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Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Kristen Pham - Monday, June 24, 2013, 6:21 PM
 

When thinking about implementing any type of technology in our classrooms, we have to consider all of our learners, especially those with special needs.  However, as with any new technology, the teacher must conduct research and testing to assess its effectiveness for a desired population of students.  The right piece of technology in the right student’s hands can open doors of opportunities for that student to have meaningful learning experiences.  However, hasty implementation can lead to detrimental effects on student learning, including frustration, low self-esteem, "shutting down," and damaged relationships between you and the student.

Smedley & Higgins (2005) researched the use of virtual reality and its application for students with physical or cognitive disabilities, and they believe that “[t]here are numerous potential benefits of technology use in the special education classroom. As technology advances, so does the potential for multisensory instruction” (p. 118).  Some technology can scaffold special education students’ learning or help them overcome their disability.  One example that they provided was virtual field trips or virtual lab experiments, which “give students access to worlds and environments that are inaccessible, too expensive, or too dangerous in a classroom setting; enable students with disabilities to experience laboratories and field trips at their own pace; and allow them to repeat the experience as many times as necessary. Further, they present content matter in a variety of modalities, thereby addressing the diverse learning styles of students” (Smedley & Higgins, 2005, p.115).  Clearly, technology does offer many benefits for students with disabilities – although it isn’t a replacement for good teaching!

For each of the following three questions, support your response with an example from personal experience OR research.

  1. Describe at least one way that technology (in general) has helped special education students.
  2. Describe one way that technology has made learning more difficult or more confusing for special needs students.
  3. Overall, do you believe a completely virtual learning environment -- like Moodle or the D2L system through UW-Stout -- would help or hinder a special education student’s ability to master the learning objectives in your specific course?  Please be specific.

References

Smedley, T. M., & Higgins, K. (2005). Virtual technology: Bringing the world into the special education classroom. Intervention in School & Clinic, 41(2), 114-119.

 
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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Stacy Drinkwine Hauser - Monday, June 24, 2013, 9:02 PM
 

 Kristen,

Clearly, technology does offer  many benefits for students with disabilities – although it isn’t  a replacement for good teaching!

As I am reading your prompt, I am thinking about those very talented and dedicated special education teachers and aides in our school and how much of a blessing it has been to have technology options open for them. I think about what we have now vs. 20, even 10 years ago, and we are very lucky to have more options to help the success of every student.

1. We recently purchased Odessyware at our school. I had an emotionally disabled student who benefitted greatly from this technology. When given the opportunity to work by himself, at his own pace, with no distraction and a guide present when he needed help, he was successful. This has proven to be successful with a number of students. This software is user friendly and basically allows the student to work at his own pace, take quizzes when he/she thinks he/she is ready, and create personal deadlines and goals. Of course, there have been certain situations where Odysseyware has flopped, which leads me to your question #2.

2. With technology comes a certain anxiety of the unknown or unfamiliar. For a student who is emotionally disabled or currently undergoing experimental medication, this particular technology, Odessyware, can cause, has caused and has even increased anxiety. Of course, we then look to alternative methods to help the student. This also proves what works for some, doesn't work for all.

3. I would like to think that if and when I teach an online course, it would be special education friendly. I honestly would really need to prepare for this aspect. My goal is to teach at college level, English classes. I am thinking about Stephen Brookfield's "Facilitating Critical Thinking" and the aspect of being accessible. I am also thinking about the accessibility of the instructors and students in this class. The virtual learning environment as well as lines of communication would need to be established so as not to hinder the special education student. Communication is key! Look what happened in the collaborative forum when we couldn't figure out Moodle and Diigo; through communication we figured it out.

 

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Kristen Pham - Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:39 AM
 

Hi, Stacy,

Thank you for sharing the details about Odessyware.  I am not familiar with this program, but it sounds like a wonderful resource.  I like that you mentioned that "what works for some doesn't work for all."  How true!  I think we need to remind ourselves of that.  While software publishers might make promises that sound wonderful, we need to remember to individualize for each student and try a different approach when technology is not working.

I also like how you mentioned the difficulties of training and monitoring special education students in a virtual classroom.  This would be extremely difficult to do.  For the student like the one described, it would be difficult to be completely virtual because he needs an aid sitting next to him.  Perhaps Skype could be an option to provide him with the extra support he needs?  However, I know how frustrated I was when I couldn't get Moodle to work right away, so perhaps being completely virtual might not be the best idea for students with emotional disorders.  Maybe a blended classroom or f2f traning could be an option?  In terms of the student you described, what do you think would be best for him?

Kristen Pham (Crystal Lake, IL)

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Stacy Drinkwine Hauser - Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 10:10 PM
 

Kristen,

I also know that I get anxious when I can't figure out the technology. I feel if there simply wasn't a possibility for a student to function successfully in the classroom, there would need to be some time invested in finding what would work. This is where we would need the special education support team to try to find solutions. I don't think a completely virtual classroom would be the best choice.

 

Stacy Drinkwine Hauser

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Jennifer Morris - Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 8:26 PM
 

1) This past semester I had a few students with IEPs in class who significantly benefited from the use of my course homepage. While this piece of technology isn't anything too advanced, it proved to be helpful in keeping them on track with assignments. Two components of my webpage that they found most beneficial were the class calendar of assignments and the folders I created that included regular and supplemental assignments. One student commented that he liked knowing all these resources were available for him at any time in case he was absent or wasn't focused in class and didn't hear what he needed to do for homework.

2) This past semester I also had a student enrolled in my AP Physics class who had a severe visual impairment. Towards the end of the school year her vision began to significantly decrease and she began to use her iPad in class to take notes and read enlarged assignments. She began using this assistive technology without letting me know, however, so when she encountered problems in class with the iPad I wasn't initially aware of them. When I did become aware of the situation, there was alot of class time spent trying to fix the technology issues; this time took away from learning opportunities for both this student and her classmates.

3) Overall, I feel like a completely learning virtual environment would hinder the special education population in my classes. In any given classes there are always numerous special education students, in addition to individual regular education students, who each would benefit from different types of assistive technology. I do not feel that Moodle or the D2L system would meet the needs of all these students. Perhaps it would be beneficial for some of them and could be used as a way to differentiate for individual students, but I do not think that requiring all students to learn strictly through the virtual world is what's right for all students. 

Jenny in Chicago

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Kristen Pham - Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:45 AM
 

Hi, Jenny,

I have heard other special education teachers also comment that their students really like it when teachers post electronic copies of assignments online.  I especially like how you mentioned that it would benefit students who weren't "focused in class".  I am seeing an increasing number of students with ADHD, and this is often an issue.  Making assignments available online also reduces stress on me because I don't have to individually reprint copies -- I can just direct the student to my website.

I can definitely see your concerns about the D2L or Moodle forums with special education students.  I would like to try Moodle in my classroom this fall, but I think I would take students to the lab and walk them through, step-by-step, how to set it up and login.  Then I would give them the period to discuss with classmates.  Perhaps I would ask them to login to more times during the week and post responses so that they could try to do it themselves, but I think lots of scaffolding and "baby steps" would be key.  

For the student you mentioned who had trouble with the iPad, would it have been possible for her to have an aid specifically to help her with technology so that it wouldn't take your time away from the rest of the class?

Kristen Pham (Crystal Lake, IL)

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Lori Amsellem - Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 11:53 PM
 

Hi Kristen,

My experience is with the deaf population and communication has always been a big concern. I know that social media has had a profound effect on the communication between deaf people and hearing people. It has helped deaf people feel more connected and less isolated which has been a concern in the deaf community. There was a time for deaf people when social media meant getting a flyer in the mail saying there was a gathering at the local deaf club! Reaching out to people took more time, and many times a sign language interpreter was involved in the process. Today, social media has given the deaf community a place to foster relationships, gain information, and cultivate independence worldwide. Plus, the visual nature of it makes it easy to use and since the students are already familiar with it, bringing it into the learning environment to create a collaborative class would provide even more ways to socialize, communicate and learn.

The limited materials and programs specifically created with the deaf student in mind have made learning and teaching difficult. Many of the things need to be adapted to the deaf learner in order to succeed. I have tried applications that say they are completely visual and yet they do not realize that there is the auditory component that pulls it all together. Plus, not everything is captioned. Along with this, qualified teachers are needed to adapt, learn and then train others to use the materials. These teachers are in short supply.

I think a deaf student with the right motivation could master the learning objectives in a completely virtual learning environment using programs like Moodle and D2L. The most important aspect in helping with that success would be the instruction on how to use the programs. The tutorials and help would need to be in the form of a video, with captioning as well as real people using sign language and a transcript of the tutorial all available to view at any time preferably without leaving the page. Certainly teacher support would also play an important role in that success.

Lori

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Kristen Pham - Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:49 AM
 

Lori,

Thank you for your examples addressing the hearing impaired.  I can definitely see how an online environment could benefit them because so much is written out.  However, this made me think about the visually impaired students.  It would be very tedious and time-consuming for them to listen to a computer program read every word.  Look at how long our posts are!  

What programs have you not had much success with for the hearing impaired?  Just curious if you remember any names.  

Does anyone have the name of any programs that they feel have been more successful for hearing impaired students?

Thanks,

Kristen Pham (Crystal Lake, IL)

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Lori Amsellem - Thursday, June 27, 2013, 12:30 PM
 

Hi Kristen,

HaHa! So true about some of our postings! The good news is that visually impaired people are used to listening. What is nice is that with all the portable devices i.e. laptop, tablet and smartphones, they can access what they want; where they want it.

Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the program I referenced in my post. Sorry. Although, I do remember using it one day and then the next day it was gone! I really do not have any others to list, but I do have some that have had success. Those are Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Google Chat, Face to Face, and Storybird.

Lori

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Daniel Kovach - Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 11:49 AM
 

What an interesting topic you chose.  I see a lot of technology gadgets and trends come and go, but I find the ones in Spec Ed have the most profound impact on their users.

1. Describe at least one way that technology (in general) has helped special education students.

In the fifteen years I have spent in IT as a technician, consultant, project manager, and teacher, I firmly believe the two areas of education most benefited by technology are online learning and special education.  From voice recognition software that equips a computer to understand your commands and communicate back to you audibly for the blind or paralyzed, to touch pad/image recognition for the speech impaired or cognitively disabled, technology has leveled so many barriers for a range of disabilities.    

2. Describe one way that technology has made learning more difficult or more confusing for special needs students.

I would argue that technology in general stimulates the ADD tendencies that I believe are inherent (to some degree) in all of us.  Despite some research that marvels at how our brains are adapting, I don’t think we’re wired to be, well…wired.  Some students tend to perform better with a more traditional book, paper, and pencil set of tools.  As a techie, I find most technology in schools misused and a great distraction.  This is where I plug Cris Rowan’s book Virtual Child and Todd Oppenheimer’s The Flickering Mind.

3. Overall, do you believe a completely virtual learning environment -- like Moodle or the D2L system through UW-Stout -- would help or hinder a special education student’s ability to master the learning objectives in your specific course?  Please be specific.

That depends on a lot of variables, as learning disabilities themselves can be as unique and varying as individual personalities and skill sets of those without learning disabilities. 

I envision instances where the virtual world my quell social anxiety in one case, allowing for their academic brilliance to shine through, and trigger a resounding melt-down of despair (clinical term) in another who may find it difficult to follow written directions, especially extensive and detailed directions like those often found in online courses.  Think of the lasting impact that would have on this valuable and potentially freeing form of learning?

Great Moodling Kristen, important conversations to have.

Dan in Washburn

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Re: Technology and Virtual Learning with Special Needs Students
by Kristen Pham - Thursday, June 27, 2013, 1:42 PM
 

Dan,

I think you're on to something with your answer to #2.  The Average Shot Length (ASL) has definitely decreased over the past decades.  For example, David Bordwell in his book The Way Hollywood Tells It (2006), proves that "the acceleration of cutting in recent decades can be seen as moving from an ASL range of 8-11 seconds before 1960 and towards a range of 4-6 seconds in recent years."  (Full article: http://www.cinemetrics.lv/bordwell.php) That means every 4-6 seconds, the director cuts to a new shot.  That's a far cry from Alfred Hitch**'s [Moodle is censoring the second part of his name because it thinks it's a profane word --> as a teacher, a nice feature, but as an adult, a little unnecessary]  Psycho where extended shots were used without much cutting.  TV commericials have an even shorter ASL.  So much flashes across the screen that your brain can barely process it all conciously.  I have read some essays about speculation that too much TV can cause children to develop ADHD, expecially if they are exposed to lots of TV before age 2.  Not sure how much science is behind this theory.  Does anyone else have any examples or opinions about how TV/film editing in recent years has impacted children and teens' attention spans?

Kristen Pham (Crystal Lake, IL)

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Re: Mom, how do I fast forward the commericals?
by Stacy Drinkwine Hauser - Thursday, June 27, 2013, 6:07 PM
 

Kristen-

When I read your question about TV/film editing impacting children's attention span, I immediately thought of my kids watching something on "regular TV" as they call it. If it's not on Netflix or a DVR show, they want to get through the commericals and back to what they were watching. Commericals can get pretty annoying, I'll agree, but their need to get back to the show has more to do with impatience than determining the value of commericals. Do they throw a fit because they have to sit through the commercials? Of course not, my children are perfect. ;)  Has the ability to fast forward through commericials to satisfy their need to get what they want immediately impacted them in some way? I have to say yes. 

 

Stacy Drinkwine Hauser

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Re: Mom, how do I fast forward the commericals?
by Kristen Pham - Friday, June 28, 2013, 4:15 PM
 

Stacy,

This is definitely the instant gratification era!  This topic always reminds me of the Marshmellow experiment -- researchers studying how long a child can stare at a marshmellow and resist eating it.  Here's the video: 

I feel like if they did that experiment with the children of 2013, they would be able to resist for an even shorter time!

Kristen Pham (Crystal Lake, IL)

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Re: Mom, how do I fast forward the commericals?
by Stacy Drinkwine Hauser - Friday, June 28, 2013, 9:10 PM
 

Kristen I loved the video! The two blondes, brother and sister probably, reminded me of my oldest, Aiden, and my Sophie, who would totally eat hers like that little girl and then, no matter how many times her brother reminded her not to eat it, she would still ask for another. So funny!

Loved it!

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