This article is contributed. See the original author and article here.
Today’s guest post was written by Chris Bugaj, Karen Janowski, Mike Marotta and Beth Poss – Assistive Technology experts, and co-authors of the new book, Inclusive 365
Designing experiences that reach all learners is a fundamental need for every educator to engage in. However, adopting an inclusive mindset is necessary before one can design educational experiences that meet every individual’s need. Within an inclusive mindset is the belief that inclusion is feasible, that all learners can achieve their potential, and that we must offer strategies that are flexible, accessible to all and intentionally designed. Inclusive educational experiences rarely happen by accident. Designing for inclusivity acknowledges learner variability and focuses on strengths that promote engagement, success, and autonomy.
Ubiquitous integration of educational technology helps create barrier free learning spaces where everyone has access to the tools to succeed and where use of technology supports does not mark any one learner as less accomplished.
As we discuss in our forthcoming book, Inclusive Learning 365, technology can be used to design experiences that are flexible which removes obstacles to independence. In the spirit of building inclusive learning experiences, Microsoft is paving the way toward ensuring ubiquitous access to inclusive technology for all. They have developed a multitude of features which promote accessibility and inclusion which are built into existing tools such as Office 365 and Windows. They have partnered with educational institutions and other technology providers to ensure these tools are widely available to the masses. Providing familiar tools with a variety of customizable features removes obstacles to content access. These tools offer flexibility and choice so that users can identify the features which work best for them, depending on the task and their own unique learning needs.
Changing the visual presentation of text, adding audio supports, translation of both voice recordings with text to speech and playback in multiple languages, are just some of the features built into Microsoft’s Learning Tools. Additionally, they have made one of their flagship accessibility tools, Immersive Reader, available to third party developers extending its reach. Immersive Reader makes text accessible for those who are learning to decode by helping them understand what they are reading. An example of that partnership with other developers is how Wakelet and Immersive Reader interact. For a recent immigrant from Israel, whose primary language was Hebrew, this partnership opened the curriculum for him in a way that wasn’t possible previously. The educator curated grade level content using Wakelet. The learner used the embedded Immersive Reader feature to translate the articles from English to Hebrew and then listened to them in his primary language. He independently accessed grade level content. Eventually, this feature was no longer needed as he gained English language skills. But it made a tremendous difference early in the school year.
Sometimes, accessibility is as simple as spell check—a tool that most of us do not even think about, as it is seamlessly integrated into almost every digital writing tool used. For one nine-year-old learner, however, spell check has made the difference between feeling hesitant as a student and becoming a confident learner with a newfound love for writing. Knowing that she had difficulty with spelling, she would get hung up on how to spell a word, lose her train of thought and get frustrated, often changing a well thought out and effective word she was writing to a less sophisticated and less interesting word that she knew how to spell. Asking the adults around her to help her spell was typically met with the direction “Try to find it in the dictionary”, not a helpful strategy when you might not be sure of the second letter in the word! When one educator explicitly modeled the simple strategy of clicking on the familiar red squiggly underlined word and using the suggestions to help her correct her misspelling, she found a solution to her writing challenges. When educators instead gave her the prompt of “Do your best and see what suggestions spell check gives you.” she took agency of her own learning. When she realized that even when she was doing handwritten work or filling in a printed worksheet, she could open a Word document and type in the word she was struggling with to copy correctly, she felt successful and proud of her work. A simple, often underrated function of a tool helped change the mindset of one young learner, who now sees herself as capable.
If the principal responsibility of an educator is to support the learners they are meant to serve, then every educator should explore both common-place and newer technologies designed with inclusivity and accessibility in mind. Learners, just like this nine-year-old, can be invited to evaluate the features for themselves, develop their own awareness for what’s available, and craft their own technology toolkit for life-long learning.
Join the four of us for a free webinar (June 17th @ 1pm PST) led by Mike Tholfsen, as we discuss Inclusive Learning 365.
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.