Special education instruction options Essay Paper

Technology & Education

There has been a fundamental change in almost all aspects of our life brought about by computer technology and the spread of digital media. Educationalists also agree that this development in technology has left an undeniable mark on the process of education reforms (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, 2010). Researchers also agree that technology has the ability to help students improve and enhance knowledge and skill acquisition. This, they say, can be achieved through learning with and about technology, which has become essential for students in the 21st-century society and workforce to gain competencies to perform well (Chen & Hwang, 2014). Additionally, student-centered learning can be well supported by technology since it is intrinsically motivating for many students and can be easily customized.

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Academicians and researchers have defined technology as an articulation of a craft and deals with that branch of knowledge which can help in the creation and the use of technical means with constant interrelation to life, society as well as the environment and draws its source from subjects like industrial arts, engineering, applied science and pure science (Floyd, 2011). Technology can assume a number of forms in the classrooms from the low-tech pencil, paper, and chalkboard to more sophisticated and complex use of presentation software or the use of high-tech tablets and online collaboration as well as conferencing tools, etc. The latter of the technologies allows students and teachers to make use of virtual classrooms — a thing that had never been possible before. In a nutshell, the use of the type of technology in a classroom is dependent on what one is trying to achieve (Patti & Vince Garland, 2015). Many of the researchers are of the opinion that technology in education is one of the key factors that can, and has to an extent, brought about radical changes to the formal educational system (Shehnaz & Sreedharan, 2010).

This has also led to the perceived enhancement of the use of technology in the classroom for special education to a greater extent compared to the regular classrooms (Boonmoh, 2012). Since the modern technologies are customizable and can be altered to suit a particular need, it can be assistive to suit the needs of different types of disabilities which plague special needs students (Saxena, 2016). A student with special needs tends to suffer from a variety of learning disabilities, including learning impairments in Reading or in Math or in any other subjects. Intellectual disability, language comprehension problems and emotional or hearing or visual disorders are among the other special needs of such students.

The types of assistive technologies that help students with special needs include computer software, devices for communication and displays and learning enhancing devices. Technology is also adapted to suit the degree of challenge in special needs students. For example, the students with a mild cognitive disability in reading are helped by reading skill software and technologies like text-to-speech products and interactive storybooks among other technologies. On the other hand, voice recognition and software for word prediction is often used for students with impairments in writing.

In a survey conducted by Marino, Israel, Beecher, and Basham (2013), who examined the perceptions among the students of middle school conducted across 14 states in the U.S., showed that a significantly high number of students preferred the use of virtual learning environments over and in addition to the traditional instructional methods like class discussions, reading and labs (Marino, Israel, Beecher, & Basham, 2013). The explanation offered by the authors is that difficulties in the skills of reading and writing of students are enhanced by the traditional learning methods as they rely on reading and writing only and hence impact content instruction. However, even though the efficacy of the use of mobile devices and apps in learning is still an emerging subject of research according to Nordness, Haverkost, & Volberding, (2011), there is some evidence that these technologies are helpful for students with disabilities and with special needs who run the risk of learning failure.

Statement of the Problem

Technology has somewhat changed the way students are learning these days. The advent of handheld devices and the internet had encouraged a section of the student to use such technologies (LI, 2015). One of the reasons, according to Davis (2012) for the use of technology by a section of students in schools is their assessment of the need to do so with respect to their performance levels compared to students who have access to technology and uses it to good effect (Davis, 2012). In fact, education today requires the use of technology in the gathering of information and research since the access is to it easy. However, according to Robinson and Sebba, (2010), lack of adequate training is the leading barrier to the use of educational technology in special education classrooms.

Technology comes in handy for students who are physically or mentally challenged. For such students, the use of technology often becomes imperative as they are almost unable to continue learning or benefit in any significant manner from the traditional education or classroom set up. Huang, Kinshuk, and Spector, (2013) in their book “Reshaping Learning” notes the advantages that the use of technology can bring for students. It equalizes students because of the ability to adapt to minor impairments as well as more severe disabilities. Technology allows students, including those with no disabilities, to actively participate, and learn from their interaction.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to understand the extent to which technology can help or does help students with special needs and the prevalence of the types of technologies. Apart from this study will also conduct a qualitative investigation about the attitude of parents, the teachers, and the educational authorities and the government towards more use of technology in the learning process for students with special needs.

It has been established from previous studies like the one done by S. Molina, (2015) that the students with special needs often tend to lag behind in comparison to their mainstream counterparts due to the owing to a lack of access to learning techniques that are adaptive and customize to meet their needs. One reason for this is that stakeholders in the educational sector do not fully understand the role of technology in facilitating the learning process for this particular group (Molina, 2015).

This current study examines the effect of technology on the performance of special education students in the fourth and fifth grade, and the specific tools utilized by special education teachers to maximize outcomes for different learner groups.

Research Questions

The following questions will guide the author in understanding the impact technology policies have on fourth and fifth-grade special need students when it comes to the use of technology.

What is the prevalence of the use of technology in learning for students with special needs?

What are the specific advantages that are reaped from the use of technology for learning in the case of students with special needs?

Is there any empirical evidence to suggest technology improves learning the process of students with special needs?

What is the attitude of the stakeholders in the education process — parents, teaching community and the government, towards the use of technology in learning for students with special needs?

What government policies aid can foster the enhanced usage of technologies in learning in of students with special needs?

What are the technological tools being used to aid the learning process of students with special needs and what does the future of such technologies hold for such students?

Conceptual Framework

In a section of modern education set up, there is a certain degree of prevalence of combining curriculum and technology (Molina, 2015). While technology has already taken a very important place in our everyday lives, it is slowly but surely expanding its influence in the education sector also. This is also true for the use of technology for students with special needs. Hence, while trying to find out the impact of technology on the teaching and the learning abilities of such students and children, it is also pertinent to consider and discuss a conceptual framework that could help to achieve the desired results.

The conceptual framework will include:

Independent variable:

Use of TPACK Framework for teachers as a guiding tool for technology assistance in teaching

(Source: Hanover Research, District Administration Practice, 2013)

The TPACK or the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge framework would be the basic framework where the teaching staff has to be made aware of the framework for the use of technology for teaching students with special needs. This would take into account the pedagogical needs of technology and their capabilities and integrate them with available technical knowledge, technology and the content to be delivered. As the above diagram illustrates, the framework is a combination of complex intersections between the core areas. For example, technical pedagogical knowledge is created by the intersection of technical knowledge (TK) and pedagogical knowledge. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, or TPACK, is created by the convergence of these core areas.

Dependent variable:

Instructions on use of technology

Awareness of basic computing skills

Supervision of the teachers

Use of multimedia

Use of online portals and apps

Formation of student clubs for assistance

Use of Simple technological tools

Some of the Tools that can be used for this study include audio tools, tools for digital imaging, drawing tools, interactive whiteboards, and internet resources, mobile and other handheld devices, devices, tools for audio and/or video presentations and some video tools.

The imparting of learning would follow the TIM proceeds described in five stages from the entry to the transformation phase. These are:

The Entry stage is where the content is given to students

The Adoption stage where the conventional use of tool-based software is taught to students

The Adaptation phase where students are encouraged to adapt to tool-based software and where students are allowed to select a tool and even customize its use to complete a task at hand.

The Infusion stage where the actual understanding of the technology tools and the content is done by applying, analyzing and thorough evaluation of learning tasks

And the Transformation stage where a rich learning environment is created by the blending of the choice of technology tools as desired by a student and student-initiated investigations, compositions and discussions are promoted.

Keeping in mind the above two frameworks for imparting education to special needs students, a curriculum and the process of learning would be formed. Every student in this framework would receive instructions related to technology during the week, and their curriculum would include the expansion and development of computing skills, which would move from the primary level to a higher one.

Students in the second grade would learn the basics of computing skills, i.e. keyboard awareness and mouse skills. The students in third, fourth, and fifth-grade would expand their abilities through various projects that would include research, writing, and multimedia presentations (PennCharter, n.d.).

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is part of the framework in which teachers engage the students consistently in different activities through smart boards and other technological tools, i.e. digital cameras, audio and video recorders, and iPads; to be used in different projects with students (PennCharter, n.d.). Furthermore, these students get to develop their skills as well as learn safe, ethical, and responsible technology. For example, Chromebook allows fourth and fifth-graders to use it for their class work and homework. Typing Club, another web-based program teaches students in the third-fifth grades how to type accurately and efficiently. Google Apps is an online educational tool that includes email, websites, calendars, and documents.

Assumptions

Some assumptions about this study are the following: Most special needs students have equal access to technology. School districts are mandated to accommodate students, regardless of their needs, yet not many schools meet these requirements. Many people assume technology cannot help special need students with their academics. Furthermore, not every school district is the same in using technology to level the playing field when it comes to educating special needs. Finally, one can assume that technology has benefited special needs students greatly and has helped to close the digital divide gap among special needs.

Limitations

The following are some of the limitations of this study:

1) The study entails fourth and fifth-grade special needs students at two schools in the same district.

2) The study uses one group of pupils’ technology policy; therefore, the results described in this study will probably not be the same experiences of regular schools without a technology policy manual for their students.

3) The researcher will conduct research within two schools that the researcher worked in before conducting the study.

Significance

More and more teachers often found the traditional use of textbooks, blackboards, and worksheets unproductive. The use of technology in the classroom, such as laptops, smartphones, communication devices and tablets – is a new and innovative trend in education. But to have a successful implementation of technology in schools, it is equally important to have policies students can follow.

For students with special needs, technology can allow them access to learning opportunities previously closed to them. Some devices can assist in a variety of ways. Although these technology devices are not just for students with disabilities, many students with special needs can benefit substantially. Most schools have technology policies for teachers, but nothing comprehensive for students. Since students use technology for various purposes, schools would elevate learning curves if they develop technology practices and policies for special needs students.

Definition of Terms

The following terms in Table 1 define and show how these words are related to the purpose statement and research questions.

Table 1. Definition of Terms

Term Definition

Access A way of being able to use or get something (Merriam-Webster, 2014).

Technology Integration Education Instruction in how to use information technology to enhance classroom curricula.

Information Technology Includes traditional computer applications (CAI, tools) and communication tools, i.e., e-mail and www resources.

Special needs Individual requirements (as for education) of a person with a disadvantaged background or a mental, emotional, or physical disability or at high risk of developing one.

Technology Manner of accomplishing a task, using technical processes, methods, or knowledge Minority. (Merriam-Webster, 2014).

Table 1. Continued

Term Definition

Integrated To give or cause to give equal opportunity and consideration. (Merriam, 2009).

Digital Divide Refers to the difference between people who have easy access to the Internet and those who do not have access. (Techopidia, 2014).

Title I Title I, Part A (Title I) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.

Traditionally Of, relating to, or being a tradition (Merriam-Webster, 2014).

Conclusion

Technology is an increasingly important aspect of current schools and has dramatically changed the way teachers teach, and students think (Molina, 2015). Schools today must be ready to meet the demands of students by providing them with technology-enhanced lessons, granting them a learning environment that excites, engages, challenges, and explores their minds.

Regular and special education students are often referred to as the war between the “haves” and the “have-nots” regarding access to technology (Ismaili & Ibrahimi, 2016). It is a central core of students’ educational needs.

Despite the fact, 95% of classrooms in the U.S. connect to the internet; special needs students are at a huge disadvantage to the use of technology in schools. Most schools do not have policies that guide students’ internet use. Wealthy communities, affluent neighborhoods, informed parents, and active Parent, Teachers, Students Associations (PTSA’s) play vital roles, ensuring schools in affluent areas regardless of students’ disabilities have full access to technology. Those students are better prepared for the future (Robinson & Sebba, 2010). Huge disparities exist when it comes to poor neighborhoods, especially those with special needs students accessing technology in school. More students’ access social media and connect to the World Wide Web; special needs students are not getting equal access to technology in order for them to compete with the rest of the work (Patti & Vince Garland, 2015).

Marc Prensky (2001) wrote that “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people that our educational system was designed to teach” (p. 1). Researchers Cilesiz (2009), Crowe (2004), Eysink et al. (2009), Lu and Gordon (2009), Pucel and Stertz (2005), Ward, Moule and Lockyer (2009), and Wiley et al. (2009) all recognized the need for sound empirical research to determine whether the traditional or the technological, educational methods meet the needs of today’s digital learners.

We all can attest that students these days are inherently different from students in past decades. School systems and the way children are educated have changed significantly to keep up with technology, new teaching techniques, and ever-evolving learning styles.

Teachers are increasingly taking Professional Development (PD) courses in order to keep up with technology. Students who are special needs desperately need to keep up with their peers. Technology can be the great equalizer in a classroom with special needs learners. Teachers are also finding it difficult to differentiate instruction for special needs, but technology has often helped teachers personalize lessons and skills enhancement to each learner. For children with disabilities, technology can give them access to learning opportunities previously closed to them.

Introduction

Technology plays a huge role in almost all recreational, employment, and educational activities (Burgstahler, 2002). The author (2002) wrote that the educational sphere, computer access maximizes learners’ academic outcomes by allowing them to access distance learning courses, communicate with mentors and peers, participate in class discussions and complete coursework independently. Studies have shown that students enjoy and gain more from their lessons when technology-based instructional techniques are employed as opposed to when the traditional worksheets, regular blackboards, and textbook techniques are used (Kulik, 1994). Students with special needs have particularly benefited from the opportunities that technology offers in the modern-day classroom (Burgstahler, 2002).

They have been able to use technology to compensate for their inability to perform specific functions owing to their disability. Today, a special needs student who cannot speak with their own voice can still actively take part in a classroom discussion with the help of a speech-based synthesizer. Despite these benefits, however, empirical evidence shows that students with special needs have significantly less access to technology than their mainstream counterparts. This is perhaps because stakeholders do not fully understand the role of technology in influencing the academic performance of students with special needs. The current study provides insight on how effective use of technology affects the academic outcomes of learners with special needs, and the specific tools that teachers could use to maximize outcomes for specific learner groups.

Purpose Statement

Students today learn differently as a result of technology (Prensky, 2008). However, students with special needs continue to lag behind their mainstream counterparts owing to a lack of access (Burgstahler, 2002). One possible reason for this is that stakeholders in the educational sector do not fully understand the role of technology in facilitating the learning process for this particular group (Jackson, 2003). As a matter of fact, not many studies have focused on this area of study (Jackson, 2003).

The current study examines the effect of technology on the performance of special education students in fourth and fifth grade and the specific tools that could be used by special education teachers to maximize outcomes for different learner groups.

The Problem: Digital Gap between Special Needs and Regular Students

Technology can help any student with motivation, academic skills, and social development (Burgstahler, 2002). A 2009 survey conducted by National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that 97% of teachers in regular classrooms had one or more computers located in the classroom every day while 54% could bring computers into the classroom (NCES, 2009). Internet access was available for 93% of the computers located in the classroom daily and for 96% of the computers that may be brought into the classroom (NCES, 2009). The ratio of students to computers in the classroom daily was 5.3 to one (NCES, 2009).

The same cannot, however, be said of students with special needs. Multiple studies have shown that students with disabilities, compared to their counterparts without disabilities, are less likely to have computer access both at home and at school (Kaye, 2000; NCES, 2006). For instance, Kaye (2000) wanted to understand the differences in access between persons with special needs and their non-disabled counterparts. The author (2000) found that persons with disabilities are, compared to those without disabilities, less than half as likely to have access to a computer at home (23.9% vs. 51.7%). Moreover, persons without disabilities are three times more likely to have internet access at home compared to those with disabilities. At school, only 3.9% of students with disabilities reported having computer and internet access, compared to 20.6% of their non-disabled counterparts.

These findings mirror those of another study conducted by the NCES (2003), which showed that 91% of non-disabled children in nursery school and grades K-12 used computers both at home and at school, compared to 81% of their counterparts with disabilities. The gap is, even more, striking in the case of internet access; 61% of non-disabled children reported having access to the internet at home and at school, compared to only 49% of those with disabilities.

These studies signify that nationally, special education students have less access to technology than their counterparts without disabilities both at home and at school. The researcher hypothesizes that one possible reason for this is the fact that stakeholders do not fully understand how the use of technology influences academic performance in the case of special needs students. Moreover, even those that understand this lack the knowledge on the specific technological tools that they could use to maximize the learning outcomes of their students (Johnson, 2003).

In the literature review section, the researcher interacts with various studies and resources to determine: 1) the effect of technology on the academic performance of learners with special needs, 2) the specific strategies that could be used to bridge the gap between students with disabilities and their non-disabled counterparts, and 3) the various tools that special education teachers could use to maximize learning outcomes for different learner groups.

Review of Literature

This review is divided into three distinct parts. The first part reviews the literature on the effect of technology on learners’ academic performance. The second section reviews the literature on the various strategies that schools and school districts could adopt to increase access for special needs students and bridge the inherent gap. The final part reviews literature touching on the various tools that could be used to maximize outcomes for different learner groups

The Effect of Technology on Academic Performance

Multiple studies have shown a positive correlation between the effective use of technology and positive academic outcomes for students with special needs (Butler-Kisber, 2013). In his study, Kulik (1994) utilized meta-analysis to collect and analyze the results of over 500 different studies on computer-based learning. The author (1994) found that the use of computers individualizes the learning process, and accommodates the varying inclinations, knowledge systems, learning styles, interests, and needs of learners. Kulik (1994) concluded that special needs learners who utilized computer-based learning scored 64% on assessment achievements vs. the control group (learners who were not using computers), whose average score was 50% . According to the study (1994), students with special needs, just like their non-disabled counterparts, learn more within shorter periods and tend to like their classes more when using computers and other mobile devices than when the using traditional techniques such as worksheets, books, and blackboards. Moreover, they tend to have more positive attitudes towards education when using computers.

Similar findings were reported by Bartsch and Cobem (2003), who compared the use of PowerPoint presentations and overhead transparencies, finding that generally, students (with or without disabilities), preferred PowerPoint presentations to overhead transparencies. The authors (2003) posit that these findings clearly indicate that students generally learn with more advanced technology.

Another study showed that technology helps students with special needs participate actively in class, and develop crucial social and communication skills that would otherwise have been impossible to develop (Peterson-Karlan & Parrette, 2005). The authors (2005) contend that technologies such as smartphones offer students access to IT (Instructional Technology) and AT (Assistive Technology) applications or programs, such as dictionaries, reminders, voice recognition software, planners and other interesting applications that make it possible for them to keep up with class proceedings and maintain active engagement during classroom sessions. Burgstahler (2002) offers a specific example of how a special needs student who cannot speak with their own voice can actively take part in a classroom discussion with the help of a speech-based synthesizer (Burgstahler, 2002).

These findings mirror those of another study by Butler-Kisber (2013), which sought to examine the impact of technology on the literacy skills of preschoolers who are deaf and or suffering from impaired hearings. The researcher found the learners’ literacy skills to improve considerably after sessions of viewing educational videos presented using ASL (American Sign Language) (Butler-Kisber, 2013). Moreover, the study established that literacy skills could be improved even further by increasing viewing times and incorporating follow-up measures (Butler-Kisber, 2013).

In yet another study, Zhang (2000) sought to determine how technology influenced learning outcomes for fifth graders with learning disabilities. The author (2000) sampled five students and used the R___ O___ B___ O___ (ROBO)-Writer computer program to assist them in a writing curriculum. These students were asked to write three times a week in sessions that lasted approximately twenty minutes. One year later, their writing skills were assessed; the study results showed that the students’ writing skills had improved considerably following the use of technology. Prior to Zhang’s (2000) study, the students displayed high degrees of self-consciousness about their poor writing skills. This had caused the students to shun from practicing effective writing skills. The word processing software used in Zhang’s (2000) study, however, gave them ample opportunities to enhance their power of expression.

Sivin-Kachala (1998), however, cautions against adopting a blanket assumption that technology always leads to improved academic outcomes for learners with special needs. The researcher reviewed 219 research studies conducted between 1990 and 1997 to assess the effect of technology across all ages and learning domains of learners (Sivin-Kachala, 1998). The author (1998) concluded that although technology use produces positive outcomes on achievement, the level of effectiveness of the educational technology used is influenced by the specific needs of the student population. The study’s (1998) findings showed that in order for educational technology to yield maximum outcomes for students with special needs, the instructor needs to accurately identify the needs of individual students, and choose the strategy that best responds to the same.

A study titled ‘Impact of Technology Integration in Public Schools on Academic Performance of Texas School Children’ by Julia Catherine Weathersbee conducted in 2008, was conducted in over 6,654 Texas public school campuses in addition to the TAKS scores of 4th, 8th, and 11th graders in subjects of reading, math, and science. Using a strategy of multiple regression, the study tried to find out the possible impact on the academic performance of students in public schools. The study concluded that the use of technology had a positive impact on the students in the areas of reading, math, and science. Thus, the researcher concluded that it was necessary to integrate technology into the public schools. The study also noted that there was further need to study details of the impact of technology on students’ performance.

Researcher T.Chan (2011), in another study titled ‘How Do Technology Application and Equity Impact Student Achievement?’ published in the International Journal Of Cyber Ethics in Education, concludes: “the keys to raising student achievement are to provide students with a solid foundation of basic skills and to motivate them to learn. Technology can help accomplish this goal. It engages students and fires their imaginations” (Chan, 2011).

Technological assistance to study especially in a classroom setting helps teachers to stimulate young minds that can have a profound and lasting difference. Chan, after a thorough review of literature related to the impact of technology on student performance also found that students are able to learn the basic skills like reading, arithmetic and writing better and faster if they are provided with technology to practice these skills.

Werner, K. & Werner, F. (2012) noted that in their study titled ‘Tablets for seniors: Bridging the digital divide” noted that students tend to spend greater time on basic learning tasks as they are engaged with technology in comparison to those students who are provided with a more traditional approach to education (Werner & Werner, 2012). Mentioning the impact of technology for special needs students, the researcher says that educators are better able to customize education to suit the needs of the students through the use of technology. S. Rogers, (2016) claims that a higher level of comprehension is displayed by those students who have got an opportunity to use technology in learning. Such students are also in a better position to make use of the learning in a future life (Rogers, 2016).

Review of relevant literature shows that students are also able to better express their ideas in a clearer manner if they have access to a broader range of resources and technology. Certain other impact factors such as a lowered dropout rate, lesser absenteeism and motivation for more students to continue their college education are also indicated as the potential advantages of the use of technology for education and learning.

Strategies for Bridging the Digital Divide

The preceding section established that educational technology indeed has a positive influence on the learning outcomes of students with special needs. It is obvious that information and communications technology have given the ability for education to reach out to massive audiences coupled with a consistent content and target services to suit the needs of specialized needs groups. This is also true in the education sector. The traditional learning gaps are helped reduced by the use of the new technologies and help solve learning gap problems between the haves and the have not of digital technology (Landstrom & Elwood, 2012). However, the identification and the implementation of a concrete strategy is necessary to achieve the desired results from technology.

The next step would then be to devise ways of increasing access and hence, bridging the digital divide identified earlier on. Hasselbring & Williams-Glaser (2000) identify three potential causes of the disparity in access to special needs students and their regular counterparts: lack of adequate teacher training, cost constraints, and restrictive policies.

Lack of Adequate Teacher Training

According to the authors (2000), lack of adequate training is the leading barrier to the use of educational technology in special education classrooms. Research shows that a significant number of special education teachers cannot comfortably use simple communication technologies such as. The researchers (2000) make reference to a 1997 survey by the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, which showed that only 20% of special education teachers feel ‘adequately prepared’ to use technology in their classrooms. Most teachers lack training on the various instructional tools that they could employ in their classrooms. Even those teachers with such training often have difficulty determining what tool to use to teach specific groups of students, and respond to specific needs.

The researchers contend that special education teachers need to be adequately trained on how to use technology to carry out a plan of action (Hasselbring & Williams-Glaser, 2000). Only then will they manage to realize the full benefits of educational technology in their classrooms. Further, they need to be trained on how to match individual needs of learners with the appropriate assistive technologies. For example, a blind student may need differentiated pedagogical materials whereas one with mental retardation may require highly-organized computer training modules owing to their limited cognitive ability (Jackson, 2003).

Cost Constraints

The second barrier to access identified by researchers is the cost (Hasselbring & Williams-Glaser, 2000). The technology needed to assist learners with disabilities, especially those with more severe disabilities is often very expensive, especially if the same must be tailor-made to suit the needs of each student (. Legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act mandate school districts to provide appropriate education to all students. However, as the authors (2000) point out, the goals of such legislation exceed their funding levels. As such, school districts are not obligated to obtain specific computer technology even if they are deemed beneficial for special needs students.

This means that individual schools interested in purchasing the same will have to finance it themselves, and may be forced to seek out alternative sources of funding (Hasselbring and Williams-Glaser, 2000). Moreover, requirements related to some funding sources can restrict technology use for learners (. Some school districts, for instance, run “limited-use policies,” which limit the use of certain technology equipment to the classroom setting. Policies such as these make it impossible for learners with disabilities to take part in social and educational activities outside the school setting.

Restrictive Policies

Another group of restrictive policies encompasses policies that deny students with special needs permission to use home-owned devices at school (Marino, 2009). If such home-owned devices are not provided by the school for the students with special needs, then they are forced to continue their studies without the help of such devices which otherwise could have helped them in better learning (Marino, 2009).

Researchers Ismaili and Ibrahimi, (2016) contend that there is a need to develop alternative funding mechanisms for projects geared at purchasing high-cost technology equipment for students with special needs. School districts within the same zone could, for instance, come together to purchase crucial equipment that could then be used jointly by students with severe disabilities within that particular zone. Moreover, schools and school districts need to identify restrictive policies within their systems and find ways to modify the same to maximize outcomes for students with special needs.

Researcher I. Pena-Lopez, (2010) says that the digital gaps in the classrooms can be solved in some practical ways. For example, to offset the hindrances caused due to lack of funds, schools, and educational institutions can start leasing programs where students are provided a chance to “lease” a device directly from the school at a cost that is lower than if that device had to be bought. This reduces the cost hindrance on the part of the student or the family of the student I. (Pena-Lopez, 2010). However, I. Pena-Lopez, notes that the initial cost involved in the purchasing of such devices is high and chances of student abuse also exist.

One of the strategies that are suggested by Brison Harvey, who was a teacher of social studies at Lafayette High School in Lexington, KY, is to make the parents endorse a contract for the devices to ensure minimum damages or payments for damaged products (Harvey, 2016). Another suggested strategy is for schools to have computer labs where students can make use of technology, though in a limited manner, for learning. However teachers in this case also need to know the use of computers — not necessarily be proficient but a working knowledge is essential, and projects need to be created such that they are centered around on the concentrated use of the labs.

Researchers Landstrom, C. & Elwood, S. (2012) stress on the creation of an environment conducive to technology use where the school and the teachers have to play a pivotal role. Curriculums and programs have to be so designed that they encourage more and more use of technology in studying. Some researchers mention the digital divide between the teachers and the students where the teachers are often digital immigrants and the students are digital natives. Therefore to create an environment of technology in a classroom set up that has the potential to encourage digital use among students is one of the ways to reduce the digital divide in education.

Assistive Technology: Helping Students with Disabilities Realize their Maximum Potential

The type of educational technology chosen is influenced by the specific needs of the learner, and the type of disability (Sivin-Kachala, 1998). Researchers have identified the appropriate assistive technology to use with different disabilities.

Johnston, L., Beard, L. A., and Carpenter, L. B. (2007) define assistive technology as “an item or piece of equipment or product system either acquired commercially, off the shelf, modified, or customized and used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capability for individual with disabilities” (Johnston, Beard, & Carpenter, 2007).

In order to help students with special needs to come over their academic weakness, special education teachers and those especially who teach in middle and high school are required to be exposed to technological tools or assistive technologies (Mull & Sitlington, 2003). It is proposed by researchers and educationists that teachers require to help students through training in the use of portable and cheap tools which could make the students live and behave in a more independent manner after they leave high school and this would help increase the chances of the students to maximize their degree of achievement as well as independence even though it would still lag behind their peers who are without disabilities.

A thorough of literature by Mull and Sitlington (2003) about the use of technology by students with learning disabilities and the rate of success after leaving high school resulted in a few recommendations. The resources for funding of assistive technologies need to be addressed in the process of transition since assistive technology tend to vary significantly in terms of the cost of one device compared to another and can sometimes prove to be too expensive for the families or the schools. To allow the students to have enough time to learn to use the devices, the assistive devices also need to be identified early for early location and purchase. The appropriate selection of assistive device depends on the requirement of the special needs students as well as the demands of education.

A study was done by Cullen, Richards, and Frank (2008) aimed to determine whether computer software could help students with special needs to improve their performance in writing abilities. Seven fifth grade students were studied using multiple baseline designs where the students had limited disabilities and it was conducted in three phases. The study used intervention in the baseline through a talking word processor and interventions that used word prediction software in combination with a talking word processor (Cullen, Richards, & Frank, 2008). The all the writing samples were handwritten by the students in the first week with no accommodations. A talking word processor – Write:Outloud was used by the students for all writing exercises in the next three weeks while in the last three weeks Co:Writer, a word prediction software was used in combination with the Write:Outloud for all the writing that the students did.

Results showed that compared with the baseline phase or week one, there was an improvement in the number of words that were produced by the 5 out of the seven students in the two intervention phases while a decrease was noted for the same period for the other two students. However, the researchers came the conclusion that there were improvements in the misspelled words and phrases based on the calculation of the mean for the group (Cullen, Richards, & Frank, 2008).

In another example of the usefulness of assistive technologies for students with special needs was exhibited in the study by Bouck, Doughty, Flanagan, Szwed, and Bassette (2010) who examined the effectiveness of a pentop computer (a FLYPen) and a writing software that was specifically designed for use with the FLYPen to help students with writing disabilities found out that initial gains were experienced by all students in terms of the quality of written expression with the use of the FLYPen. Hence, the researchers concluded that assistive technologies can help students not only to gain on quality and quantity of the written expression but also helps in better ability in the plan of writing and perform the tasks more independently (Bouck, Doughty, Flanagan, Szwed, & Bassette, 2010).

Various Assistive Technology Types

Students with visual impairments, for instance, could be provided with Braille note-takers, screen readers, descriptive video services (DVS), closed-circuit television magnification (CCTV), and computer screen magnification (Glaser, 2011). CCTV and screen magnification technologies are used to enlarge text or graphics to make them more readable for students with visual impairments. Screen readers, on the other hand, convert sentences, text, and graphics into digital or synthetic speech.

Students with hearing impairments, on the other hand, could be provided with telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD), captioned television, hearing aids, and live speech captioning (Glaser, 2011). In the case of live speech captioning, a stenographer enters information as the teacher talks during a lesson, and the same is then displayed as text on a computer screen for the student with hearing impairments to read. Similarly, in the case of the TDD, the student is linked to the teacher through telephone lines; the TDD is attached to a telephone connected to a screen, and as the teacher talks, words are displayed directly as text on the student’s screen.

Students with speech and language disorders could be provided with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, designed to help them overcome their communication problems. Synthetic speech synthesizers are the most common AAC devices used in the modern-day classroom to assist students with poor speech.

Finally, students with physical disabilities could be provided with touch-sensitive screens or basic adaptive keyboards (Glaser, 2011). The keyboards are customized to fit the student’s needs; such as the keys being arranged in an alphabetical order or larger keys are used so that students with limited range of motion do not have a difficult time applying pressure to keys. Moreover, students with severe physical disabilities, and who are unable to go to school as a result and cannot go to school can be provided with technology that allows them to continue learning at home. Technology that may be utilized consists of web cameras, laptops, iPads, and so on. However, researchers acknowledge that such students are highly likely to experience fluency difficulties (Simmons & Carpenter, 2010).

Summary

More and more Americans are going online daily. However, the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not access may be getting wider. Students with disabilities are particularly affected by this divide. Research has shown that students with disabilities desperately need technological support in schools. However, they are not getting the same because teachers are not properly trained or simply because schools do not have policies in place to ensure that such students use technology and succeed.

The research over the years into the need and the impact of assistive technologies for students with special needs have repeatedly indicated a significant academic gain for such students. The use of assistive technologies — both in the form of hardware and software have enabled students with special needs to perform better as is evident from evidence provided earlier from researches done in this field. Moreover, research has also identified the shortcomings or the barriers that often prevent the complete adoption of assistive and technologies in classroom settings such reasons range from the lack of technological training for teacher shot the costs of technologies and the lack of a technological environment.

However, there still is a lot to be desired in regard to the accessibility of technology by students with special needs. The researcher hopes that recent research attempts to bridge the gap between those with access to technology and those without will yield positive outcomes in the near-term.

Adaptive technologies that can enable students with severe disabilities to become active learners in the classroom have been developed. It is prudent that these are accompanied by policy restructuring efforts geared at ensuring that policies governing the use of technology by learners with special needs do not interfere with their acquisition of educational skills outside the classroom. These measures will go a long way towards making technology more accessible for learners with special needs.

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