AT Considerations for Creating Learning Activities in PowerPoint

So you're ready to roll up your sleeves and jump in with some fancy PowerPoint activities to keep your students engaged...

What should you consider as you create activities in PowerPoint to meet the needs of students with Assistive Technology needs? You want to maximize the effectiveness of the activity AND to minimuze your work.

There are five areas you will address as you design an activity. The time you spend beforehand addressing all five areas will save you headaches later. Trust me.

All five areas are important in creating a successful learning activity.

1. What skill/s do you want to reinforce? Determine what you want your student to gain from the activity. Is your student working on independent reading, increasing independence of study skills, learning cause-effect with switches? 

2.  What are the learning needs of the student?
--Does your student have cognitive or attention issues that limit the number of tasks per page? Should there be fewer responses to choose from?

--Does she need high sensory input to keep her engagement? Visually stimulating colors, movements, and sounds may help direct her attention to the activity.

--Does she need reduced sensory input to prevent overload? Lower the visual complexity, avoid or simplify movements and sounds, make transitions more subtle.

--What needs does the student have for feedback? Should both correct and incorrect choices provide feedback? Or is the student more focused if only correct responses provide reinforcement? Should incorrects disappear so they cannot be chosen again?

--How strongly motivating should reinforcements be?

--Is there a need for auditory support for reading of text or directions?

--Does the student need help slowing down through an activity? If so, you can build in assistance for pacing.

--Consider other learning needs the student may have and include those in your design.

3. What features are needed to match the activity to the student? This is the meat of our PowerPoint series. While PowerPoint is feature-laden (and some of these are pretty spectacular!), only use the ones that match your student’s needs. It’s tempting to go over the top just because you can.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll explore the capabilities and ways to incorporate each of the following design elements into PowerPoint activities to meet assistive technology needs:

a.      Transitions
b.      Actions or Hyperlinks
c.       Animations
d.      Magic Invisible Boxes (MIBs)
e.      Trigger Events
f.        Macros and Visual Basic (yes, even in PPT2007)

4. How will students access the activity? PowerPoint can be accessed through any input method your computer can use. Its ability to work well with a touch screen makes it an exciting complement to iPads and other mobile devices. It functions beautifully with mouse input (standard, head, eye control). It also works with keyboards, alternative keyboards, and switches that incorporate key commands. This means it can be used with switch scanning, although it currently takes considerable energy to create scanning activities.

5. How can you simplify the design process? If you have tried creating accessible activities in PowerPoint before, you know how long and involved the process can be. However, there are lots of ways to minimizing time and effort, which I will share with you as we go along. I’ll also provide templates to download and show you how to borrow elements from other PowerPoint activities.

In fact, the first handout for you is a PowerPoint Activity Planning Sheet, which you can download here (note: this is the permanent link that behaves, in case you downloaded earlier from Googledocs and got jibberish). It steps you through these five elements of creating an activity that best meets the needs of your students—and your own need to streamline effort. Don’t worry if some of the terms seem foreign at this point; the Activity Planning Sheet can be handy for recording notes as we go through this series. I’ll post the link with each lesson so you can always find it.

This week, observe your student for cues about ways to support cognitive needs, needs for increased or suppressed visual or auditory stimulation, beneficial types of feedback, and physical access issues. The PowerPoint Activity Planning Sheet will help you organize your thoughts and keep them in mind as we look next time at some of the features that match your student's needs.
If you see other areas of student need to consider in creating a successful PowerPoint activity, please speak up. I know I've missed some but would happily revise the planning tool to reflect a broader student base. Thanks!

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Resources for this mini-series:

You can find the PowerPoint Activity Planning Sheet here.

A lesson on Adapting Picture Books for Computer Access using PowerPoint is found here.

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