How Can EdTech Tools Support All Learners?

December 2, 2019

December 2nd is “Special Education Day,” marking the anniversary of when President Gerald Ford signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975. Many educators are increasingly seeing the value of edtech to support students’ different needs in and out of the classroom. 

Students all bring their distinct educational needs and styles into the classroom. Many teachers work hard to find a balance between supporting individual students and addressing the needs of the whole class. Teachers are tasked with educating classes of students with a wide range of abilities, needs and challenges. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven million, or 14% of students were served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA calls on teachers and schools to support students with a range of disabilities, including but not limited to autism, deafness and blindness. 

Considering this growing trend, how can educational technologies be leveraged to assist students of all abilities? 

An opportunity for “distance learning.” Online learning platforms can often be accessed from any location with internet access. This accessibility can be a game changer for differently abled students, specifically those with behavioral or physical challenges that prevent them from coming onto school campuses. These students can complete their coursework from settings that helps them learn best, such as at home. 

Adaptive to individual student needs. As all teachers know, students have vastly different needs from one another. Adaptive digital learning platforms can be leveraged to accommodate students’ different needs. ASSISTments’ adaptive design provides students with instant feedback on their work, allowing students to work at their own pace, and giving extra support where they may be struggling. 

Providing digital assessment tools. In order to provide students with adequate support, teachers need to know what their students know and where they are in the process of learning. Online tools provide teachers with data about their students’ progress on different subjects. The ASSISTments Assignment Report provides teachers with critical student data. Data allows teachers to intervene with individual students when they are struggling and to direct class lessons towards class-wide misconceptions. It can enrich the teacher-student and teacher-class relationship by personalizing instruction.

Quicken the feedback process. Many students experience math anxiety. This can be exacerbated in classrooms with a heavy emphasis on end-of-unit exams. Edtech tools often give students feedback on a continuous basis, allowing students  to know where they stand. This instant feedback can eliminate stress in the classroom and allow students to seek help when they need it. Students feel more empowered to participate when the classroom conversation shifts from ‘right or wrong’ to one about skill building.

Support students’ physical needs. Digital tools can provide flexibility that support students’ physical needs, such as Speech-to-Text conversions or modifying content to appear larger or more bright on the screen. These small adjustments can make students feel more included in the classroom by equalizing the way that they interact with educational materials.

ASSISTments has taken on a mission to develop tools to support different types of learners. According to our Efficacy Study conducted in Maine, ASSISTments increased learning outcomes for all students, but increased low-performing students’ scores the most. 

Beyond the efficacy of ASSISTments to support all learners, we are developing cutting-edge features to accommodate students of different abilities. One such project is called handRAISE. handRAISE will provide a helpful dashboard to teachers and allow students to virtually raise their hand in class by pressing a button on their device. This will provide immeasurable support to students with social or physical needs that prevent them from speaking up in class and will support teachers in better including students with different learning needs. 

Teachers are indeed using ASSISTments to support their students with learning needs. Teacher and author of the blog Universal Design for Learning Thea Durling makes ASSISTments available to all of her students, but is particularly impressed with the ways in which it helps students with learning disabilities. 

“Many of my students with different abilities appreciate the electronic aspect of ASSISTments,” Durling says. “Specifically, ASSISTments allows students to access all of their homework in one organized place, which avoids the issue of having to manage lots of different papers. ”There are many other ways that ASSISTments is able to help Durling’s students. Online learning platforms can be particularly helpful to students who struggle with writing by hand, allowing them to type out their work and answers. 

Durling also has found ASSISTments’ immediate feedback to be of critical importance in her classroom. “My students say that the written and video hints are super helpful. I said to my students, do you know that I am often the one making the videos?” 

Special Education Day is a great time to meditate on the importance of supporting all students in the classroom. Educators are increasingly seeing the need to create online tools that are inclusive to all students. ASSISTments is committed to supporting all learners by empowering teachers with tools that support instant feedback and assessment.

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