1998 Conference Proceedings

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The Internet: An Inclusive Magnet for Teaching All Students

Betsy Bayha
Director Technology Policy

Tanis Doe
Research Consultant

World Institute on Disability -- Rehabilitation and Engineering Research
Center on Universal Telecommunications Access
510 16th Street, Suite 100
Oakland, California, 94612

1. Introduction

The World Wide Web, the information superhighway, cyberspace, the Net -- this sometimes intimidating, often confusing and always changing global network of computers, databases, libraries, images and sounds brings new challenges and opportunities to education. The Internet offers the potential to open up new worlds of information and access in particular for students with disabilities. Yet we find that many K-12 teachers, particularly in general education classrooms, need basic information about steps they can take to ensure access to the Internet for disabled students mainstreamed into their classes.

We have developed a resource book aimed at facilitating the use of the Internet as a tool for all students in K-12 classrooms. We believe that using the Internet is a positive strategy for including students with all types of disabilities, students who are visual and auditory learners, students from rural areas and those who do not speak English as their first language.

The Internet can also be an equalizing force. The Center for Applied Special Technology in Massachusetts has this to say about the effectiveness of on-line research in classrooms. "Of all the new technologies, on line communications has the strongest potential to break down the barriers and inequities encountered by students of different socioeconomic, racial, linguistic and disability backgrounds." (CAST, 1995:2) For many students using the Internet also opens up opportunities to develop social skills and independence.

Survey research conducted by the World Institute on Disability among K-12 teachers in 1997 identified the need for training and information to help teachers integrate their disabled students into Internet usage. We asked teachers how they attracted students to using the Internet and were told they need not make an effort because the Internet is like a "magnet."

One teacher reported the benefits of using the Internet reached beyond the assignments to attendance and overall motivation. She said, "English is not the native language for nearly half our students. Motivation and attendance are twin problems in my classes. The Internet is a high status skill that motivates these students. the projects that they turn in using the Internet are superior to those we did using only library resources."

Through our research we also discovered that many teachers and technology specialists were not aware of the availability or Assistive Technology that could provide access to information technology. Few were aware of other non-technical strategies they could pursue to overcome barriers to learning for students with disabilities.

We also found several teachers who were successful in integrating students with disabilities into classroom and homework projects that used the Internet. Drawing from their successes, we sought to highlight their strategies and present them in a handbook from which other K-12 teachers could learn.

The goals of the handbook are three fold:

An electronic copy of the handbook is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.wid.org/tech/handbook/ We encourage you to visit our site and download a free copy or bookmark it for future reference. It is refreshed and updated on a monthly basis with new links added and new success stories included.

2. Method

The original research began with literature review and a search of websites and electronic mailing lists relevant to technology, education and the Internet. After developing and pilot testing a survey questionnaire, we distributed the survey to over 500 contacts. One distribution was made in person to the teachers attending the Council for Exceptional Children Technology and Media conference held in San Jose in the fall of 1996. An electronic version of the questionnaire was sent to participants who were solicited on the Internet in postings to more than 25 education related e-mail lists.

Results from the survey identified barriers to Internet usage and the frequent response that while people are excited by the possibilities the web offers, there is a significant lack of funding, technical expertise and time for teachers to use the Internet successfully. Several of the people who answered the survey were also interviewed by phone for more qualitative information about their experiences in the use of the Internet. Some of these interviews formed the basis for the handbook.

Teachers were convinced that the Internet was a powerful tool to draw children into reading, writing, and learning. They described many benefits but also many barriers. Some teachers found that students did not have enough on-line time and that connections were slow or unreliable. Other teachers simply didn't have appropriate seating or were hindered by small computer screens. A few very resourceful teachers had developed their own adaptations and had researched access strategies to accommodate students with different disabilities. Common solutions among this group included using a track ball instead of a mouse, using 18-inch monitors or color-coding keys on the keyboard.

The project then took this raw information, and augmented it with other best practices it could identify to develop a practical handbook for K-12 teachers to identify specific strategies for integrating all of their students into Internet usage. An Advisory Committee of stakeholders including educators, technology specialists, parents, consumers, and advocates was set up to review and advise on the handbook. With their assistance and support, more success stories were sought out for inclusion.

The resulting document is straightforward, easy to use and practical. It describes general strategies and benefits that teachers can pursue as well as showcasing the successes that particular teachers have had integrating disabled students into activities that use the Internet.

A concise listing of organizations, publications and web sites is included in the handbook. The web version of the handbook includes additional web resources with hypertext links to them.

3. Results

The purpose of the handbook is to demonstrate that the Internet can be used as an educational tool for all students. Following the principles of universal design, the recommendations in the handbook address the needs of multiple users and promote flexibility and customization. We know from the research that using technology to support instruction can improve student outcomes (Bailo and Sivin-Kachla, 1995). We also know that using multimedia which combines visual and auditory learning with teacher student interaction can both reduce costs and increase achievement (Fletcher, 1991) and we want to see this success extended to all students, particularly those with disabilities.

Already there have been pilot projects looking at the effects on remedial and low achieving students in reading and math which point to successful use of computers (Guerrero, Mitrani Schoener and Swan, 1990). This has implications beyond computer use in schools and may point to a strong rationale for having computers with Internet access in the home as well, particularly for students who use distance education methods when they are not able to get to school. "Research on the costs of instruction delivered via distance learning, videotape, teleconferencing and computer software indicates that savings are often achieved with no loss of effectiveness. Distance learning vastly broadens the learning environment, often providing teaching resources simply not available before." (National Council on Disability, 1993)

The barriers to using the Internet are not insurmountable. Common barriers for students with disabilities include computer screens that do not provide audio output for visually impaired or non-reading students. For many students, the mouse and keyboard present access barriers. But with common sense, a little technical knowledge and access to the resources listed in the handbook, K-12 teachers in every classroom should be able to accommodate students with a range of disabilities.

4. Sample of a Success Story from the handbook

Name: Deborah Fell, Urbana High School, 1002 S. Race St., Urbana, Illinois 61801 Grades: 9-12 E-mail: fellde@cmi.k12.il.us

Key Words: Reading Comprehension Print Access, Learning Disability, Visual Impairment

"Having Internet access has been like having a pot of gold in my classroom," says Deborah Fell, a special education resource teacher for students with learning disabilities at Urbana High School in central Illinois. Deborah helps her students identify the learning style that works best for them. "If students can receive information in two or three different ways, the better off they are," says Deborah. "Many of my students are auditory learners."

Deborah has found that the auditory learners in her class benefit when they can hear text spoken aloud in addition to reading it on the computer screen. She uses a variety of hardware and software to make the computers in her classroom "talk." This same technology has also helped a student with a visual impairment, who's work has improved noticeably since she started using the Web to research her homework assignments. "This student recently said she never would have tried the Internet without a large monitor and a text reader," says Deborah.

Deborah describes herself as a "techno toddler" who didn't even know how to use a computer mouse until the mid-1990's. But her curiosity and fearless attitude have served her and her students well. "There's so much out there to discover," says Deborah, "It's like being a pioneer."

Written text is difficult to comprehend for students with learning disabilities.
Text reading software reads text aloud from the computer. Font enlargement makes the text easier to read.
Textbooks and other print materials are often unavailable in electronic formats.
Scanner and optical character recognition software convert books into electronic format. Text reading software reads aloud text in the computer.
Computer screen is inaccessible to students with visual impairment.
A 17-inch monitor helps with screen enlargement programs. Software enlargement programs magnify text and graphics to a greater degree than the computer's built-in font options.

5. Sample of General Guidelines for Success:


Use a large monitor -- at least 17 inches



Try a trackball as an alternative to the mouse



Center for Applied Special Technology. 1995. "The Role of Online Communications in Schools: A National Study" Folansbee et al, Peabody, Massachusetts

Bailo. Ellen R. and Jay Sivin-Kachl. 1995. "Effectiveness of Technology in Schools 1990-1994" Washington, D.C. Software Publishers Association.

Fletcher, J.D. 1991 "Effectiveness and Cost of Interactive Videodisc Instruction in Machine Mediated Learning" 3 pp. 361-385.

Guerrero, J.F., M. Mitrani, J. Schoener, and T. Swan. 1990. "Honing in on the Target: Who Among the Educationally Disadvantaged Benefits Most from What CBI?" Journal of Research on Computing in Education, pp. 381-403.

National Council on Disability. Study of the Financing of Assistive Technology Devices and Services for Individuals with Disabilities March 4, 1993.

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