The field of educational technology is growing at a steady clip with new tools, apps, and services cropping up. Many of these tools are used to enhance learning and engagement in the classroom. Some facilitate project based learning or encourage easy data tracking for the teacher. As teachers are becoming more familiar with integrating technology into their classroom a window to incorporating assistive technology opens.
Currently, assistive technology is generally IEP driven and is meant to accommodate for an identified disability. These supports can range from magnifiers for visual disabilities, augmentative communication devices for the non-verbal, or text to speech for those struggling with learning disabilities. Very often however, teachers are faced with students in their classroom who for multiple reasons do not end up being identified for support nor receive the needed help. Additionally, abandonment of equipment is a significant concern within the assistive technology community. Finding the correct fit between the student, the teacher, and demands in the classroom become great hurdles to overcome despite the vested interest of all parties.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
UDL is a model evolving from the field of architecture, universal design. The most often referenced analogy is one of the ramp. Buildings originally designed with ramps not only allow access to a building for those in wheelchairs but also assist parents with strollers and delivery personnel. UDL aims to encourage curriculum planning and environmental design to create content that can be accessible to all students in the classroom. This may include having text to speech books available for all students or creating a classroom color coded organization system for notebooks and folders. Students are able to select the tools that best help them meet their learning goals. UDL is most powerful when implemented at the planning stages versus having to retrofit pre-existing curriculum. There are three main components to UDL which will be briefly reviewed given that this model is familiar to professionals in the assistive technology field. For further details be sure to visit cast.org.
- Multiple Means of Representation- Known as the recognition network, this area explores the “what” aspect of learning. It encourages providing a variety of modalities when explaining concepts.
- Multiple Means of Expression- Known as the strategic network it represents the “how” of learning. This principle encourages a variety in how a learner can express their knowledge base.
- Multiple Means of Engagement- Known as the affective network it represents the “why” of learning. This principle encourages looking at the learner’s motivation and desires for learning.
SAMR is a model that has been developed to create a hierarchy of how technology is being integrated in the classroom. It starts with the most simplistic use of technology and graduates to more complex encouraging deep learning skills. Jonathan Brubaker had created this infographic illustrating the various SAMR levels comparing them to Starbucks offerings.
Assistive technology providers often focus on finding technology that can either serve in the Substitution or Augmentation portions of this model. If a student cannot write using pencil and paper, perhaps a portable word processor can substitute? A student is unable to read? Provide her with text to speech for reading materials. AT providers may however be in a unique position to encourage teachers to branch their pedagogy to the Modification and Redefinition segments of this model. Asking a teacher about the learning goals and outcomes of a unit or lesson may prove a more powerful question than what tasks need to be completed by the student daily. After all, successful completion of the tasks does not automatically result in learning. Supporting a teacher in redefining, might result in a scenario in which one group of students produce a video while another group produces a written report.
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Another model currently being implemented in educational technology integration is the Technology- Pedagogy- Content model. The illustration below provides an overview of the three main segments a teacher needs to consider as well as overlapping domains. Classroom teachers need to establish competence in not only the technical use of available hardware and software but also how this technology can meet content requirements. Analysis of how pedagogically sound a technology is another pivotal role a classroom teacher takes on. When examining this model, the teacher’s level of competence in each of these areas can effect the successful integration of assistive technology for a student. A teacher who does not posses comfort in using technology nor have the skills to problem solve may be more reluctant to integrate AT tools. Likewise, if a teacher does not perceive that an AT tool meets pedagogical standard, its implementation may also falter. Supporting teachers in each of these three areas and their overlapping domains may ultimately help students with mandated assistive technology integrate this support and decrease abandonment.
Understanding the various educational pedagogy currently being applied in educational technology can help assistive technology providers in successfully supporting their students and beyond. Providers must also play a key role in demanding that many of the tools being used for the disabled population become readily available within the technology being developed for the classroom. Text to speech, word prediction (flexible spelling), speech to text, and writing with auditory feedback should not be fringe add-ons to a program. These tools often recommended should be integrated as a given. Assistive technology professionals are also uniquely qualified in understand where the gaps in learning exist for a particular learner and may better understand how content should be modified. Involvement in the development of educational tools are key especially in the area of adaptive learning technology. Many learning platforms are being developed to provide customization for learners. Although in its infancy, this adaptive technology mostly consists of moving a student up or down a hierarchy of difficulty given their response to a question. Providing better insight into how content can be modified to meet the needs of struggling learners can help improve this technology.