Would-Be-Nice to Must-Haves: Putting Tech Into Ed Tech

This is a guest post by Assistant Professor of Clinical Education Helena Seli. Professor Seli directs and teaches in the EdD program and is reporting from #SXSWedu. See also A Day of Dichotomies, Disruption: For Better or Worse and our Daily Recap of SXSWedu.

On day three, my last day at the conference, I decided to put the tech in EdTech (educational technology), which is an undeniable focus of SXSWedu. I wanted to concentrate not only on the “would-be-nice” to have but also the “must-have” technology in education.

Recent data shows that one in five people have a disability. Technology mediates learning in individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. This relationship is causational in that technology has a direct impact on the learning process. In other words, technology directly impacts learning, starting with one’s fundamental ability to communicate.

But with so many apps out there, how do we know which ones are solid? Today’s panelists at the “Inclusive AppRoom: Viewing Apps Through Disability” presentation displayed apps vetted by therapists, educators and, perhaps most importantly, parents. Many of these apps have been validated by research that covers concepts like the idea that augmented communication develops and encourages (rather than depresses) the use of oral communication in learners who are nonverbal.

Here are some apps that stood out to me:

  • QuickVoice: This free app allows you to create an audiobook for a learner with dyslexia.
  • SnapType: This app allows users with visual impairment change font size and background color.
  • Proloquo2Go: This application enables nonverbal learners to express themselves.
  • Tecla Shield: This app is a switch interface that allows learners with complex physical disabilities operate an iPad and other devices. Indeed, this title says it all: One Switch, One Head, The World.

These innovative apps show that while disabilities are biological in nature, the notion that they are “less able” is purely societal. As a society, we simply have to keep creating ways to be inclusive. Not only has inclusive technology substituted, or supplemented, tactile approaches to learning, it has also helped redefine the way in which learners with disabilities can communicate.

Based on some SXSWedu presentations, revolutions such as the disruption in higher education lead us to ask questions like “Why?” But, in the case of the assistive technology revolution, the answer is clear. It is critical that we include the dimension of different abilities in our courses and discussions about diversity. So as you engage in your coursework, look for it!

Til next year, SXSWedu!