The Cupboard of Shame

Julia Clouter advises on assistive technology for Scanning Pens and is a consultant SENCo.

I wonder just how much assistive technology is languishing in the “Cupboard of Shame” how many products were taken for a trial spin and never found their way out of the box? Galvanising ourselves to meet the assistive technology challenge is a moral imperative and we need to keep up, because this is the world that our students inhabit.   

If you can operate a keyboard, you have Ed Tech competency. Support is at your fingertips from phone lines to webinars to YouTube’s how-to’s, the journey starts with a little confidence and a strong intention. The technological holy trinity of saving time, saving money and securely facilitating progress is closer than ever. That is of course, providing the powers that be, have blessed us with a budget and adequate time for training and evaluating.

As a profession we are becoming more research informed. There is a good chance that the assistive technology that you hope will raise literacy in your classroom is on the LendEd website. This is a good place for case studies and peer reviews that can be browsed with confidence.

We expect a lot from personal education technology, the mobile phone is the benchmark and we want sleek, discreet and ergonomically pleasing. These are the same qualities any self-conscious learner appreciates. I am very attached to my mobile phone and am always delighted to find new applications that enhance my learning experience. Vevox for example, can share comprehension or viewpoints via an instant online poll. Office Lens can capture whiteboard images and upload content to a chosen file enabling me to listen rather than copy. Sadly, with mobile phones we have the horrible dilemma of safeguarding and monitoring and juggling the worry of who has and who has not got access to contend with. Until such time as this can be resolved we need to provide the tech.

Historically we have considered assistive tech as a tool for a SEN. For example, we have seen the value of a scanning pen deployed to support a dyslexic student to read and seen the immediate validation that it brings. We would hope that any struggling reader could have the same opportunity to boost self-esteem, experience learning independence and make accelerated progress.  Assistive technology has been a part of the educational landscape for those with physical impairments and learning difficulties for a long time. Perhaps now is the time to shift our thinking towards the potential gains that could make possible for every learner.

Literacy and numeracy levels are accelerating through the gamification of content. Shift is happening and because the technological revolution puts assistive technology into everyone’s hands. How do we embed it in our schools and in our pedagogy? Who is going to take responsibility for assessing students and ensuring they get the right tools? The IT technician? SLT? The SENCo? no really, not the SENCo, they are far too busy trying to hold all the pieces together. But there is a crucial role for someone with the passion and the patience and a good understanding of learning needs to drive assistive technology development, across the curriculum. If we are going to fully embrace these sleek and useful learning tools, we need a plan that is comprehensive and goes far beyond deployment and maintenance.

Let’s consider the impact of getting this right. There are some inspirational assistive technology users with SEN who are letting us know that without a raft of little technological adjustments in their lives they would not be productive, or even just feel safe. There is also a growing number of young people, let’s call them the “Confident Digital Natives” who are, fact finding, corroborating evidence, developing new vocabulary and synthesising explicit and implicit ideas with just the use of their thumbs.  

If you have tech in the cupboard that will raise levels of literacy, get it out and dust it off. If you know you are going to be beaten by this task, delegate it, and enjoy the emotional transcendence from the guilt that you have been feeling.