Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Perspectives on Applications of Technology in the Field of Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Perspectives on Applications of Technology in the Field of Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

This article describes how concepts related to the use of technology in education have evolved with particular emphasis on their implications for people with learning disabilities (LD). The article reflects my personal perceptions as a "participant observer" in a variety of activities related to technology applications in special education beginning in the early 1960s (Blackhurst, 1965, 1967). At that time, educators were focused on the potential that audio-visual aids, such as 16mm film projectors and tape recorders, had for instruction. Researchers and instructional designers also were engaged in developing programmed instruction materials that had their foundation in Pressey's 1926 invention of the first teaching machine (Blackhurst & Edyburn, 2000). As mainframe computers and their applications became more prevalent, technology gradually emerged as the terminology of choice.

In the mid- to late 1960s, conceptualizations about technology were broadened to media and materials, and a national network of Special Education Instructional Materials Centers was established to provide practical assistance on the use of instructional materials to teachers throughout the nation (Warfield, 1968). By 1970, instructional technology emerged as a topic of interest (Commission on Instructional Technology, 1970), and two broad categories of technology were commonly acknowledged: systems technology and media technology (Blackhurst & Hofmeister, 1980).

Advances in both instructional technology and mainframe computer technology continued in the early 1970s. The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the introduction and refinement of the microcomputer, undoubtedly the most influential technology of the late 20th century. The 1980s also witnessed an increased emphasis on assistive technologies and the emergence of technology literature and computer software targeted directly at special education. Significant technology legislation, such as the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (P. L. 100-407) was passed, among others (Blackhurst, 1997). Major technology advances, such as the evolution of the Internet, occurred during the 1990s. Additional in-depth information about historical developments may be obtained elsewhere (e.g., Blackhurst, 2005; Blackhurst & Edyburn, 2000).

Technology Types and Education

Over the years, historical events have led to a broadened view of technology--one that goes far beyond the focus on machines. My current perspective is that six distinct types of technology impact education. Following are brief descriptions of each, accompanied by illustrations of their use and potential for people with LD, some being more directly pertinent to LD than others.

The technology of teaching refers to instructional approaches that are systematically designed and applied in very precise ways. Such approaches typically include the use of well-defined objectives, precise instructional procedures based upon the tasks that students are required to learn, small units of instruction that are carefully sequenced, a high degree of teacher activity, high levels of student involvement, liberal use of reinforcement, and careful monitoring of student performance. Instructional procedures that embody many of these principles include approaches such as direct instruction (Carnine, Silbert, & Kameenui, 1990), applied behavior analysis (Alberto & Troutman, 1995; Wolery, Bailey, & Sugai, 1988), learning strategies (Deshler & Schumaker, 1986), and response prompting (Wolery, Ault, & Doyle, 1992). Most often, machines and equipment are not involved when implementing various technologies of teaching; however, they can be, as will be illustrated later.

There are differing opinions about the nature of instructional technology, but a presidential Commission on Instructional Technology (1970) provided the following definition:

   Instructional technology is a systematic way of
   designing, carrying out, and evaluating the total
   process of learning and teaching in terms of specific
   objectives, based on research in human learning
   and communication, and employing a combination
   of human and nonhuman resources to bring
   about more effective instruction. … 
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