Alex Dunn

Interview with Alex Dunn

blogEntryThumbnailI am pleased to have Alex Dunn participate in an interview in which I asked her five questions regarding her involvement with interactive whiteboards. Alex Dunn is a Speech-Language Pathologist for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), located in Oxford Mills, Ontario. She has been devoted over the last 16 years to exploring creative service delivery models to ensure ALL students, including those with severe communication challenges achieve the goal of meaningful educational and social participation. Most recently Alex has led the team that created Smart Inclusion, an initiative that combines assistive technology with emerging technology (i.e., interactive whiteboards, iPads, SMART Table) and theory to support inclusion – making the impossible, possible for ALL students. Alex has shared her passion for the inclusion of ALL students across Canada, United States, UK, Spain, Germany and Puerto Rico and has just been named the Smart Exemplary Educator of the Year for 2012.

Below you will find the five interview questions and her responses:

1) What types of students are you using interactive whiteboards with?
Smart Inclusion, research, which included the use of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) began four years ago when we were challenged to try to include several students who had severe communication challenges into the general education classrooms. Smart Inclusion involved using SMART products and other assistive and emerging technologies, coupled with critical speech language pathology and educational pedagogy to increase participation and achievement for ALL students including those with severe disabilities. Smart Inclusion is spreading throughout the world, and although originally designed to meet the needs of students with a range of disorders who were nonverbal or minimally verbal (e.g., Autism, Developmental Disability, Cerebral Palsy, Angelman’s Syndrome), we have discovered that the IWB as part of a universal design for learning (UDL) toolkit facilitates learning for all, “necessary for some, good for all.”

2) How do you use an interactive whiteboard with your students?
IWBs are generally used to facilitate academic and social participation, in whole class or small group, for my students with communication challenges in regular education and system classrooms. The IWB is used as part of a UDL Toolkit in combination with other emerging technologies (iPads, Document Cameras, Nintendo DSi, SMART Table, laptops, manipulatives like WikkiStix and paper pencil tasks) to facilitate a centers-based approach that spans kindergarten to high school. In education, the pendulum appears to be swinging to iDevices and other tablet technology but I am believer in maintaining a toolkit of approaches to allow for the most flexibility when offering multiple means of representation, engagement and expression. The critical piece that IWBs continue to offer my students is the ability to apply Carole Goossen’s Aided Language Stimulation principles, which I struggle to do with the tablet or other technology supports.

3) How do you feel interactive whiteboards are beneficial to student learning?
From research data collected from 2007-2009 (research articles and graphic data can be found at
Special needs students participated with peers in small and large group classroom activities to a greater degree in 2008-2009 compared to the previous school year.
  • All students in the classrooms were highly engaged in classroom activities using Assistive and SMART Technology. Engagement was defined by teachers as “attentive, interested in activities, not disruptive, excited about learning.”
  • Teachers reported that they were doing “more teaching, less behaviour management” with the entire class. There were significant decreases in referrals to the school office and serious behavioural incidents for several students (including some of the Smart Inclusion target students) whose behaviour had significantly impacted classroom participation and learning in previous years.
  • Special needs students were not only more engaged and participating to a greater extent in classroom activities with peers, but teachers felt students were meeting their Individual Education Program (IEP) goals sooner than expected. Some teachers made more adjustments to the IEPs than they felt was typical compared to their past practice.
  • Standardized language assessment pre- and post-data reveal that all students demonstrated growth in their speech and language skills; all students’ communication skills had improved to a greater degree when compared to growth over previous years1.
  • Teachers felt that diagnostic and on-the-spot assessments were enabled and helped inform their programming (i.e., precision teaching).
  • Classroom teachers began using what was previously thought to be “special needs” software with all students during both small and large group instruction.
  • Principals reported in interview that piloting the project in a small number of classrooms throughout the district created “proof of concept”, enabling them to plan on taking “the calculated risk” of integrating Smart Inclusion theory and technology into more classrooms within their schools.

4) What's one tip for using interactive whiteboards with students?
Do not be afraid to put any technology, including interactive whiteboard technology in the hands of your students = amazing things happen. If I can only give one tip I would suggest that we as educators see our roles as facilitator, taking advantage of teachable moments as they occur and that we need not limit our students by being “sage on the stage”; we all have something teach and we all have something to learn. When students complete tasks themselves, they are more invested in the outcome. During a recent assignment on animal classification, parents and educators watched in amazement as ALL students made one discovery after another as they explored Notebook in groups, (Notebook is SMART Technologies software that ships with the IWB). One boy discovered animation while another girl uncovered creative pens, and as both students announced their discoveries proudly, other students raced to over to learn how to apply these “finds” to their own group project.

5) How did you and your colleagues receive funding for interactive whiteboards?
Initially in May of 2008, 10 students with severe communication challenges were identified as eligible for a Ministry of Education Special Equipment Allowance (SEA) grant in Ontario Canada to purchase equipment for the fall 2009. This equipment included a SMART Board along with a variety of application software and AAC tools2. With SEA funding the purchased equipment follows the student anywhere they move within the province. Many Districts in Ontario continue to fund IWB through SEA. For us at our District, once we had proof of concept, Principals started funding using peripheral budgets. Charitable organizations and local companies began to support local schools with equipment. We also obtained some SMART Technology and as well as other emerging technologies through research grants.