For over 25 years, Ira Socol has pushed for schools that work for every child, for every adolescent. In the 1990s he built a universally-designed university computer system with accessible computers everywhere, with use open to anyone who needed those solutions. In the early 21st century, supported by leading dyslexia and ADHD researchers, investigated reading and behavioral solutions for struggling adolescents, worked on the creation of the Freedom Stick suite of free UDL technologies, and drove the development of Click Speak, a text-to-speech solution for Firefox.
He has written extensively and worked with schools across North America and in Ireland.
Working in Schools
“Our mission is to create environments in which contemporary learning for every child can flourish,” Socol says. “All of us in LEAD (Department of Learning Engineering, Access, and Design) are engineers and educators. In our partnership with teachers and administrators, our goal is to increase opportunities for students, expand their potential for future success, and close current opportunity gaps.”
"Among the programs Socol supported is the division’s High School Center pilot. The center focuses on project-based learning and student internship opportunities.“There will be no bells to signal the end of a class or structural limits on the learning experiences offered to students. "An important part of our approach is a redesign of the environment, both in terms of the physical space and where and when learning actually takes place,” he said.
"He also managed the division’s countywide initiative to bring broadband access to student homes not currently able to access this service."
"Socol joined Albemarle County Public Schools in 2013 in support of the division’s Design 2015 initiative, which focused on project-based and collaborative learning programs across schools. A year later, he became the division’s Assistant Director of Educational Technology. In that role, he shaped the installation of software packages on student computers adaptable to individual learning styles and needs. Examples include multiple text-to-speech reading and speech-to-text dictation programs, multiple calculators, and creative tools for art and music. He also helped develop strategies for teachers to engage learners through interactive technologies, connectivity, project/problem/passion-based learning, and student choice and comfort in the classroom."
"Socol was selected in 2017 by the Center for Digital Education, a national organization whose mission is to “nurture a community of thought leaders who are rethinking education with technology as the catalyst,” as one of its 30 top technologists, transformers and trailblazers. He is known internationally for his “Toolbelt Theory,” a systemic approach to providing Universal Design for Learning, and has presented his research on globally open technology and contemporary learning spaces.
"He has taught at Michigan State, and Grand Valley State universities, as well as through the University of Pennsylvania, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and at Pratt Institute. He also was a consultant for assistive technology for Michigan’s Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Grand Valley State University and holds certifications in Assistive Technology from the University of California at Northridge and in Employment Training from Michigan State University."
"Ira Socol's 'Drool Room' is a tough read - but a rewarding one. It's tough because it pulls no punches. The reader is hit repeatedly by the circumstances of the author's childhood. The drool room of the title refers to a room for learners with profound special needs at the author's first school. The six-year-old Socol is highly intelligent - but is labelled 'special needs' because of his 'word-blindness'. Back in 1960s New York, there isn't a word for dyslexia. The system is blind to the condition and does not know how to work with him - despite the best efforts of individual staff members. Throw in a spirited child's tendency to hyperactivity and a troubled home life - and the system starts to roll back and crush the life and spirit of the young boy." - a reader's review
A Certain Place of Dreams: "Socol calls them "very short stories," and there are stories in them, not to mention a story revealed through them; but they are more like prose poems. His style is calculatedly "Irish" - not aye and Gomorrah Irish, more like Yeats Irish - and while one wonders what an Irish reader might make of it, it works well for these two American readers. There is much that is terrible in this book, but Socol tells it all quite beautifully." - a reader's review
"Timeless Learning provides a fresh perspective that, hopefully, can get around the limitations of the past. Pam, Ira, and Chad, leaders of a large, established school district in Virginia, tell the story of how they are transforming an entrenched institution that suffers all the testing requirements, budget limitations, and federal and state mandates of every district into a dynamic modern learning environment. The language is clear, straightforward, and practical.
"The authors talk about how they started by asking questions that are rarely asked in schools: what do you see when you look at your school, and how does this compare with what you believe school should be, how do kids really learn, etc. They were not afraid to question practices that had been in place for decades and even worked well for them when they went to school. They also asked students what the students wanted from education, one of the most powerful aspects of their strategy. Through this kind of questioning and observation and a review of how we got to this place in education, they make a strong case that today’s world is very different from the times when public schools were designed, and no amount of improvement will ever satisfy today’s needs. We need a complete transformation in thinking and approach. They also reinforce that equity will never be obtained without transformation. I cannot believe that anyone, after reading this, will not conclude that education must be fundamentally transformed." - a reader's review