According to the National Center for Education Statistics, by 2020, students who required special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) accounted for over 14% of total public school enrollment. To best meet the needs of students with disabilities, special education teachers are increasingly turning to modern technology. Instructors can harness the power of technology to enhance educational accessibility, instill confidence in their students and differentiate learning to support the success of all students, regardless of ability.
One of the most well-known types of technologies utilized in special education classrooms is assistive technology. Assistive technology is anything that helps students with special needs engage in basic tasks their peers can do without assistance.
Both low-tech and high-tech devices can make a significant difference in ensuring lessons and activities are accessible to all students. For example, high-tech devices used for augmentative communication assist students with disabilities when communicating with others. Low-tech devices, such as timers, keep students with attention disorders on task so they can keep up with their classmates.
Technology can not only level the playing field for students, it can also increase their independence, freeing them from the constant need for direct teacher involvement. A greater sense of independence can reduce anxiety levels and increase the confidence of students with special needs, as they are less likely to feel they are hindering the learning process for their peers. In addition, special education teachers can utilize technologies that increase communication, reduce the need for teacher assistance and offer students a greater sense of control over their education.
Assistance With Monitoring
Technology in the special education classroom can also monitor student progress without disrupting that all-important sense of independence. A 2019 study reported that teachers felt technology was most beneficial for monitoring and documenting student progress. For example, teachers might use digital monitoring, video or other observational technologies to monitor student activities without disrupting them.
When special education teachers closely monitor student progress, they can better customize the learning experience. eLearning Industry reminds readers that “there can’t be a single technological solution that would suit the needs of all students with special needs.”
Each student is different, and special education teachers need to differentiate instruction for each student. Special education software, such as Individualized Education Plan (IEP) software, helps students reach their potential by providing assessment tools, data visualization tools and simplified reporting techniques to ensure teachers can meet students where they are.
Many teachers already know that technology can increase student engagement in the general education classroom. However, technology can also benefit students in the special education classroom.
EdTech Magazine reports on a school in Minnesota that recently tried virtual reality technology. The school serves students with autism spectrum disorder and individual learning needs. The use of VR improved student focus and engagement during lessons. Also, immersive technologies like virtual reality can block out distractions, which is important for students with attention deficit disorders or sensitivities to distracting colors and sounds.
Collaborative Learning and Social Skills
In the above example, virtual reality technology also allowed students to practice their social skills. Thus, technology can encourage class collaboration, which is significant for students who are typically separated from their peers to receive special instruction.
Technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution in special education. New methods for enhancing accessibility, confidence and engagement for students with disabilities pop up every day. Educators have multiple options and should select the technological support that meets their students’ individual needs.