How Technology Can Level the Playing Field

April 22, 2010 at 3:09 am (ED TECH 541, Portfolio) (, , , , , , , , )

Free, compulsory public education is a given in the United States. It has not always been this way, and it certainly isn’t that way around the world. That often gets lost in the shuffle of discussing the future of our future education. However, even within our school system, we have long left many students out in the cold for a variety of reasons—race, religion, gender, and those students with disabilities. Some of this inequity was resolved through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965. At the same time, children with disabilities were still not being included fully in the education process. With the creation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 1970’s, attention was finally being paid to ALL students. IDEA put into place six general principals, and, for the first time, gave a clear definition to who these students are. (Parent Mentors of Ohio)

Six Principals

  • free appropriate public education
  • appropriate evaluation
  • individualized education program
  • least restrictive environment
  • parent and student participation in decision making
  • procedural due process

Who Qualifies for Special Education?

  • Mental retardation
  • Hearing impairment (including deafness)
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Visual Impairment (including blindness)
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Autism
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Other health impairment (now includes ADD/ADHD)
  • Specific learning disability

Simply having the principals and categories laid out by an important piece of legislation is not enough to ensure equal access to education, and, even when there is access, a fair and equitable education for these students with special needs. This gap has spurred many different groups to step in and try to create educational materials and processes that ensure every child has access to a quality education. One such group is the National Center on Response to Intervention. Response to Intervention (RtI) combines individual education plans, assessment, and intervention activities into a school-wide or district-wide system of implementation to meet the diverse needs of all learners. (National Center on Response to Intervention) With the increased acceptance of this plan of attack, it has become increasingly important for teachers to reach all learners to ensure success. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the testing requirements outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB, and its eventual re-authorization, have increased the impetus of schools to meet each child’s needs. Okay, so meeting all learners’ needs is a valid goal and something almost all teachers want to do. With the increased pressure, teachers need new tools to reach these diverse learners as outlined above. And technology can do just that! Whenever I think of technology leveling the playing field for all learners, I start with two sources. First, the federal government created a set of Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards, known best as Section 508. If I am going to build a technology component or incorporate a component in a program, I want to make sure that it meets minimum accessibility standards, and Section 508 is a great starting point. (National Archives, 2001) I would then evaluate a product to see if it complies with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles as laid out by the Center for Applied Special Technology. (CAST, Inc., 2010) By choosing programs and publishers of content that can demonstrate Section 508 compliance and that adhere to UDL standards, you are ensuring that many students will be able to access the content you are presenting.

Standards and design principles are important to many categories of special needs learners, and ensuring appropriate Response to Intervention is an essential starting point for building student learning. But what are some of the actual tools for reaching students? It would be nearly impossible, and is certainly outside of the scope of this blog entry, to try and list them all. Instead, I can quickly list a few ideas that show the power of technology to reach learners and some resources to go to find tools for specific needs. The tools listed below are not even the tip of the iceberg; assistive and learning technologies are available to a mind-bogglingly overwhelming degree. Technology Tools

  • Screen readers and text-to-speech tools—These tools help students with visual impairment to access content on a screen in ways they would never be able to do with print, becoming part of the general classroom.
  • Close captioning—For students with auditory deficits, captions are becoming an increasingly available option for accessing voiced materials.
  • Skype or other streaming video chat—Students who are unable to attend classes in person for a variety of reasons can become part of the classroom with their peers.
  • Practice software—Individualized, CD-ROM or Web-based software that provides just-in-time, targeted instruction has the potential to reach kids where they need instruction most. If the software includes remediation and differentiated feedback, it is like having a teacher’s aide in the classroom.
  • Collaboration and communication tools—Students that may struggle with learning English or be reluctant to participate in class with other students can become more participative by using Whiteboard clickers, leaving audio or video blogs, and so on. This involvement enhances their learning experience

Web Sites to Assist in Selecting Assistive Technologies


CAST, Inc. (2010) UDL guidelines—version 1.0: introduction. Retrieved from

National Archives and Resources Administration. (Dec 21, 2001). Electronic and information technology accessibility standards. (Federal Register) Retrieved from

Parent Mentors of Ohio. (n.d.). The history of IDEA. Retrieved from

National Center on Response to Intervention. (n.d.). What is RtI? Retrieved from


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Why Use Spreadsheets and Databases in the Classroom

February 20, 2010 at 3:02 am (ED TECH 541) (, , , , )

When someone uses the term spreadsheet or database, most people think about businesses; specifically how these electronic tools can enhance the day-to-day operations and effectiveness of employees. Or maybe you think of researchers collecting copious amounts of information and needing a way to track, store, and evaluate bits of information. However, these tools can be powerful instructional agents for students across the learning spectrum! In order to understand how these tools can be used in classrooms, we first have to understand what a spreadsheet is and what it can do, as well as how it differs from a database.

 Spreadsheets—In general terms, a spreadsheet is defined as a worksheet or table consisting of values organized in rows and columns. Over time, the term spreadsheet has grown to mean both a worksheet and the computer programs that are used to create worksheets. Spreadsheets allow us to automate formulas that would otherwise take hours to hand-calculate, while also including organizational display features that enhance how we share the numbers and data we are collecting.

 Databases—These electronic tools provide invaluable data collection and search options. Databases are not specifically classified along with productivity tools like spreadsheets, word processors, and so on, but, at the same time, they do indeed have the power to enhance productivity by simplifying and speeding up how we work. Using databases is essential for organizing large amounts of information and beginning to look for patterns or like characteristics in data to drive decision making, research, targeted responses, across a range of fields.

 Database or Spreadsheet?

As technology tools both spreadsheets and databases can be used to organize, sort, and report data. At the same time, they have some very important differences. In general terms, if you are looking for formulas and calculations or are using small, manageable amounts of data, then spreadsheets are for you. On the other hand, if you are looking to compare differing sets of data and need to sort and report bits and pieces in different combinations, or if you are working with large amounts of data, then a database is likely worth the time to learn to use and manage. Karyn Stille from QCI Solutions, Inc., provided the following simple breakdown of when one tool is better than the other.

” In a Nutshell Use a database if…

  • the information is a large amount that would become unmanageable in spreadsheet form and is related to a particular subject.
  • you want to maintain records for ongoing use.
  • the information is subject to many changes (change of address, pricing changes, etc.).
  • you want to generate reports based on the information.

Use a spreadsheet if…

  • you want to crunch numbers and perform automatic calculations.
  • you want to track a simple list of data.
  • you want to easily create charts and graphs of your data.
  • you want to create “What-if” scenarios.

In most cases, using the combination of a database to store your business records and a spreadsheet to analyze selected information works best.”

Relative Advantage for Using these Tools in the Classroom

When looking at using spreadsheets and databases in the classroom, the easy reasons center around a few key points.

  1. Real-life tools and situations—These are tools used in many walks of life, providing a real-life application of technology.
  2. Focusing learning on high-order thinking—Instead of focusing learning on calculations or organization, these tools focus learning on understanding and exploring data.
  3. Efficiency and consistency of learning activities—As educators, we can provide consistent, efficient learning activities by providing initial content in a database or spreadsheet, making it easier to provide everyone the same information to start with, and setting up the lesson or activity with minimal student effort.
  4. Visualizing and reporting data—Both spreadsheets and databases provide support for taking data and sharing it in visualized and sorted, easy-to-read ways.

 For more information on some of the advantages and difficulties for incorporating spreadsheets in classroom teaching, see the following report from

 For a similar information for using databases in the classroom, see this report from


Stille, K. Database vs. spreadsheet. Retrieved February 19, 2010, from QCI Solutions, Inc. website:

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Relative Advantage for Using Ed Tech

February 14, 2010 at 4:34 am (ED TECH 541) (, , , )

There are many ways to look at the relative advantages for using educational technology in the classroom; however, for me, the easiest reason is that we can offer unprecedented access for the widest range of students through the use of educational technology.  Students with learning disabilities, students with physical disabilities, students who need one-to-one instruction, students who learn better through visual media–educational technology has the relative advantage of being able to address the specific deficit or need of each student, as dictated by an experienced, knowledgeable teacher. Another area where technology can enhance learning for students in a way teachers would struggle is through the use of assessments and immediate, on-the-fly adaptation of learning based on the assessment. In that statement, I do not mean necessarily a test as much as consistent, constant evaluation of each and every response a student makes during instruction. Of course, technology is also very limited, at this point in time, in the types of responses that can be evaluated. Teachers are still the best overall evaluators of student progress and success, but there are ways that technology tools can analyze data quickly and efficiently to aid teachers in providing instruction for students.

Educational Technology for Increasing Access to Learning

Educational Technology for Data Analysis

The first paragraph focused on the areas of access and data analysis as key areas of relative advantage for the use of educational technology in the classroom. Access for all students and adaptation through data analysis are also the most important areas of relative advantage that I see for technology in the classroom. Other areas of perceived relative advantage include some of the following.

  • Motivation — There is a clear belief and expectation that the use of technology in the classroom can engage and motivate students. I whole heartedly agree, but with the caveat that we must make sure it is the RIGHT technology for the task and for the student.
  • Ubiquitous Learning — The idea that students can learn anytime, anywhere is extremely powerful, and one I think will gain more and more steam over the next few years. While teachers can lead learners in this direction, ubiquitous learning will ultimately depend on the learners themselves finding the tools they want and the content they are interested in pursuing.
  •  Collaboration — Technology tools provide new and exciting options for collaboration among learners.
  • Simulation/realism — Using educational technology in the classroom continues to provide advances in simulating live environments and experiences that can lead to success in careers and professions. Flight simulators, emergency response systems, call center training, stock-trading games, and so on, can all prepare learners to have greater success in the application of knowledge and skills when stepping into their chosen career.

While there are certainly any number of ways and reasons to incorporate edcuational technology in the learning envrionment. Without a teacher’s expertise in knowing what and how to incorporate technology, the learner will not necessarily choose the right tools for the job. It is the idea of shared instructional responsibility between the teacher and educational technology to secure the best learning experience for learners. The relative advantage of using educational technology can only truly occur when the right content is delivered through the right technology at the right time for the right learner, and this doesn’t happen without the teacher.

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