2002 Conference Proceedings

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

Two of the most important ways to disseminate information electronically is through the use of the Internet and electronic mail (e-mail). Both of these have changed the way children learn and how schools present information.  The vast amount of data that is exchanged through these two telecommunications formats is extraordinary and has transformed the manner in which children learn.  The technology revolution has changed instructional delivery and course content for the better.

Accessing information from the Internet is an excellent way for children to learn. In many instances, much of the data gleaned from web sites can be used to teach across the curriculum. As the movement toward interdisciplinary teaching continues to grow, using the Internet for this purpose is simple and motivating.

Many websites provide a wealth of information that provides learners with links to common instructional content in various subjects.  For example, access to the Weather Channel site (http://www.weather.com), provides lessons in at least four subject areas. The following chart provides an example of how this site can be used to teach content from four subject areas:

Reading Writing Mathematics Social Studies Science

Read weather forecasts

Write a summary of a weather forecast

How much warmer will it be tomorrow than it was today?

What states neighbor the one in which students live?

How does weather move? What is a weather front?

Using the Internet to teach children with learning disabilities provides opportunities for multi-modal instruction.  This allows them to learn new concepts using the modality in which they are strongest. Additionally, these children gain the skills necessary for understanding and using technology.

Another example involves using the United States Census Bureau website. The following table describes how the information taken from this site can be incorporated across the curriculum.

Reading Writing Mathematics Social Studies Science

Understand what the census is and why it is taken

Write a summary of how the census is done

Compare population counts

Track population changes between neighboring states

Identify local science facts

Children with learning disabilities and milder forms of mental retardation sometimes need to be taught using alternative strategies and the Internet can do just that. What makes this unique is that it becomes a primary method of communication that provides the teacher with more time to work directly with students.  Most importantly, the Internet offers learning through a variety of styles that fit individual needs.

Children from educationally underserved areas are also given an opportunity to access the net. Many of these students with disabilities might not be able to otherwise learn to use computers or access information electronically if the services were not provided through the school. As long as a computer is connected to the Internet, information remains available to them throughout the school day.

Most importantly, using the Internet to teach children with disabilities provides them with innovation and freedom.  By removing the more traditional means of teaching, students are provided opportunities for learning through alternative means. This allows them opportunities to utilize a variety of learning styles that are helpful toward the mastery of information.

Using the Internet as a tool for teaching requires planning and training. School districts must be aware that teachers must be able to understand not only how to use the Internet but how to include it in the writing of goals for students who are disabled.  The areas that are important elements of this training include instructor presentation, class discussion, and group-centered work and student involvement.

Instructor presentation includes simulations and presentations that include computer assisted presentations using a variety of software programs. No one can simply connect a group of students to the Net without first planning activities that will enhance learning. Understanding how to use software toward this goal is also essential.

Involving students in the discussion phase is also crucial. Small group, guided discussion should be used regularly. Combining student discussion with quality presentation is needed.

Group-centered work and student involvement is important if learning is to take place.   Collaborative and cooperative groups in accessing information using the Net is essential and activities that involve peers should be included.  Students must be able to help one another and should be responsible for supporting peers who are in need.

Using the Internet for children with mild to moderate disabilities must begin in the early grades. Training for these students must start early so that they are given every opportunity to remain competitive in the later years.  The use of technology will only continue to grow in the future and preparing children for that is essential to a quality education.

Teachers must also begin to consider including long and short-term goals in IEPs that include the use of the Internet.  While many of these goals include various assistive technologies, consideration to including the use of the Net must not be discounted. Therefore, it is essential that all aspects of technology be incorporated into the development and implementation of a child’s IEP.

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