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By Léna Bergeron & Dr. Nadia Rousseau

The advent of assistive technologies opens up new possibilities for both learning and teaching. Assistive technology (AT) enables students with special needs to overcome obstacles and perform complex tasks. Some of these students become more motivated and find they are able to work at their own pace (Rousseau, 2010b). However, the advent of AT also challenges the values, principles, and beliefs of members of the school team. Sometimes, they must re-visit the rationale for their decisions—decisions with which their practices are often enmeshed (Bergeron, Rousseau and St.Vincent, 2012). Thus, AT must be implemented through a gradual change in practices, if they are to be successful and beneficial for all concerned. External resources or members of the school team may provide support and coaching during this change; however, with a concerted effort of this kind, a collective project is the most desirable format. (Zabala and Carl, 2005). The research can help us to understand and identify what a project to introduce AT for high school students entails.

What the research can tell us about change

In order to understand change in the context of the Quebec education system, a team of researchers[1] conducted five different change projects in the form of action research over a period of five years. These projects are described in a document entitled Modèle dynamique de changement accompagné en contexte scolaire pour le bien-être et la réussite de tous [A Dynamic Model for the Supported Introduction of Change in Schools for the Benefit and Success of All Concerned] (Rousseau, 2012). This research culminated in the development of a model for understanding and describing a process of introducing change in schools.

In this research summary, this model has been used to describe the possibilities that should be considered in any concerted effort to introduce AT into secondary schools[2]. It is based on the experience of one Quebec high school that implemented AT by means of an action-research-training project[3] (led by Rousseau, with the collaboration of St-Vincent[4]).

Understanding change in order to introduce or coach it more positively and effectively

The following action steps are drawn from an experience of introducing change in a secondary school; they can be used to support an individual or team responsible for coaching a school team that wants change or a member of a school team that wants to understand the change that is happening in their school. The phases of preparing for change, carrying out change, and integrating change are discussed.

Preparing for change: finding common ground

According to the Dynamic Model for Change, the first phase consists of gradually building the foundation upon which the change project can be erected. In the case of a change project to implement AT in a secondary school, this phase is used to identify the challenges perceived by the teachers. They may not have the same perception of the situation that is deemed to be a problem and they may not be motivated by the same things (e.g., acquiring knowledge about the technologies versus taking steps in order to be fair and equitable in the event of an evaluation). This situation reflects individual needs that, in turn, reflect the subjective reality of each stakeholder. Clarifying these challenges together makes it possible to arrive at an increasingly shared understanding of the situation.

To do this, the team can work with the question, What problems do we perceive around the integration of AT in our school? The team can:

  • Brainstorm on these challenges, recording them on a visual support (paper or electronic);
  • Create categories of perceived challenges;
  • Articulate the strengths and challenges for the school in implementing this change project.

Gradually, this phase will result in a shared vision and mission. According to the Dynamic Model of Change, this is a critical step for any collective project for change. The group can clarify what it considers to be effective implementation of AT in a secondary school based on the characteristics of their school. Educators can be led to articulate a position on everyone’s responsibilities (e.g., use of AT under the guidance of the remedial teacher or the resource teacher, moving toward responsibility that is shared by the subject teachers), on the places and contexts in which AT can be used (e.g., use in a lab, moving toward use directly in the classroom with a portable computer), and on the steps and procedures to follow. As this vision emerges, priorities that reflect the unique features of the school may emerge. Here are a few examples:

  • The importance of compliance with Ministry rules;
  • The risk of adopting these technologies too quickly, to the detriment of other forms of intervention;
  • The importance of autonomy, personal responsibility-taking, and self-affirmation, particularly during periods of transition.

All of these considerations shape the vision and dictate the mission that will be pursued in the implementation of AT.

To do this, the team can work with the question, What does effective implementation of AT in our school look like? The team can:

  • Consult on and discuss the knowledge that comes out of the research that identifies best practices;
  • Discuss each stakeholder’s roles and responsibilities;
  • Negotiate priorities, ranking them in order of importance individually and then as a group.

Because a project to implement AT in a secondary school necessarily involves a discussion of topics with ideologies, there should be a focus on providing an adequate framework for these discussions, rather than limiting them. There should be room for inter-subjectivity and co-construction. This phase will involve the explicit articulation of the values, principles, and beliefs of each of the stakeholders regarding students with special needs and appropriate interventions (e.g., Should students follow the same steps in the writing process when using AT? Do assessments have the same value? Is AT seen as a “magic bullet”? Will AT be used to the detriment of remedial activities?) Clarifying the positions of each of the stakeholders will make it possible to move toward the consensus needed for collective, concerted action or to find compromises.

To do this, the team can work with the question, What are our values, principles, and beliefs regarding students with special needs and the use of AT?The team can:

  • Pay special attention to emotionally-charged questions and to the challenges that emerge and have an animated discussion on them;
  • Organise a debate in which stakeholders argue the view opposite to their own, in order to try to understand the point of view of the other.

Lastly, this phase, which may seem delicate, requires effective communication, with each person listening openly to the views of others and taking a step back from their own concerns, in order to focus on the concerns of the group as a whole. This phase is most effective when leaders are understanding and open to stakeholder questions and concerns around the implementation of AT. The use of a common vocabulary and fair terminology may also facilitate communication and sharing (e.g., assistive software versus help functions).

To do this, the team can work with the question, What do we need to do in order to “speak the same language” on AT?The team can:

  • Develop rules of communication together;
  • Place value on the use of the correct terminology.

Carrying out change: taking action

According to the Dynamic Model of Change, while action is at the centre of all change, it is often accompanied by new learning. For this reason, the stakeholders’ need for training must be met. During the implementation of AT, there may be a need for functional learning on help functions and software. This step provides an interesting opportunity to expand the teachers’ in-service training on learning disabilities (i.e., for them to experience what it’s like to have a disability in order to understand how much energy reading and writing takes and in order for them to determine what is attributable to laziness and lack of effort and what is attributable to the real and permanent impact of a disability). This learning will also shed light on beliefs that can make it uncomfortable to offer help in the form of AT.

To do this, the team can work with the question, What do we need to understand and clarify in order to implement AT?The team can:

  • Engage in an activity that will help them to determine what they already know and what they still need to learn;
  • Take steps to meet these training needs.

Change requires us to come together in order to plan our actions, guided by a desire to act in a manner consistent with the vision and mission, which become clearer as time passes. Planning can take a variety of forms. Moreover, due to the organizational aspect of implementing AT in secondary schools, an implementation guide will make it possible to identify collective steps, in a process of decision-making and negotiation. Over time, teachers and other members of the staff can test what was planned and the steps that were developed. They will benefit from setting priorities, gradually integrating steps into their daily practices and allowing themselves to make mistakes.

To do this, the team can work with the question, What steps do we need to take to implement AT at our school? The team can:

  • Create a subcommittee tasked with developing an implementation guide;
  • Develop procedures and steps.

Obviously, practical challenges will arise as planning progresses into action, requiring the group to readjust. Challenges, obstacles, and irritants around the implementation of AT will benefit from being discussed collectively, so that everyone owns the need to find answers. Solutions will also be tested and eventually integrated into the steps that have been planned, if they prove effective. Several aspects involve human and financial resources; as a result, the school principal will sometimes assume leadership for organizational decisions (e.g., additional contracts for the computer technician, a resource teacher with responsibility for the AT file, an additional responsibility for the person in charge of photocopying, in order to add digitization).

To do this, the team can work with the questions, What challenges have arisen as we move into action? and What answers and solutions can we consider?The team can:

  • Have animated discussions around the challenges that arise;
  • Brainstorm possible solutions;
  • Select solutions and test them.

A third phase: naming, sharing, and redeploying the expertise developed

According to the Dynamic Model of Change, integration is the final phase in the change process. It brings new hopes for the future. It includes a process of taking stock—objectifying and stepping back from the project, while asking questions about the added value of new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking. The first step is to identify what everyone believes to be the benefits of the collective change project for the students, for them personally and professionally, and for the team. The second step is to use this process of taking stock to identify the expertise that has been developed; to identify natural leaders within the group who stood out because of their role as agents of change and coaches; and to see how this expertise could be shared.

For example, the members of the school team can:

  • Participate in professional symposia;
  • Write a book or create a web platform based on the guide to implementing AT in secondary schools;
  • Make the steps they developed available online, etc.
To do this, the team can work with the question, What did the changes we made bring our students and our team? The team can:

  • Write a personal reflection piece;
  • Document the process of change and illustrate it with photographs;
  • Have a collective discussion.

In addition, because this phase is less an ending than the beginning of something new, the team should discuss the next steps. Challenges may include:

  • access to functional, high-performance computer equipment;
  • training for educators, particularly new educators, at the start of each school year;
  • an information and training evening for parents;
  • coaching and support by a professional and by the educators when students begin to use the AT;
  • cohesion and collaboration amongst all educators so that implementation is a collaborative effort;
  • effective sharing of responsibility among the human resources available;
  • active involvement of the students and responsibility-taking by the students.

In the process, the vision and mission that guided the change project will continue to evolve, guiding the group’s actions going forward.

To do this, the team can work with the question, What problems do we perceive with the integration of AT in our school?The team can:

  • have a collective discussion;
  • negotiate the determining factors;
  • select objectives together for what comes after the change project—the next steps.


Clearly, the experience described in this research summary provides many options that can be used to take concerted action in order to facilitate access to and use of AT and in order to facilitate their appropriation and integration into the daily practices of educators. The various steps in the change process found in this example can be used as a step-by-step guide by a team contemplating a similar project.

Relevant Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the practice-informed summary, "Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities: Information, Tools and Resources for Teachers", written by Cindy Perras.

Click here to access the evidence-informed summary, "The Use of Assistive Technology at the Intermediate Level: Educators’ and Students’ Perceptions", written by Dr. Nadia Rousseau and Léna Bergeron.

Click here to access the evidence-informed summary, "Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities", written by Dr. Gabrielle Young and Jeffrey MacCormack.

Click here to access the webinar, "The Evolution of Assistive Technology: Mobile Learning in a Digital World", presented by Michael Kerr.

Click here to access the practice-informed summary, "Interactive Whiteboards: An Assistive Technology Tool for Students with LDs", written by Cindy Perras.

Click here to access the practice-informed summary, "Mobile Assistive Technology for Learning in a Digital World", written by Michael Kerr.

Click here to watch a video on how students at Sagonaska Demonstration School created self-advocacy pamphlets using assistive technology.

Additional Resources

SNOW is the branch of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University that focuses on inclusive education and learning. The Technology for Accessibility section of their website describes how educators might use technologies to teach, communicate and share information. Click here to visit the SNOW website.

Alternate Education Resources Ontario (AERO) is a web-based digital repository that provides alternate format text to students with perceptual disabilities who attend publicly funded educational institutions in Ontario. It provides students with access to educational formats in the format they require and in a timely manner.

The Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE) provides resources to students, educators, parents, and other educational partners which explore the capabilities and assist with the implementation of AT at all levels. The educator section of the website offers videos, a glossary, resources, and training options.


Bergeron, L., Rousseau, N. and St.Vincent, L.-A. (2012). Défis et enjeux liés à l'utilisation des technologies d'aide en contexte scolaire. Revue suisse de pédagogie spécialisée, 4, 31-39.

Bergeron, L., St.Vincent, L.-A. and Rousseau, N. (2014). La mise en place des technologies d'aide chez les enseignants du secondaire. Exemple d'un processus de changement et d'appropriation. In: N. Rousseau and V. Angelucci (Eds.), Les aides technologiques à l'apprentissage pour soutenir l'inclusion scolaire (p. 111-129). Québec, Québec: Presses de l'Université du Québec.

Guay, M.-H. and Prud’homme, L. (2011). La recherche-action. In: T. Karsenti and L. Savoie Zajc (Ed.), La recherche en éducation: étapes et approches (3rd Ed., p. 183-212). Saint-Laurent, Québec: ERPI.

Rousseau, N. (2010a). Troubles d'apprentissage et technologies d'aide : l'accès à une vie scolaire riche et stimulante. Québec, Québec: Septembre.

Rousseau, N. (2010b). Vivement la pédagogie universelle pour les jeunes ayant des troubles d'apprentissage. In: N. Rousseau (Ed.), La pédagogie de l'inclusion scolaire: pistes d'action pour apprendre tous ensemble (2nd Ed., p. 87-108). Québec, Québec: Presses de l'Université du Québec.

Rousseau, N. (2012). Modèle dynamique de changement accompagné en contexte scolaire: pour le bien-être et la réussite de tous. Québec, Québec: Presses de l'Université du Québec.

Zabala, J.S. and Carl, D.F. (2005). Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Services in Schools. In: K. Higgins and R. Boone (Eds.), Handbook of special education technology research and practice (p. 179-208). Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin: Knowledge by Design Inc.

horizontal line teal[1] Nadia Rousseau, who is the co-author of this research summary, led the research project that generated the Dynamic Model for the Supported Introduction of Change in Schools.

[2] This analysis has also been published (Bergeron, St.Vincent et Rousseau, 2014).

[3]Action-research-training involves the implementation of a rigorous methodology that guides and informs the action and makes it possible to evaluate the impact (the research component). It supports recourse to specific actions in a situation that has been deemed unsatisfactory (the action component) and, through reflection and deliberation, it also involves a process of professional development that is subject to analysis (training component) (Guay and Prud’homme, 2011). Over a two-year period, the researchers supported the practitioners in the appropriation and implementation of AT through a series of training, reflection, and experimentation activities, combined with the recording of qualitative data (pre- and post-project questionnaires and audio recordings of all meetings) and inductive data analysis.

[4] A research project entitled Une exploitation articulée et concertée des technologies d’aide au secondaire [Articulated, Concerted Introduction and Use of Assistive Technologies in a High School], funded by the Quebec Ministry of Education, Recreation, and Sport (2010-2012).

horizontal line tealNadia Rousseau has a master’s degree in Special Education and a Ph.D. in Psychopedagogy from the University of Alberta. She teaches at Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and is the Normand-Maurice Research Chair. She leads the QISAQ, a group of researchers and undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students who are interested in the qualification and inclusion of young adults in Quebec. Winner of an award for excellence in research in 2009, Professor Rousseau’s areas of interest are the school experience and self-knowledge of young people with learning disabilities, inclusive pedagogy, and factors conducive to an increase in the number of young people with learning difficulties who are successful in earning a certificate, diploma or degree.

Léna Bergeron has a master’s degree in Education from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, where she is currently working on a doctoral degree in Education. She is a Research Assistant to the Normand-Maurice Research Chair and a student member of LISIS, an international laboratory on inclusiveness in education systems. Her areas of interest are support for the development of self-determination in students with special needs and education planning for a broad range of students.