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  1. 1. Running Head: L. WIGGS – TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES The Affects of Technology On Students with Learning Disabilities Luke Wiggs Boise State University
  2. 2. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 2  ABSTRACTThe increased number of people in the United States that have been diagnosed with learningdisabilities, dictates the importance of applying a variety of methods to enhance the learningexperience. Educators should tailor the method of delivery to each student and use acombination of constructivism and technology to allow students to learn the concept and retainknowledge for longer periods of times. In this paper, you will see how technology allowsstudents with disabilities to learn concepts that previously were too complex. Students who havedifficulty with written words no longer have to struggle with “how to write”, rather the wordprocessor can solve the “how” and the student can focus on the “what”. Students who havedifficulty reading about something that doesn’t interest them, a computer can be used to read thewords allowing a student to grasp meaningful content. Applying critical theories on how toteach and utilizing technology as a tool not only prepares young students for their adult life, butit can also be use to motivate success for adults with disabilities.
  3. 3. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 3  IntroductionThe world of special education is continuously changing. There are new ideas or conceptsconsistently being introduced. Currently the special education world is focused on full inclusionwhich advocates the No Child Left Behind Act. Most school systems are now trying to limittheir resource class settings and increase their co-taught or collaborative class settings. Whilethere are many pros and cons to this belief, it is the current trend in education. In recent yearsthere has been an increased importance of collaborative classes in special education due to morediagnosis of learning disabilities. Today, roughly 40 million people or 15% of the United Statespopulation has been diagnosed with varying degrees of a learning disability. In the field ofspecial education 50% of all students with an Individualized Education Program have adiagnosed learning disability. Most individuals with learning disabilities are in the average orabove average intellect intelligence range as related to peers. Due to the increased number ofstudents with learning disabilities there has come the increased need for collaborative classes.Most of these students don’t need the level of support that is offered in a resource class setting. Just like Special Education and its growth throughout the years, the field of technology,and its role in education has grown and evolved. Educational Technology can empower studentswith learning disabilities with the tools they need to bridge the gap in the general educationclassroom. “For students with learning disabilities (LD), technology can be an assistive toolreplacing an ability that is either missing or impaired,” (Quenneville, 2001). In the next several pages this paper will explore how Educational Technology hasaffected students with learning disabilities. In addition this paper will examine how studentswith learning disabilities utilize the constructivist approach to learning through educationaltechnology programs and devices to improve their learning.
  4. 4. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 4  Constructivist Theory Defined In education, the traditional classroom of pen and paper lectures is fading out, as newtheories have evolved. There are several different learning theories and all are supported andproved to be effective through concrete evidence. One of the most prominent theories over thelast decade is the constructivist theory. In the article Constructivist Pedagogy, the authorVirginia Richardson explains constructivism is a “theory of learning or meaning making, thatindividuals create their own new understandings on the basis of an interaction between what theyalready know and believe and ideas and knowledge with which they come into contact,”(Richardson, 2003, p. 1623-1624). In broader terms constructivism is when humans generateknowledge and meaning from their experiences. In the Constructivist Learning Theoryinstruction should focus on providing tools and learning environments which allow learners tocreate their own meaning through multiple perspectives. All learners are unique and this isespecially true when it comes to individuals with specific learning disabilities. Through constructivism a learner with a learning disability can create their own view ormeaning of the concept which has been presented. This idea of constructivism is important whendealing with diagnosed learning disabilities because meaningful learning environments should becreated to allow the individual to be successful. In contrast to the constructivist view a studentwere to copy down the definition of a word ten times, is this actually generating knowledge? Isthere anything for the student to connect to and relate to their own experiences? It is importantfor individuals with learning disabilities to be able to make that connection so retention issuccessful and regression is slowed over long periods of time. The Constructivist Theorypresents the importance of creating a learning environment in which students or learners with
  5. 5. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 5 learning disabilities can relate to the material, a learning environment is essential for successfulinstruction. Impact of Technology on Learning Environments One of the most important factors for constructivism to be successful is the learningenvironment. During the past several decades technology has grown, improved, and furtherembedded itself in the educational environment. Technology has a major impact on the learningenvironment, with the use of technology students are able to generate more knowledge andmeaning. In the article Technology and the Constructivist Learning Environment: Implicationsfor Teaching Information Literacy Skills the author Beth S. Woodard explained “ . . .technology’s major impact on teaching and learning is that it changes the learning environmentfrom one of a scarcity of information to resources to one with an abundance of informationresources,” (Woodard, 2003, p.183). For students with learning disabilities technology givesthem different avenues to explore a particular topic. For example, if a student has weaknesses inreading comprehension, the student would not be successful reading out of a book. However,with technology, they could use technological resources and have a more prevalent learningexperience. Technology is giving students a greater number of sources which enables them to use amixture of learning media to help create meaning or understanding. Woodard states that, “. . .people have greater flexibility in choosing the learning modality in which they accomplish theirlearning tasks through technology,” (p. 183). This being said, in a classroom, this gives studentsoptions they can explore and take advantage of to help generate meaning of a topic. Technologynot only creates more environments to learn from but it also creates new attitudes towardlearning environments. In an environment that is technology rich students are more likely to
  6. 6. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 6 have a positive attitude toward learning because they find technology interesting. This is reallyimportant when dealing with students with learning disabilities. Often times these students don’thave attention spans as long as their peers. If you don’t grasp their attention quickly, they willbecome disinterested. The interest that technology brings to the learning environment alsocreates motivation for the learner to complete the task. While it has been proven that technologyimpacts the learning environment for students with learning disabilities, it is important toremember that technology will have very little impact if it is not integrated properly into ameaningful curriculum. In the following paragraph the different roles technology plays ineducation for students with learning disabilities will be expanded. Technology Roles for Learning Disabilities There are different specific learning disabilities an individual could have and there areseveral different roles technology plays for students with learning disabilities. These rolesenable the student to be successful in the general education classroom setting. In addition it isthese roles that allow students to generate meaning through their own experiences, which resultin a successful learning environment. Educators need to understand the different roles fortechnology within education in order to get the most out of technological services. In her articleWoodard explains four different roles technology has in education. The first role she discusses ishow technology is a medium for educational communication. She states that, “by providingincreased access to the instructor . . .communication technologies can provide students withopportunities for joint problem solving and shared learning,” (p. 187). In the constructivisttheory the goal is for the learner to create meaning through their experience. Educators mustensure they can provide feedback to students in a timely manner. For students with learningdisabilities the communication tool is vital. Students need to able to ask questions and get
  7. 7. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 7 answers within an allotted amount of time so as to not distract or discourage the student. Thesecond role Woodard discusses in her article is how technology can be used as a cognitive tool.Technology gives students the power to process information quicker and more efficiently. In theworld of learning disabilities it actually makes some difficult tasks possible for students. According to Woodard technology can “facilitate critical thinking and higher orderlearning by supporting the deep and reflective thinking that is necessarily for meaningfullearning,” (p. 188). Through technology students are able to explore topics in greater depth thanthey would in a text book. This in turn will allow them to generate more complex meanings forspecific concepts. Another role technology plays is that of a discovery system. The termdiscovery system is simply a metaphor for the internet or World Wide Web. It is this discoverysystem which gives the learner the ability to explore all aspects of a topic and form their ownmeaning after detailed study and reflection. Without a learner even knowing, the internetautomatically accommodates their specific learning disability because it provides so manydifferent types of contexts. These are just a few broad roles technology plays for students withlearning disabilities. Assistive Technology is another role which has an important impact on thestudent with learning disabilities. Assistive Technology for Learning Disabilities The most important role technology plays for students with learning disabilities is thecognitive role. For students with disabilities technology empowers them to complete a task thatwould have been impossible without technology. Assistive Technologies give students withlearning disabilities the power to complete the same task as peers without disabilities. There areseveral assistive technology devices which are helpful to students with learning disabilities, butnot all devices are appropriate for everyone. Students with Specific Learning Disabilities
  8. 8. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 8 possess individual strengths and weaknesses and a device which may be helpful for one personmay not be for another. Whenever an assessment is made concerning whether a specific devicewould be helpful it is vital to evaluate for devices relative to their strengths and weaknesses. In the article Perspectives on Applications of Technology in the Field of LearningDisabilities the author explains individuals with disabilities can use assistive technology devicesto; assist them in learning, make the environment more accessible, allow them to compete in theworkplace, enhance their independence and improve their quality of life, (Blackhurst, 2005). Ifthe environment is not accessible for the learner how can the learner ever create their own rulesor mental models that are vital for constructivism to be successful? Due to this need forAssistive Technology, it is mandatory that Assistive Technology be considered for every studentwho has in Individualized Education Plan (Blackhurst, 2005). Once an IEP team determinesthere is a need for Assistive Technology, the IEP team will determine which device would allowthe learner to be most successful relative to their specific learning disability. When consideringwhat device to choose, the IEP team should remember the focus should be on what the devicedoes for a person, not on the device itself. Assistive Technology is merely a supportive tool forstudents. There are four main areas of learning disabilities; spoken language, written language,arithmetic and reasoning. There are many different devices which can assist a student in thesefour areas, some that have been proven such as word processors. Word Processors and Portable Word Processors Often times students who have Learning Disabilities in written expression get distractedby the mechanics of writing instead of focusing on composition. Word Processors give studentsthe power to write freely and ignore errors in mechanics because they are aware the mistakes can
  9. 9. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 9 be quickly changed upon completion of the assignment. When using word processors in therevision process, the learners are using the processor to guide the revision process andsimultaneously creating mental models about grammatical rules. Portable Word Processors aremuch smaller than computers and allow the learners to easily transport the unit. They alsoeliminate the distractions computers may cause. Text Reading Systems Text reading systems give learners with reading comprehension and written languagedeficits the skills to complete the same task as their peers. If a student didn’t have these assistivedevices they would not be able to generate meaning about an assigned topic. What these devicesdo is to allow text on the screen to be read aloud through the computers sound device. Mostdevices allow hard copy text to be scanned in a read through the device. A device that is userfriendly is the Wynn Reader which gives the student an account and allows the student to accesstheir document from home or school. If a student were asked, to within the constructivistframework explore several articles about a particular topic and then required to create their ownmeaning of the concept, a student with reading disabilities would be unable to complete the taskwithout one of these devices. These are only two of the Assistive Technology Devices which have been successful andvital to students with learning disabilities. There are many more devices which are unbelievableas aids to students with disabilities. Blackhurst states that, “. . . technology has the potential forimproving the education and quality of life of people with LD,” (Blackhurst, 2005, p.177). Inhis article Blackhurst does point out the need for continued research about the selection of anduse of Assistive Technology devices which would best meet the needs of students with LD.
  10. 10. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 10 These devices and technology are not only useful for young learners but for adult learners aswell. Motivating Adults with Learning Disabilities Adults with learning disabilities present many educational challenges. Many tend to havelow levels of achievement in the areas of reading and writing. As discussed in the previoussection this is why Assistive Technology can be so important. Looking at this from a broadersense and not from a technical perspective like Assistive Technology. It has been found thatindividuals with disabilities in reading have a difficult time reading about something which doesnot interest them. If a learner is un-motivated to learn or complete a task, how can they beexpected to be successful? How could an un-motivated learner construct or generate meaningabout a topic they don’t care about? The answer is simple, it would be difficult or nearimpossible. What would be the case if the learner were an adult? We have all heard the saying,“you can’t teach a old dog new tricks.” What if the old dog has a learning disability and is notinterested in the topic? Your chances now go from difficult to near impossible. When dealingwith students with learning disabilities there has to be new ways to motivate the learner. In thearticle Websites as Educational Motivators for Adults with Learning Disability by RachelJohnson and John R. Hegarty they explain that teenagers and adults with mild to moderatelearning disability find computers to be very interesting, and that many of their interests aresuited for using the internet (Johnson & Hegarty, 2003). While the interest in the internet andcomputer does harness increased motivation for this population of students they need to bedirected while on the computer to enable them to create meaning through their experience. Tohelp motivate, students should be encouraged to choose what they do and how much time and
  11. 11. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 11 effort they will put into it. In the article by Johnson and Hegarty they explain that in order for acomputer based learning environment to be successful it must satisfy a certain criteria. Johnson and Hegarty (2003) study found the following: The first is immersion. The learner should be totally engrossed in the activity. Play is another important part of the learning process and can eradicate boredom and stress if incorporated into computer-based exercises. Student choice allows the student to have more control over the session, which again fosters motivation and engagement. (p. 480).When learning requires students to guide their own projects it can be much more effective andstimulating than traditional methods of teaching in which students work in textbooks and fill outworksheets. Through the use of the internet we can ensure adults are motivated to complete aproject on their own and generate mental models of the concepts they are learning about. If thishappens there is a much better chance regression will not be shown over long periods of time.Johnson and Hegarty (2003) state; “that materials on the World Wide Web, accessed throughmultimedia computers, have the potential to offer such optimum learning experiences,” (Johnson& Hegarty, 2003, p. 480). Educators who work with adults with learning disabilities have agreater chance of supporting their students and encouraging learning if they use Internet-basedmaterials and programs like the World Wide Web. The Internet and Learning Disabilities In order for websites to be used effectively with students with learning disabilities it isimportant to make sure the websites meet all the section 508 criteria for Web accessibility. Whyis it important for websites to be accessible? If websites are not accessible to individuals withlearning disabilities they will not be able to use the information they find and construct meaningfrom it. In her article Making Online & CD-ROM Biology Teaching Resources Accessible to All
  12. 12. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 12 Learners she states that, “Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that there be access forall to the federal government’s electronic and information technology (including Web Sites),”(Littlefield, 2007, p. 11). While Section 508 has many guidelines a website should follow thereare some that are particularly important for learning disabilities. According to Littlefield 2007,“a primary concern is that Web sites should be flexible in their design so that viewers can easilycustomize a site to meet their particular needs,” (p.11). By allowing a student with a learningdisability to customize the site they are working on a web designer ensures the educator theirstudents will be able to work in a learning environment that is conducive for building mentalmodels and constructing meaning of a topic. Conclusion In conclusion, strong evidence shows technology, when teamed up with the constructivisttheory has a significant impact on learning disabilities. Technology is currently giving studentswho, at one time, didn’t have a way to accomplish a task. Now they have the means to masterwhat they want to. Technologies impact on the learning disabled population will only go as faras the teacher allows it to go. As technological advances continue to be made how can aconstructivist not be excited about the possibility have successfully serving all students withdisabilities?
  13. 13. L. WIGGS- TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING DISABILITIES 13  ReferencesBlackhurt, A. E. (2005). Perspectives On Applications Of Technology In the Field Of Learning Disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly , 28 (2), 175-178.Johnson, R., & Hegarty, J. R. (2003). Websites as Educational Motivators for Adults with Learning Disability. British Journal of Educational Technology , 34 (4), 479-486.Littlefield, A. P. (2007). Making Online & CD-ROM Biology Teaching Resources. American Biology Teacher , 69 (1), 9-13.Quenneville, J. (2001). Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities: Infusion into Inclusive Classrooms. Preventing School Failure, 45 (4), 167-170.Richardson, V. (2003). Constructivist Pedagogy. Teachers College Record, 1623-1640.Woodard, B. S. (2003). Technology and the constructivist learning environment: Implications for teaching information literacy skills. Research Strategies, 181-192.