Graham Ford looks at some of the opportunities technology offers those teaching students with SEN
Tech is a powerful tool for educators – not only in enriching the education experience, but also in equipping children with the twenty-first century skills they need for further education, work and their own e-safety.
Despite the incredible technical developments in most areas of life, the changes in the classroom have been relatively modest. There are many reasons for this, such as hardware being too expensive, not enough curriculum based content, slow internet speeds and high-cost internet access. However, the jigsaw pieces of accessible technology and cloud communications are now coming together and the pace of change should start to accelerate.
Schools which have committed to embedding tech across the curriculum have made digital learning more widespread and simply a part of learning. It’s important that this becomes the norm so all teaching staff and pupils can experience the benefits it brings. While technology will never replace a good or inspirational teacher, it is a great tool in enhancing the interaction between teachers and pupils.
Benefits for teachers and pupils
Tech helps teachers gain access to a plethora of resources through new apps and software that deliver a wider, more relevant curriculum. It also supports efficient management of information, for example, setting tasks or homework and receiving completed work back, monitoring a pupil’s academic progress and facilitating accurate report writing. Importantly, tech can release teacher time in the classroom for pure teaching. In a large class, some children can spend time on a specific project application, while the teacher coaches other pupils who need more attention or learn in a different way.
Both primary and secondary school pupils tend to experience increased levels of engagement in classroom learning when using the right technology. Tools such as video, interactive websites, games and music make subjects more relevant and enjoyable. The number of maths apps now available is evidence of this. The best ones cleverly build a child’s confidence and put the subject into an every day, problem solving context.
A conclusive shift for students is the improved access to good quality “recommended” learning material outside school. This is great for homework and for those children who simply want to improve their results.
Pupils also benefit from a whole universe of virtual and real “worlds” now available on the Internet. This unleashes new, creative approaches and ideas for learning, and goes a long way towards meeting the varying needs of visual, auditory, verbal or kinesthetic learners – something that is particularly relevant for many children with SEN.
Technology has a key role to play in helping teachers to make the classroom experience for all children and young people second to none.
The right tech is game changing. Rather than relying on the work of a few hardworking teachers, you can now pool all the creativity and resources of a global educational world with the backing of today’s technical giants and a plethora of specialist apps. Learning can more easily be tailored to meet the specific requirements of individual children. New apps can be programmed to go at the right speed for pupils and disturbing elements, such as flashing lights or loud noises, can be removed. This level of content control can make a huge difference to overall classroom wellbeing.
Today’s technology can cope with a variety of learning styles and create an inclusive classroom environment. Audio-to-text, text-to-speech, intuitive touch screens and keyboards, and virtual reality are just some of the tools that are becoming more accessible in classrooms.
Affordable and more robust tablets have also brought about a revolution in schools. They have long been used for children with dyslexia; for children who are unable to read or write, they can also be configured to develop stronger listening and speech skills. Children can respond to what is being said by the teacher, specific sounds or pictures by giving their “answer” via their tablet, often using a colour based response system. Teachers can see how their pupils react to specific words or visual prompts and recognise achievements or problems more readily. Not only does this create a more interactive environment in the classroom, it also ensures pupils don’t get frustrated through misunderstandings.
Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to be transformational in all classrooms. It has matured to a point where it is more affordable and includes supporting, accessible content that works alongside the curriculum from Key Stage 1 through to A-levels and beyond.
In the “age of experiences”, VR promises to give pupils, whatever their circumstances, the opportunity to visit places and try out things they would otherwise be unable to access. They can go on far-flung field trips, fly a jet plane simulator or even learn to play a new sport. Imagine virtually exploring the Grand Canyon as part of a great rivers project or seeing and hearing an orchestra play your music. This hands-on access to new material and first hand “evidence” will bring a new depth of understanding into the classroom.
Technology is a positive force in education, but tech and communications industries, in close cooperation with schools, have an important responsibility in making sure children are kept safe from the negative aspects of the internet and social media. The right network configuration and software can help limit unnecessary tech usage and prohibit access to dangerous information and websites. I think everyone in education welcomes Education Secretary Damian Hinds’ February 2019 announced that, from September 2020, all primary pupils will be given detailed guidance about online safety and navigating the “pitfalls and dangers” of the internet.
The educational innovations discussed in this article have only really started to become feasible in the last few years. We are at an exciting juncture for tech in education and, with the right educational leadership and support from the technical community, our classrooms can be transformed. Children’s appetite and desire for technology is obvious, but we must now help channel it into learning and make it “good tech”, rather than hours spent on social media outside school.
About the author
Graham Ford is Operations Director for Techs4Education, a specialist provider of IT support services and technology solutions to schools.