New technologies such as tablet computers and techniques such as online data analysis are heralding a new age of customised learning assistance for young people who are severely disabled, a practitioner has told E-Access Bulletin.
"We're entering into a really interesting phase where technology is starting to make massive changes in the way we teach and assess children with the most complex difficulties, allowing us to give them independence and access that we haven't seen before", said Sandra Thistlethwaite, specialist speech and language therapist at Oldham-based firm Inclusive Technology.
"For example, we have seen some extremely interesting results using eye gaze technologies with children with complex difficulties, and in using iPads and tablets that people now have as a mainstream device.
"With a good scientific grounding – the right content, structure and theory behind what people are doing with those devices – technology opens up massive potential for health, therapy and learning."
Thistlethwaite was speaking after one of Inclusive's software packages, ChooseIt! Maker 3, won the ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions category at last week's 16th Bett Awards for education resources and companies.
The software allows teachers or parents to help students create and play personalised learning materials. It uses photographs and sounds – including those taken or recorded by the user – with symbols and text to build activities, helping learners who respond best to familiar sights and sounds including those with autism spectrum disorders, communication difficulties, language impairment, developmental disabilities, Down's Syndrome, Aphasia and traumatic brain injury.
Desktop computers, tablets, touch screens, interactive classroom displays, switches and eye gaze devices can be used with the software, and materials created can be played online or downloaded to mobile, playable offline.
Because the system automatically records learners' progression, and online activities can be shared between users, a new world of analysable data is being built up that could help not only to improve future products but to determine which interventions work for which children, for the good of all, Thistlethwaite said.
"We are looking at undertaking data analytics over a range of products. We are still at very early stages of looking at how teachers and children are using our software, and it will also give a chance to see how children are learning, what they are looking at, what access methods are used.
"Eventually we plan to have data research tools that would inform education, communication and health, as well as real feedback and real data to inform our practice and improve future products."
The Bett awards are co-hosted by education suppliers' association BESA with the organisers of education technology event Bett.
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