Innovative Technology for Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities

By Woodward, John; Gersten, Russell | Exceptional Children, March-April 1992 | Go to article overview

Innovative Technology for Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities


Woodward, John, Gersten, Russell, Exceptional Children


* Over the past decade, public schools have spent approximately $2 billion for microcomputers. Acquisitions in special education alone grew more than 330% from 1983 to 1985 (Blaschke, 1985). Although 96% of American schools have microcomputers, the typical school has a ratio of only 1 computer per 30 students. Furthermore, most schools house their 10-20 computers in a single computer lab, thus limiting computer use to an average of about 15 minutes (min) per day per student. This growth has spawned an array of frustrations-some logistical, some instructional (Buckeley, 1988; Rothman, 1988; West, 1988).

Recent evaluations of technology use in education concluded that computers are failing as educational aids (Buckeley, 1988; Snider, 1986). Early in the 1980s, visionaries (Bork, 1981; Papert, 1980) claimed that computers would revolutionize learning. More recently, critics of educational technology (Cuban, 1986) have pointed out that the early sanguine predictions are similar to those that accompanied previous technological innovations, such as instructional television. Once initial enthusiasm palled, the educational community used these technologies at an extremely modest level, and their impact on improving instruction has been minimal.

Some microcomputer proponents are trying to sort out what is currently happening to their "revolution" in the schools. Reasons expressed for the modest acceptance of microcomputers in the schools vary. Hofmeister (1984), in particular, has stressed the poor quality of most instructional software; a view which is now more widely shared in schools (Buckeley, 1988). Semmel and Lieber (1986) stated that the early claims about the superiority of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) as an alternative to traditional instruction were exaggerated.

Perhaps the most perceptive-and indicting-analyses have come from- Cuban (1986), Cohen (1987), and Wolcott (1981). These researchers argued that computers are but another in a set of educational innovations that have largely ignored the culture of schools. Cuban stressed that computers have been forced on schools in a top-down fashion. Computers have commonly been deployed in classrooms and labs in a way that doesn't mesh well with the various demands and routines of a teacher's day. This lack of sensitivity to the realities and routines of classroom learning has resulted in a revolution that has been, at least for the moment, temporarily derailed. These views seem to apply to special education as well as regular education.

PROBLEMS AND ISSUES IN TECHNOLOGY USE IN SECONDARY SPECIAL EDUCATION

One of the most recent surveys of microcomputer use at the secondary level indicates that students in special education spend as much time on computers as students with average ability (Becker & Sterling, 1987). However, they engage in very different activities on the computer than do their peers. On the average, secondary students use drill-and-practice computer programs only 13% of the time. In contrast, secondary students in special education classes spend most of their computer time on drill and practice, mainly in the areas of math and language arts programs (Becker & Sterling; Okolo, Rieth, Polsgrove, Bahr, & Yerkes, 1985). Where computers were not used for drill and practice, the main intent of computer use with students in special education was to improve motivation, self-confidence, and self-discipline. On the other hand, when working with other secondary students, teachers' main goals were programming, computer literacy, and word processing (Becker, 1987).

We would like to emphasize several key points about the use of technology in high schools, and with high-school students in special education. The first point is seemingly obvious: Technology use in all schools fundamentally involves microcomputers. Rarely do educators use alternate technologies, such as videodisc instruction, or more elaborate uses, such as telecommunications or information retrieval from commercial databases. …

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