1999 Conference Proceedings

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Teacher Training and the Internet: Connecting Special Educators and Their Students to Technology

Barry W. Birnbaum, Ed.D.
Chicago State University
Department of Special Education
Chicago, Illinois

The focus of most teacher-training programs at colleges and universities is to prepare students for state teacher certification and examination. Within the departments of special education, in particular, the undergraduate and graduate curriculum offers a range of courses that will provide its students opportunities to gain certification in various exceptionalities. Additionally, coursework that explicitly complies with state mandates takes top priority.

Training on how to integrate technology into lessons for the cognitively impaired and learning disabled child is usually limited to on-site, in-service training programs, or introductory materials provided by the school district. In some instances, the types of assistive technology available in the school district may be introduced, but seldom demonstrated. It appears that most district-based training programs, particularly in the Midwest, provide little support, especially when it comes to understanding how the World Wide Web, the Internet, and Electronic Mail can be utilized in the classroom for cognitively impaired and learning disabled students.

The author developed a course at Chicago State University for undergraduate and graduate students that provided strategies and methods for incorporating the Internet into the content areas of the state mandated curriculum. The course provides methods on how to select appropriate web pages that support instruction, where to obtain and how to access web sites from educational and governmental sources that relate directly to content area instruction, how to establish collaborative electronic interaction for students and staff, and how teachers can remain aware of pending legislation such as changes and modifications being proposed to IDEA. Students are required to identify, contact, and interact with at least three newsgroups and listservs that keep them aware of up-to-the-minute trends and issues affecting special education. For example, the college students were unaware that schools could apply for Internet access by obtaining funds provided by the Federal government, nor were they cognizant of attempts by politicians to modify the already legislative components of IDEA.

The students in class were asked to develop lessons for their classrooms, based upon e-mail received from these groups, that would engage their students in such information across the curriculum. In some cases, web pages that provided instructional support in mathematics, reading, and physical sciences were selected by the college students so the special needs students could respond to questions, complete surveys, or leave comments about the page contents. The information gleaned from these sources was incorporated into daily lesson plans that enhanced the curriculum. The multi-disciplinary approach infusing technology across social studies, science, writing, and civics was clearly identifiable. Once the college students demonstrated competency in this area, they were asked to locate newsgroups and listservs that would be appropriate for the students in their classrooms. Lesson plans incorporating this approach were part of the course assignments.

By mid-term, students were expected to use chat sessions for the purpose of sharing lessons that had been successful with students in their classrooms with other interested teachers from around the country. Establishing e-mail contacts with peers from distance states and towns was encouraged. By the end of the course, students were required to provide the instructor, electronically, a list and description of the new contacts they had made.

Providing special needs students with direct, hands-on, and interactive lessons that incorporate the use of the World Wide Web, and e-mail is an excellent way to adapt the curriculum to meet individual needs. This type of interactive instruction addresses the multi-modal needs of learners and creates a high level of classroom motivation. This course provides the teachers of special needs students strategies to modify the curriculum in this manner.

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