Most educators would agree that engagement is the key to teaching children. Engagement fuels motivation, curiosity and performance.
Study after study shows that technology plays a vital role in student engagement. Learning through interactive videos and iPads, for instance, has shown to dramatically increase understanding and overall performance in mainstream classroom settings.
It might be even more important to find ways in which to engage special education students. In many cases, special needs students are more easily distracted or bored. Like most of their peers, though, special education students are drawn to technological gadgets and programs.
Is it no small wonder, then, that teachers and administrators are turning to technology to help them help special needs children?
A “Bigger Toolbox”
From apps to iPads, technology has permeated school systems around the United States. Seizing what most excites and engages students, schools have introduced video games and other devices in which to teach math, science and other subjects.
At the same time, assistive technology, such as speech-recognition programs, Braille displays and listening systems, has come a long way in the past several years. Many of these technologies are available as apps that can easily be downloaded to various devices.
Combining this type of technology with the technology of tablets, smartphones and other devices has given teachers and administrators a “much bigger toolbox” when it comes to educating special needs children, says Wendy Burkhardt, an assistive technology coordinator for California’s San Ramon Valley Unified School District.
“This technology has been an amazing eye-opener,” says Robin Lowell, a math teacher for the Washington State School for the Blind.Utilizing the most recent advances in assistive technology, Lowell is able to teach remotely through her desktop computer.
The voice and video system such as the one used by Ms. Lowell allows the school to provide students with a teacher who has the proven ability to successfully convey math concepts to disabled students as compared to the methods of less experienced and less trained instructors.
How It Works
So why is technology proving to be so helpful to special education students? In many cases, in much the same way it helps mainstream students.
Using technology in the classroom has shown to build a student’s confidence and independence by allowing them to take a different approach in the area where they might be struggling. For instance, a student with a learning disability in reading can listen to an audio book.
In short, assistive technology can be used to play to the strengths of each special needs student, from those with learning disorders to those facing physical limitations.
Technology is also helpful when it comes to integration. Special needs students using assistive technology can more easily participate in inclusive classrooms. In many cases, all it takes is modifying existing technologies, such as whiteboards, iPads or web-based tools, that are commonly used in the classroom to accommodate special education students.
Can this type of technology take the place of effective and dedicated teachers? Likely not. But it can, as Ms. Burkhardt stated, be a great tool in which to assist those who take on the challenges of a demanding career in special education.