Special Education and Technology Integration Essay

  • Last Edited: February 13, 2018
special education and technology essay

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Technology and Special Education

Technology is an important aspect of today’s society. People share ideas and communicate using emails, Skype, and public/private forums. In order to for many organizations and businesses to evolve and increase productivity, they often upgrade their technological capabilities. This is why schools have begun the process of creating an environment that immerses staff and students in technology. Technology investment within schools not only enables varied learning opportunities for students, but it also helps students discover or improve their own ability to research and analyze information, collaborate and communicate, and solve problems (Lim, Zhao, Tondeur, Chai, & Tsai, 2013).

Technology provides other benefits. Integrating technology in schools, especially in certain areas like special education enable staff to develop new ways of teaching and creating curriculum custom made for special needs students. Fernandez-Lopez, Rodriguez-Fortiz, Rodriguez-Almendros, and Martinez-Segura (2013) stated, “The development of customizable and adaptable applications tailored to them provides many benefits as it helps mold the learning process to different cognitive, sensorial or mobility impairments” (p.77). Teachers have the option of constructing lessons using videos, pictures, and slideshows to allow a diverse array of teaching methods. From use of visual aids to increasing the size of text and making text colorful and appealing, technology makes instruction easier and more importantly, cost-effective. Many videos are available for free to watch on Youtube and only requires a projector, screen and laptop to use.

Introduction to Study

Barriers still exist in terms of technology and teaching. This is especially true for special education. Special education teachers may integrate some aspect of technology in their curriculum, but some remain resistant, believing technology integration is unnecessary. Schools may be at fault because of the continued lack of policy changes and training for teachers.

If schools integrate the use of technology in all areas, every student will be able to receive a higher level of education that will lead in the long run, to less expenses for the school and higher quality educational opportunities for students. While technology in schools seems for some recent, the transition from technology free to technology centric has been in the making for over four decades (Keengwe, 2015). In these four decades many schools have made great strides. Even with progress, some teachers remain resistant to technology integration in schools.

One article notes teacher’s attitudes towards technology as being the main barriers for integration. “Teachers’ own beliefs and attitudes about the relevance of technology to students’ learning were perceived as having the biggest impact on their success” (Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich, Sadik, Sendurur, & Sendurur, 2012, p. 423). If teachers believe they do not need to use technology to instruct students or they do not feel they can use technology to instruct students, this may make them more resistant to technology integration in schools. It is up to the school then to improve these attitudes and support use of technology by teachers via additional training with computers and projectors, and supporting teachers that do integrate technology use into their curriculum.

In the case of special education and elementary students, many of these students already have a harder time learning from traditionally designed curriculum. If teachers utilize technology to customize curriculums for their special needs students, they will find greater success in teaching. Technology enables a hands on approach and a greater implementation of visual aids that promotes higher levels of engagement from students (Nam, Bahn, & Lee, 2013). Assistive technology is something many special education teachers use in order to help a child learn. Audiobooks are an excellent example of how technology helps a student that may have difficulty reading or a visual disability, still learn with ease.

In this qualitative case study, I interviewed 15 special education teachers from 15 various elementary schools within Miami-Dade County, Florida. Because attitudes and perceptions play such a major role in teachers using or not using technology in the classroom, this study examined the attitudes and perceptions of 15 special education teachers as it relates to technology integration in their daily instruction. The participants were chosen from K-5 schools within the Miami-Dade school district. Although the district has 200 elementary schools and many have integrated technology successfully, the need to assess daily integration and attitudes of technology integration have not been fully discussed.

Problem Statement

Special education teachers in an urban K-5 school district have problems with fully integrating technology into their daily instruction. This is not just a problem seen in Florida but across the country. While some schools use tablets, video or virtual conferencing, and assistive technology like audiobooks, some schools have remained with the traditions and beliefs of the past. Special education is an area that needs a higher level of technology integration. Special needs students may not have the ability to go to school every day or learn effectively from traditional instruction methods. Technology may enable more options for special needs students that were not possible before.

Research shows teachers may not willingly integrate technology into their daily instruction because of certain attitudes and perceptions. These attitudes and perceptions often come from lack of training. In order for schools to integrate technology more effectively, they must first train teachers on how to use technology in their classroom. Special education teachers already struggle with the current responsibilities of teaching students with varied problems and impairments. They need further training to understand how to implement technology to help students learn.

Aside from training, schools must evaluate how well special education teachers handle the integration of technology and if such integration improves student learning outcomes. With schools requiring students to perform well in order to receive government funding (No Child Left Behind Act), it became increasingly important to see positive test results from students. If technology integration proves students learn more and thus score better on standardized tests, this will provide proof that technology integration should be the main focus.

Assessment is an important part of any change. Assessing the results of technology integration in several ways will allow for accurate interpretation. By evaluating the responses of special education teachers and their attempts at technology integration in their daily instruction, this will provide a better picture of the struggles and ways to remove such barriers. Teachers and students stand to benefit from full technology integration. Through assessment and analysis, schools can achieve positive outcomes.

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine how K-5 special education teachers in Miami Dade County perceived the process of technology integration within their school district and school. One special education teacher from 15 elementary schools in Miami Dade County were observed then interviewed to collect qualitative data concerning perceptions of technology integration into daily instruction. As one study noted, ease of use promotes good attitudes with change and integration when it comes to special education teachers and technology. “Facilitating condition was strongly related to perceived ease of use, whereas perceived ease of use had a significant effect on computer self-efficacy” (Nam, Bahn, & Lee, 2013, p. 365).

Nature of Study and Research Questions

The research method for this case study was qualitative. Qualitative information provides clarity on complex and hard to interpret problems. By examining how special education perceive technology integration, assumptions were either refuted or supported. One assumption is teachers who have negative attitudes towards technology integration is due to lack of training. By interviewing special education teachers and analyzing their responses, the lack of training can either be confirmed or removed as a potential main barrier. Miami Dade County is one of the largest when it comes to school districts. To examine qualitatively the effectiveness of technology integration is a great way to see the effectiveness of the schools within the district.

The following questions helped guide this qualitative case study:

1. How do special education teachers in Miami Dade County public elementary schools perceive the process of technology integration as it related to daily instruction?

2. How do special education teachers in Miami Dade County public elementary schools implement technology within their daily instruction?

3. What barriers if any, prevent special education teachers in Miami Dade County public elementary schools from successful technology integration?

Conceptual Framework

Many conceptual frameworks exist to help understand actions and problems within society. For the purposes of this qualitative case study, the conceptual framework uses was TPACK or technological pedagogical content knowledge. “The TPACK framework emphasizes how the connections among teachers’ understanding of content, pedagogy, and technology interact with one another to produce effective teaching” (Koehler, Mishra, Kereluik, Shin, & Graham, 2013, p. 101). Although a relatively new framework, it has helped influence theory, research, as well as practice in relation to teacher professional development and teacher education. The TPACK framework enables teachers to consider technology application in their design thinking processes. This is because 21st century learning has produced different opportunities and requirements that were not seen in the past (Koh, Chai, Benjamin, & Hong, 2015).

Originally created/outlined in 2006 by Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra, TPACK or TPCK builds on the work produced by Shulman. Shulman stated information of a content or subject area void of pedagogical skill would not help in developing good teachers. Koehler and Mishra expounded upon this statement by explaining and adding the technological component and making the technological component, the main component. “This necessitates that the teacher looks further than technical aspects and considers the importance of the interplay of technology knowledge, pedagogical knowledge” (Ma, Yuen, Park, Lau, & Deng, 2015, p. 220). Furthermore, “Quality teaching requires developing nuanced understanding of complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy, and using this understanding to develop appropriate context specific strategies and representations” (Ma, Yuen, Park, Lau, & Deng, 2015, p. 220). By importance and significance on the technological aspect, there’s an increased need in developing the skills required to make technology integration feasible for teachers, especially special education teachers.

Definition of Terms

• ICT or Information and community technology: An expansive phrased that explains the merging of networking, telecommunications technologies, and information into a single technology. Many researchers find ICT proficiency low among technology-poor countries and note organizational culture influences how technology proficiency and integration (Tong, Tak, & Wong, 2015).

• Integration of Technology: “Level 0 is non-use, Level 1 as awareness, Level 2 as exploration, Level 3 as infusion, Level 4A as mechanical integration, Level 4B as routine integration, Level 5 as expansion, and level 6 as refinement” (Beycioglu, 2013, p. 181).

• Teachers’ Technology Proficiency: “Levels 0-2 = indications of low comfort/skill, Levels 3-5 = indications of moderate comfort/skill, and Levels 6-7 = indications of high comfort/skill” (Beycioglu, 2013, p. 181).

Assumptions

1. Several assumptions were made for purpose of this qualitative case study

2. Findings from the qualitative study will provide clarity on what may cause lack of technology integration for special education teachers.

3. Lack of training leads to perceived barriers as it relates to technology integration.

4. Negative beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes on technology affect technology integration for special education teachers.

5. Study findings may lead to improvement in strategies adopted to increase technology integration among special education teachers.

6. Participants in the qualitative case study may either support technology integration or go against technology integration.

7. The current body of research will provide supplementary information to guide the process of evaluation.

Limitations

Several limitations exist within this qualitative case study. The first is researcher bias and its potential influence on examination and interpretation of study findings. To reduce such a limitation, no interference was given when asking questions to participants. Participants were given objective questions free from personal bias that were then answered with no cues or interjections. The second limitation was the limited range of potential participants. Only special education teachers in public elementary schools were selected. This removes the potential for variety in the sample and produces a narrowed view on the issue. Furthering this limitation is excluding other school districts from participating.

Scope and Delimitations

The scope of this qualitative case study was delimited to qualitative data collection methods that comprised of participant interviews, research, and the area selected. This led to a small sample size compared to similar studies conducted in schools containing greater age ranges for students and more school districts. Generalization could happen in qualitative studies and research, however, this was not the goal for this study.

Significance of Study

Findings from the study supported some theories and assumptions made by researchers in the field of special education and technology integration, specifically in an elementary school setting. “The first-order barrier is external, such as lack of adequate access, time, training and institutional support. The second-order barrier includes teachers’ personal and fundamental beliefs such as teachers’ pedagogical beliefs, technology beliefs, willingness to change” (Tsai & Chai, 2012, p. 1). Because of the growing need for transition from partial technology integration to full technology integration not just in regular education, but also special education, this study contributes greatly. Special education teachers must understand the value of integrating technology into daily instruction. “It is commonly believed that learning is enhanced through the use of technology and that students need to develop technology skills in order to be productive members of society” (Davies & West, 2013, p. 841). By shining light on the opinions of special education teachers and technology integration, there may be a better understanding of what is required for successful transition and application.

Many special education teachers note problems integrating new practices into their job duties. Some sight challenges due to the variety of students they must handle any given day. These students are often disabled and require additional assistance and attention. Unlike in regular education, special education may require additional practices that are both draining and tedious for special education teachers. In order for special education teachers to see technology integration as positive, they must see its ability to make their jobs easier.

An important thing to note is the use of new technologies in recent times such as social media and virtual schools. Virtual schools may be an option for special needs students wishing to learn but are unable to go to school on a regular basis. Special education teachers would have to learn to use technology via virtual schools and still maintain effective instruction. Customization of curriculum seems helpful in theory to special education students, but may be difficult to execute.

This study may lend to the already mentioned need to train special education teachers more and enable continual growth. Technology needs change each year. Ten years ago teachers only needed to learn how to use a computer. Now teachers must learn how to use tablets, teach from online, and communicate electronically. As the years pass, further technological innovations will lead to a need for additional training.

Implications for Social Change

Technology influences almost every facet of society, careers, and most importantly education. The implications for social change consist of understanding and recognizing information that schools and organizations can utilize to assist in generating a development plan geared towards technology integration for special education teachers and teachers in general. The basis for this proposal for transformation was built on in-depth observations of the perceptions as well as teaching practices of K-5 special education teachers in the Miami-Dade school district in the use of technology for Learning and instruction. Research-based approaches/strategies were discovered for the promotion of positive teacher perceptions of technology integration.

Training is an important part of successful technology integration. Without appropriate training, special education teachers are left without the skills for successful implementation of technology in their daily instruction. By presenting evidence of the attitudes and beliefs of special education teachers, Miami-Dade County’s public elementary schools and through extension other public elementary schools will see the need for change in regards to how technology integration is implemented. Modernization, globalization is a key feature of today’s evolving society. Technology brings both modernization and globalization into schools by giving access to both teachers and students on ways to grow and learn from using the internet and communicating and recording information through electronic devices (Kim, Kim, Lee, Spector, & Demeester, 2013).

Technology integration can also allow the seamless inclusion of special education into regular education. As schools move towards promoting inclusion and allowing special education students to feel and be part of the rest of the school, technology integration will make this transition faster and easier. It will also help give options to students that did not have options before. Homeschooling, distance learning, these may be allowed earlier on for students that truly need to stay at home. There are a multitude of different ways for technology to change the way schools see teaching and learning. More research, more studies will help illuminate the way to an integrated and inclusive society and education system.

Summary and Transition

Special education teachers have a difficult time integrating technology into their daily instruction. Some of it is attributed to attitudes and perceptions which may come from lack of training. This section provided an introduction, and introduction to the study, and highlighted the problem statement, nature of the study, operational definitions, as well as the significance of the study. Successful technology integration requires supporting special education teachers not just in changing their perceptions, but also giving them the tools necessary for successful implementation. Evaluations like these promote continual development of special education teachers so they can handle the difficulties associated with transitions.

Research and literature provide the basis from which these changes can take place. Schools must make decisions based on best practices so training opportunities for special education teachers are not squandered. If public schools’ successful technology integration, especially in special education, there may be a higher likelihood of improved inclusion between regular education and special education students. Teachers will also be able to instruct students with tools that provide custom-made curriculum.

Technology is the best way to help teachers adopt new ways of teaching and enable new ways of learning for students (Chiu, 2016). The next section, Section 2, will offer a review of related research and studies and see how the chosen conceptual framework and technology integration can be useful for this scenario. The literature review contains information and summaries of recent case studies, studies, and articles that help define the most pertinent facets of the study.

References

Beycioglu, K. (2013). Ethical technology use, policy, and reactions in educational settings. Hershey, Pa.: Information Science Reference.

Chiu, T. (2016). Introducing electronic textbooks as daily-use technology in schools: A top-down adoption process. Br J. Educ Technol, n/a-n/a. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12432

Davies, R. & West, R. (2013). Technology Integration in Schools. Handbook Of Research On Educational Communications And Technology, 841-853. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5_68

Ertmer, P., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A., Sadik, O., Sendurur, E., & Sendurur, P. (2012). Teacher beliefs and technology integration practices: A critical relationship. Computers & Education, 59(2), 423-435. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.02.001

Fernandez-Lopez, A., Rodriguez-Fortiz, M., Rodriguez-Almendros, M., & Martinez-Segura, M. (2013). Mobile learning technology based on iOS devices to support students with special education needs.Computers & Education, 61, 77-90. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.09.014

Keengwe, J. (2015). Handbook of research on educational technology integration and active learning. IGI Global.

Kim, C., Kim, M., Lee, C., Spector, J., & Demeester, K. (2013). Teacher beliefs and technology integration. Teaching And Teacher Education, 29, 76-85. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2012.08.005

Koehler, M., Mishra, P., Kereluik, K., Shin, T., & Graham, C. (2013). The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge Framework. Handbook Of Research On Educational Communications And Technology, 101-111. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5_9

Koh, J., Chai, C., Benjamin, W., & Hong, H. (2015). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) and Design Thinking: A Framework to Support ICT Lesson Design for 21st Century Learning. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 24(3), 535-543. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40299-015-0237-2

Lim, C., Zhao, Y., Tondeur, J., Chai, C., & Tsai, C. (2013). Bridging the Gap: Technology Trends and Use of Technology in Schools. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 16(2), 59.

Ma, W., Yuen, A., Park, J., Lau, W., & Deng, L. (2015). New Media, Knowledge Practices and Multiliteracies. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Nam, C., Bahn, S., & Lee, R. (2013). Acceptance of Assistive Technology by Special Education Teachers: A Structural Equation Model Approach. International Journal Of Human-Computer Interaction, 29(5), 365-377. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2012.711990

Nam, C., Bahn, S., & Lee, R. (2013). Acceptance of Assistive Technology by Special Education Teachers: A Structural Equation Model Approach. International Journal Of Human-Computer Interaction, 29(5), 365-377. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2012.711990

Tong, C., Tak, W., & Wong, A. (2015). The Impact of Knowledge Sharing on the Relationship between Organizational culture and Job Satisfaction: The Perception of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Practitioners in Hong Kong. Ijhrs, 5(1), 19. http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ijhrs.v5i1.6895

Tsai, C. & Chai, C. (2012). The “third”-order barrier for technology-integration instruction: Implications for teacher education. AJET, 28(6), 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.14742/ajet.810

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