The Winter 2013 issue of Perspectives – a quarterly magazine published by IDA – delivered the second part of the technology discussion started in the fall of 2013. Here is our take on it:

Video, animations, and virtual class sessions are becoming the norm in schools. Technology provides many new avenues for learning, compared to older models that relied almost completely on printed text to give information. The current edition of the International Dyslexia Association newsletter has a collection of articles about technology and its uses in assisting those with learning disabilities. Here are some of their findings.

Online Learning/Virtual Schools
Interest in online classes and “virtual school” is rising. Most of these options are set up so that a student receives an assignment and is given a set amount of time (usually several days to a week) to complete the work and turn it in to be evaluated. Some classes are arranged to allow for daily interactions with a teacher in real time – through video conferencing software like Skype, or over the telephone.

For a child with a learning disability, virtual school can relieve the stress of having to “keep up” with classmates and allow for a greater variety of learning strategies to be utilized. Classes with scheduled teacher interactions can provide a more individualized educational experience. Many parents who opt for virtual school either have a parent at home with the child daily or have a learning coach of some sort to assist the child as needed, which gives parents more opportunities to observe and understand areas of struggle.

One of the concerns about this technology is the lack of interaction between a teacher and a student. Many courses do not offer any face-to-face time, which can make it difficult to monitor things like reading fluency and ease of comprehension. Another concern for dyslexic students is the fact that most virtual schools are still text-based, requiring as much or more reading than a traditional classroom. The editors of the IDA newsletter suggest evaluating how much reading is required for a course, and if that reading is appropriate for your child’s skill level, before choosing a virtual school.

Technology-Based Assessment
Standardized tests are a huge part of the typical school experience in America. As these tests are moving to computers, organizations like the National Center on Educational Outcomes and the Center for Applied Special Technology are working to ensure each student is given the same opportunities to succeed in the assessment.

Aspects of the tests such as the layout on the screen and wording of the directions are being scrutinized to make sure each task is clear. They are also working to make standardized tests accommodation-friendly, allowing for students to access them on devices familiar to them, for example, instead of ones they have never used before. The goal is a Universal Design for Assessment (UDA), which will maximize each student’s success. While many advances have already been made, this is a field that is currently in development as the NCEO, CAST, and test development companies continue to explore new options.

Technology in the Classroom
E-readers, laptops, and tablets are a common part of many classrooms today. This makes assistive technologies (AT) easier to access for students with learning disabilities. The editors noted that one major advantage to this is the fact that it removes the social stigma of requiring AT, because the entire class is using similar tech. It can also be helpful because a student can use a device he or she is familiar with, instead of learning a new system for the AT. The editors did note, however, that improvements are still being made. It is vital that AT is easy to navigate. If a textbook on an e-reader isn’t formatted properly, it can be visually more confusing than a traditional textbook, making it difficult to find the correct passages or go back to check understanding.

The conclusion reached by the editors is simple: technology is not automatically a solution to learning challenges. New methods of test administration and alternatives to text-based learning open many doors for students with learning disabilities, but they are not cure-alls. However, the advances that are currently being made can help put many learning disabled students on the path to success.

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