Saturday, June 30, 2012

Technology in Special Education – The CrossRoads

One of my favorite subjects for talk these days,
It is not this morning that the world woke up to the role of technology in education, yet it remains the matter of arguments, discussions and disagreements. Education paves the way for technology and then we wonder and worry about validating the payback role of technology in education. I came across a study published by the U.S. Department of Education on Technology’s Role in Education based on the Findings from a National Study of Innovating Schools’
While the study says that “Technology is not an easy route to transforming schools, but it definitely is an exciting one.” It also talks about how the use of technology in education is impacting the ecosystem that the educational institutions have built over the years,

· Adding to the students’ perception that their work is authentic and important.
· With a simple approach increasing the complexity with which students can deal successfully.
· Dramatically enhancing student’s motivation and self-esteem.
· Encouraging greater collaboration between teachers & students,
· An increase in their technology and pedagogical skills.
· Greater collaboration within their own school.
· Contact and collaboration with external school reform and research organizations.

While the increasing awareness of the use of technology in education is widely impacting both the context and content of the education, I have been curiously involved in thinking what could technology bring to the field of special education. My thoughts as usual have been beyond the basic cost-benefit analysis and more towards exploring the untried possibilities.

In my current recent stint of working with Asha, I figured a few things:
  1. With the special children who are often identified to have some distinguished abilities, the use of technology might give them an array of possibilities with no compromise, depending on an institution’s specialization in different aspects of technology.
  2. Technology unfolds a wide range of potential specialties that can be leveraged in special education, ranging from click controlled elementary learning - to drag n drop match making - to creatively painting an imagination on a computer  screen - to typing - to navigating the world of internet - to photo/video editing - to computer graphics and the list goes on...
  3. Between the regular schools and technology we often see a transmitter– receiver relationship, the technology teaches/demonstrates and the students learn. However between the special school and technology I noticed a mentor-researcher relationship, where every child is a special researcher of technology, offering the latter a spectrum of new possibilities wider than the spectrum(ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorder) they biologically belong to.
  4. Given the evolving waves of technological capabilities, the trainers and educators not only get the challenge and opportunity of learning and investigating these methods of education but also contributing to the ongoing research in this area.
To name a few technologies that probably all of us have grown to take on its face value, but it takes an effort from us to reveal their values to the special education groups, are:
  • Microsoft Office: You might say it is the most value-making and handiest piece of software on the MS earth, which is probably right and so is that for the teachers making special efforts to train these children on basic skills. While the tools like MS Word and Excel shortens their lesson preparation assessment and reporting time, PowerPoint can help them build easy-to-deliver interactive lessons on the most difficult portions of their academic curricula. While I was talking about the capabilities of this suite of handy software to the group of teachers in my training sessions, I was not surprised to see their applications explored within a small computer lab, let alone the real field they operate in! 
  •  Apple iPads, the oomph of this magical device is not just in its impressive gadget-status, but also in its applicability and sheer relevance to what fwe could possibly do with it in special education. The touch that is defined as the first known sense to these children, is what makes the genesis of these devices and no wonder goes beyond fun, speech, phonetics, emotions, behaviors, teaching, learning to create design arts. The tiny icons on the home screen representing the apps housed in this magical device, indicate towards the seamless possibilities of invention to their border less developers around the globe. 
  • Design tools like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDRAW or even the more advanced AutoDesk 3D Max. As someone observed in a workshop, the so called normal people like us can’t use the magic wand or lasso tools with the same precision and accuracy as some of these kids.
  • SMART Technologies bring a series of smart learning options, some of which have potentials to become fundamental to the area of special education. Some appealing products from SMART that I particularly like are interactive whiteboards, Smart slates, Smart IRS, Smart tables and so on. I couldn’t help imagining their massive role in the line of special education. 
Schools and organizations have witnessed the spirits of innovation as a tool to bring students and people together, the same applies on the educators, the teachers & trainers. The real win of technology would be if the elementary educators could reap a good portion of what technology has to offer to the world today. If the technology which is originally brewed by their own science, maths and social lessons, could come back to schools serving the educators, the spirit of innovation would go a much longer and glorious way in transforming our lives.

On the other hand the technical demands posed by technology use are just the tip of the iceberg. Teachers must be able to select, adapt, or design technology-enhanced materials that meet the needs of their special students.
With that I would say, every reform takes time for full manifestation. In the mean time it requires patience, collaboration, individual contributions and answers to all the basic questions that come as "things to do" for that reform to take place. That's where we need technology barons, enthusiasts and volunteers like you and me to intervene and play our part. How can we do that one step at a time, please read my post on Asha - A hope to fly.

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