The project I am about to embark on would add to the current research of Tablets for Schools, on supplying evidenced-based research on the longitudinal effect of mobile technologies to meet the needs of dyslexic learners.
Some reports indicate that tablets and mobile technologies motivate special needs pupils but in some cases, lack further details about what apps work to meet a skill or need. I have worked for a local authority and we have used mobile technologies as individual solutions for many years. The early RM tablets for instance, were used but the response back was that the pupils preferred a keyboard to use than an on-screen keyboard.
The introduction of iPads and tablets in general, has changed the landscape and initial solutions pointed to its effectiveness in meeting the needs of pupils with muscular dystrophies and rheumatoid arthritis where light touch and minimal movements had a pain-free effect which laptops didn’t provide. One pupil was able to double his typing speed by having an on-screen keyboard.
The key point to learn from this example is that focusing the mobile technology around the need can be most effective in meeting that specific need. In other words a blanket approach to special needs might not provide a better solution . The need to know what the technology offers precedes he provision of a solution which might not improve the outcome. Some pupils may prefer Bluetooth keyboards to on-screen keyboards. Pupils with visual tracking problems may prefer to have on-screen keyboards as they can keep their eyes on the one plane. A traditional laptop causes the issue of look-up,look down when the pupils is trying to follow a lesson from a board at the front
I can see the sense in providing tablets for everyone as this really does help a pupil’s self-esteem. It was a big drawback to the pupils we loaned equipment to as they could be “bullied” and have their special need amplified to the class by being the only one with technology in the classroom. Everyone having an individual ICT tool means that stigma goes away.
Still , there would be a need to match apps carefully to needs and levels of achievement. I started producing an App Mapping Tool in order to help present a way to discover what apps meet which specific needs. It is a work in progress but open to all and you can add your own favourite apps. I see teachers thinking only in terms of teaching and learning apps and less about what problem an app might overcome if used as a personal tool. This is, I believe , an ongoing journey of discovery.
I also think what tablet platform might be best to use – Apple or Android or Windows? I have adopted an eclectic approach to app mapping to include them all. But some platforms are quite bare of useful apps. Lots of social networking tools and games but little really useful cross-platform stuff. I have come to see an opening for Android devices as a better tool for say, Dyslexia, as many of the tools are integrated . Word prediction and speech built in from the keyboard. This provides a more integrated approach where additional specialised software has put in a process for pupils who often have organisational problems as well. Depending on your budget, iPads in the form of the iPad minis and iPad3/4 and soon 5 could be a great addition as well.
Do you get what you pay for? Yes, but if all you want is a mini to run around in that equates in my view as a dyslexic learner needing a writing tool then choose some mobile technology that does that. Mention is made in the Tablet for Schools research about distractions being a problem could be minimized if the tool was more focused on the need. Less bells and whistles could mean more.
So that brings me back where I started which is what low –cost mobile technologies could do to help pupils with dyslexia and how best do we support them with the correct apps, home/school agreements and matching of apps to a progression of skills they will need. The research will begin in 2014 but the background and collecting of data starts now. Will keep you posted.
Myles Pilling is a Specialist ICT SEN&D consultant for AccessAbility Solutions who has over 30 years experience of working with severe and complex needs pupils. Myles worked for Wiltshire Council for 10 years as an ICT SEN consultant with the Specialist SEN Service ( SSENS) team. But now he is working as an independent Specialist ICT SEN&D Consultant having set up this company. You can reach him at @AccessAbility4u or through his site AccessAbility Solutions .