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Bellevue College looks to online software to help autistic students collaborate

Matt Hamblen | April 29, 2013
Bellevue College in Washington has deployed online learning software to help students with autism improve their small-group collaboration skills.

Canvas is deployed for the entire Bellevue College. Because Gardner wasn't involved in choosing the software over competitors, she couldn't comment on why it was chosen. Still, she said it is easier to use than other systems she has tried at other colleges.

Canvas is deployed by about 350 colleges, schools and corporations, with nearly six million end users, and has about 5% of the learning management market, according to Instructure co-founder Brian Whitmer. BlackBoard is the largest learning management provider, with about 40% of the market.

With 220 employees since its launch five years ago, Instructure is "still in startup mode," Whitmer said.

Whitmer has a six-year-old daughter with Rett syndrome, which is usually considered one of many autism spectrum disorders. The syndrome has left her with little muscle tone and without the ability to walk or talk. She is often too tired to eat, requiring the use of a feeding tube.

Bellevue is the first institution using Canvas to directly benefit people with autism, he said. "It's great to hear about how Canvas can help with autism, and that's something I'd like to continue to help with in the future," he said.

"People say our product has great ease of use, which benefits everybody and also unsighted users," he said in an interview. "With my daughter, I'm excited for technology around eye tracking since she has so much locked up inside a body that doesn't work, and technology will offer opportunities to get outside of her body."

Whitmer said Instructure is working to build out a better global ecosystem for education technology so that developers of specialized learning apps can plug them into various learning management systems, not just Canvas.

Instructure has set up Edu Apps, an open app center, with various apps built on the Learning Tools Interoperability platform.

"We're hoping this spurs innovation," Whitmer said.


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