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Posts Tagged ‘sped

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I was excited to learn from this TechCrunch article that a few edtech companies were trying to address issues like differentiated online instruction for kids with special needs.

The article focused on Learnfully which is supposedly a:

…learning platform that connects neurodiverse students, who have conditions such as ADHD or dyslexia, with specialists to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.

Better still, it claimed to focus less on the “what” of learning and more on the “how.”

I was less excited to find out how costly such a service would be:

Learnfully offers a learner assessment for $299, and then charges $60 per hour for personalized instruction.

The article pointed out that:

…consumer spending power is higher in more affluent families, meaning that only the parents who can afford further education for their neurodiverse children will have access to the Learnfully service.

Differentiation and personalisation is more difficult and will be result in higher costs. But imagine shelling out USD60 per hour. Even the affluent might resort to this as an extra instead of a core need.

Edtech companies have a right to make money. But they also have a responsibility to stay true to core values in education. One of these values is equity, i.e., providing disproportionate help to those who have been unfairly marginalised. If they fail to do this, they should not be in business.

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This CNA video featured Jonathan Tiong, a “disabled” valedictorian of NUS’s Class of 2021. He might be conventionally disabled, but I consider him “differently abled”.

He is an inspiring and timely reminder for students of the ICT for Inclusion modules I will be facilitating in December. In particular, I will highlight the every day technologies like the Internet that has enabled him to study and work. Jonathan said:

… the pandemic has brought about the benefits for people especially with physical disabilities because it takes away a lot of our limitations… just give me the laptop and Internet and I can do a lot of things.

He has a message for the rest of “abled” society: 

… society’s way of defining success should change for people with disabilities. I think the only reason why I’ve got the attention that I have… is because I’ve met the traditional markers of success. Good degree. Good job, prestigious company.

Jonathan added: 

…we need to acknowledge the fact that living with a disability is hard in itself. And every day, the people with disabilities out there are winning their own battles…

Digging deeper, his message is about how we still focus on equality — the traditional emphasis opportunities and success. We need to shift our gaze and efforts to equity, i.e., giving greater access to those need it more.

Why is there still resistance to educational technologies in SPED and inclusive classrooms? I sense that many of the pre- and in-service teachers who take my modules fear the parents who worry about the fabled “screen time” monster. They might also have bought in to the media’s narrative that mobile devices do more harm than good instead of following the research.

In this CNA article, Jonathan also provided another insight about the barriers of rules and money. Commenting on his final year of study during the pandemic and his current employment:

“A lot of the time we are told by administrators that: ‘Oh we can’t do this because – rules.’ Or ‘because we cannot lor.’

“But a lot of accommodations are actually a mindset thing,” he said. “People seem to have this concept that if you want to accommodate the disabled, we need billions of dollars. I don’t think that’s true.”

For instance, being allowed to work remotely at his present job has not cost his employer anything, he said. “It’s a matter of will and decision-making.”

My agenda is simple: To challenge them to think of every day technologies as enablers for learners in special or inclusive classrooms. These students need more and better access to these tools, not less. Enabling and educational technologies do not have to cost much or anything at all. The real barriers are stubbornness and ignorance.

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The central figure in the video above, Maxx, has dyslexia. According to the interview and video description he was “five weeks away from his final examinations when he experienced memory loss”.

He did not do well in the high-stakes exams and made his way into what many here would consider the lower rung of education. But you would be fooled into believing that given how articulate and confident is was.

I am confident he learnt not from schooling, but despite it. Schooling and the social pressures here typically emphasise academic excellence. Little, if anything, is said about character and mindsets. Why? Exams do not measure such things.

It should not take a learner who has dyslexia and memory loss to tell us that non-academic  processes and outcomes like perseverance are more important all the time.

Maxx also highlighted how his dyslexia did not hold him back. He considered that to be an essential part of him. He reminded me that we need to focus on enabling behaviours instead of disabling with labels.

That reminder is timely given how I will soon be facilitating modules on ICT for SPED. The next two videos give be pause for thought.

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The Lost Voice Guy has cerebral palsy which left him unable to speak. So he uses a speech synthesiser to talk. 

In his closing joke for the Britain’s Got Talent judges, he questioned the use of the “special” label, i.e., special needs, special school. I had a good laugh and it got me thinking about how use ridiculous labels.

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Francesca Martinez also has cerebral palsy and described herself as “wobbly” in this TEDx talk. In the comedy routine above, she said: “Who wants a normal life? I want an amazing life!”

The shift in SPED to focus on abilities instead of disabilities has started, but like most things in schooling and education, is moving at a glacial pace. We might learn from Maxx, the Lost Voice Guy, and Francesca how to break expectations. 

I do not expect to change everyone’s mind when I facilitate my modules. But I do expect to push and pull a few educators forward in the right direction. 

I am constantly on the lookout for resources that are relevant to courses that I facilitate. 

One series of modules on ICT for Inclusion is a few months away, but I already have more new resources than I can share in the short time that I have with my students. So I embed just some of them here.

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The first two videos highlight the ways that various technologies enable differently-abled folk to live their lives. I like that they are local examples and will connect with my learners.

The third video is of a well-known YouTuber. He is not a local lad, of course, but he represents a faction of people who do not consider their “disabilities” to be disabilities. It reinforces my message that we need to focus on what students with special needs can do or might do, instead of what they cannot.

I am also reminding myself that I have a reflection on the myth that is learning styles. I curated several resources and linked them one to another after I kept hearing more and more pre- and in-service teachers tout this falsehood.

Rising above, what I have done illustrates the difference between merely bookmarking or collecting resources, and actually curating them. It is easy to collect and just as easy to forget that these resources exist. It is more difficult but far more meaningful to see how they fit together to teach a lesson or two.

I could not agree more with the tweet and the article above. While the article focused on individualisation, I zoom in on something more basic — technical affordances that lead to pedagogical and social affordances.

For example, consider how video subtitles meant to help the hearing-impaired also help those who are learning a new language or who simply cannot play audio out loud in a train, library, or a noisy home.

Video conferencing tools now allow session leaders to lock and expand certain users in view [example]. This might help lip readers and those who need special attention. But this also provides teachers with the flexibility of changing the social dynamic of an online class. Instead of treating everyone the same, she can focus on those who need more help.

The technical affordances of edtech can also help teachers. Consider this tweet thread by an educator who has ADHD and reduced short term memory.

She was not allowed to use a teleprompter — something she relies on regularly for her own instructional videos — when she was asked to be a guest on another show. If she had, she would not have been so upset.

If the other show’s handlers claim that they had no teleprompter software, they need only refer to the next tweet.

Apparently you can simulate a teleprompter with Pages, the latter of which is a free application on Macs and iOS devices. By leveraging on this technical affordance, the show’s handlers could have given that teacher the confidence to speak more naturally and effectively. The same might be said of kids who might share the same condition.

We can and should draw inspiration and ideas from SPED in order to inform mainstream schooling and education. To do that, we need to keep our radars up on new technological affordances and then create social and pedagogical opportunities.

Come October I will be facilitating online modules on ICT for inclusive education. This is part of a larger course set that I have been involved in since 2016.

As with most courses, the allocated time is extremely tight, so we uncover only the basics. But there are two broader issues that I wish we could address in greater depth. These are some quick thoughts on the deficit model and equitable education.

The first thing I take issue with is the deficit model of special needs and inclusive education. If you watch the videos below, you might note how the “disabled” are concerned about how they help they receive is often based on charity or pity.

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The interviewees shared their hopes and dreams, which are no different from yours or mine. So instead of just focusing on overcoming their disabilities, we might also develop their nascent or untapped abilities.

The second issue that does not get enough attention is equitable opportunities in education, not just equal ones. This long used reference illustrates the difference between treating people equally and with equity.

Treating everyone the same is a hallmark of equality. The problem with equality is that the most disadvatanged start at a much lower point and the help does not boost them enough to level the playing ground.

The idea of fairness drives equity. This means giving those that need it more help than those who do not. This is like giving the poorer more money to tide over the current coronavirus pandemic and less (or nothing) to the rich.

How does ICT fit in?

In terms of equity, I see the marginalised and disenfranchised given at least as much access to current technologies. Where there are specialised enabling (assistive) technologies, I say we put in the time, money, and effort to develop and provide these to those who need them.

As for overturning the deficit model, I say we focus on technologies that enable the so-called disabled to develop and share what they can do. This might be everyday tools we use like YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok.

I hope to be able to conclude my modules with these thoughts or sprinkle them when they arise organically. This way I focus less on content that expires and more on mindsets that last a lifetime.

We are all special, but some of us are more special than others. This might be an educator’s take on the famous line from Animal Farm.

To that end, educators should design resources for all our learners, not just those who seem “normal”.

I was glad to chance upon this tweet and wish it was available several weeks ago when I was facilitating modules on ICT for inclusion. But next year’s batch will benefit from this find.

The Twitter discussion was just as fruitful because it revealed the original source of the posters. There are three more posters — for screen readers, users with motor conditions, and learners with hearing impairments — in the complete set.

Best of all, the posters are covered by a Creative Commons license, CC-BY-NC-SA. Good on them!

I can understand the appeal of knocking this effort down in the name of equality.

The fact is that we are not born equal. Most of us do not wish to worsen the inequality, so we do what we can to narrow gaps.

Mainstream schooling and education are critical to bridging gaps and providing stairways to progress. Those who cannot take these paths (like those with special needs) might get special help.

Might the brightest also have special needs? An academically brilliant child might not be as well-adjusted socio-emotionally. The same child might not get the support and challenges he or she needs in a conventional classroom.

A child prodigy is not always born into the best of circumstances. Who are we to judge such conditions, children, or help?

I am not for elitism. I am for empathy for kids with special needs, wherever they are on the continuum of development and ability.

Last night I concluded an evening class on ICT for Inclusive Education.

I was hoping that this round would allow me to provoke more thought on the differences between equality and equity in inclusive education.

As a refresher, here is one of the better visualisations and descriptions of equality and equity.

To that end, I wanted to share three videos at various segments: A Netflix trailer for Atypical, a feature on Greta Thunberg, and the winner of this year’s America’s Got Talent, Cody Lee.

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I only got to the first two videos and this was my intended message.

The main characters of all the videos were somewhere on the autism spectrum. All rely on some form of technology to be human and realise their goals — Sam needs noise-cancelling headphones because he is sensitive to noise, Greta uses social media to monitor her movement on climate change, and Cody has his keyboards and YouTube videos.

These are people with special needs and they are born into better circumstances than most. They are supported and enabled by their families and peers. They can compete on equal footing and even exceed the normal and neurotypical.

What about the rest who are not born privileged? They cannot be treated the same; they need to be treated fairly. This might mean giving more help and resources so that they can live their best lives.

Providing such help is a complex and messy process. For me, one of the starting points is special needs or inclusive educators. They need to know WHAT some technologies are and HOW best to incorporate them for teaching and learning.

They also need to know how other issues surrounding technology and pedagogy affect the two — issues like political will, policy, budgets, parental perspectives, social norms, etc. The burden is also on such teachers and educators to stay current with such issues and work from within the system to effect change.

The op piece in this tweet was an impassioned call to step up our efforts in inclusive schooling and education.

I take no issue with that call because we can only be better people for it.

I did notice, however, that you could substitute every instance of “inclusive education” or “special needs education” with almost any contentious issue in schooling — say technology integration — and the op piece would still make sense. Take this segment, for example:

… we still have a long way to go in embracing inclusion technology fully.

One of the key factors for inclusive technology integration in education is adaptation. The present landscape of special needs technology integration in education in Singapore is lacking in a customisable curriculum to meet the diverse needs of children with special needs.

I did not change the last two words (special needs) in my selection because every child is special in their own way. Technology can help express their uniqueness and latent abilities.

Reading the whole article more critically, you might discover that it says everything and nothing at the same time. Everything because it covers the issues broadly; nothing because it merely skims the surface. This is why we can play the word substitution game.

Viewed more broadly, the write-up might sound like a politician’s or policymaker’s script for a speech. It is a call to action, but it is so generic that is becomes impotent.

Word substitution is my way of determine the depth of thought of the written or spoken word. If one issue in schooling or education cannot be distinguished from another with the help of word substitution, its rallying call is but a whisper.


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