Wicker of APH and Dr. Cheryl Hannan of California State University, Los Angeles, to implement a research project to explore the use of the Wilson Reading materials for blind students. APH has developed the materials with careful attention to detail and feedback from teachers at Perkins School for the Blind, and Dr. Hannan's study will provide data about whether the program makes a difference in student reading abilities. Because APH's role is restricted to research about product development, partnerships with university personnel are necessary to investigate the efficacy of instructional approaches and products such as this one.
Since students with multiple disabilities are a particular interest of mine, I was especially pleased to participate in several focus groups convened by Tristan Pierce with members of the national community to review and plan future materials for children with multiple disabilities. Talking with professionals from all over the country about their interests in materials as well as learning more about the wide range of materials now available for students with multiple disabilities will make me more effective in preparing teachers. Consultant Millie Smith's work with Tristan in developing the Sensory Learning Kit and their continuing collaboration in the upcoming Symbols and Meaning (SAM) project will be welcomed by teachers who need a framework in planning and instruction for students with significant disabilities in addition to a visual impairment.
Each time I visited APH, my list of projects and activities expanded. I am developing an annotated bibliography of research on tactile skills with Karen Poppe that will be available for general reference in the field; I reviewed new products for several project leaders, including Loana Mason, Jeanette Wicker, and Elaine Kitchel; and I participated in a variety of meetings, including those at which product ideas from the field are considered.
Staff members at APH were gracious and hospitable to a fault. I especially appreciated Ralph Bartley's hospitality and conscientious planning for each of my visits, as well as Tuck Tinsley and Bob Brasher's graciousness in making sure I had everything needed to fully participate in APH activities. The opportunity to serve as an Executive in Residence has provided me with a remarkable experience that was as adventurous and awe-inspiring as any trip to Disneyland. The talents of the people at APH and their roles in making new ideas come to life offered me an extraordinary glimpse of what tomorrow can be for people who are visually impaired.