Assisting the Learning Process

by Heidi Lynn '05

Walk past the front desk of the William V. Marshburn Memorial Library, and you will see rows of PCs to the right and to the left. At almost any time during the library’s operational hours, students check email, write papers, or do online research, occupying most of these computers. But this is not the area that makes Irene Robinson, MLS, media services librarian, most proud. Up ahead, on the left, there is a pocket of the library that often goes unnoticed – the breeding ground for Robinson’s dreams: the assisted technology center.

The idea for such an area first sparked interest in Robinson when she attended a conference in 2000, along with Michael Tapia, academic services coordinator for the Learning Enrichment Center. Following the program, Robinson and Tapia realized the existence of this need for APU students and then presented their plan for approval in the William V. Marshburn Memorial Library. The result was the beginning of the Assisted Technology Program – one computer and accompanying software.

The assisted technology center is the culmination of more than two years of planning and boasts software and machines set up to enable students with learning impairments to use a computer, read a book, or watch a video with the same ease as any other college student. Today’s available resources include MagniSight, J.A.W.S. (Job Access Word System), Zoomtext Xtra, closed-captioned videos, and Kurzweil 3000. Kurzweil 3000 is the latest software attained by the Marshburn Memorial Library, and is designed to help students with visual impairments or dyslexia. Students can type a document and the computer will enlarge the print as they are typing and audibly repeat the words through the speakers. A scanner next to the computer allows students to read directly from their text by scanning a textbook page and then enlarging the image on the monitor. For students with dyslexia, the program highlights each sentence and each specific word as they read.

Robinson continues to push for more ways to serve students. Collaborating with Mason Murphy, a visually impaired graduate student, she writes grants aimed at public schools in order to bring updated programs to the center. The two agree that their goal with these devices is to make learning easier for those who may often find the learning process very difficult. As of spring 2002, APU accommodated 48 students with disabilities, 25 of whom have learning impairments.

Above all, Robinson views the continued development of the center as a responsibility mandated by faith. “Although [the private university] is not required to do this by law, we want to provide the Assisted Technology Program out of compassion – to show the love that Christ would have given.”