Teacher Blogger | By Lori
The Google for Education (GSuite) website claims it has the potential to make learning accessible for all and research has begun to evaluate its efficacy. Astute educators rely on research to inform their practice and then further evaluate whether or not assistive technologies truly have the ability to transform student learning or if they are simply a reflection of oligarchic infiltration of educational institutions. While educational stakeholders recognize the value of quantitative research in supporting pedagogic decision-making, strong qualitative lived research is more valuable in informing the design of educational experiences, which remains a critical consideration in the authenticity of inclusive education practices. According to Perelmutter, McGregor & Gordon (2017), “if Assistive Technology helps learning purely in a numerical sense, but is uncomfortable or socially stigmatizing to use, then advocating for it might cause more harm than good” (p. 2).
With little success and much frustration using past assistive technologies, it seemed as if Google’s intelligent web-based apps, extensions and add-ons would miraculously transform student learning experiences with the click of a mouse. While every teacher at my school received a short Professional Learning workshop in Google for Education, I was one of the lucky three educators on our staff of thirty-five who was further trained in implementing Google for Education as an assistive technology for students with exceptionalities. This training would serve me well and would have also benefited dozens of other educators on staff who could not receive the training due to logistical, budgetary and policy constraints.
Friend or Foe
Specialized training made me extremely eager to implement GSuite after I was gifted the opportunity to work one-on-one with an amazing student who attended school for partial day programming, but with whom I had already connected given our shared enthusiasm for maker education and various digital technologies. The process was unhurried and I was patient because I knew that I needed and wanted to really know my student and build a trusting relationship in order to get them to continue coming into the building every day, which was a major challenge and the most important goal decided upon by our Special Services Team.
Tinkering with Technology
After several weeks, I began using voice to text features, capturing text from images in Google Keep, and generally playing with GSuite alongside my student who looked on with both curiosity and hesitation. Sometimes the aging, donated laptops would not connect to wifi, the voice to text recognition would type a silly sentence, the headphones would not work, our network connection would lag as our infrastructure was, and is still dated, all typical issues in many jurisdictions. GSuite sometimes would not work properly without reason and frustration would ensue so we would try using iPad accessibility options or do maker projects. Assistive technology continued to present new and unpredictable challenges every day.
Over the next several months, we explored many different assistive technologies together, some successful and many not so successful, but we did persevere while developing problem-solving skills and my student eventually began using the technology independently. As my student’s confidence grew, so too did their independence, and they are no longer just my student, but sit in a classroom table-group alongside their peers engaged in learning with a district-provided assistive technology device. Yes, the device is a Chromebook and yes, GSuite is the jurisdiction’s assistive technology of choice. Do I believe GSuite is solely responsible for my student’s success? No, I do not. Do I believe it can help students learn? Yes, I do. I also believe it is imperative that, like my student, learners need to develop the problem-solving skills necessary to adapt to rapidly changing technologies. One function of the education system is to create flexible problem-solvers who transfer these skills into real life experiences as discussed in Educational Psychology Review .
Not only has Google for Education found its way into my everyday pedagogical practice, but it has been widely implemented across many jurisdictions across North America. Such assistive technology tools can and do make a difference in the lives of students, which make mass implementation tempting. While Google for Education is relatively cheap or even free for educational institutions, it is doubtful anything is truly without a cost. Licenses for extensions such as Read&Write for Google have a fee thereby limiting the number of learners who have access, many useful add-ons and extensions are prohibited by jurisdiction administrators thus limiting the capabilities of GSuite. Professional development opportunities for educators carry significant costs in the form of substitute teacher salaries and experts to facilitate valuable learning experiences. The accessibility and cost of reliable infrastructure also threatens successful implementation of technology tools for learning and GSuite is no exception.
Brown and Hocutt (2015) affirm that the success of assistive technologies for learning relies on ease of use and access for all learners. Technology engages learners, increases student motivation and promotes authentic learning experiences. Prolific implementation of a wide variety of tools throughout the learning process encourages responsive teaching, negates the stigma surrounding academic intervention, encourages acceptance, and creates greater learner autonomy. Proliferation of technology tools has the potential to expose even the most subtle of student exceptionalities. Reviews and recommendations for assistive technology apps are easy to access on the internet but like any tool, educators must assess their contextual suitability. TeachThought has a list of Assistive Technology apps that staff has compiled https://www.teachthought.com/technology/34-assistive-technology-apps-from-edshelf/ and may be useful in certain learning experiences.
If assistive technology is accessible to the entire community of inquiry, then learner needs will be more easily met. By ensuring widespread access to devices, licenses or subscriptions for add-ons and extensions, jurisdictions could enable judgement-free access for every learner. Providing learners with the autonomy to choose from a variety of tools they need to be successful will also empower educators to efficiently facilitate the process instead of being limited by one set of tools. Districts would serve learners well to carefully scrutinize restrictions on tools and alter security when possible to assure learners have the tools necessary for success. Providing opportunities for explicit instruction in using specific technology tools and co-construction of learner understanding through guided experiences could further increase autonomy.
Questions to Consider
After reading this blog post, I invite you and your colleagues to consider these questions: Does Google Apps for Education provide an inclusive or exclusive digital platform for assistive technology? Is it possible for just one sophisticated Computer-Based Learning technology tool to meet the needs of all learners? Tech for thought…
Brown, M. E., & Hocutt, D. L. (2015). Learning to Use, Useful for Learning: A Usability Study of Google Apps for Education. Journal of Usability Studies, 10(4), 160–181. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/login.aspx? direct= true&db=a9h&AN=109177132&site=eds-live
Dawson, K., Antonenko, P., Lane, H., & Zhu, J. (2019). Assistive Technologies to Support Students With Dyslexia. Teaching Exceptional Children, 51(3), 226–239.https://0-doi-org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.1177/0040059918794027
Kalyuga, S., Renkl, A. & Paas, F. Educational Psychology Review (2010) 22: 175. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-010-9132-9
Perelmutter, B., McGregor, K. K., & Gordon, K. R. (2017). Assistive Technology Interventions for Adolescents and Adults with Learning Disabilities: An Evidence-Based Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Computers & education, 114, 139–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.06.005
About the Contributor
Lori is a K-6 Teacher-Librarian who engages learners using educational technology. A former classroom teacher and devoted PBL enthusiast, she has implemented a variety of technology tools for learning through inquiry.
Except otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.