Sunday, October 30, 2011

Information wants to be licensed?

We're always on the lookout for new therapeutic interventions, particularly behavioral interventions for our guys.

Since we're physicians, we're used to finding those interventions in handbooks, manuals and the like. Knowledge that comes with a creation history, but that is public.

Of course even in medicine that's not quite true. I've always been struck by how little ophthalmology, for example, is actually written down. Yes, there are lot of ophthalmology textbooks, but they seem to leave out a lot of the actual practice of eye care. Orthopedics was the same way. General medicine had the best public coverage.

In the 1980s medical-process patents began to appear in clinical practice [1], though, surprisingly, Congress actually moved to limit their impact in 1996. In Nursing care several "instruments" are owned by publishing companies and cannot be used without license.

There are similar issues in science, particularly in genomic research. The "iceman" (Otzi) genome is still a carefully held sequence, worth fame and grants to its owners. Archeologists are infamous for restricting access to ancient documents (ex: Dead Sea Scrolls).

So in the worlds of science, engineering and medicine there's a spectrum of open knowledge.

We're discovering that much of behavioral therapy for autism tends towards the closed end of this spectrum; many programs are patented and unpublished.

I'm unsure how important this is. It may be that patented programs are not only "secret" but also unstudied. Idiosyncratic therapeutic interventions may be harmful or wasteful (in this world, since time is limited, wasteful is harmful). Perhaps we're better off not knowing what's in them.

On the other hand, secret knowledge is yet one more obstacle to information sharing in the cognitive disability community. It's a part of a bigger problem that's getting more of my attention...

[1] Link intentionally made to a NEJM restricted access article.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Adaptive textbooks for special needs learners

My #1 has two mainstream classes - science and history.

In the days of the lesser depression he is missing the aide service he needs to track the classes. I think we can work something out for science, but history is harder. His teacher loaned us a copy of his history text [1]; that was a bit of a trick since our increasingly impoverished schools no longer have textbooks for home use.

I find I can write a readable summary of a book chapter in about ten minutes. He can't read the chapter, but he can read my summary and use that to complete his homework.

I haven't been able to find anyone who has done something like this. I'm a bit surprised that

  • teachers don't do this
  • the state doesn't do this
  • foundations don't do this

I'll be doing it. If there's interest leave a comment and I'll find a way to make my summaries available.

I did find a single essay by a doctoral student written in 2005 that included some relevant legal information ...

Digital Textbooks and Students with Special Needs - Jennifer Courduff =

For teachers, digital textbooks provide assistive technology in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA, 2004). This law requires that assistive technology resources be made available to all persons with disabilities and provides funding to make these resources possible. In addition, Public Law 100-407, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act, requires that all students who are exceptional receive technology resources that support access to grade-level appropriate content...

... Digital textbooks are being developed using a universal design for learning (UDL) approach. UDL strategies do not water down content. Rather, complex content is presented using simpler language with supportive hyperlinks to definitions of cognitively difficult key vocabulary and concepts. Following UDL strategies, core content can be scaffolded to meet the cognitive levels of individual learners (1). Scaffolding content enables students with special needs to learn grade-level content within their zone of proximal development, thus providing content that is easy to understand while remaining aligned with curriculum standards (2)...

Personally I have no problem with "watering down" content. I do that every time I present my work to graduate students or senior vice-presidents.

The "UDL" material sounds interesting, but from what I can tell this is an aspirational academic enterprise. Nobody is actually making a UDL textbook of history for my son to use.

Guess it's just what I write then.

[1] Prentice Hall, World History, Connections Today.

Update 10/21/2011: I'm publishing my custom version of World History as I write it. You can get the latest version here, but it's being updated every week or so. No rights reserved.