Society & Culture

UGA education researchers receive $1.2 million grant to develop iSkills

Athens, Ga. -University of Georgia education researchers have received a $1.2 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to develop an application for handheld communication devices to provide individuals with autism and developmental disabilities a self-prompting tool that they can use in their homes and communities to assist with daily living tasks.

Based on the premise that people tend to use technology that is easy to access, familiar and helpful in their lives, iSkills will synthesize the existing research literature on video-based modeling and prompting to establish a user-friendly protocol providing individuals with access to curriculum materials to supportpost-school transition, said Kevin Ayres, principal investigator of the project and an associate professor in the College of Education’s department of communication sciences and special education.

“It might be thought of as a handheld video cookbook for everyday tasks,” said Ayres. “In addition, because the handhelds are ‘geographically aware,’ the application will be able to help prioritize videos that are most likely to be used in a given location. All videos will be downloadable from an online repository.”

iSkills will be designed to assist with direct instruction, and more importantly, self-instruction in such important areas as independent living, employment, leisure safety, community involvement and community navigation. This application will allow individuals to have greater freedom to pursue their own educational interests and independently seek assistance with those skills or situations that are important to them, said Lloyd Rieber, co-principal investigator and a professor in the department of educational psychology and instructional technology.

The end result of iSkills will include (1) a system that provides users access to a searchable data base of video formatted for computer access as well as iPod, (2) protocols for using video in direct instruction, (3) protocols for using videos as self-instructional tools, (4) protocols and videos for teaching and learning how to use iSkills as a self-instructional tool and (5) a podcast feed through iTunes.

The three-year cross-disciplinary, collaborative process will involve UGA faculty members specializing in an array of fields from special education to speech pathology to educational/instructional technology and artificial intelligence.

iSkills will be prototyped, evaluated, refined, deployed and then field-tested in its final form. Individuals with disabilities, service providers, teachers and parents will be involved at each step of the process to ensure quality, usability, and that iSkills is effective at teaching useful and meaningful skills.

A team of academics, educators, parents and students will work together to develop the iSkills system. Students with intellectual disabilities and autism in both rural and urban schools in Georgia and Tennessee will be involved in testing aspects of iSkills. These evaluations will involve formative assessment in terms of usability testing as well as single-subject experiments that will serve to evaluate how iSkills influences learning.

At the conclusion of the project, the iSkills team hopes to have developed and tested: a web-based interface and system for distributing educational content, a compact delivery system for video modeling (in the form of an iPhone/iPod platform), procedural information and tutorials for educators and service providers, as well as a sustainable project infrastructure that could facilitate more in-depth evaluation.

For more information, see