International Meeting for Autism Research: Using Computer Aided Instruction to Improve Motivation and Learning

Using Computer Aided Instruction to Improve Motivation and Learning

Friday, May 21, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
1:00 PM
C. Whalen , Jigsaw Learning, Seattle, WA
Background: There are several studies showing promise for Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI)  in teaching a variety of skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). TeachTown: Basics (TT-B) is a CAI program that focusses on individualized instruction of academic (receptive and expressive vocabulary), social (recognizing emotions, eyegaze tracking) and functional (auditory memory for multistep directions) skills. TeachTown includes a manual for implementing naturalistic off-computer or 'Connection' activities (TT-CA ) which are closely aligned with TT-B content.

We tested whether instruction via TT-B of a range of academic, social, and functional activities skills would improve learning relative to off computer learning (TT-CA) in ASD students. Individualized learning was measured by analyzing both within and between subject data in preschool and K-1 special education classrooms in a large public school district in Los Angeles.

47 preschool and K-1 students in ASD classrooms participated in both on- (TT-B) and off- (TT-CA) computer activities.   TT-B was implemented over 3 months for an average of 20 minutes a day (includes a range of 13-24 minutes). TT-CA were conducted for 20 minutes a day, by an education professional both in small groups and 1:1, as per instruction from a manual. Within and between subjects' comparisons were conducted to evaluate the difference between on and off computer learning. Children in the within subjects' design received both 'treatments' for 3 months at a time; half were included in TT-B first and the other half participated in off-computer tasks first.

In a comparison with students in the TT-CA, the TT-B students showed more improvement overall on language and cognitive outcome measures including measures of expressive and receptive vocabulary (PPVT and EVT) and broader measures of social, academic, language and memory using the Briganz. In addition,  TT-B students demonstrated significant progress overall in the program. Students who used TT-B for more time per day demonstrated larger gains within the software and in outcome measures. When analyzing within subject data, we found that students made more progress overall  while using the TT-B, compared to when they only engaged in TT-CA. Students who completed TT-B first continued to make progress  6 months after first using the program. The most improvement was shown in auditory memory and social skills, with smaller gains in language and academics. Furthermore, we found improved attention, spontaneous language,  affect, and joint attention, for students using TT-B compared to TT-CA.

These findings offer possibilities for the use of CAI for contributing to the remediation of deficits for children with ASD.  It provides an affordable intervention option that is both motivating and effective even when compared with teacher led instruction.  The individualized nature of the lessons, the data portability and ease of use for home and school communication will be discussed. This presentation will include all data analyses from both between and within subject comparisons along with a brief demo of the program, and video clips of participating students.
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