Our latest guest bloggers are Casey Schmalacker, Academic Coach and Samantha Feinman, MS.Ed., TSSH., Program Director at New Frontiers in Learning. This is part one of a two-part series.
Utilizing Technology for High School and College Students: Part 1of 2
As we move through this digital age, students in high school and college are increasingly using technology as a mechanism to support learning. Technology can be used in a multitude of ways, ranging from electronic organizational systems and digital reminders, to supporting more complex academic tasks through the use of computer software. Assistive technology, specifically, has been infused into the daily schedules of students with disabilities to support the removal of learning barriers that some individuals may face. Among students utilizing assistive technology to improve academic learning, high school and college students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in particular have increasingly incorporated the use of technology into the learning environment.
Assistive technology consists of services and devices that provide equal education opportunities to students with disabilities by providing supports that focus on individual-specific needs. Assistive technology has been used to improve skills in areas such as note-taking, reading comprehension, and expository and narrative writing. Such tasks are integral to the academic experience, in that a student’s ability to excel in these areas most often is directly related to their level of success. This article will discuss why assistive technology is necessary for students with ASD transitioning from high school to college, as well as outline three forms of effective assistive technology, and how one would incorporate such technology into the learning environment.
Research has demonstrated that the use of computers has resulted in the improvement of the skills of students with ASD in a variety of different areas, such as attention, fine motor, and generalization (Habash, 2005). Improvement of skills is many times the desirable goal, and therefore technology can act as a means to accommodating specific deficits that prevent goal attainment.
In order to achieve success in the high school and college arenas, students need to be able to access supports to successfully comprehend large amounts of reading material and class lecture and discussion, as well as write at a much more independent and sophisticated level. When students demonstrate weaknesses in these areas, they are unable to demonstrate their maximum potential, and their work may become an inaccurate representation of their true capabilities. Assistive technology can begin to bridge the gap between student obstacles and the execution of their academic responsibilities.
Developing strategies and systems for use with assistive technology is important to master during high school so students can effectively deploy the technologies at the college level. The college work environment has a few fundamental differences from high school that can increase the difficulty level, especially for students with ASD. Class time at universities is devoted to many more lectures, requiring vigorous note-taking on course content that, many times, is important to know for exams, class projects, and discussion. Sometimes the material covered in class is not covered anywhere else (i.e., textbook, PowerPoint slides, handouts, etc.), requiring techniques to ensure all material is accessible by the student. Outside of the classroom, reading materials tend to also become more taxing, covering abstract topics that can be difficult to understand. As opposed to reading simply for content, there is an increased emphasis of being able to analyze readings. Further, while high school classes tend to provide guided questions to lead the student through the readings, college classes tend to rely on the student to identify key topics and themes.
The fundamental changes above can seem hard to manage; however, by establishing assistive technology supports while still in high school, such transitions can be managed in a much more efficient manner. Creating a course of action is important for students with ASD because environmental changes may lead to high levels of stress that can drastically affect a student’s ability to participate and succeed in the learning environment.
This two-part blog series will include examples of how technology can be used to support students with ASD in the learning environment with a focus specifically on supporting students at the high school and college levels. Look forward to spotlights on Tablets and Computers, Smart Pens, and Word Prediction Software.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Samantha Feinman, Program Director, New Frontiers in Learning at firstname.lastname@example.org.