Tablets for Assistive Technology

www.proloquo2go.comphoto © 2009 kev_hickey_uk | more info (via: Wylio)
In past posts I have addressed how tablets (xoom, iPad…) might change education, or not… depending on the educational objective.  Now let’s talk about how these new devices can help special education students. In the past there were two lines of technology development, one being the ‘regular’ technology development and one for assistive technology development. Typical assistive technology five years ago (and admittedly still being purchased in many schools today) might be DynaVox, GoTalk+20 or other special device (see list of augmented communication devices here and here). For notetaking a student might have an alphasmart or fusion assigned to them. What I think is happening is that some of these device developments are merging with the ‘regular’ technology development. For instance, with notetaking I think it is a better idea to give a student a netbook, which would give them more functionality, is cheaper than most other devices, and still gives them the portability.  (Depending on the student’s other needs maybe also giving them a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard would work, although for only a note-taking device my thought is a netbook would work better for most students.)

The other big area in assistive technology is augmented communication devices. More and more I am seeing a shift from the traditional devices to giving a student a tablet, such as an iPad. Some of the augmented communication apps available are Proloquo2go, OneVoice, Talking Tom and Voice4U, just to name a few. The best part about using a tablet  is that tablets not only can be their communication device, but can also include other apps that address other educational goals and objectives for the special education student.

Tablets are perfect for that one-to-one device for each special education student because it can be customized to fit their specific needs. In essence it will grow with the student, apps being uploaded as students’ needs change.

Here are some great resources for special education apps and other information:

Apps for Children with special needs

Education Matters: Schools using iPads to help autistic students

iPad apps for children with special needs

10 Revolutionary iPad apps to help autistic children

Apps, apps, so many apps (great resource by purpose)

Of course, with that said, there will still be a need for specialized communication and other devices that meet  individual student needs. These devices are still being developed and get better all the time. Once again, the important place to start is the individual student’s need. If there is indeed an app for that, and the student is able to use the tablet efficiently and effectively then why not choose a device that grows with the student and can allow them to be successful in their goals?

There’s an app for that… or is there?

Two boys and an iPadphoto © 2009 Tony McNeill | more info (via: Wylio)
I love my new Xoom, and have yet to not find an app that I need. The saying, “there is an app for that” is true for most people. The question is, are there quality educational apps ? Most of the millions of apps are games or simple consumable tools. Don’t get me wrong, there are some that give you access to web tools that allow you to interact and create projects. My biggest concern is that many educational apps simply replace the worksheet in that they are simple drill/kill practice. Many lack the problem solving and critical thinking skills that project-based learning provides students. Some apps are simpler versions of software programs that allow you to create projects as well.

That is why when some say that tablets will replace all other pieces of technology I have to worry. There are many things I love about my Xoom, including its portability, ease of use, great web-browsing, super graphics, games that keep my mind sharp, and access to all my organizational tools (dropbox, evernote, google…).  I’m not debating the coolness of the tablet, or the great ability to be mobile. I can also see some uses in the classroom for students, including targeted interventions during center time or otherwise unstructured time. The novelty is new so I can see students liking the educational apps better than a worksheet so for now I see it as being engaging. I just worry that if all we do with it is ‘worksheet’ like activities then we will just replace a bad old technique with a new bad technique. It can’t just be about simple consumable apps for kids. It has to be about creative creation, unabated exploration, critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration.

With that said, I don’t see the end of the pc in schools.  I would hate to see the great digital stories, documentaries, PSAs, podcasts, and other authentic performance tasks be watered down to fit to the tablet. As I’ve said before, educators need to think about the educational purpose and choose the tools to fit that purpose. (see my post ‘Will tablets be the next educational innovation?‘)

We simply can’t lose sight of good quality educational practices because of a new technology tool that is cool. There has to be more ‘meat’ to the learning. So, yes if the purpose fits the functionality of a tablet by all means use it. If it doesn’t, force fitting it to the tablet will just end in frustration for both you and the student.

Of course as technology evolves and apps advance, you never know where we’ll end up. Until then we need to allow students with access to a variety of hardware, software, and apps to fulfill the diverse educational needs they face.