By Kim Martin
Are the learning opportunities you are providing in your learning spaces enabling the students with additional needs to succeed, have a voice and demonstrate their learning?
The aim of this article is to share important considerations when introducing a digital technology solution to meet a student’s learning goals based on universal design learning principles that meet the needs and goals of the learner and can be used in the classroom tomorrow.
What is Universal Design for Learning?
Universal design for learning is a framework to improve and optimise teaching and learning for all people (CAST, 2018).
Planning for inclusive and universally designed learning opportunities that utilise digital technologies can:
- enable all the learners to engage in the learning opportunity at their own capacity and ability level
- enable multiple means of access to learning opportunities that suit any learner’s abilities (support or extension)
- allow access (how) to information, communication (what) and engagement (why) to be differentiated
- allow any learner using the technology to adjust or modify settings and empower and enable personalisation to meet an individual’s needs for use
Evaluating Digital Technology
When considering the introduction of a new digital tool for a student, it is imperative to remember that the innovation is actually the learner being able to utilise the right digital tool to engage, collaborate, learn, create and increase opportunities to think and share in a way that works for that student, not the digital tool itself.
Therefore, considerations and conversations are required and, where appropriate, should include the learner before a new digital tool is introduced. Knowing the learner’s needs and building rapport is always the first step. After that comes understanding of the learner’s challenges and matching the technology to his or her needs, areas of strength and learning goals, with the aim of building capacity and independence.
Taking the time in the beginning to ask the right questions, find out what the learner’s goals and environment look like and matching that to the right digital tool before introducing anything new to a student with additional needs can make a significant difference in the successful implementation of the chosen digital tool. Examples of questions include:
- What are the student’s current abilities/areas of strength and capacity?
- What are the student’s learning goals?
- What are the teacher’s learning goals for this student?
- What are the other students doing that this student needs to be able to achieve?
- What does the student need or want to be able to do that is difficult to accomplish independently at the moment?
There are four reasons to introduce a digital technology tool for a learner in your learning space. The right tool for an individual learner can improve access to the curriculum, enable the learner to experience success and demonstrate his or her understanding. The four reasons are:
- Enhance – helps the learner to learn and function more effectively.
- Remedial – helps the learner to practise specific skills.
- Compensatory – helps the learner to complete activities and tasks with greater independence; for example, text to speech software.
- Extension – provides the learner with opportunities to further extend and explore learning, knowledge and abilities.
(Adapted from Cook & Polgar, 2008)
There is a myriad of digital tools to support learners with additional needs, and to encourage independence, access and inclusivity in the learning environment. Universally designing a few ways to improve the engagement and inclusion of our most vulnerable learners and utilising digital technology can make a big impact on the success and enjoyment our students experience.
One useful tool to consider using to help guide your decision-making process is an evaluation rubric. Using the rubrics touch points to guide considerations and questions about what digital technology tool to introduce to the student and learning environment can be a positive way to ensure all parties involved in making a decision have the same understanding about priorities for the new tool, including learning goals or budget considerations.
Over time, I created my own evaluation rubric template for an inclusive technology assessment that works for the specialised field I work in (sensory impairments) which I can adjust to meet the needs of each individual I am working with. If you would like a copy of this, please reach out to me.
Joy Zabala and Tony Vincent have extensive experience in the area of inclusive technologies for students and have both created rubrics to guide teachers and leaders through the decision-making process. Both Tony and Joy’s websites and resources are worth looking at before you get started. What I like about these two resources in particular is that the key questions in each area guide you into gathering data and information to support the consideration and implementation of appropriate inclusive technologies that focus on the learner, his or her educational goals and the learning context first. Once goals in this area have been identified, choosing the right technology or app can commence.
Finally, I would like to leave readers with this quote from Dr Kevin Maxwell, which has been my screen saver on many devices over the years and reminds me each day of why I am an advocate for purposefully using the right digital technology in our learning spaces.
“Our job is to teach the students we have.
Not the ones we would like to have.
Not the ones we used to have.
Those we have right now.
All of them.”
For a full list of references, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Martin is the Digital Learning Coordinator for Catholic Education SA. With over 20 years of experience as an educator, Kim specialises in professional learning and inclusive learning technologies. She is a Google Certified Innovator and Apple Distinguished Educator and was ACCE Educator of the Year 2014. She is passionate about the way technology can be used to enable differentiation for learners and has just completed her Masters in Education, with a major interest in enabling technologies for people with diverse needs.
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