Where Edtech is Failing Special Education

Opinion | Special Education

Where Edtech is Failing Special Education

By Kara Brooks-Odom     Jan 22, 2015

Where Edtech is Failing Special Education

There’s been a lot of positive press about how technology can help special education students. But what about my students?

I teach 3 distinct subjects: English, Biology, and Job Skills. My students are between the ages of 14 and 21, but academically, they are between pre-K and 3rd grade. They know they are in high school. They have friends, are in clubs, go to the dances, and play sports. When I teach them things they don’t understand, sometimes they can tell me. When I show them something meant for 2nd graders, they sometimes know, and sometimes they point it out.

Last year, I went to a technology conference full of educators and software companies developing apps and programs for teachers to use in the schools. When I left, I asked, “But... what about my students? My young adult students?” I have attended too many professional development classes and graduate seminars to still have this question unanswered.

My students use Google, Ipads, and Laptops; they use the Google Apps for Education, check emails, and post on Facebook. We are a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school system, but the apps my school system purchases are not effective with my students--my young adult students.

So where do we go from here?

Where the biggest issues are

I am an ALS (Academic Life Skills) teacher, a teacher of students with moderate to severe learning disabilities. Many of my students are on the autism spectrum, and being in my program means that they are on the more severe end of this spectrum. Others deal with traumatic brain injury, various forms of learning disabilities, hearing loss, and medical complications.

When it comes to their behavior in the classroom, I deal with toileting issues, teach basic phonics skills, work on behavior management, try to avert schedule changes causing meltdowns, and chase students that run. But there are really no apps that can help with that!

Many of the educational apps on the market are geared toward SPED students that are 1-2 grade levels below their peers--your “normal” kids with some missing skills. Some are for students with decoding issues that need a reader (Kurzweil); some help with learning phonics sounds (Best Phonics Apps). Still others are for students that need a visual representation of Biology concepts (Best Bio Apps). There is even one that supports job skills (CAW) though data entry is a dying field.

My students need all of these things, but with simple sentences, lots of age appropriate pictures, and job skills that people really need. And honestly, those types of apps aren’t out there.

I’ve tried to appropriate materials where I can, but the apps and programs I use in my classroom, more often than not, are geared toward elementary students. For example, two years ago, I paid for Scholastic Magazine (specifically a 2nd grade version of the paper) because the online version came with modified text--yet it was still too complicated. Common Core has spawned new educational technology, but the language that is used in these tools are also too complicated for some of my students.

And so, I ask again… what about my students?

Where edtech can grow

In a perfect world, there would be apps written on a lower elementary level with content that high school students need to know. For example, how about scenarios in a social skills app that demonstrate the dos and don’ts of introducing yourself to a girl/boy? Or an app that will help students understand elements of a story using pictures from common high school novels?

Let’s look at English Language Arts, for example. Most apps have questions at the end of a story, but that is too much information for my students to process and review. Great reading apps would include comprehension check questions at the end of a paragraph or during major event in a story. In my perfect world, technology has caught up with the changing face of special education, that someone has created the technology that has met the needs of my students.

My students want jobs, they want friends, they want to participate in class when we are reading The Scarlet Letter--but I need the online resources, applications, and time to make it work. What I need is not out there, or at least I haven’t found it.

I will continue attending education technology conferences. But will there be anything there for my students? Can anyone out there help?

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