Students with special needs often require extra support, but how can educators support students who complete their learning online? The idea of “sticking” these students in front of a computer to receive direct instruction can be a little cringe worthy for many educators. Isn’t that what we are warned against doing from day one when working with children who have exceptional needs? There was a point in time when this reaction made sense because there was no accredited online material or software available that could (or should) be integrated into a class of students who required data-driven, targeted instruction. After all, the goal is not only to realize student achievement, but to also support student growth year after year. Fortunately, access to effective and accessible online resources appropriate for this demographic of students is more available than ever before.
Edtech and Students Who Have Special Needs
Edtech has been changing the landscape of special education assistive technologies for years. Various new technologies are more cost effective than traditional assistive technology, so now, many students are benefiting from things like apps and robots. In the past, some of these assistive technologies would easily identify students as being different from their classmates, but with today’s edtech, special education students no longer have to “stand out” from their peers. Many students and teachers are already familiar with how to use smartphones, tablets, and laptops, all of which are staples in many classrooms. A recent District Administration article stated that, “Apps and browser extensions can tailor existing technology to the needs of students in special education. They are cheaper than standalone assistive hardware, and some say they also improve learning.”
Today’s technology is supporting special population students in all areas of special education, which is increasing student participation and achievement. According to the same District Administration article, “More elaborate technology has opened up even more possibilities for students with a range of needs. In some schools, robots now help children develop social-emotional skills. Eye-gaze technology allows non-verbal, physically impaired teenagers to express themselves. And virtual reality is leading to real-world gains.” Online curriculum allows for further differentiated instruction for all students because educators can customize the curriculum to meet the unique needs of students by providing accommodations and modifications, while maintaining the integrity of the course.
As educators, we know that using edtech in the classroom is important, but how can we evaluate the ever-expanding technologies that we are presented with to ensure they’ll help our students? What types of technologies will help all students succeed? Susan Patrick, CEO and President of iNACOL, believes that, “Three of the most important pieces of technology that help teachers pinpoint where each student is in their learning and then empower educators to meet students’ needs through personalized learning are learning management systems, e-portfolios, and virtual reality systems.” These components of online learning provide students with an engaging, real-world curriculum in a variety of settings. Learning management systems and e-portfolios allow students to work at their own pace and showcase what they have learned. Virtual reality is a truly interactive facet of online learning because student engagement is high.
Virtual instruction may prove to be the best option is for at-risk high school students who have special needs. An unfortunate reality is that this is the level in school where many students with special needs who have struggled to thrive begin to fail to thrive. Frustrated students fall out of graduation cohorts and become dropout risks. Attendance becomes a tremendous obstacle to effective intervention and success, thus resulting in incomplete or missing credits. Scheduling students who have fallen out of their cohort in a face-to-face setting can be challenging, so this is where allowing students to earn credits through virtual instruction is invaluable, not just for the students, but for educators as well. Virtual instruction affords more flexible opportunities for students to work toward earning credits, and standards-based courses can be customized to meet accessibility requirements and modified for targeted instruction, and can track student progress.
Edgenuity’s® Supports for Students with Special Needs
Edgenuity’s Special Education Services (SES) team is made up of licensed special education and ELL teachers who have experience understanding the complex needs of students with IEPs or other related plans. Our SES team assists students in a variety of settings, including traditional, blended, and homebound learning; alternative education; and other specialized education programs. Edgenuity’s learning solutions support students with evidence-based practices by:
- Providing explicit instruction
- Modeling learning strategies
- Making instruction accessible
- Providing tools to support learning
- Offering appropriate feedback
- Capitalizing on technology
Supporting English Language Learners
English language learners can also benefit greatly from the many options edtech offers, particularly when used for blended learning. Students can receive in-person support from an ELL teacher combined with online curriculum, a virtual instructor, and the learning tools and scaffolds that the online courses offer. One powerful tool Edgenuity offers ELL students is a multi-faceted translation feature, which allows them to translate text into more than 60 languages via a Google-powered translation tool. Students can also hear text read aloud in Arabic, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
The benefits of online learning for ELL students include the following:
- Online learning allows ELL students to work at their own pace. This is critical, as ELL students often need longer processing times.
- Online learning alleviates the pressure of having to speak out loud in class and eliminates the fear of making errors in public speaking settings.
- ELL students enrolled in online courses can receive direct feedback from their teachers without other students observing the interaction.
When ELL students are enrolled in Edgenuity courses, we can provide accommodations and modifications that may not be routinely utilized in the brick-and-mortar setting.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
Edtech and students who have special needs make great partners; one drives the other. Special education teachers and students rely on edtech to help with accommodations and modifications and can, in turn, inspire new technologies. Online learning is great for these students because it allows them to receive individualized instruction that is flexible and self-paced. Special education students and English language learners gain a variety of 21st-century skills by participating in online education, including time-management, communication, organizational, interpersonal, and independent-thinking skills. These abilities are especially important for special population students when creating goals to prepare and transition for life after high school. Edtech can be motivating and can help lead to student success in any educational setting, especially for special population students.
Virginia Anderson, Kelly Barnes, Victoria Holt, and Monica Winegarden contributed to this article, and make up Edgenuity’s Special Education Services team.
McMahon, W. (2018, September 27). Use personalized learning tools to boost classroom equity. Retrieved from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2018/09/use-personalized-learning-tools-boost-classroom-equity
Zalaznick, M. (2018, July 17). Edtech equalizers in special education. Retrieved from https://www.districtadministration.com/article/edtech-equalizers-special-education