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Neighbors of Kane County

The role of technology in schools is huge...and increasing

Jul 09, 2015 01:13PM ● By Neighbors Magazines

Dollar Photo

by Tracy Gray, Director NCTI

More than ever technology has played a vital role in educating and connecting students to learning opportunities. With the surplus of information, including instruction, available on the Internet, and new technologies making computers increasingly portable, high schools are presented with many new opportunities for enhancing and supplementing classroom instruction through technology. The use of technologies such as virtual learning environments allows students to participate in classrooms and opportunities far from the reach of their school walls, and interact with students from across the country. Through the use of online curricula, social media outlets, virtual learning academies and assistive technology devices there is greater access for all students to enhanced education.

A number of trends are combining to create new opportunities for students and the field of technology. As more and more content is available online, sometimes exclusively, it is important to ensure that the information is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities; assistive and learning technology offers great promise in helping these students. Special education delivery now happens more often in the general education classroom, not in segregated special needs classrooms. Also, the stunning innovation of technology has made it easier to use and customize. It has become more powerful and available at lower costs, therefore making it attractive as part of a school wide solution. Tremendous advances in technology in the past decade have led to the development of speech synthesis and recognition technology, interactive software, and miniaturization and portability that help these students achieve and thrive (National Center on Technology Innovation (2006). Moving Towards Solutions: Assistive Learning Technology for all Students. Washington, DC: Author)

How can social media tools such as Facebook, wikis, and blogs be used in high schools as learning tools?

Classroom instruction is becoming increasingly involved in an essential shift from monotype lectures to the use of several technologies in delivering information. This shift can provide more dynamic and engaging sessions, as well as make available assistive learning to students with disabilities. Various types of technology, including many social media tools, are used to support and enhance classroom instruction while also evoking students’ interest in the content. Social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn have dramatically changed the way students communicate internationally and have become more prominent in the lives of all people. The educational community has a unique opportunity to tap into a vast audience of students who are already invested in, and motivated to use innovative technologies, by using this avenue to improve access to education for all students.

For the purpose of efficiently answering the question, I am going to define social media as blogs, networking sites, discussion boards, vlogs, news aggregation, photo sharing, social book marking, video sharing sites, virtual reality, and gaming which allow users to be active participants in a wide range of Internet activities. Many schools around the country are utilizing social media like YouTube and podcasts for posting lectures and encouraging students to learn even when they are not in the confines of the classroom. Furthermore, the majority of college campuses and professors commonly educate students through web sites such Blackboard, Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), and Student Information System (SIS). High school students must practice learning through such innovative methods at early stages.

When social media is adapted to curriculum and content area, these tools allow students’ gained access to new information and the capacity to communicate with those around the globe. Social networking services especially engage students in new, rich, and interactive learning experiences and help them become active citizens and participants in local, national, and international affairs. The use of technology has the potential to grow into a significantly larger share of the education market and to serve more students more effectively if social media is properly utilized in the classroom.

Can you provide concrete examples in how schools and districts are using learning and assistive technologies to help students with disabilities succeed on the high school level?

The changing need of our society has increased the call for assistive technologies in educating all students. The benefits of these technologies have been profound for students with disabilities. Teachers are now able to deliver an accessible curriculum for special education students within general education classrooms, allowing all students to receive an appropriate and relevant education and necessary supports.

Assistive Technology can increase a student’s self-reliance, sense of independence and overall success with working independently. Schools and districts are using assistive technologies to help students with disabilities in a variety of content areas including math, reading, writing, listening, and memorization/organization. Students who struggle with listening may benefit from the paper-based computer pen. This technology assists students by recording and linking audio to what a person writes using the pen and special paper; it enables the user to take notes while simultaneously recording someone (e.g., a teacher) speaking. The user can later listen to any section of his notes by touching the pen to his corresponding handwriting or diagrams. Over the past twenty years, math teachers and practitioners have used electronic math worksheets to help all students connect to their content. These are software programs that can help a user organize, align, and work through math problems on a computer screen. Numbers that appear onscreen can also be read aloud via a speech synthesizer and this may be helpful to students who have trouble aligning math problems with pencil and paper.

An additional resource for educators and families to find assistive technologies for students with special needs is the TechMatrix ( The TechMatrix offers users the ability to customize a detailed search of products and to generate a tailored report within seconds.  


Tracy Gray is the director of National Center for Technology Innovation and a managing research scientist at AIR. Tracy is a nationally recognized expert in education and technology and has led numerous projects in the United States and internationally, examining the impact of technology on educational achievement. In addition, she has published and lectured widely on issues related to the integration of emerging technologies into the classroom and after-school programs.

Virtual or online learning

48 states and the District of Columbia currently support online learning opportunities that range from supplementing classroom instruction on an occasional basis to enrolling students in full-time programs. These opportunities include dual enrollment, credit recovery, and summer school programs, and can make courses such as Advanced Placement and honors, or remediation classes available to students. Both core subjects and electives can be taken online, many supported by online learning materials. While some online schools or programs are homegrown, many others contract with private providers or other states to provide online learning opportunities.

Source: U.S. Department of Education