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3 Tips for Using Tech to Meet All Students’ Needs

The overall number of ed-tech tools districts are using is increasing, and many districts now have 1-to-1 computing programs.

Yet equitable technology access for all students still isn’t a reality, and educators don’t always use technology in ways that serve the needs of all students, experts said during a June 24 panel discussion at the International Society for Technology in Education conference here.

The panel explored technology’s role in fostering inclusive and equitable digital learning environments.

The panelists were Brittany Wade, Ed Farm’s senior manager of curriculum and assessment; Yaritza Villalba, an education coach for Samsung Education; Kimberly Niebauer, an elementary school teacher in Duval County schools in Florida; Stevie Frank, a technology integration specialist for Zionsville Community Schools in Indiana; and Renee Dawson, an ed-tech specialist for the Atlanta public schools.

Here are three important lessons for educators from the panel discussion.

1. Focus on building good pedagogical practices

To ensure that teachers are using technology in inclusive and equitable ways, the panelists underscored the importance of focusing on pedagogy.

“As we have seen, tools come and go,” Frank said. “But good pedagogical practices don’t.”

Start with the standards, with what students have to know by the end of the school year. And then figure out how they’re going to get there and what role technology plays in that, Frank recommended. And sometimes, she emphasized, technology doesn’t have a role.

2. Show teachers how to use the technology’s accessibility features

Access goes beyond having the software and the hardware, the panelists said.

“Without training, without intention, without truly empowering people to use technology in meaningful ways, you don’t really have access,” Wade said.

In her work training educators, Wade often hears them say, “Hey, I have all this stuff, but I don’t know how to use it.” Teachers ask her how to use the accessibility features and how to design lessons that are meaningful for all students.

“You have to start with going beyond the tool,” Wade said. Start with “that intentionality of how do we use it to meet the needs of every learner. How do we use it to let them see themselves?”

3. Make sure the technology works for the student with the most needs

The easiest way to make the classroom inclusive is to level the playing field by making sure the technology works for the student with the most needs, Dawson said. If it works for that student, she said, it’ll work for everybody in that classroom.

That could mean using tools that have accessibility features built in so teachers don’t have to reinvent the wheel, she said.

It takes time and practice to use these features, so teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to get it right the first time, the panelists said.

Creating an inclusive digital learning environment also means teaching all students how to use accessibility features, such as text-to-speech and live captions, even if they don’t need them, “because they might encounter someone who does,” Wade said.

Educators should also teach parents how to use these features, because they’re the ones who are at home with the students and need to know how to help with school work they have to do outside of regular school hours, Villalba said.

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