As a student in an Educational Technology graduate program, I am drawn to various types of technologies that enhance and enrich students’ learning experiences. As an administrator, I recently had the opportunity to teach and, through use of technology in my classroom, I have become curious about teachers at the secondary level, particularly those who work with students with physical disabilities and the technologies they use. I’d like to take a moment to focus solely on that teacher population and pose the following questions: What are teachers’ comfort and experience levels with assistive technology (AT), and whose responsibility is it to educate them with assistive technology?
These questions might not be simple to answer, but what I have learned from the research are 3 major takeaways:
– Teachers want to feel comfortable with use of assistive technology, though aren’t sure where to find training.
– There needs to be buy-in from more than just the teachers (e.g. students, parents, school board)
– Programs such as these are few in number, yet very necessary.
Teachers of students with physical disabilities are sometimes afforded the opportunity to utilize AT in the classroom. Technologies such as switches, audio visual enhancements, and braille printers can allow for students with physical disabilities keep pace with their classmates who don’t have a physical disability. While very helpful, preparedness with these technologies (e.g. comfort levels, years of experience) varies greatly among teachers.
Research that studied teacher readiness and preparation for use of assistive technologies touched on the lack of their experience and their low comfort levels. Of the 15 most recently published research articles I’ve found on this topic, all but 3 mentioned a need for teacher preparation and training programs, one of which stated, “Few…training programs for special education include courses or even class sections on assistive applications and issues related to these devices”. The lack of programming is a big concern of mine and I wonder whose responsibility it is to teach the teachers. Maybe the students themselves should have input, or parents of said students. Maybe it is the responsibility of upper level administrators, or it is directed by the budget.
Wong and Cohen (2012) believe that “stakeholders working with students with disabilities need not be an expert in all types of assistive technology, rather, to focus on those that serve the needs of the individual…greater collaboration between other special educators and professionals in the field is necessary.” So maybe the better question isn’t who is responsible to help, but how can we all play a part in educating our teachers to serve this student population in the best way possible? Think about it: if our teachers are not afforded the opportunity to use, and/or are not prepared to use different types of AT, then they are doing a disservice to that student population and potentially stunting educational growth. So what now?
A recent article in The Berkshire Eagle discussed a new nine course, 18 month graduate level degree program being offered to help teachers learn how to effectively and efficiently use assistive technologies for and with their students. With a partnership between The Reading Institute and Simmons College, this further expresses how important collaboration is to help these students and teachers.
More questions than answers are being raised and, with the lack of recent research in this area, I’d like to suggest a model that could potentially be implemented to combat this issue:
Based on the ADDIE model, the following is an example of how a teacher preparedness program could be developed and utilized:
Analyze: Analyze the current level of comfort and experience with assistive technologies among teachers; assess for a programming need; determine what is currently available to help teachers.
Design: Design a need-based curriculum with input from stakeholders such as students, parents, fellow teachers, and board members.
Develop: The plan of implementation should be laid out with details on who will be involved, total program length, major program goals, funding, and a formal start date.
Implement: Test run the program.
Evaluate: Complete a formative (during the planning and implementation process) and summative evaluation (at the conclusion of the planning and implementation process); make changes when applicable.
What I’ve suggested is a broad overview of a model to be used and it is imperative that the details of each step should be unique to the teacher and student population, as well as based on resources available.