AFFORDANCES OF IPAD TABLETS FOR SPECIAL NEEDS LEARNERS
Researchers have shown that iPad use in special education school settings can be effective. One school community, in Victoria, Australia, had reported on improvements in learning outcomes and student motivation. School data confirmed that the incorporation of iPads had made a significant contribution to learning. This study was commissioned to examine these achievements, and to make sense of the ways that different elements had combined to improve learning outcomes. The study sought to identify the combination of factors that had contributed to student learning gains when iPads were incorporated into the learning environment.
The contributions that digital technologies offer to schools have continued to increase but the details of such contributions are not necessarily well understood. There is anecdotal evidence within educational fields explaining the contributions of iPads to enhance student learning This study has identified, and examined, the range of affordances iPads make in a special school setting. Teachers, parents and students, are using tablet mobile devices, for learning, and enabling the continuation of learning experiences between school and home. This study shows that still further research is required to explore, and understand, the impact and contributions of such tools on learning outcomes.
This project sought to determine which features of the iPads the teachers, students and parents attributed as having particular value as enablers of learning. Consideration was given to how different features contributed to students’ learning, and to what degree different features can act as key enablers for learning.
Teachers and parents participants recognised specific contributions that iPads made to improved learning outcomes for a diverse range of special needs students. Notably, the iPads offered enhanced communication opportunities between teachers, parents and students. Both teachers and parents stated that there had been an improvement in student attitudes since the introduction of the iPads. This was evident in students’ increased engagement in a wider range of learning activities, as they experience less frustration, more independence and easier access to learning materials.
Analysis of questionnaires, interviews and class observations indicated iPads are being used as an effective multi-modal learning tool. The iPads appear to consistently increase student engagement, improve learning outcomes and enable special needs students to communicate more effectively. The combination of teachers’ selection of applications (Apps), and teachers’ confidence in the use of iPads and their willingness to adapt Apps for learning, have contributed to the effectiveness of this special school iPad program.
The study also concludes that iPad use can redefine learning spaces and contribute to the creation of innovative pedagogies, as teachers respond to the iPads versatility and mobility features. The potential, and limitations, of digital technologies to contribute to students’ learning opportunities have been explored here, through analysis of the perceptions, stories and actions of teachers, students and parents. The needs, interests, and capacities of all stakeholders have contributed to a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse range of learning possibilities available through classroom iPad use.