Assistive Technologies

All children exhibit differences in both physical characteristics (in regards to abilities)  and learning abilities, however, these differences are usually small in scope and the majority of children find success in the general education classroom. Some children, however, display differences that are significant enough to label them as “exceptional”. The educational needs of students identified as “exceptional students” are wide and varied. “The physical attributes and/or learning characteristics of exceptional children differ from the norm (either below or above) to such an extent that they require an individualized program of special education and related services to fully benefit from education” (Heward 2013, p.7).  The term exceptional children encompasses everything from children with learning and/or behavior problems, children with physical disabilities or sensory impairments, and children with superior abilities. When we refer to children with disabilities, we do not include those considered gifted or exceptionally talented. Furthermore, students identified as at-risk may be those who are not identified with a physical disability but may have learning needs stemming from attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students must be identified as having a disability in or to receive special education services. “People with disabilities have a fundamental right to live and participate in the same settings and programs – in school, at home, in the workplace, and in the community – as do people without disabilities.” (Heward 2013, p.1). It is with this in mind that we can explore what assistive and adaptive technologies are available to people with disabilities or impairments.

I use a MacBook Pro laptop computer that runs on the Mac OS Sierra operating system. Various technologies are available under the system preferences on the accessibility tab .  These assistive technologies are:

  • Vision: for blind or low-vision users
    • Display – Options to invert colors, use grayscale, differentiate without color, increase contrast, or reduce transparency
    • Zoom – Use scroll gesture with modifier keys to zoom, smooth images
    • Voiceover – provides spoken and Braille descriptions of items on the computer screen and provides control of the computer through the use of the keyboard
  • Media: for deaf or hard of hearing users
    • Descriptions – Video descriptions provide a spoken description of visual content in media
    • Captions – Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing or closed captions will be used instead of standard subtitles
  • Hearing: for deaf or hard of hearing users
    • Audio – flash the screen when an alert sound occurs, play stereo audio as mono (for deaf or hearing impairments in one ear)
  • Interacting: for users with physical disabilities
    • Keyboard – Sticky keys allow modifier keys to be set without having to held the key down; Slow keys adjust the amount of time between when a key is pressed and when it is activated
    • Mouse & Trackpad – Mouse keys allows the mouse pointer to be controlled using the keyboard number pad; Double click speed can be adjusted from slow to fast
    • Switch Control – Allows the computer to be controlled using one or more switches. These can be mouse, keyboard, gamepad buttons or dedicated devices.
    • Dictation – Dictation commands allow you to edit text and interact with your computer by speaking to it.

  

According to apple.com Special Education, “We believe that technology can provide great learning tools for all learning abilities. Every Mac and iOS device comes standard with innovative accessibility features.” These features built into the Mac and Apple operating systems can help students with various disabilities or impairments to be on a level playing field with students who do not have disabilities. As stated above, it is the right of every child to have the opportunity to learn.  Assistive devices and tools can help all students have these opportunities.

Apple – Education – Special Education. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/education/special-education/

Heward, W. L. (2013). Exceptional Children, An Introduction to Special Education (10th ed.). The Ohio State University: Pearson.

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Pearson.

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Obstacles and Solutions for Integrating Technology in a Selected Content Area

In The 10 Barriers to Technology Adoption, authors Norris and Soloway examine ten obstacles schools face when attempting to implement new technologies into their curricula. I believe that teachers frequently run into these obstacles and many schools, especially private or small school districts, struggle to effectively overcome them.

  1. Lack of vision: Schools fail to set up an effective technology plan or, if a plan is in place, it is not always communicated well to the teachers and staff.
  2. Lack of leadership: Similar to #1, school administration may not effectively communicate the technology plan or have a clear way to implement it.
  3. Lack of money: Many schools face the digital divide, a separation between those that have access to technology and those that do not.
  4. -6. Norris and Soloway combine obstacles #4-6 together into one problem: curriculum. “As schools now move to one-to-one via BYOD—bring your own device—administrators can’t expect to be successful on the backs of teacher-generated curriculum materials. Teachers are not curriculum producers; teachers are, well, teachers” (Norris & Soloway, 2011). Effectively integrating technology into the content area is perhaps the greatest challenge for teachers and administration. The amount and variety of available applications can be overwhelming to many in the education field.  Evaluating the usefulness and relative advantage of each program also adds to the difficulties. It is often left to the teacher to find an application that works well with their curriculum, obtain permission to install it, get adminstration, IT, and parents on board, and then successfully weave it into an already packed curriculum.
  1. Infrastructure – School must update servers, wi-fi, and Internet access.  All of this may be too costly for many schools and districts.
  2. Parents – Parents, often unfamiliar with educational technology, may resist what they believe are just games or toys for their children to use in school.  Communication with parents is crucial to gaining their support.
  3. Time- Finding the time to research, learn, implement, and support the integration of new technologies will take patience and commitment by teachers, administration, IT, and parents.
  4. Assessments- Many argue that technology is not effective in raising test scores and to some extent, I would agree.  When technology is sporadically and randomly sprinkled into the classroom, it is futile to expect test scores to suddenly rise.

So how do we, those of us who see the great value in improving our schools through effective technology integration, address these barriers? How do individual teachers go about effectively integrating technology into their specific content area?  “Professional development, the human infrastructure, needs refurbishing; it shouldn’t consist of random workshops or lectures that teachers suffer through on specific PD days. Rather, just as professionals in other industries are constantly honing their skills, PD needs to be an ongoing activity that is focused on helping teachers adopt essential one-to-one technology” (Norris & Soloway, 2011).

In the area of social studies, there are numerous ways to easily integrate technology, but quite often teachers are not taught how to do this or given clear expectations. Google Earth, Google Maps, and IWitness videos are just a few of the programs available to social studies classrooms. Teachers can find primary sources on websites like cia.gov and the National Archives.  Students can read about current events on sites like Newsela, which adjusts the articles based on a student’s reading level. Online encyclopedias offer updated information for research and essays. Many social studies applications are free and can easily be installed on school hardware or accessed through the Internet. Virtual field trips can also offer students an opportunity to learn about places and sites they may not otherwise have the chance to experience. Creating social studies lessons with technology enhanced curriculum can help the lessons to be more exciting and engaging for the students.  I believe it will take both skilled and trained teachers who are passionate about bringing classrooms into the 21st century and technology integration specialists who can bridge the gap between the available technology and effective implementation.

Bernard, S. (2009, May 27). How to Teach with Technology: Social Studies. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-social-studies-lessons

Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2011, November 16). The 10 Barriers to Technology Adoption. Retrieved from https://www.districtadministration.com/article/10-barriers-technology-adoption

Integrating Technology Into the Content Areas

Some of the most oft heard comments from history and geography students are, “Why do we have to know this stuff?” “It happened over 100 years ago!  It’s so boring!” And yes, ancient history or even history from just a few decades ago can seem dull to the younger generation. Engaging young historians can be quite a challenge for teachers, but the effective use of technology can make history come alive.

Clearly, helping students to understand the world around them and make global connections requires the opening of classroom walls.The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) has determined ten themes related to social studies standards. One of the themes, science, technology, and society, directly addresses the integration and implementation of technology. Social studies instruction is designed to help us discover and better understand our world and its people, and technology-based strategies have become integral to this instruction (Diem & Berson, 2010).

Thankfully, educators now have a wide variety of technology-based tools to enhance the social studies curriculum. Some of these tools include simulations and problem-solving environments, access to primary sources, electronic research strategies, timeline generators, virtual field trips, digital storytelling, and geospatial technologies. I have used a few of these tools in my geography classroom and have found the students much more engaged in the lesson.  Recently, prior to a field trip to Ellis Island, I introduced the students to the immigrant experience through the Scholastic website Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today. The students were excited to hear the audio recordings of immigrants who had made the long and perilous journey from Europe to America.  We then viewed the digital timeline and used the data to compare the number of immigrants who came to America from 1820 through 2009. The students were then able to “meet” young immigrants who have recently come to the United States.  Through the website, my students were able to watch videos, listen to audio recordings, and explore a historical timeline.  The students’ engagement increased as these technology tools were implemented.

Geospatial technologies can also increase student motivation and interest.  Teachers no longer need to purchase expensive GPS devices. Today’’s smartphones and mapping software such as Google Maps provide all the information a class of budding geographers need.  Geocaching, the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden object by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website, has become a popular classroom activity. Students can go on a geocaching treasure hunt around their school grounds.  While discovering small “treasures”, students learn mapping, GPS, and navigation skills, all vital to the geography curriculum.  Google Earth has revolutionized the task of plotting locations on a map.

Blogging about history, creating “virtual” battles, and social networking with students across the globe are a few more of the ways we can teach our students to become global citizens. With today’s technological advances, the opportunities to make history come alive for our students are only limited by a teacher’s and the students’ imaginations.

Bernard, S. (2009, May 27). How to Teach with Technology: Social Studies. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-social-studies-lessons

Ellis Island Interactive Tour With Facts, Pictures, Video | Scholastic.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/tour/

Integrated Learning: Broadcasting and Social Studies. (2015, May 20). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/practice/integrated-learning-broadcasting-and-social-studies

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Pearson.