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

REFERENCES

CAST, Inc. (2010) UDL guidelines—version 1.0: introduction. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines

National Archives and Resources Administration. (Dec 21, 2001). Electronic and information technology accessibility standards. (Federal Register) Retrieved from http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/standards.htm

Parent Mentors of Ohio. (n.d.). The history of IDEA. Retrieved from http://www.thelinkto.org/parentmentor/history_of_idea.htm

National Center on Response to Intervention. (n.d.). What is RtI? Retrieved from http://www.rti4success.org/

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