by Michael Kerr, Educator, Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board
The power of our technology is increasing exponentially as it shrinks in size. The interesting part about this shift is that a fundamental change takes place when powerful technology becomes mobile. It becomes personal. Personalized technology changes how we work because it becomes a part of us -- not because we carry devices around with us, but because we entrust many personal and daily tasks to them. Mobile technology is becoming an extension of our mind as we are integrating our daily lives and activities with the tools they provide.
People with learning disabilities (LDs) can benefit profoundly from mobile technology (or M-learning) because they can access many of the tools they are familiar with in a desktop setting whenever and wherever they are needed. Not only do they have access to familiar tools such as text-to-speech (TTS) and speech synthesis or speech-to-text (STT), but these tools are accessible and integrated into an ever-expanding portfolio of options that did not exist before. Mobile and cloud-based applications such as messaging, calendar, contacts, email, sharing, social networking, reminders, and the list goes on, make communication with others much more accessible and integrated.
Ryan's Success Story
Ryan, a grade 8 student in Mr. Di Donato’s class, has created an example of how using her personal mobile device has resulted in huge gains in her ability to express herself in writing. The video below features Ryan reading both a writing sample she created before being in Mr. Di Donato’s class and a sample that she created after receiving explicit instruction on how to use her personal device to assist her in her areas of need.
Now that you’ve seen the video, you can see how allowing students to use their mobile devices can help students with learning disabilities such as Ryan to demonstrate their true cognitive abilities!
Mobile devices by nature of their design are for personal use. We store personal information on them, we carry them with us, we use them dozens of time a day. Some of these devices even recognize our faces, fingerprints and our voice.
Mobile technology is bridging the gap between the inherent shortcomings of our brain and the tasks we ask of it every day. Long and short term memory is being supplemented, and in some cases replaced, with powerful tools available on our mobile technology. Now that is getting personal!
For people with LDs and possible memory deficits, personalization is key. It allows the user to organize and personalize the tools they need as well as the environment that they operate in.
Integration occurs when a personal task is entrusted to technology. This process does not occur immediately but proceeds gradually. A person might start by adding contacts and a few personal photos and gradually move to gameplay, social networking, email, and reminders. Over time, the list of tasks will grow and the user will become more attached to the mobile device through integration.
People with LDs can benefit by integrating mobile technology with daily tasks that they struggle with. This can be done by using a suite of applications that they choose and that match their learning needs.
Summary of Advantages to Mobile Learning
Estimates suggest that sometime in 2014 the number of mobile devices on the planet exceeded the global population. Seven billion connected individuals are able to communicate, innovate and learn anytime, anywhere (Pramis, 2013). Mobile devices are here and they have taken hold, but what are the benefits of mobile technology for students with LDs?
Benefits may include:
- It is mobile - Accessibility tools are available 24/7
- It is personal and customizable
- Devices are often intuitive
- Apps are simple to learn
- Apps are designed for very specific tasks
- Apps are often very inexpensive or even free
- Apps are often cloud-based - allowing universal access
- Updates often bring new software technologies for free
- Users can be more efficient with their time
- Devices are less expensive than desktop tools
- Devices are always on
- Devices are linked to connectivity tools and social networks
- Devices can be more easily customized for individual users
Personalization of mobile technology expands the range of use of a device for the user. Millions of applications or apps have been developed over the past 5 years, and consequently, there is an ever-expanding collection of tasks and activities that mobile devices can assist with or complete, independent of the user.
Mobile devices can be used for almost any purpose. Apps can be installed to provide an enormous range of possibilities, including: Assistive Technology, Audiobooks, eBooks, Drawing, Gaming, Geography, Health, History, Mathematics, Music, Navigation, Organization, Painting, Photography, Presentations, Reading, Social Networking, Studying, Science, Writing, and Videography.
Activities & Strategies
This is a list of activities and strategies that all learners can explore using mobile technology. This is not a comprehensive list and it will grow with time and the development of new tools.
- Audio books help students develop fluency and vocabulary and access age-appropriate texts. Books are available from public libraries through OverDrive and from the CNIB Library
- eBooks - tools to assist with basic reading abilities
- eTextbooks – accessible to all students, allow students the ability to search tools and bookmark important sections
- Dictation applications for speech-to-text (STT)
- Images-to-text for scanning and text-to-speech (TTS)
- Organization tools (reminders, voice memos, camera capture, calendar, homework, appointments, schedules, grades and assignments)
- Phonics tools and games
- Math - linear regression, graphing calculator, Sudoku, tangrams, pentominoes, puzzles, basic arithmetic practice, geometry puzzles
- Wolfram Alpha - mathematical search engine and math exploration tool
- Voice memos - reduce writing tasks, aid with study skills, audiobook creation
- Scientific and standard calculators
- Evernote - organize and store files and notes
- Vocal - recorded voice reminders
- Create music and podcasts
- Video camera and still photography - create podcasts, stop motion animation, video animation, how-to videos, photograph anchor charts, rubrics, homework
- Google Apps and Google Voice Search - share, create, collaborate, assess, surveys, presentations
- Create and update a blog, create a digital notebook, digital portfolios
- Create comic strips and storybooks with Strip Designer, Animation and Story Kit and puppet shows
- Create art and explore art galleries with My Sketch, Sketchbook X, Louvre, MoMA and Art Project
- Explore science through games, puzzles, videos
- Social networking with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube
- Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) – e.g. Skype, Google Voice
- Blogging with Blogger and WordPress and Tumblr
- Access media, including streaming movies, radio, television and NFB, through Picassa, Flickr, YouTube, etc.
- Program at CODE.org and access Maker tools for Arduino and DIY
- eLearning Tools
Support for Students with Learning Disabilities using Mobile Assistive Technology
Different learners may need different technological supports. There are advantages and disadvantages to all technologies and these should be carefully considered when making the most appropriate selection for learners. The best technology for the task is the technology that will be used.
Here are three considerations regarding any technology:
- Empowerment - Does the technology provide a personalized learning environment with access to learning tools and information in real time as needed?
- Engagement - Does the device provide the tools in a way that inspires the user to use them? Does the technology offer a variety of tools that are simple, easy to learn, and work?
- The Cool Factor - Is the technology cool? Never to be underestimated - people abandon technology for many reasons, but this is a big factor. Technology that sits in a cupboard unused is the same to the user as not being afforded the technology.
There is a significant advantage to mobile technology, especially for someone with LDs: it is mobile. LDs pose a challenge all day, every day. They do not go away because a person walks away from their desktop computer or laptop. It is with them always. The technology they rely on should always be there too. Think how accessible social media such as Facebook, Twitter or text messaging would be with text-to-speech and speech-to-text support built-in and mobile?
The best way for a person to make use of assistive technology is to immerse them in it. Mobile assistive technology allows users to do this naturally.
The purpose of this overview is twofold:
- Firstly, it is meant to review the range and depth of mobile technology tools available for students with LDs.
- Secondly, and more importantly, it is intended to inspire. Remember, where we are now is just the beginning. The tools developed from this point forward will be more integrated, more personal and even more mobile. Over time, the tools that we use evolve. Sometimes the tools we develop allow us to more quickly complete a task - an example is a shovel and the hydraulically-powered excavator. Both can dig, but at a very different rate. Other tool advancements allow us to do things that we could only imagine before; e.g. compare writing with paper and pencil and writing with global text messaging. These tools change what is possible and they expand our imagination.
Educators need to recognize for themselves and help their learners to realize that the possibilities afforded them by technology are exponentially improving access to written materials of the present and the past and that they are making communication increasingly easy for all learners. These possibilities are increasingly being developed for mobile devices which means they are available universally and they are always on.
Students are very familiar with mobile technology - they need us as educators to embrace the technology to help them learn about the possibilities. The possibilities are numerous, powerful and they are waiting for us!
Related Resources on the LD@school Website
Pramis, J. (2013). Number of mobile phones to exceed world population by 2014. Retrieved from http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/mobile-phone-world-population-2014/
Michael has been an educator for the past 22 years with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board and during this time he has worked with students with learning disabilities in both a regular classroom environment and as a resource teacher. He has always incorporated technology in his teaching and has embraced the use of assistive technology since its modern inception. From 2007 to 2012, he was a teacher and Resource Services Consultant at the Ministry of Education, Provincial Demonstration Schools, Sagonaska in Belleville where he worked closely with students with severe learning disabilities in reading. During this time, he successfully established a mobile assistive technology program using iPods at the school. Michael was also responsible for delivering numerous workshops to students, parents, teachers, administrators, and school board consultants. He currently teaches a learning and life skills program with a focus on technology skills in Cobourg, Ontario.