We hear from Patrick McGrath, EdTech Strategist at Texthelp over a series of blogs that focus on the elements of a successful vision and plan for an effective technology strategy.
As educators, it’s fair to say that there’s one thing we all actively work against – exclusion. Every day, in classrooms around the world we seek to include every student. We differentiate instruction and for those with individual needs perhaps we provide additional technology tools. Teaching assistants, individual education plans, interventions – we make a conscious effort to provide an inclusive environment.
What if these methods actually segregate some students? What if them having ‘assistive’ technology or an assistant is more of a stigma than a help? What if we are viewing individual needs as something that needs ‘fixed’ rather than an advantage to learning that we can build upon?
Learner diversity as an acknowledgment of strength
Let’s think about our classrooms for a second. Full of students. Each with perhaps a different approach to learning, understanding, or expressing themselves. This is the reality that we teach in – no two pupils the same. While I’m no fan of labels, there is a term that sums this up well – learner diversity. It’s a term that starts to recognise the differences in us all, and embraces the concept that those with what we would traditionally have called ‘individual needs’, simply need alternative ways to learn and a recognition not of weakness, but of strength.
Technology can help us embrace this diversity, but we have to consider learning first. More specifically, we have to consider how we design our learning experiences to ensure that learner diversity is catered for by default. One way to do this is to look closer at Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
Universal Design for Learning to plan for better inclusion
It’s a simple framework. It’s not prescriptive and it doesn’t mandate a change in learning. It does though suggest that we need to plan better for inclusion. Using the framework, we can approach this with three simple considerations – how students engage with learning, how learning is represented to them and how we can offer them ways to express learning. At its simplest, the framework suggests that we simply need to provide multiple ways to access these three areas.
That’s where technology comes in. By selecting the right devices and the right software tools we can ensure that we’re not reinventing ‘how’ we do things to achieve this. Rather, we’re creating opportunities to access learning in differing ways.
But how can we actually apply this framework?
Take a simple standard worksheet – be it a word document, a google document or a PDF. We can make that more accessible to every student – maybe by having it read aloud. Instead of a sheet we could use technology to make it into an audio file, so students can listen rather than read. Maybe we bring it alive with AR and deliver related, contextual content. The scope to deliver learning in new and motivating, interesting and engaging ways is here now.
Go further and imagine a book. Not an inclusive medium, and something we need to make accessible to all. Making it digital is a start – having it available on a device means we can start to change fonts, set background colours and help specific students. Read it aloud, magnify text, highlight passages, get help with words. Technology is key here and makes inclusion a natural part of learning – driven by student preferences and needs.
Digital devices and tools go much further though when it comes to expressing learning. Students have the opportunity to interact in a multitude of ways – to video, record and create. With digital devices even simple writing tasks become more inclusive – by enabling creation of content in many different ways – typing, dictation or handwriting using a touch screen.
Enabling inclusion requires planning and preparation. It requires access to devices and access to software tools. Most of all though it requires educators to build opportunity into lessons. This should be an essential part of our vision for technology to allow us to truly say that we deliver on inclusion. Not for some of our students, but for all.
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