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Technology for inclusion with diverse learners

Kim Martin, Digital Learning Coordinator, Catholic Education SA

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Are the learning opportunities you are providing in your learning spaces enabling the students with additional needs to succeed, have a voice and demonstrate their learning?

The aim of this post it to share important considerations when introducing a digital technology solution to meet a student’s learning goals based on universal design learning principles that meet the needs and goals of the learner and can be used in the classroom tomorrow.

What is Universal Design for learning?
Universal design for learning is a framework to improve and optimise teaching and learning for all people (CAST, 2018).

Planning for inclusive and universally designed learning opportunities that utilise digital technologies can:

  • Enable all the learners to engage in the learning opportunity at their own capacity and ability level
  • Enable multiple means of access to learning opportunities that suit any learners’ abilities (support or extension)
  • Allow access (how) to information, communication (what) and engagement (why) to be differentiated
  • Allow any learner using the technology to adjust or modify settings and empowers and enables personalisation to meet an individual’s needs for use.

Evaluating digital technology
When considering the introduction of a new digital tool for a student, it is imperative to remember that the innovation is actually the learner being able to utilise the right digital tool to engage, collaborate, learn, create and increase opportunities to think and share in a way that works for them, not the digital tool itself.

Therefore, considerations and conversations are required, and where appropriate, include the learner before a new digital tool is introduced. Knowing the learner’s needs and building rapport is always the first step. After that comes understanding of their challenges and matching the technology to their needs, areas of strength, and learning goals with the aim of building capacity and independence.

Taking the time in the beginning to ask the right questions, find out what the learners goals and environment look like and matching that to the right digital tool before introducing anything new to a student with additional needs can make a significant difference in the successful implementation of the chosen digital tool.  Questions such as:

  • What are the student’s current abilities/areas of strength and capacity?
  • What are the student’s learning goals?
  • What are the teacher’s learning goals for this student?
  • What are the other students doing that this student needs to be able to achieve?
  • What does the student need or want to be able to do that is difficult to accomplish independently at the moment?

There are four reasons to introduce a digital technology tool for a learner in your learning space. The right tool for an individual learner can improve access to the curriculum, enable the learner to experience success and demonstrate their understanding.

  • Enhance – helps the learner to learn and function more effectively
  • Remedial – helps to practice specific skills
  • Compensatory – helps to complete activities and tasks with greater independence. For example text to speech software
  • Extension – provides opportunities to further extend and explore their learning, knowledge and abilities.

(adapted from Cook, A. M., & Polgar, J. M. (2008). Cook & Hussey’s Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice, Mosby Elsevier, St.)

There is a myriad of digital tools to support learners with additional needs, to encourage independence, access and inclusivity in the learning environment.  Universally designing a few ways to improve the engagement and inclusion of our most vulnerable learners, utilising digital technology, can make a big impact on the success and enjoyment our students experience.

One useful tool that you may like to consider using to help guide your decision-making process is an evaluation rubric. Using the rubrics touch points to guide considerations and questions about what digital technology tool to introduce to the student and learning environment can be a positive way to ensure all parties involved in making a decision have the same understanding about priorities for the new tool including learning goals or budget considerations.

Over time I ended up creating my own evaluation rubric template for an inclusive technology assessment that works for the specialised field I work in (sensory impairments) which I can adjust to meet the needs of each individual I am working with. If you would like a copy of this please reach out to me.

Joy Zabala and Tony Vincent have extensive experience in the area of inclusive technologies for students and have both created rubrics to guide teachers and leaders through the decision making process. Both Tony and Joy’s websites and resources are worth checking out before you get started. What I like about these two resources in particular is that they key questions in each area guide you into gathering data and information to support the consideration and implementation of appropriate inclusive technologies that focus on the learner, their educational goals and the learning context first. Once goals in this area have been identified, choosing the right technology or app can commence.

Finally, I would like to leave you with this quote from Dr Kevin Maxwell which has been my screen saver on many devices over the years and reminds me each day of why I am an advocate for purposefully using the right digital technology in our learning spaces.

‘Our job is to teach the students we have.
Not the ones we would like to have.
Not the ones we used to have.
Those we have right now.
All of them.’

Dr Kevin Maxwell

I’d love to meet you and share our stories at the Leading a Digital School Conference where I am presenting two sessions; Technology for inclusion with diverse learners (Thursday @ 12.10pm) and Digital tool smashing – Learning can include more than APP smashing! (Saturday @ 12.10pm)

References
CAST (2018). UDL and the learning brain. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/publications/2018/udl-learning-brain-neuroscience.html

Vincent, T (2012) Ways to evaluate apps. Retrieved from http://learninginhand.squarespace.com/blog/ways-to-evaluate-educational-apps.html

Walker, H. (2011). Evaluating the effectiveness of apps for mobile devices. Journal of Special Education Technology, 26(4), 59-63.

Zabala, J. S. (2005). Ready, SETT, go! Getting started with the SETT framework. Closing the Gap, 23(6), 1-3. Retrieved from  http://www.joyzabala.com/


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