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Answered by Nadia Rousseau, Ph.D., Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières

It is well documented that assistive technology (AT) for students with learning disabilities (LDs) can be inconsistent in terms of effectiveness. However, research indicates that a number of conditions must be met in order to maximize the effectiveness of assistive technology, three of which are described below:

1. In-depth knowledge of the Assistive Technology

According to research, many young people who use AT to support their writing process have limited knowledge of the features provided. Some students are unaware of all the features the tools offer. For example, a research study showed that students aged 12 to 14 who use WordQ use up to 9 of the tool’s 12 features. Students who use a grammar checking and writing tool such as Antidote only use up to 3 of its 239 features. In addition to not knowing all the features, some students incorrectly use the features they do know of, creating new errors instead of correcting existing ones.

Therefore, to maximize the effectiveness of assistive technology, it is essential to explicitly teach students (moving from modelling to guided practice, and then finally, independent use) all the features that can be used to support their learning. Make sure students know:

  • All of the features of the AT software being used;
  • The features that are specific to one task (text correction, reading strategies, feature scaling); and
  • The features that are specific to the student’s individual needs.

2. Self-awareness

Many teachers have noted that of their some students ultimately set their AT aside, particularly in their early teens. This is partially due to concerns over being scrutinized and stigmatized by others. Research shows that students who know themselves well (their strengths, their needs, and the specifics of their learning disability) are more likely to adopt good technological habits to support their learning.

To ensure teenage students make optimal use of AT, it is important to give them opportunities to better understand themselves, specifically by:

  • Having them assess their strengths and engaging them to better understand the AT they will use;
  • Having them assess their difficulties and implementing the appropriate technological strategies to overcome them.

3. A supportive classroom environment

To further optimize the use of assistive technology by the students who need them, teachers can use a strategy targeting the entire classroom when presenting and modelling the tools. This serves to validate the AT for the students who will use them. This simple gesture can make all the difference!

Modelling can also be conducted with specific students. Teachers can therefore:

  • Model the strategy implemented during teaching (for example, correction process, tutoring approach) with the student’s AT;
  • Guide the student in using the implemented strategy during the learning process with the AT;
  • Observe how the student uses the implemented strategy during the learning process with the AT;
  • Provide specific feedback during each step of implementation of the strategy by the student using the AT;
  • Have the student verbally describe how he or she is using the strategy implemented with the AT.

Learn More:

Rousseau, N. et Bergeron, L. (2014). The Use of Assistive Technology at the Intermediate Level: Educators’ and Students’ Perceptions. https://www.ldatschool.ca/intermediate-level/

Rousseau, N., Stanké, B., Dumont, M. et Boyer, P. (2019). Assistive technologies as an adaptive measure to support the development of writing skills from a global learning perspective: a longitudinal study [Rapport de recherche déposé au Fonds de recherche Société et culture – FRQSC – programme d’action concertée sur la persévérance et la réussite scolaire]. https://frq.gouv.qc.ca/en/story-and-report/les-technologies-daide-comme-mesure-dadaptation-soutenant-le-developpement-des-competences-redactionnelles-dans-une-perspective-globale-de-lapprentissage-etude-longitudinale-2/

About the Author:

effective assistive technologyNadia Rousseau holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Alberta and has been working as a professor in special education at the Université du Québec since 1998. She is the director of the RÉVERBÈRE network (Network for research and promotion of research on well-being and diversity), co-head of the Lab-RD2 (Laboratory for Research and Development to Support Diversity), a full-time researcher with the PERISCOPE network (Informed sharing of research and interventions for collective success through education) and for the Chaire – Réseau de recherche sur la jeunesse du Québec. Her research work focuses on the quality of the academic experience and self-awareness for a wide variety of students, inclusive education and the key factors to promote qualification for an initial diploma in youth with significant academic difficulties.