Use technology to overcome learning barriers without reducing rigor

ORLANDO, Fla. — Education technology can reduce barriers and provide access to rigorous learning targets and grade-level standards for all kids, Mary Schillinger, educational consultant with Collaboration for Success, told attendees at the 37th National Future of Education Technology Conference.

“That’s all kids,” Schillinger said. “Underline, bold, and star ‘all.'”

Schillinger, a former assistant superintendent of education, presented the workshop Using Educational Technology To Provide Universal Access to Instruction.

For “all” to really mean all students, staff can’t design lessons for the average student, she said.

“They need to design for the edges,” Schillinger said.

Using the three principles of universal design for learning — multiple means of engagement, representation, and action or expression — educators can plan for a wide range of students with diverse needs and strengths, she said. Technology can help educators incorporate each of these UDL principles into instruction.

Schillinger offered these examples:

Provide multiple means of engagement

When students aren’t engaged, they aren’t ready to learn, Schillinger said.

“We need to be thinking about how to engage our students before we start planning our lesson,” she said.

Share these ideas with staff to keep students engaged:

  • ‘Gamify’ lessons by incorporating aspects of video game design into instruction. This can help teachers provide varying levels of challenge depending on the student’s skills.
  • Use a “technology checklist” that lists multiple tech tools that students can use. This allows students to choose the tool that’s most engaging to them.
  • Consider using different types of media such as videos, 3D journeys, and virtual reality.
  • Have students use technology in groups or pairs.
  • Introduce visual timers such as 30/30 or Time Timer to students who struggle with staying engaged and on-task.

Keep in mind that classrooms where technology and UDL are working successfully can get pretty noisy, said Teresa Pinder, who attended the FETC workshop.

“It can get pretty loud and noisy because students are collaborating and using different technologies,” Pinder said. “You have to prepare administration so they’re not shocked when they come into a classroom.”

Also, make sure that staff vet any videos, podcasts, or other media items to make sure they are age appropriate, include academic vocabulary, and model appropriate learning targets, Schillinger added.

Provide multiple means of representation

Technology can also help represent concepts in different ways, Schillinger said.

“[For instance], oftentimes, a barrier to learning is that student’s reading levels are low,” she said.

By using a website such as NewsELA, a teacher can change the Lexile levels of a passage of text to meet a student’s individual needs, she said. Consider these other tools staff can use to represent concepts:

  • Teach students how to use text-to-speech options to listen to digital text.
  • Use technology that students can stop or replay multiple times to review or practice fluency.
  • Represent concepts visually by allowing students to use scanned photos, digital drawings, or maps.

Provide multiple means of action and expression

The third principle of UDL refers to how students demonstrate their knowledge, Schillinger said. Students act or express what they learned, she said. Technology can offer students more options and flexibility for showing their teacher that they understand a concept. Consider how students can use technology to accomplish this. Students can:

  • Create a video or whiteboard video using Videoscribe.
  • Create an electronic or hardcopy poster.
  • Record songs of skits using an audio editing program such as Audacity.
  • Use a tablet to record a “man on the street” interview with another student.
  • Record a how-to video explaining a concept.
  • Write a Tweet for the classroom Twitter account.
  • Pin ideas to a digital bulletin board such as Padlet.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504, education technology, and Common Core issues related to special education for LRP Publications.

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