Is Technology Making Education More Inclusive?

Published By: Katie Speers

It is impossible to ignore the ever growing world of technology (unless you live under a rock!). There are numerous debates as to whether the advancement in technology is helping or hindering our society. As of late, there has been particular attention paid to the use of technology in education. Tablets are being introduced into elementary and high school classrooms, and online courses seem to be a hot topic of debate within educational institutions. There is much speculation around this introduction of technology into education. As of today the majority of this debate has centred on benefits vs. costs. People can argue about the negatives and positives surrounding the introduction of technology into education forever – it is unlikely that a consensus will ever be reached. Despite this, it is undeniable that technology has countless benefits for a particular group of students – those with learning disabilities.

There are a number of barriers that students with learning disabilities must face on a daily basis. According to Fionulala Duggan, a writer for The Guardian, a shocking statistic is: “students with disabilities are three times less likely to hold any qualifications than non-disabled individuals.” This is where technology comes into play. Technology in the form of assistive technology (AT) can increase participation and enrich environments to promote cognitive growth among these students. Spell check, text to speech and speech to text programs are some of the computerized programs that play an integral role in leveling the playing field for students with learning disabilities.

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Assistive technologies are tools and devices that make it easier for children with disabilities to participate in day-to-day activities and (especially in the case of education) learn. These devices come in a number of different forms to assist students with varying disabilities. It is of particular interest to me that many assistive technologies are unknown to the general population. Addressing the use of these technologies should become a focus within educational institutions, as taking full advantage of assistive devices can change education for the better.

A list of some of the common assistive technologies are:

Each of the above technologies assists individuals in differing ways. Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or dysgraphia would each benefit from these devices in unique ways. However, much to my shock, I have heard many people talk about devices such as these in negative ways – referring to them as having negative effects on students, such as making them lazy. It seems to me that many people are ignorant toward the essential use of these devices – for some students it is not a choice but rather a necessity.

Another negative believe surrounding the use of a particular assistive technology, spell check, is the common perception that spell check is responsible for today’s youths’ inability to spell properly. This is a belief that I have heard expressed by parents, teachers and even some students. And while this may be the case, spell check is an assistive tool that is capable of replacing a missing or impaired ability of student with a learning disability. Text to speech and speech to text are additional technologies that text help students who may have difficulty reading and writing.

The assistive technologies I found most intriguing are: devices that organize thought. There are pen-based devices known as the Livescribe Pulse Smart Pen, which is a device that allows students to record everything they write, hear or say and then transfer this information onto their computer in both audio and note format. This is a huge advancement in technology that I believe can help reduce the anxiety many students feel and encourage success for students.

As a society we easily dismiss things without taking the heterogeneity of individuals into account. What one person finds essential others could live without – for example spell check. It is important to recognize that many devices are created to assist those who lack the ability to do certain tasks themselves. Assistive devices are created to assist – and the use of them should not categorize an individual as lazy.

PERSONALIZED EDUCATION

Technology is providing an opportunity to personalize education. People learn in different ways – some are visual learners, while others can retain information just by ear. The opportunity to personalize education will benefit students as a whole, but most importantly students with learning disabilities. Take for example a student with attention deficit disorder (ADD) who may have a difficult time listening to teachers for long periods of time, having the opportunity to create an interactive learning environment for these individuals may enhance their ability to learn. Rather than sitting and listening to a teacher lecture for an hour integrating videos and other interactive activities may help hold the attention span of students.

Online courses are an additional way to personalize education. Students taking these courses have the ability to move at their own pace, students who find the content easy are able to get ahead while those who need to move at a slower pace are able to do so as well.

DON’T FORGET…

As fully capable learners it is easy to dismiss the use of technology within education as unnecessary. However, the immense difference it can make for a student with a learning disability is undeniable. It is imperative to take different learning styles and abilities into account next time you have a conversation surrounding the use of technology in education. Testing and implementing technology within the classroom should be encouraged to observe the beneficial results it may have for students with learning disabilities. If we are able to make learning easier and more accessible for students with learning disabilities then in my opinion it is more than worth the cost, as we are making a difference and changing the lives of many individuals. Overall, the introduction of technology into education is a significant step in making education more inclusive to all.

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