2000 Conference Proceedings

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

As the new millennium begins, the number of special education teachers who are trained to use technology in the classroom remains unquestionably low. While the availability of computers, the Internet, and various types of assistive technologies have continued to grow, most school personnel find themselves limited in the understanding of how to operate, utilize, and implement the functions of the available hardware. The ones who, unfortunately, are most impacted by this, are the special needs students who require various assistive technologies in conjunction with their education.

Several states already mandate that an assistive technology evaluation be conducted for all students who are referred for special education services. It is more than likely that such a rule will be attached to the next revision of IDEA. Consequently, it is not too early to begin training classroom teachers how to select, use, and implement the various forms of computers, software programs, and assistive technologies into the curriculum.

The author conducted a survey of undergraduate and graduate students seeking certification and/or an advanced degree in special education. Surprisingly, only four percent of the respondents indicated they have used some aspect of technology other than word processing. No students indicated that they knew how to use a database or a spreadsheet, while only two percent stated that they have used e-mail or the Internet.

The results of the survey also found that many public school students know more about using computers than do their teachers. However, the students spend most of their time utilizing video games and other forms of entertainment rather than using the computer for incorporating learning. The opportunities for expanding the use of technology beyond this point is rarely, if ever, addressed. Consequently, the incorporation of powerful hardware and software is oftentimes abandoned and never used. Although education professionals espouse the importance of teaching across the curriculum, the value of doing so by incorporating technology is neglected.

In order to ameliorate this discrepancy, the author has designed a course for undergraduate and graduate students seeking certification in special education that provides training in the use of technology within eight key areas. In addition to word processing, the course content provides hands-on training for developing databases, creating an electronic gradebook by using a spreadsheet program, desktop publishing, e-mail, the Internet for teaching across the curriculum and for professional development, Power Point, and assistive technologies. The goals for the course are written so that students would gain the minimum competencies required by the state of Illinois for infusing technology into the classroom.

Evaluation of student performance is based upon class attendance and the number of required assignments the student completes. Students are encouraged to take their time and work at a comfortable pace. No due dates or other pressures are placed upon them and tests and quizzes are not used. This approach has been developed so that anxiety levels and apprehension in using equipment can be decreased.

A close relationship between these eight areas is quickly established early in the course. Learning how to submit assignments electronically covers skills in the areas of word processing, e-mail, and the Internet. Common core areas, such as dialogue boxes, toolbars, fonts, commands, and so forth, appear in most of the programs used in this class. Establishing similarities early in the course between these areas provides the students with more time for on-hands experiences.

While the Internet contains a plethora of information, it is meaningless unless it is used in a manner beneficial to the teacher and to the students. Therefore, as indicated earlier, the Internet segment of the course focuses upon two sub-areas; curriculum and professional development. A link between these two components is provided, as well.

Graduate students usually anticipate a large number of research papers as part of course assignments. Writing these papers requires the use of databases, such as ERIC. In the past, these individuals have experienced frustration because terminals at school libraries are inoperative or busy. Additionally, searches for specific information can provide a wide array of results that can make perusing the literature that much more difficult. Demonstrating the ease of accessing these various sites from work or home, however, provides students with an incentive to either gain more training in technology as well as possibly considering the purchase of a home computer. In fact, after the first semester this course was taught, five of fifteen students indicated they purchased a computer for home use and that much of their work was being completed with its use.

Preparing and teaching lessons that reach across the various domains of the curriculum is an important step in showing students the relationships between conceptual frameworks and ideas. The Internet provides a perfect opportunity for classroom teachers to establish this relationship. For example, accessing from the Internet information about the U.S. Census creates panoply of learning environments. The teacher accesses information from the Internet about the national, state, and local census from the figures provided by the U.S. Government. The students review the data by reading either silently or in groups. Additional information can be obtained from sending e-mail to congressional representatives requesting specific data about a neighborhood, changes in the district's population, diversity of the community, etc. These basic ideas can be expanded in order for the teacher to develop higher order thinking processes and/or critical thinking. Table 1 demonstrates the types of activities that can be used for teaching while integrating various aspects of technology into learning:

Table 1. Using the Internet to Teach Across the Curriculum By Accessing Census Data


Activity 1

Activity 2

Activity 3

Activity 4

Language Arts


Writing e-mail

Organizing Similar Data

Chronological Order


Percent of Change of Population

Difference Between

Developing and figuring sets of numbers

How many more?

How many less?

Social Studies






Types of Trees




Other ideas for creating units through implementation of the Internet include establishing electronic pen pals, including activities based in virtual reality, voice-activated response, and touch and scroll. Many other ideas can be gleaned from various educational websites that provide information about modifying the curriculum for special needs students. Access to global websites and other schools is no longer a complicated and seemingly interminable task.

The university students are taught how to incorporate numbers and figures from the above example into spreadsheet programs so their pupils can complete calculations, charts, graphs, etc. Additionally, developing slides using a program such as Power Point also addresses meeting the needs of individualized skills and programs. The use of multi-modal and multi-media delivery systems can be easily configured for special needs children once their teachers have mastered the basics of computing.

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