How tech is revolutionising education for SEND students

Rachel Hall, managing director at educational resource providers Busy Things, shares her insight into how online resources can benefit students with SEND

Recently, the government released an edtech strategy that promises to support teachers in embracing new online resources and using them to cater to the needs of every pupil. This strategy reflects a shift in government focus from solely providing funding to offering guidance, which is good news for teachers who want to include digital elements in their classes but don’t know how.

Read our news story about the edtech strategy here

Of course, the web is already having a massive impact on education by giving students access to a huge range of engaging resources at low cost, but there are additional benefits of online resources for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) that deserve to be highlighted. Below are just some of my favourite ways edtech and online resources are revolutionising education for SEND students.

Physical disabilities

Online resources can give more independence to students with hearing, sight, and other physical disabilities, as they no longer need to rely on teaching assistants to help with classroom tasks. Assistive technology is more widely available, and a lot of the software that makes learning more accessible for SEND students is available in some form online.

For example, a vast array of tools can facilitate voice-to-text for producing work, and AR subtitles or context-dependant overlays can make learning easier for the deaf. Apps that act as mini smartboards allow for collaboration on projects in real time on digital displays and students can communicate through instant messenger, which means that children with disabilities affecting their speech can still contribute to discussions.

Taking this into consideration, tablets are better suited to SEND classrooms than textbooks as they are far more customisable. Each student can download the necessary apps to meet their special educational needs, tailoring the tools required to succeed during lessons to suit them. Plus, flexible access to online resources through the cloud means that learning is more mobile, so students can still participate if aspects of their healthcare mean they must take time off school.

A lot of the software that makes learning more accessible for SEND students is available in some form online.

Learning and behavioural disabilities

Dyslexic students can benefit from the many different format options that online resources can provide. Black text on a white background often causes ‘wriggling’ and other visual issues, so tools that allow them to change the background colour or font size of a text can help them to concentrate better and keep up with the rest of the class.

For students with learning disabilities, the task at hand often takes all their concentration and remembering to keep track of their progress can easily slip their minds so, when disaster strikes, they’re more likely to give up than entertain the idea of starting again. Tracking, recovery, and auto-saving tools mean that their work isn’t lost when students lose their place or forget to save, and they don’t have to start projects from scratch every time.

Online homework software is a great way to motivate pupils and it can be used to set manageable and achievable targets. Students and their parents can receive schedules and information about their progression straight to their mobile phones and tablets, including upcoming deadlines and grades, giving students more insight into their progression and making their workloads easier to manage.

Online resources and lesson planning

A lot of formal education practices, such as teacher-led lessons, aren’t well suited to students with behavioural disabilities that get bored easily, and sometimes power issues can come into play. The flipped classroom is one of the concepts that is addressing this obstacle by shaking up the traditional expectations of teachers and teaching.

From the archive: Alternative Provision Innovation Fund places telepresence robots with sick children

Teachers can use templates and other resources to create and then distribute e-lessons for students to do at home, instead of homework, leaving more time for more interactive comprehension activities in the classroom. Another flipped classroom approach sees the students take the lead by teaching a lesson on a given topic for the rest of the class which they have prepared from online encyclopedias and other knowledge bases. This method develops their research, public speaking, and teamworking skills, as well as increasing their understanding about the topic at hand.

Both flipped classroom approaches would not be possible to execute, or would be made much more difficult, without online resources.