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Assistive technology can boost students' learning outcomes
Lorraine Day and Dr Anne Coffey.
3 June 2015
The learning outcomes of students with special needs in Western Australian classrooms could be boosted with the introduction of low-tech and high-tech assistive technology, including iPads, to deliver educational programs, according to Associate Professor Dianne Chambers at The University of Notre Dame Australia.
Associate Professor Chambers, Coordinator of Special Education in the University's School of Education, Fremantle, is currently involved in an international research project with academics in the UK, USA and Canada investigating teachers' use of iPads in the classroom to support children with special needs.
This research examines both how iPads are being used in the classroom and the teacher preparation and training that is needed across all countries to maximise the use of this technology for the advancement of student learning outcomes.
Associate Professor Chambers said WA classrooms had adopted some assistive technologies well, including iPads, and were generally open to exploring different avenues. However, she noted that there was still room for teachers to introduce low-tech assistive technology and utilise existing technology more effectively in schools.
"By examining the functional difficulties experienced by individuals, after close consultation with teachers and their techniques for using technology in the classroom, it is easier to closely match a student with an appropriate assistive technology," Associate Professor Chambers said.
"If the matching process is not completed first, there is a danger of a mismatch between the needs of the individual and the tool provided.
"Many of the pre-service teachers who have disabilities themselves are using some of the assistive technology to support their learning at Notre Dame. By increasing an understanding of assistive technology and where it is appropriate to incorporate it into the classroom, pre-service teachers are more likely to think broadly when they are making these decisions."
In 2014, Associate Professor Chambers was a consultant for UNESCO Paris in drafting and refining guidelines for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in open and distance education using open source solutions. The findings were presented at a conference in India in November 2014.
Associate Professor Chambers' passion for improving learning outcomes with technology also saw her assist a project through UNESCO Bangkok which examined the role of low-tech assistive technology in the delivery of problem-based learning in south-east Asian schools. She also developed a training program for education assistants in assistive technology as part of her PhD.
"I hope that through my passion, others see new and novel ways of including students in the classroom. Sometimes taking thinking in a new direction is all that is needed to make a difference in the educational life, and future life, of a child," Associate Professor Chambers said.
"As teachers, we have a lot of power to impact on a student and we need to be considered and balanced in our approach to all things, while providing every opportunity possible for all students to learn and grow."
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