Preparing Teachers for the Inclusive Classroom: A Preliminary Study of Attitudes and Knowledge of Assistive Technology

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to examine current attitudes and knowledge of preservice teachers towards assistive technology and to develop, implement, and evaluate a mini-workshop on assistive technology to better prepare regular classroom teachers for the inclusive classroom. A pre-post-survey design was used. Data from the presurvey provided demographic information as well as documenting current attitudes and knowledge. Participants were 168 students enrolled in a computer applications course for elementary teachers. Experts in the field presented a mini-workshop on assistive technology. Data was analyzed to determine impact of the mini-workshop on attitude and knowledge and to detect differences based on completion of a diversity course, having a disabled family member and having a disabled friend. Results indicated a continued need to include assistive technology under the broader umbrella of technology in teacher preparation programs.

During the past decade, the demand for technology literate teachers has increased dramatically. Both the government and the public support the need for excellence and equity in technology integration, though, funding opportunities to support technology related professional development have focused on the inservice teacher. Technology experiences for preservice teachers have centered around one basic class, usually computer based, and limited modeling by a few innovative methods instructors. The content of the basic course, too frequently, focused heavily on computer skills and minimally on integration of technology. Little if any reference was made to assistive technology and appropriate application in the regular classroom.

This article presents the results of a preliminary study to evaluate the use of a mini-workshop on assistive technology presented by special education experts intended to assist preservice teachers in developing an awareness of the variety of assistive technologies available and the teacher's role in using these devices or equipment in the regular classroom.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE

Mention the word technology to someone today and the first thing that comes to mind is computers and the World Wide Web (WWW or Web). However, when it comes to education that is too narrow a definition. In teacher preparation programs, students used to be required to take a media class that addressed a variety of technologies from 16mm films to overhead projectors to computers. Because of the technological advances in the past 10 years, these classes have evolved to where the primary focus is currently on computer use and curriculum integration. Students have little exposure to other effective and appropriate technologies that can be used in the regular classroom to promote and enhance teaching and learning. One major category of technologies has been virtually ignored, assistive technology.

First, it would seem appropriate to provide a definition of assistive technology (AT). The following definition appeared in the Technology-related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 or the Tech Act (P.L. 100-407) and has been adopted in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1990). Assistive technology is "any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities." [20 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 1401 (25)]. As can be seen, this definition is broad and can encompass a range of devices from low technology to high technology items as well as software. It certainly expands the interpretation of technology beyond the computer to include even simple tools that can be used to enhance learning for all individuals.

The 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA mandated that students with disabilities learn and be evaluated with their peers (Goldberg, 1999; Derer, Polsgrove, & Rieth, 1996; Lewis, 1998). …