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Posts Tagged ‘sped

Two things prompted this reflection — an interview I watched on YouTube and interactions I had with a special breed of teachers.

A few weeks ago, I watched an interview of Ris Ahmed on YouTube [focused segment]. The actor explained how “Asian” meant very different things in the UK and the USA.


Video source

I can vouch for what Riz Ahmed said because I lived in the USA for several years and had to minor incidentally in socio-political geography to educate those around me.

Now fast-forward to the present. For the last few semesters, I have interacted with pre and inservice teachers who are pursuing diplomas in special needs education (SPED).

I find the “special” in SPED to be a misnomer. It has different meanings in different contexts and it is an insufficient catch-all term.

If you go to almost any school system in the USA and are labelled “special”, you are atypical. You might have a genetic, physical, or behavioural condition that distinguishes you from “normal” or typical. The label is generally a negative one.

In Singapore’s context, being in a special stream of schooling might be a highly sought label. Being a student a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school is a mark of academic excellence. For some history on SAP, read this NLB article.

However, the special-as-atypical meaning is more dominant now in our context. This is because students with special needs are more visible and are given more equitable opportunities than before.

Despite the “special” label being more common, those of us who consider ourselves typical might still gawk at atypicals. This is because our social circles do not overlap as much as they could.

This is why a newer term and phenomenon is on the rise. It is called inclusive education. This could mean including students with hearing impairments or ADHD or certain forms of autism in neuro-typical classrooms.

Inclusive education recognises that atypical students need more or special assistance while not isolating them all the time from the larger world. This is big step forward in special needs education. It might just be the equivalent of bringing the “real world” into typical classrooms.

When I facilitate ICT classes for educators of children with special needs, I try to create a shared context while they pursue their own focus areas.

One way to create a shared cognitive context is to use videos. The video I embed below provides some important reminders about leveraging on ICT whether we are “normal” or “special”.


Video source

The videos feature Carly Fleischmann who has severe autism and cannot speak due to an oral motor condition.
 

Video source

Carly was largely silent for the first decade of her life. Then she reached for a laptop which literally gave her a voice. ICTs have allowed her to pursue her dream of interviewing celebrities.

I use these videos to illustrate that technology should:

  • Enable, not just enhance.
  • Be in the hands of the learner, not just the teacher.
  • Focus on ability, not disability.
  • Be used to create, not just consume.

Carly has a YouTube channel and book to her name. She might seem to be the exception instead of the rule.

I say we break that stupid rule by empowering all children and learners — special and ordinary — with ICT. I say we stop making excuses and find ways to enable instead. I say we stop old and outdated behaviours that are teacher-focused instead of being learner-centred first.

Over the next two days, I share two things I do to start and end modules. I start with how I end one. 

I shared this photo yesterday on Twitter

We took a series of shots and all of them feature us in different modes: Mundane, mobile, and mad-cap. The photos covertly illustrate different course designs. I made sure everything was mobile-friendly or even mobile first.
 

My "ICT for Inclusion" class.

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

 
I was also not front-and-centre in the photos. I was literally and figuratively the guide on the side. I designed activities where my participants collaborated with and taught one another. 

If I moved to the centre, it was to be the meddler in the middle to stimulate reflection or to help participants rise above. 

I am thankful to my administrative go-between for not only seeking me out via my blog and old TED talk, but also for giving me the freedom to design learning experiences instead of teaching ones. 

I have not facilitated an evening class for a long time. My last time was probably an advanced ICT course for instructional designers several years ago.

I avoid evening classes because they take up family time, i.e., dinner, watching YouTube videos together, bedtime rituals. I am also always buzzed after each class is over so I find it hard to sleep.

However, it helps when the learners are active and receptive to change.

One of the things I did was to lead my learners through a roughly hour-long experience on what it means to merely enhance with technology and to enable learning with it. I did this by getting them to collaboratively concept map in groups.

Concept mapping: Enhance or enable?

One set used a whiteboard, another used a mobile app, while others used an online tool. I impressed upon them how a whiteboard map might be easier to do, but it was not as manipulable, archivable, sharable, or media-rich. An online concept map is viewable and editable to any or all and does not suffer from bad handwriting.

The mobile app was disconnected from the web and was thus a mere enhancement of what could be done on a whiteboard. The online map enabled cross-team collaborating and critiquing.

While there some value in enhancing learning, there is greater value in enabling it. Consider how some autistic folk interact with others in Second Life, how the mute speak with voice apps, or the blind consume with screen readers.

This makes sense in the case of learners with special needs. But as I pointed out yesterday, all of us have special needs. Why stop halfway at merely enhancing instead of going all the way by enabling with technology?

Why have school wifi only to block sites technically instead of having a social management system?

Why get students to tweet quiz answers to you when they can reach experts or tap cultures different from their own?

Why use two or multi-way communication mobile apps for one-way dissemination?

Why operate in fear or worry and seek to merely enhance when you can go boldly and learn from mistakes by enabling?


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