Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest Post: Lindsey Wright

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

Tools and How You Use Them

As schools scramble for funding and try to increase the number of technological tools available for students, it's easy to get caught up in technology for technology's sake. Instead, it can be helpful to focus on what the access to this technology actually means for the students and the learning outcomes as a result of the technology. Not all schools should be as technology-laden as online college classes, and this is especially true when we consider the role of educational technology in the field of special education.


Recently, tablet computers like the iPad are beginning to show up in more and more schools. At the college level, they're being given out to incoming students, and meanwhile becoming teaching tools in elementary and middle schools. In some districts pilot programs are being implemented to introduce tablets in special education classrooms, loaded with software to help engage children with communication and autism spectrum disorders.

The goal of using tablets in these classrooms is to allow students to better express their needs. What makes the tablet so useful in this regard? Touch screens are well suited to kids who have trouble with fine motor skills, and are easier to manipulate than writing utensils or even a computer mice. Young students with or without disabilities are also fascinated by the technology and eager to try it out.

Voice Recognition Software

Voice recognition software such as the popular Dragon application is starting to turn up in more and more individual education plans. This software is invaluable to students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, who can articulate thoughts but have trouble expressing themselves with written words.

Other students who can benefit from this type of technology are those with sensory-processing issues, who have trouble manipulating traditional writing utensils. Instead of falling further behind because of difficulties with writing, students with these types of challenges can instead turn to voice recognition software and dictate essays, research papers, and book reports.

Along similar lines, using digital audio recordings of books is also a great way to engage students who have difficulties reading. The goal here is to allow students the same access to information and education, regardless of disability.

Educational Games

When kids think an activity is fun, they are more likely to participate with gusto. Turning notoriously challenging subjects into games is an excellent way to engage kids and get them excited about subjects like math and science. Using software like IXL and XtraMath, which have built-in rewards like certificates and skill-
ups, lets kids think that they are playing a game when in reality they're practicing and building important math skills.

The customizable nature of these programs makes them ideal for nearly any teaching environment. Students with ADHD or autism spectrum disorders do well with these types of activities, as they tend to be drawn towards the bright imagery and fast-paced action of computer games. Taking advantage of these qualities can help engage students who previously were having difficulty with math.

Games that utilize the principles of physics, such as Angry Birds, can also be good options for the classroom. With this type of game, students don't even realize they're learning science basics. Simple interfaces keep students with sensory issues from being overwhelmed, and they remain engaged by simply having fun. Games like these are excellent for teaching scientific principles to kids with disorders
like autism or cerebral palsy. When kids find out that they can increase their skill at the game by learning more about how physics works, they are more likely to be engaged in classroom activities as well.

Introducing technology simply for the sake of modernizing a classroom is not necessarily going to be beneficial for students. However, breaking down the advantages and seeing which educational and life skills students can obtain through the use of technology tools highlights their importance in today's general education and special education classrooms. Any tool that can engage students otherwise
trapped in their shells can have a powerful impact on those students' future.

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