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It requires a great deal of money to fund the use of assistive technology in schools. There are training costs, teacher’s salaries to be paid, and the expenses of constantly upgrading technology. It also requires a great deal of testing to figure out what students have disabilities and what the best course of action would be to aid their learning.
For students that attend school in a low income neighborhood, the facilities they are exposed to are most likely not up to par with the standards of higher education, or at least can not compete with the technology in schools in higher income neighborhoods. People with higher income live in better areas and they pay more in taxes, which, in part, goes to the schools their children attend. These schools are more likely to have teachers that are sufficiently trained in the different technologies used to help the students. The socioeconomic stand point also highlights the fact that people with more money will have more resources outside of schools to help their children receive the best education possible. Whether it be hiring tutors, investing in computer programs or just going over the children’s homework with them, it is often easier for families with higher income to provide these resources to their struggling children.
Teachers must be well trained in the uses of the technologies needed to help the students in their classrooms. Mull and Sitlington stated in a 2003 journal article:
Successful integration of computer technology and assistive technology into special education programs depends on the training of the professional required to use it, and they cannot be expected to teach students how to use the technology if they themselves have not been properly taught its uses. (pp. 26-32)
If teachers are poorly trained, or not trained at all, students receive little or no useful assistance with their learning.
There are many different kinds of technologies used to help students perform better in the classroom. There are proof reading programs, spell checker, speech synthesis (Bryant, Bryant & Raskind 1998), Braille calculators, printers and typewriters, as well as electronic readers (Bryant & Rivera, 1995). Also useful are tutors, interpreters and note takers, to name a few.
Some other techniques that proved helpful in the classroom setting, as stated by Bryant and Rivera’s (1995) study, are instruction and modeling, grading, rewards, materials and resources, activity structure and roles, and both individual accountability and collaborative/social skills.
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Already discussed briefly, teacher training is a major component in the success of assistive technologies. According to Bryant, Erin, Lock, Resta, and Allan (1998) “as more students with learning disabilities in general and special education settings are identified as needing assistive technology devices and services, teachers preparation programs will have to address training issues and identify ways to infuse their curriculum with assistive technologies (pp.55-66) .”
Bryant et al. (1998) also found that there are “three barriers in particular that impede faculty’s ability to provide the types of training necessary to prepare teachers of students with learning disabilities to work affectively with assistive technology; access to technology, limited faculty development opportunities and lack or incentives (pp. 55-66) .”
Student awareness is also an incredibly important factor in the success of assistive technologies. Students first must be aware that they have an impairment that is hindering their learning and with cooperation between parents and teachers, this can be possible. The earlier a problem is noticed, the better because a student who has trouble reading may fall by the wayside and end up getting all the way to high school without being able to read well. Vogel et al. (1998) found that the proportion of students with learning disabilities in postsecondary institutions range from .5% to almost 10% (Mull & Sitlington, 2003) . Students who do not receive help for their learning disabilities are more likely to be disruptive in class, have low self esteem and are less likely to attend college.
This information illustrates that there is a great deal of time and effort that goes into the use of proper assistive technologies in the classroom.
Simply providing a teacher or student with an assistive technological device does not guarantee any increase in skill for either party. Integrating assistive technology in any form in the classroom must be done by considering process as well as product and with an eye toward long range goals for learning outcomes. (Duhaney & Laurel, 2000, pp. 393-401)
There are many benefits to assistive technology in the classroom. It “supports some of the basic objectives of inclusive education: a sense of belonging to a group, shared activities with individual outcomes, and a balanced educational experience” (Quenneville, 2001, pp. 167-170) . Students having difficulties with certain subjects are not singled out and embarrassed in front of the class. Through cooperative learning they get to work in a group and see that their efforts are important to the group as a whole. Their achievement in the group work also brings them recognition individually helping to maintain the incentive to work hard and the boost in self esteem that makes them feel like they are part of the class as a group.
In a study conducted by Raskind, Higgins, Slaff and Shaw (1998), the researchers investigated the use of assistive technology in the homes of 13 children with learning disabilities, ages 9 – 16. It was concluded by this study, that “all placements were judged to have had positive effects on children and/or their families. Eight placements were judged successful in all three categories of technology performance and child and family variables” (pp. 47-56) .
According to Bryant and Rivera (1995), “ systems change occurs when people become better informed of their rights and the services that exist for their benefit.” It is important for students and their parents to be aware of the resources available to them in their town and school district, as well as state programs. The more people that realize that they can receive help for learning disabilities, the more people will be able to make life altering changes. The short term is being able to read or write better, for example, but long term it could mean going to college and getting a better job.
When properly trained teachers help eager and willing students, assistive technology proves to be a very successful teaching tool. This is not always the case.
Though helpful when done correctly, assistive technology offers no useful outcomes if the proper training and use is not provided. According to Mull and Sitlington (2003), “university faculty who are preparing teachers and other professionals, presently lack the skills and knowledge to teach their students about available technology or to model the appropriate use of that technology” (pp. 26-32). Without these skills, students cannot be expected to improve in the classroom setting. Teachers who do not possess an understanding of these skills or how to use them in the everyday educational institution are not helpful to any students. As it has been previously stated, assistive technologies are quite helpful for students with learning disabilities but also for those with no known learning impairments. With this information, it seems only practical that all teachers be schooled, correctly, on how to use these technologies in their classrooms for all of their students, disabled or not.
Another problem found with assistive technology is not so much the technology itself, but the awareness of the students that something is even wrong. In order for a student to be helped by this technology, they need to be suspected of having difficulties due to impairment and then further assessment can be done to distinguish what methods can be used to aid the problem. If parents and teachers do not notice the students encountering troubles in their school work then it is likely that the disability will go untreated. This would not be a problem if all teachers received training in assistive technology, since it is beneficial to all students it should be taught to all students. This will help those who are having difficulties and are not aware that there is a problem. This technology can be used regardless of whether or not students have learning impairments.
Another prominent problem with technology is the cost. Not only is it expensive to provide teachers with the proper training in this field, the technology itself is also quite expensive. “During the past few years the demands for computer technology and assistive devices have been increasing drastically, but availability has not increased and the same level” (Mull & Sitlington, 2003, pp. 26-32). It is expensive to provide computers, programs and other electronic aids to students, and with more and more students requiring this technology, the harder it is becoming to get.
There are many different technologies to aid students with many different impairments. “Computers provide privacy, patience and practice for students with learning disabilities” (Fleming, 1999). There are the more complex technologies such as telecommunication devices for the deaf, high resolution monitors, speech digitizers and synthesizers, and electronic communication aids. As well as the simple everyday things used, such as handheld calculators and books on tape. All of these devices are helpful, as long as they are used properly.
The future of assistive technology in the classroom is uncertain but “in the past decade, technology has become smaller, cheaper, more powerful and easier to use, and these trends are likely to continue” (Lewis, 1998, p. 16-26). If this is the case, then there is likely to be a major increase in the use of assistive technology to help students with learning disabilities.
With benefits including enhancing academic achievement in writing, reading, mathematics and spelling, improving organization and fostering social acceptance (Quenneville, 2001, pp. 167-170), such valuable learning resources should be used by more schools, taught to more teachers and helping more students.
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