For quite some time now, educators have been incorporating different digital tools into the classroom. However, it is clear that the pandemic has expedited the shift to becoming completely virtual, which has caught some classrooms off-guard. The effects of COVID-19 have been even more pronounced in the special education sector, where both teachers and students are faced with new challenges related to distance or online learning. Thankfully, technology has also done wonders in making learning more inclusive, especially in terms of special education.
Accommodating various capacities
Students who have visual processing disorders may have difficulty reading, and certain platforms allow texts to be read out loud and matched up with audio recordings. In a physical classroom, it is a lot more difficult to have these individual needs and preferences met. But through technology, there are now numerous techniques that designers can use for creating and developing learning platforms for students with special needs.
Designers of these platforms can now incorporate new technologies to cater to diverse needs. An article by World Economic Forum discusses how artificial intelligence (AI) is now factored into the design stage when creating education tools for personalized learning. This includes cultivating basic digital literacy for educators and students alike, allowing more AI-enabled tools to be developed for educative purposes. And as these technologies progress, we can expect more tools and platforms that accommodate these features for special education classrooms.
One platform where this is evident is G Suite for Education, which can also be useful for its dictation software. This means that students can use vocal cues to dictate the words they want to use. This kind of speech-to-text software helps students with speech impediments to open lines of communication with their fellow students and educators, in a way that feels the most comfortable for them. They can also take things at their own pace, and review previous discussions if need be.
Online learning modules for educators
It’s no secret that online or distance learning has been challenging for students whose special needs are best met through face-to-face interactions. At the same time, online learning modules are also helping to bridge training gaps in special education. Clinical simulation developer Simucase for instance has been especially helpful for those training in providing occupational therapy, speech pathology, and other special needs. Through its comprehensive patient video library and assessment modules, Simucase simulates a range of cases for trainees to observe – all through a 100% online environment.
“When we use Simucase for testing, students are guided through multiple case scenarios with patients of all ages who have a variety of diagnoses and needs,” details Nancy Green, chairperson of the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences’ occupational therapy assistant program. “The students are provided with multiple questions from each case study, which they answer and receive feedback on their responses.”
The effectiveness of Simucase is shown by how it is used by top universities. As part of their research and training, students taking Maryville University’s online communication sciences and disorders degree use Simucase for a variety of speech pathology applications, which greatly expands their knowledge of both the anatomical and psychological aspects of language development. By becoming comfortable with this program the graduates are able to develop new ways to help those with speaking disabilities. At a time when face-to-face interactions between special needs teachers/providers and students/patients are difficult if not impossible, today’s advanced online learning modules are helping to ensure everyone receives an education.
Cultivating social interactions
Virtual reality (VR) has now become an effective means of teaching social skills and cues to students with disabilities. VR allows students to immerse themselves in different atmospheres and situations. The controlled environment can help students feel safe as it cultivates social behaviors through interactions with avatars. These VR interactions teach students about positive and negative exchanges, which can then be transferred over to real-life scenarios. It can still be used for distance learning, without the need for VR headsets.
VR platforms such as Framevr are great for virtual classrooms as it can be customized for educational experiences. Educators can design a ‘room’ with videos, photos, and PDFs, together with scenes that students can navigate. Users can communicate and interact through various means, from speaking into the microphone, using a built-in laser pointer, or typing in a chat box.
The benefits of these technologies outweigh the challenges that could possibly arise from remote learning. If it means that students are more empowered, then these digital tools are already building blocks toward a more inclusive future.
Specially written for THERAPYTRAVELERS.com
By: Reisa Jenn