Inclusion and special education from the tech perspective

FETC® track highlights
By: | January 15, 2020

Special education educators and administrators—and mainstream educators with an interest in helping students with special needs—had many options to choose from during the first two days of FETC®

Tuesday was workshop-focused, with seven possibilities on inclusion and special ed. 

They included “Data is Not a 4-Letter Word,” with Mia Laudato, a technology resource specialist, and Robin Williams, a board-certified behavioral analyst. They discussed the issue of data collection in the classroom—and how it’s been known to make teachers want to scream. Teachers spend more time taking, analyzing and graphing data on behaviors than on teaching, they argued. Solutions include digital tools to help simplify and streamline exceptional student education data collection and analysis—from Google and Microsoft Forms to Skills BIP Builder and ClassMax. Such technology allows for tracking multiple students and behaviors to provide teachers, paraprofessionals and therapists the data needed to inform teaching practices. 

The “Reading Technologies That Benefit Students With and Without Disabilities” workshop was presented by an assistive technology professional (Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles of HillaryHelpsULearn), a rep from the nonprofit social enterprise organization Benetech, and an assistive technology practitioner and occupational therapist for Albuquerque Public Schools.  The session covered how tech solutions that help all students become proficient in reading offer features that are particularly beneficial for students with learning differences. Features of such tools—including text read aloud and customizable colors and fonts—can significantly enhance the experiences of readers of all abilities. In fact, research has found the technology enhances student engagement, interest and motivation while learning to master this fundamental skill, the presenters shared. 

Wednesday’s lineup included two workshops and eight sessions on inclusion and special ed. 

In “Effective Inclusion in Early Learning: Technology and Sensory Communication,” featured speaker Carol Allen, a senior education advisor for the Hartlepool Borough Council in the United Kingdom, spoke on how educators can incorporate a sensory approach into early communication strategies and activities. She advocates for adding technology at the earliest opportunity to enhance the workflow of educators and the outcomes for children who experience education barriers. “Children are instinctively curious at first. So schools should not beat that out of them,” she said. Allen offered examples of tools that assist with inclusion but are “actually better for everybody.” Some examples include Sensory Light Box, ChooseIt! Maker 3, Storyline Online, the GoNoodle website for sensory breaks, and scanning pens often used by those with dyslexia.

“Virtual Assistants: Emerging Assistive Technology in the Classroom” covered how devices such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri—which use natural language processing and machine learning to allow for novel methods of verbal interactions between the user and the technology—can help students with disabilities. A virtual assistant can be used as an assistive technology solution in the classroom to aid in completing academic tasks. Two professionals from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (Hillary Norman, technology teacher, and Patrick Turnage, assistive technology coordinator) shared research on how virtual assistants can help identify tasks that are most helpful to students and what instructional methodologies can be used to ensure success. 

What’s to come

Tomorrow, executive functioning skills will be a big topic for track attendees. Related sessions will include “Enhancing Executive Skills Through Mindfulness” at 10 a.m. and “Tools for Executive Function: Calming and Focus” at noon. The 16 track options also feature disability-specific sessions, including “Educational Technologies to Engage Students With Learning Disabilities,” plus “Autism and Technology: Different for Girls?” and “The Magical World of Tech Tools & Dyslexia!”

And Friday, eight sessions will cover hot topics such as using robotics in special ed, enhancing motor and communication skills through gaming, and improving homebound instruction for chronically ill students.

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of DA.


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