From interactive whiteboards that aid language learning to virtual reality headsets that allow visual content to be delivered in a compelling way, technology has the potential to yield strong results in the classroom - and to make learning more accessible; helping ‘level the playing field’ for students with special educational needs.
And yet the benefits are far from universal.
Some teachers struggle to get the most out of classroom tech, meaning that schools, colleges and universities risk investing thousands of pounds in hi-tech apparatus that fails to deliver.
Even with the best will in the world, tech that’s designed to open up opportunities for all risks not meeting its potential when implemented without proper planning.
To overcome these barriers, we believe that tech needs to be bought with accessibility and pedagogical objectives in mind, not because it’s an ‘easier or cheaper’ way to deliver learning.
Technology for technology’s sake risks not only reducing the effectiveness of tech-based teaching and learning, but also widening the accessibility gap for SEND students.
Added to this is the requirement for educators to be properly trained in using technology to the fullest extent. We know that it’s not always easy to get to grips with a significant change in the classroom, and training and support is vital; many teachers don’t realise that the technology that they already have in their classroom can be used to enhance accessibility.
Microsoft Word, for example, has a built-in recording feature, which educators can use to record their lessons and make them available to their students online.
But first, let’s look at the positives.
When it comes to accessibility and offering parity of opportunity, technology has transformative potential in the classroom.
On of my favourite examples of this is a student I taught with ADHD, who had spent most of his school career struggling to keep up with his work.
He’d usually start his classes with 10 to 15 minutes of distraction, searching for books and pens or trying to find homework at the bottom of the bag; and by the time he’d settled down at his desk there wasn’t much time left to get stuck into the lesson.
Traditional methods of teaching weren’t working for him, so when he was tasked with making a poster he chose to do it on an online platform instead.
This meant there was no opportunity for it to get lost or forgotten, and crucially, his peers were able to give him immediate feedback which provided him with instant positive feedback.
The fact that this technology was available to him meant he could reach his full potential, and produce an excellent piece of work.
As well as being a specific benefit to students who have special educational needs, well implemented tech provides educators with an opportunity to be more flexible with their teaching.
Our VLE Canvas allows homework collection, resource collation and marking to be done centrally and easily, taking away a significant administrative burden. This leaves our teachers with more time to dedicate to teaching and learning, and more lesson resource available for the students that need the most support.
So tech can undoubtedly promote inclusion and offer greater accessibility, but it takes more than picking a product and signing a purchase order to make it happen. Teachers, students, management – and even industry partners – must understand how to harness the technology's power and use it to meet tangible and clear objectives.
There are implications for institutions who don't put accessibility at the core of what they do - and under the Equalities Act, students must be able to access the course content in every lesson, and can take legislative action against their institution if they can’t.
But beyond legal retributions, colleges recognise they have a duty to make compelling, engaging, and valuable education, available for all.
There’s a much documented skills shortage – where education isn’t delivering enough skilled candidates into industry. By giving every student the tools to access courses on their own terms, and ensure that those with individual needs catered for by the tech in their classroom – we will ensure that everybody has the opportunity to develop the skills required to meet their chosen industry’s requirements and end up with a fulfilling job.
Deborah Millar, Group Director of Digital Learning Technologies, Grimsby Institute Group
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