Many teachers — special education and general education alike — are finding themselves adrift in a world of technology with little clarity on what to implement and how to implement it.
But what if there was a team of researchers dedicated to evaluating and recommending apps specific to special education needs and designing new apps to fill the needs that aren’t being met?
“Special education, and general education teachers, do value tech, but they just haven’t had sufficient training,” says Karl Kosko, an assistant professor at Kent State who works on the project.
SpedApps released a research report this fall that homed in on the challenges special educators face in using technology in the classroom. The survey of almost 700 K–12 general and special education teachers, therapeutic professionals, administrators and parents of children with special needs was conducted to measure the current use of mobile tech.
Here are some key findings from the survey:
One interesting finding that Kosko highlighted was the fact that special education teachers were likely than their peers in general ed to have used mobile technology to support student engagement.
“It’s likely because [special educators] have more capacity to be able to do that,” he says. “General educators have certain demands placed on them by school districts and the state. Sometimes these demands can hinder the use of more technology.”
Though the report noted that special education teachers are often more open to seeing that applications can “teach and reinforce the communicative skills necessary for learning,” their use is still quite rare.
In April, Slate reported on Missouri special education teacher Alexandra Beckman, who had piloted an attention-monitoring app with her students.
The I-Connect app, developed by a research team from the University of Kansas, simply asks students periodically to indicate if they are on task. Beckman told Slate that after about a month, one of her students who used the app for math increased his on-task behavior from 19 to 63 percent. Another student, using the app for writing, improved from 9 to 91 percent.
Though this intervention clearly helped with focus, Beckman told Slate the novelty of using a mobile device was her students’ favorite part.
“If an app or software is well designed, it can provide scaffolds that create a more individualized environment that a child won’t get unless they have a one-on-one aide,” says Kosko. “Tech allows them to be more engaged, and it monitors this engagement.”
And apps aren’t just for students — the National Association of Special Education Teachers has released an app designed to assist educators too. As reported on the blog for the magazine ADDitude, the Invidualized Education Program Goals and Objectives app helps teachers create a list of students who received IEPs and plan lessons and goals for each of them. The app also incorporates Common Core standards.
In addition to providing educators with a searchable database of apps, the SpedApps project is also developing apps of its own.
So far they have released Number Line Math, a free puzzle-based app that helps students understand multiplication.
Kosko says a forthcoming app called iPD aims to address the lack of training their survey found by creating a mobile professional development platform.
“Some teachers do not have the luxury to drive to a campus or other facility to gain professional development,” he says. “We need to find ways to get this content to them in a meaningful way.”