In most autism programs, data collection and graphing are daily tasks for teachers and therapists. These tasks are a vital component of a program based on applied behavior analysis and are critical for teachers, supervisors and parents to monitor student progress. While educators typically recognize the importance of data collection, it is frequently viewed as tedious and time consuming, and as a result sometimes avoided.
Standard practice is to collect data using paper and pencil, then graph by coloring in dots and connecting lines. This scenario is played out in autism classrooms and therapy sessions, but there is another way. The solution for special education is one that incorporates technology directly into service delivery, which can allow for a more efficient means to complete data collection tasks. To accomplish this, Eden Autism Services, where I am the the director of clinical services, developed a learning management system that has digitized the paper and pencil method.
Of course, there can be some initial hesitation, concerns and trepidation when incorporating new technology. This is understandable, considering how long most educators have been operating with paper and pencil. Change is always difficult, but, when new technology is involved, people tend to be even more apprehensive. I am happy to say that this apprehension often is very short lived as staff begin to experience the benefits of having more time and, more importantly, seeing that time reflected in the success of their students.
As we introduce more innovations, staff and supervisors alike share feedback regarding this technology revolution. Staff members have said the reduction in paperwork time gives them more “face-to-face” time with their students. Supervisors say new technology helps them to efficiently review their staff’s data and make more clinical recommendations for programming. Technology in special education allows everyone on the team to be consistent, share real-time information, review progress and modify as needed.
Here are some best practices for using technology in data collection:
- Incorporate curriculum and data collection into your learning management system. If well-integrated, these two entities should work together seamlessly to create both more efficient processes and more effective results.
- Make it easy for staff to enter data, which will lead to more consistent data collection, providing more accurate and useful information
- Build in a way for staff to conduct assessments. This will allow for more accurate identification of areas of strength and weakness.
- Consider giving parents access to view their child’s progress data, which can increase parent involvement and improve communication between staff and parents.
Innovative data collection and assessment solutions can have a huge impact on special education, helping teachers, therapists and students all achieve better results.
Nina Finkler is the Director of Clinical Services for Eden Autism Services, which uses ABPathfinder to help manage data collection. She is responsible for oversight of outreach consultative, evaluation and training services. She has worked in the field of autism for 20 years, including extensive practical application of applied behavior analysis, curriculum development, professional and parent training, consultation and assessment.