K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 5

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                     IT Resource Allocation and Special Education 
                               By Maureen Kramanak  
** Note** This was actually research done for another class, but I thought the information was appropriate to add. There is no diagram or questions at the end, as this is merely an "extra."

As a special education teacher in a separate day facility serving mentally and orthopedically handicapped students, I am particularly interested in how resource allocation affects that population, specifically, the barriers that special education teachers face in attempting to integrate instructional technology, including assistive technology, into the classroom.

Merriam-Webster defines accommodation as “something supplied for convenience, or to satisfy a need.” Smith, Polloway, Patton, and Dowdy (1998) describe educational adaptations as “changes in the manner in which students are taught...they include changes in instruction, assignments, homework, and testing” (p. 40). One has only to look at the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for a student to examine the role of these accommodations in order to help ensure academic and personal success for the student. Assisitive and instructional technologies provide supports for students in order to achieve these goals.

Of particular importance is transition planning for students. The Transition Plan is developed for students beginning at age 14. The plan describes goals and activities designed to help students meet those goals in the areas of employment and independent living. Bryant and Bryant (2003) mention the importance of assistive technologies with respect to independent living. Similarly, Scherer (2004) notes that students, when using assistive technology inside and outside the classroom achieve their goals at a higher rate than do those without these things. Finally, Hasselberg and Glaser (2000) state that “assistive technology can enable even those students with severe disabilities to become active learners in the classroom alongside their non-disabled peers” (p. 102). Clearly, it appears that assistive and instructional technology are important modes of accommodation in academic settings. Why then, is there a perceived problem of IT resource allocation in special education settings?

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1997) school districts are bound by law to provide a “free and appropriate education” (FAPE) for all students with disabilities in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). In order to ensure this, all IEP’s must indicate that AT and IT have been considered as means to provide a disabled child with full and meaningful access to the general curriculum. Moreover, IDEA also requires that these devices and services must be made available if they are mentioned in related services or supplementary aids in the child’s IEP.

The connection between AT and IT devices exists because many of the AT devices rely on computers for them to work. It is in this vein that the resource problem as it affects special education first becomes apparent. Hendrix (2005) notes that:

 Computers are becoming common tools in schools, often viewed as a democratic panacea despite 
 the costs involved and despite the fact that the majority does not have access to computers 
 and/or the Internet;  this creates a digital divide for students, in which some are
 “more equal” than others.” (p.63)

In a 2005 study of 3 inservice(K-12) and 3 preservice(K-12) special education teachers involved in graduate studies in a University in Northwestern Ohio currently involved in teaching special education populations, two themes emerged regarding this issue.

The first theme was access to existing or shared resources. In this theme, the focus was on issues such as timelines of resources being set up and installed in classrooms, barriers to access, including hierarchies, and sharing of technology within buildings. Along with problems of insufficient resources, (in one case, not even having light bulbs to replace in her classroom...the teacher had to replace the light bulbs with her own money!), was the even more insidious “stigma” attached to “special ed.” Some of the “reasons” given for the reticence of sharing IT resources were “the kids are irresponsible,” and “the kids will just break it.” (Since when do these “reasons” apply to “only” special ed?) This perception of special ed. students being more “irresponsible” than regular ed. students may have led to the “hierarchy” which put the special ed. classes last in line when the resources were distributed. In fact, one teacher noted that the “gifted” classes were the first to get their technology up and running. Another area of concern was that of gaining access to the school’s computer lab. Another teacher remarked that “there have been several times when it was my students’ turn to use the computer lab, but another class needed it ‘more,’ so my students would be sent back to class.” Compounding this concern was that the special ed. students, at least in that particular school, were often the least socioeconomically able, as far as their families went, to afford computers at home.

The second emerging theme was that of distribution of resources. The teachers in the study remarked that profession development regarding technology was often not even offered to the special ed. teachers. When computers were available, the regular ed. classes got the new equipment, and the special ed. kids got the hand –me- downs. Contributing to this situation is the thought that special ed. students are merely being housed rather than taught as is the case in regualr ed. The prevailing thought is, “Why bother giving them the good stuff? They can’t do anything anyway.” In this school, at least, and I suspect in others, there is a veritable “pecking order” regarding the assignation of resources. The gifted kids, the technology center, and the library get the nicest equipment, followed by the yearbook or journalism classes, then the regular ed. classes. Special ed. gets what’s left over.

Other areas of concern were teachers not being involved in planning processes for technology integration into the curriculum, and the resultant “hidden agendas” when it came to distribution of monetary resources. Although Means (1998) observed that “the first step in successfully integrating technology into instruction, and as such ‘large’ applications of public funds are likely to focus on infrastructure improvements, often with an ‘equitable’ distribution of resources across all districts, schools, or classrooms.” What often really happens, though, is the “disparity of distribution of technology resources within schools (that) may be seen as another of the ‘complex factors that shape technology use in ways that serve to exacerbate existing education inequalities.” (Warschauer, Knobel, & Stone, 2004, p. 562).

This disparity is not only evident in K-12 public schools. It occurs in the postsecondary arena as well. In a case study of a blind Ph.D. student at the University of Washington, the student experienced difficulty utilizing certain websites because the refreshible Braille display she was using was not always capable of reproducing and interpreting graphic images on websites.

In order for postsecondary disabled students to achieve their goals, they must have access to the high tech tools available to their nondisabled peers. Again, this is a requirement of IDEA. The tools here include computers, websites, internet based distance learning courses, instructional software, and scientific equipment. Similar to the “themes” emergent with the K-12 teachers, barriers in postsecondary education are availability of AT and IT, and the elimination of barriers to equitable resource distribution affected goal achievement among disabled students in postsecondary settings.

Legal mandates, such as IDEA and Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Rehabilitation Act demand that assistive technology be provided to those students who need it, but mere access is often not enough. Lack of appropriate, working knowledge and lack of sufficient funding are identified as challenges to full AT and IT implementation. Contributing to this aspect of the “divide” is the lack of awareness of technology options, legal issues, and advocacy strategies by the stakeholders. Stakeholders in this instance include persons with disabilities, parents, mentors, paraprofessionals, school administrators, librarians, teachers, and other technical support staff. According to a 2000 study by the National Council on Disability, the principal challenges to equal access to AT and IT by disabled persons are the “bureaucracy of public programs and insurance companies,” and “ the lack of trained professionals to evaluate the technology.”

Specifically, in order to take steps to minimize this disparity, schools and educational systems in general need to ensure that:

 People with disabilities gain access to the technology that has the potential to promote 
 positive postsecondary and career outcomes
 People with disabilities learn to use technology in ways that contribute to positive  
 postsecondary and career outcomes
 A seamless transition of availability exists as students move from K-12 to postsecondary  
 education, and
 The correct balance between design and provision of assistive and instructional technology 
 exists in and between educational and employment computing environments.

Options to meet these challenges include:

 Stakeholders should have access to training
 Policies and procedures should be established at all academic levels to ensure universal 
 Policies, procedures, training, and support should be available at all instructional levels
 Interagency collaboration on planning, funding, choosing, and supporting the student through 
 AT and IT should be fostered to ensure continous access as students with disabilities move 
 from the educational setting to the employment setting
 Students with disabilities at the high school level should be encouraged to participate in 
 internships and externships that include typical technology used in the workplace
 Legislators and policymakers should disseminate information regarding current laws, policies, 
 and resources that are intended to meet the needs of stakeholders.  Care should be taken to 
 identify and correct inconsistencies and gaps in laws and policies concerning the selection, 
 support, and funding of technology designed for use by persons with disabilities.

To refer all this back to the blind University student in the case study, she ultimately contacted the administrator of the website, and described the problems she was having. Out of this conversation came the idea to include text descriptions as well as graphic images on the website. The student was then able to access these descriptions with her Braille output system. As a result of her inquiry, people with speech synthesizers and slower modems were also able to more readily and meaningfully access the website’s content.

More information about this case study can be found at: http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/Strategies/Academic/Webpages/webpages_case_study.html

The disparity is also apparent in regards to special education in countries other than the United States. In a 2002 study at the College of Education at Anadolu University in Turkey, fifteen voluntary faculty members of the Research Institute for the Handicapped reported that;

   Academic and administrative support was essential to encourage technology 
   use among students
   Technology based education must be offered as part of a student-centered curriculum
   Teaching and learning systems need to be restructured in order to provide more
   effficient utilization of classroom technology
   Instructors need meaningful training so as to offer meaningful learning experiences
   for students
   Developing instructional skills requires commitment from the instructors.

Although these aspects of the “digital divide” are somewhat different from those issues facing special educators in urban, inner city schools, this study still pointed out that commitment and support are still essential to ensure successful implementation of technology, even at the University level.

To summarize, it seems that special educators, no matter what their level, perceive the “unfairness” of resource allocation as ever-present in school culture. This is often evident in staff and administrative attitudes that stigmatize special education, and thus hinder access to technology by special ed. students. In addition, stakeholders, or advocates of special education need to become more knowledgeable about appropriate uses of technology. They also would be well served to develop skills for increasing funding, and working together to maximize the independence, participation, and productivity of students with disabilities as they matriculate through the educational system on their way to college, careers, and self-determined lives.

The ultimate goal, of course, is for all students, regardless of their disability, to have equal access to that technology which will assist them in becoming productive members of society. As we have seen, however, from the perceptions of special educators, a myriad of roadblocks stand in the way.

                                       List of References

Bryant, D.P. and Bryant, B.R. (2003). Assistive Technology for People With Disabilities. Toronto,

  Pearson Education, inc.

Cleary, P.F., Pierce, G., and Trauth, E.M. (2006). “Closing the Digital Divide: Understanding

  Racial, Social Class, Gender, and Geographic Disparities in Internet Use Among School-age
  Children in the United States.”  Universal Access in the Informative Society, 4(4), 354-373.

Craig, J., Craig, F., Withers, P., Hatton, C., & Limb, K. (2002). “Identity Conflict in People with Intellectual Disabilities: What Role do Service Providers Play in Mediating Stigma?” Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 15, 61-72.

Hasselberg, T.S. % Glaser, C.H. (2000). “Use of Computer Technology to Help Students with Special Needs.” Children and Computer Technology, 10(2), 102-122.

Hendrix, E. (2005). “Permanent Injustice: Rawls’ Theory of Justice and the Digital Divide.” Educational Technology and Society, 8(1), 63-68.

Scherer, M.J. (2004). Connecting to Learn: Educational and Assistive Technologies for People with Disabilities. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Warschauer, M., Knobel, M., & Stone, L. (2004) “Technology and Equity in Schooling: Deconstructing the Digital Divide.” Educational Policy, 18(4), 562-588.