Sarah K. Howorth, Assistant Professor of Special Education
Mia Morrison, Lecturer of Instructional Technology
Ms. Jones is a 4th-grade teacher who has been teaching for 25 years. However, lately, she has been struggling to adapt her instruction as her district has embraced a 1:1 device program with e-textbooks, a vision for increased inquiry-based learning, and focus on 21st-century skill building for all students. She is being asked to use Google Classroom as a learning management system instead of her trusty teacher planner and digital student tracking and feedback. How can she explore and learn how to use these new digital instruction tools while working 60+ hours a week?
Present and Future of Technology in Schools
Technology is here to stay, with new tools and innovations in communication, commerce, and production shared daily. Within the field of education, our charge has moved away from disseminating information to embracing a new paradigm in teaching and learning to prepare students for a dynamic and ever-changing future environment. In 2018, the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon report (K-12 edition) identified educational technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry. Included in this list were redesigning learning spaces, advancing cultures of innovation, approaches to deeper learning, and mixed content learning (STEM → STEAM).
These developments pose unique challenges to our education system both nationally and here in Maine. Teachers like Ms. Jones are diligently working to shift their focus from information dissemination to the creation of authentic learning experiences to empower and advance both student and teacher digital literacy. While increased access to device programs is often the first step, educator training at all levels and support are the true key to success. Programs such as Apple Teacher and Google Certified Educator have helped immensely to push educators forward and create community, locally and across state boundaries. However, there are more difficult and even “wicked” challenges ahead.
Difficult challenges involve a) rethinking the role of the educator, b) addressing the increasing achievement gap and c) sustaining innovation through leadership. Rather than develop curricula and assessment for each subject area in isolation, it is now critical that educators collaborate across content boundaries to bring authentic and relevant application of knowledge and skills into the classroom. The achievement gap refers to the disparity in academic performance among groups such as students with disabilities, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse students. We must deeply consider the palliative vs. productive effects of equity and equality to meet the needs of all learners. Thus, the challenge is to nurture teachers who are trained to lead these types of professional development to guide and inspire their colleagues toward innovative instruction. Technology tools may be one way to support solutions for all of these challenges.
Outline of Maine’s 1:1 program,
Public schools in Maine were the very first in the nation to implement 1:1 laptop access to all middle school and high school students (Task Force on the Maine Learning Technology Endowment for the Maine Department of Education, 2001). The education system in Maine must keep pace with career preparation needs of the 21st century in the face of rural settings and lack of network infrastructure. With the advent of the Digital Age, there has been a shift in learning management systems, classroom dynamics, and modes of learning and communication. Teachers must learn to navigate classroom management and universal design for instruction that allow all students to a free and appropriate education while protecting student data.
Throughout the implementation of Maine’s 1:1 program, there has been more focus on device rather than teacher training. In this way, the movement forward has not achieved the traction nor true educational value intended to bring our rural students into the 21st century. The next logical step is to focus on creating authentic learning experiences, making connections, and advancing digital literacy for both students and teachers. While thousands of Maine students have a variety of devices in hand, teachers must learn to apply and embed meaningful technology use into curricula. For true advancement of student success and improved digital literacy, studies have shown that not only must we consider the application of technology, but the orchestration of teacher, student, and technology use (Pedro, Barbosa & Santos, 2018 and Elphick, 2018). Training and practice in implementing universal design for learning while increasing teachers’ technological pedagogical and content knowledge (TPaCK) in teacher training, pre-service teacher curricula, and professional development are critical to the future advancement of teaching and learning in Maine.
Ms. Jones is asked to collaborate with Daniel, an EdTech that accompanies Johnny, who has a reading disability, to class. Johnny is a literal thinker and struggles with reading comprehension. Daniel has heard that software such as Newsela and text to speech interventions can help with reading. Ms. Jones allows Johnny to read articles from the class using Newsela, selecting the lexile level without compromising content as well as listening to the text using an iPad. Sam, another student who also struggles with reading, sees Johnny working and asks if he can try Newsela and listening to the text. As Sam manages his own modifications coupled with text to speech tools, his attitude and reading skills improve. Ms. Jones realizes that these technology tools and strategy are not just for those with special needs. They can be leveraged to support learning across all ages and abilities because students are able to self assess, respond, and access tools and strategy specific to their own needs. She does not have to be an expert herself. Ms. Jones learns to share the same article with all her students on Google Classroom. They can then select tools and strategies individually to advance their reading skills based on personalized strengths and needs. She and her students are advancing their digital literacy.
How UDL and technology help all learn and prepare for careers of the future
Universal design (UD) in education stems from the architectural field. Architects use UD to ensure appropriate accessibility for all who use a particular building. This same premise is the foundation of UD in education, creating the foundation for Universal Design for Learning or as it is commonly referred, UDL. UDL is a curriculum-design process that begins with planning for every student, making instruction more effective, and providing opportunity for teachers to maintain their individuality and creativity (Novak & Rose, 2016). UDL is important in special education because it allows learners of all abilities to access the same curriculum as their typical peers, and essential component of a free and appropriate education. Planning instruction in all classrooms should include the principles of UDL in order to best meet the diverse needs of all students. UDL provides the framework for meeting the individual needs of students while planning for everyone, essentially providing the opportunity for teachers to be more efficient and effective in their instruction while setting the stage for more effective collaboration (Courey, Tappe, Siker, & LePage, 2012). For students with disabilities, technology tools can make a dramatic difference and ultimately “level the playing field”.
However, UDL is not only for the special education classroom or special needs student. This curricular design strategy incorporates differentiation, customization, choice, and opportunity for both student and educator to focus on strengths and interest. Students are asked to take part in their learning through choices in the modality for exploration and expression to increase engagement and persistence. Self-assessment and reflection support student ownership. Each student is unique, with individual strengths and interests which ultimately serve to drive their learning and growth. We must meet these diverse learners with customizable, flexible curricula to support personalized growth and development.
On Thursday, April 25, Jennifer Gilman, an upper school mathematics teacher at the East Grand School in Danforth, brought six students to the UMaine Immersive Mathematics in Rendered Environments (IMRE) Lab for a game design workshop. The IMRE Lab investigates the potential for emerging technologies to transform STEM education. The East Grand students that participated in the workshop were members of the East Grand Dream Team, a group of students who are computer science enthusiasts and who maintain the East Grand Virtual Makerspace — a virtual reality lab where students can explore immersive environments using the HTC Vive.
The IMRE Lab has been working with Jennifer Gilman and her students at the East Grand School since October, 2017. Jennifer connected with IMRE through a summer workshop at the RiSE center in 2016. She became interested in the educational potential of virtual reality and worked with IMRE graduate student Camden Bock to design a space at East Grand where students in rural Maine could explore what is possible with immersive virtual reality. IMRE has hosted several trainings for students from East Grand at UMaine since then; in addition, IMRE has visited the East Grand School in Danforth for professional development with East Grand teachers about incorporating virtual environments into their teaching. Jennifer says, “the opportunity for a rural public school to collaborate with a university is really special.” And on the university side, the IMRE lab has benefitted from having a teacher like Jennifer as a partner in their ongoing design and development work.
Members of the Dream Team worked with the development team at the IMRE Lab to design and develop a side-scroller video game that the team collectively coded using the Unity engine.
The workshop began with the students discussing and deciding what kind of game they wanted to develop. They settled on a 2D side-scroller style game that would feature a single character progressing through a hierarchy of levels. The students then split into two teams: A character team and a level team. The character team designed the player, its capabilities, and how it would interact with the game world. The level team planned the obstacles the player would need to negotiate and the consequences for success or failure.
Each team collaboratively planned the game-elements they wanted to feature, and then they worked with an IMRE developer to implement their plans in the Unity game engine.
The purpose of the workshop was to provide an experience-based introduction to Unity, so that members of the East Grand Dream Team could begin to learn how to create their own content. By the end of the workshop, they had developed a playable prototype of what they had designed, even if the game-play elements were not exactly as they had planned — for instance, they learned from one of their initial tests that when the character fell into a pit it fell forever! The students plan to use what they learned from the workshop to design and develop projects of their own in the future.
Monday night I was loving the conversations that @jodi_teacher prompted through her thought provoking twitter chat questions focused on assistive technology for everyone. As per usual, for every question posted I paused, reflected, drafted a response, edited, and hesitated for one second before hitting “tweet”. After years engaged in social media and other online learning/sharing networks, I still have that twinge of apprehension before sending some type of opinion “out there”. But while I was holding back, I noticed one voice jumping right in with comments, questions, and likes before I even typed “A3”. That was the voice of a preservice teacher – a student in my own instructional technology course – reaching out, getting involved, growing her professional learning network, and building relationships and habits to carry forward in her career. This step into growing her network of learning has many different positive implications for developing teaching knowledge and practice.
Professional learning communities provide opportunities for collaboration, relationship building, and learning and discovery. By encouraging preservice teachers to explore and engage in digital networks and communities during their teacher preparation, they can establish habits of professional engagement to support their developing teacher practice. A professional learning network moves with you; preservice and new teachers can expand their networks regardless of where they find their first classroom. Keeping the virtual doors open promotes sharing, learning, and knowing that you always have a network of supporting educators.
While the importance of teaching and practicing online safety should not be minimized, the shift in perspective from “don’t do that!” to “how might we empower students to participate in a digital environment?” sheds light on the positive interactions in a digital community. Encouraging preservice teachers to engage in learning networks supports their preparation as university students as well as future educators. Drawing from the ISTE Student and Educator Standards (commonly adopted in teacher prep programs), as students they are establishing and promoting their digital identities, and engaging is positive social interactions. As teachers, they are making responsible contributions to the learning environment, and establishing their own learning culture. Exploring their own experiences through the navigation of learning networks increases preservice teacher knowledge and exposure of online behaviors in order to model and inspire classroom students to responsibly participate in digital environments.
Although the undergraduate educational technology course that I teach is a stand-alone class, I aim to ensure that the preservice teachers’ experiences with technology are not isolated from their other content based courses. While I collaborate with other faculty on imbedded technology design, I recognize that their knowledge development is strengthened through exploring and learning from other professionals in the field. Professional learning networks provide great access to different voices, perspectives, and experiences. As preservice teachers develop their own practice, they can draw from, and share, different ideas for their future classrooms.
Most adults have a host of reasons, some complicated, some personal, for participating in learning. Appealing to those motivativating factors, then, is key to engaging adult learners. Knowles theorizes that adults are more motivated by abstract, internal concepts than by physical, external matter. A little confused? Let’s review.
Knowles’ fifth assumption about adult learners proposes that adults are typically motivated to learn more by intrinsic than extrinsic factors. To clarify, “While adults are responsive to some external motivators (better jobs, promotions, higher salaries and the like), the most potent motivators are internal pressures (the desire for increased job satisfaction, self esteem, quality of life, and the like).” (Knowles, 1990, in Lubin, 2013)
For some children, school and learning can feel like a competition – who can get the highest grades, achieve the greatest SAT score, finish with the best GPA, earn the most scholarship money, gain acceptance into the most prestigious college, and other such extrinsically motivating factors. Similarly, other kids might be extrinsically motivated by the prospect of a high-paying job that doesn’t require a college degree. Essentially,
learning behavior is driven by the expectation of receiving a tangible payout of some sort – a reward, if you will. According to Knowles, adult learners, however, are much less motivated by such material prizes than they are by more internal, abstract factors such as feeling better about oneself, enhancing or improving one’s quality of life, or personal growth and development.
Appealing to internal motivators through design is a little trickier than our other strategies have been. Transformative learning experiences can help improve learners’ motivation and confidence by allowing them to try something new or think about things from a different perspective. An “a-ha moment,” if you will, can be encouraged by “Incorporat[ing] ways for students to interact with alternative points of view, either via projects and activities, or through collaborations with others who have diverse views and experiences.” (Digital Promise, n.d.)
Educators from the transformative learning theory recommend this process for creating transformative learning experiences:
To summarize: the critical point here is that learning in adulthood is by choice, and most adults will be more motivated to learn something if doing so means some internal, intrinsic need will be met. Designing instruction for intrinsic motivators can be challenging because we all have different ones, but generally speaking, ensuring safe space for adult learners to engage in thinking from a different perspective, creating a “trigger” moment, and allowing students to apply and reflect on their new thinking, is just one strategy for helping to improve adult learners’ confidence and be motivated to engage in learning.
Digital Promise. (n.d.). Designing technology for adult learners: Applying adult learning theory. Retrieved from http://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/designing-for-adult-learners.pdf
Lubin, M. (2013). Coaching the adult learner: A framework for engaging the principles and processes of andragogy for best practices in coaching (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/22017/Lubin_MM_D_2013.pdf
The foundation of early childhood education is Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP), a concept that brings together knowledge of child development, the development of the individual child, and the culture of the child (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). The importance of using DAP for digital technology in an early childhood classroom is no different than when using other types of materials and tools (Fred Rogers Center, 2012).
The Fred Rogers Center (2012) provides two principles for digital media use: a) “quality digital media should safeguard the health, well-being, and overall development of young children, and b) quality in digital media for young children should take into account the child, the content and the context of use” (p. 6). These principles support DAP through intentional use of technology in the classroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines for screen time that emphasize the importance of adults working with children in researching the apps used, understanding and co-engaging in digital content.
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) technology standards for students begins at age four. The 2016 ISTE Standards for Pre-K-12 students emphasizes fitting technology into pedagogy rather than focusing on the technology as a tool (ISTE-S, 2016). The ISTE Student Standards (2016) and the NAEYC Technology Statement (2012) share an emphasis on appropriate pedagogy, collaboration, and understanding technology use. ISTE-S provides a framework for developing intentional and appropriate classroom interactions with digital technology for young children. Foundations are built for young children to become Technology Literate Students (ISTE, 2016) in the areas of active learning, and social outcomes through communication and collaboration. As digital technology becomes more prevalent in education settings, early education teachers need to focus on introducing and extending technology.
The multi-touch table is an emerging technology in early childhood classrooms designed to foster group collaboration. The multi-touch table’s size and multi-user interface allows the young child to move and play around the table while interacting with other children, potentially answering concerns about young children, technology and decreased social engagement and physical activity. Using a multi-touch table can assist in creating foundational skills such as group collaboration around a shared goal.
Digital microscopes are another technology that encourages interactive engagement. Digital microscopes allow young children to explore materials found inside and outside the physical classroom. If you are introducing nature education into your curriculum, digital microscopes create opportunities for deeper exploration of the natural world. A great way to do this is to have the children use the digital microscope to examine outdoor items they collect, and have children make entries into a science journal to record their observations.
Tablets can also be used as an interactive tool in the classroom. We often focus on apps that can be useful for research or discipline specific knowledge building. There are tools designed for use with tablets such as Osmo which offers numerous interactive learning tools. Tablets do not need to be expensive, and inexpensive tablets can be used for many purposes including children authoring and illustrating a classroom e-books. And let’s not forget the learning resources and activities found on the web such as PBS Kids and Epic! Books.
Other examples of interactive technology include resources for coding, such as (to mention a few) Ozobot, Cubelets, Sphero, and Code-a-Pillar. Smart phones and digital cameras are multi-purpose (as all teachers know) including recording and taking pictures of the children’s interactions and work for assessment. Assistive Technology is so rich that these materials have their own blog post. This picture is an example of switches that activate the drumsticks when pushed.
Technology in early childhood classrooms needs to emphasize interaction. Teachers should always become familiar and comfortable with the technology before introducing it into the classroom. Digital technology should not be a passive means of engagement or used as a “reward”. As an early educator, you understand child development – use that knowledge when integrating digital technology into your classroom. And Have Fun!
Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.) (2009). Developmentally appropriate practice (3rd Edition). Washington, DC: NAEYC
Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. (2012). A framework for quality in digital media for children: Considerations for parents, educators, and media creators. Latrobe, PA: Fred Rogers Center.
International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards – Students. Retrieved
National Association for the Education of Young Children & Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College. (2012). Technology and interactive media as tools in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8. Retrieved from: http://www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children
Donna Karno is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Maine at Farmington. Donna has been active in the early childhood profession for over twenty years and works with pre-service and in-service teachers. She has worked in different capacities within the early childhood field including as a Director and lead teacher. Donna’s research and teaching passion is to aid early childhood professionals in using digital technology for parent communication, classroom practice, and professional development.
Remember back in blog post #4 when we discussed the idea that adults prefer to engage in learning that will help them to solve problems? Knowles’ fourth assumption about adult learners revisits this concept. Let’s review.
Adults don’t want to learn more content that they need to file away for future use; they want to learn things that can help them solve real-time problems: “As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application. As a result his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness.” (Knowles, 1984)
Instead of listening to a two-hour lecture, for example, about psychological conditioning theories and processes, adults would prefer to learn how they can use psychological conditioning immediately in their lives – the obvious example being dog training. To adults, the application of the theory is more interesting and useful than the theory behind it. “Adults are motivated to learn to the extent that…it will help them perform tasks they confront in their life situations.” (Litster, 2016)
We have learned from studying the brain that it “…continues to change and grow
through adulthood, and that learning centered on problem solving helps make necessary connections for such growth. The key is to structure problems on what the learner encounters in work/life situations, and then help them practice strategies to solve them.” (Digital Promise, n.d.)
And speaking of brain science, we’ve also discovered the importance of including “…problems that involve both sides of the brain’s learning centers. Specifically, learning activities that draw on the creative strengths of the right side of the brain and the verbal and analytical strengths of the left side are most effective. So, incorporating multiple approaches and pathways to solutions in games and activities is a good strategy to help students use both sides of their brains when solving problems.” (Digital Promise, n.d.)
Designing instruction with Knowles’ fourth assumption in mind means learning should be organized around real-life tasks, whether professional or personal, instead of subject matter. For example, “…a child in a school composition class learns grammar, and then sentence and paragraph construction. An adult in a composition training program learns how to write a business letter, a marketing plan, etc.” (NHI, n.d.)
Many resources on instructional design for adult learners suggest the use of case studies and scenarios. Other types of activities that encourage problem-solving include
Even in the workplace, learning can (and should!) be problem-centered: Think on-the-job training.
Problem-centeredness was obviously important to Knowles: He based both a principle of his adult learning theory and an assumption about adult learners on it. Therefore, “Instruction should be task-oriented instead of promoting memorization – learning activities should be in the context of common tasks to be performed by the others.” (Pappas, 2013) Adult learners want to solve problems and perform tasks that can improve their personal, professional, and/or academic lives. It’s not enough to lecture about, say, operant conditioning: We need to let adult learners train and reward their OWN dogs to truly understand it.
Digital Promise. (n.d.). Designing technology for adult learners: Applying adult learning theory. Retrieved from http://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/designing-for-adult-learners.pdf
Knowles, M. (1984). The adult learner: A neglected species (3rd Ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.
Litster, J. (2016). Breaking barriers: Research report. The principles of adult learning. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/epale/sites/epale/files/the_principles_of_adult_learning_.pdf?utm_campaign=elearningindustry.com&utm_source=%2Fways-adapt-training-adult-learners-characteristics-needs&utm_medium=link
National Highway Institute. (n.d.). Principles of adult learning and instructional systems design. Retrieved from https://www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/downloads/freebies/172/PR%20Pre-course%20Reading%20Assignment.pdf
Accessible Educational Materials
Please note that the terms Accessible Instructional Materials and Accessible Educational Materials are used interchangeably throughout the post. Accessible Educational Materials is the more current term.
Curricular content in print-based, video, and other multimedia formats present significant barriers to students with learning, physical, sensory, and other disabilities. Meanwhile, the availability and purchase of these educational materials are expanding and student and teacher creation is booming. What do educators need to know about accessibility in the process of purchasing and creating educational materials?
Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are defined by the National Center on AEM as:
Accessible educational materials, or AEM, are print- and technology-based educational materials, including printed and electronic textbooks and related core materials that are designed or enhanced in a way that makes them usable across the widest range of learner variability, regardless of format (e.g. print, digital, graphic, audio, video).
Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) – Textbook Access
The origin of the term Accessible Instructional Material, a predecessor to the term Accessible Educational Materials, stems from the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004. Within that statute is a provision that requires state and local education agencies to provide textbooks and related core instructional materials in specialized formats to students with print disabilities in a timely manner. In Maine, “timely manner” means “at the same time as students without print disabilities.” The provision in IDEA was referred to as the “AIM initiative.”
You can also read Maine’s AIM: Acquiring Accessible Instructional Materials for All Kids from Kittery to Fort Kent at:
http://maine-aim.org/docs/ME_AIM_doc_2013.pdf (please note that aim.cast.org has now been replaced by aem.cast.org.)
Curry, C. (2016, May 18). AT and AIM/AEM for on-demand access to reading materials [webinar]. Maine AIM Program.
Note: opening the link to the archived recording of the webinar requires Flash. The speaker’s notes and presentation slides are available in separate files.
The following materials provide specific steps for considering a student’s need for and, subsequently, providing it. Please note the materials may use the term Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM)- the materials were prepared prior to the change to Accessible Educational Materials.
Steps to Providing AIM (Maine AIM Program’s YouTube channel).
AIM Under 5: Print Disability (Maine AIM Program’s YouTube Channel)
Bookshare provides materials in digital text format and is a free service for U.S. students. Organizations (district or school) can create organizational memberships and add qualifying students. In order to fully utilize Bookshare’s tools, students will need individual memberships, as well. Here are some important areas of Bookshare’s website:
Bookshare Demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffpjpi-8ghs
Reading Tools: https://www.bookshare.org/cms/help-center/reading-tools
Note that Bookshare’s digital text file format is DAISY, which stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem. Students will need a DAISY reader to access them or use the free Web Reader (see Bookshare’s Reading Tools page).
Closed Captioning: Benefits, Sources, and Tools
Here are an overview closed captioning, two articles that explain the benefits of closed captions for all learners, as well as sources for turning on closed captions on a variety of devices and services, and instructions for how to caption your own YouTube videos.
Overview of Closed Captioning
This video demonstrates two important and often overlooked features of high quality closed captioning: Appropriate pacing (timescales) and inclusion of sounds that occur when the narrator isn’t speaking (i.e., music and audience clapping). Consider watching it twice: The first with the sound off and the second with the sound on.
Flawless Transcription Closed Captioning for YouTube Example
Turn on and try Closed Captioning
Instructions for turning on closed captions for multiple devices and services.
iPad, iPhone, iPod
Creating Subtitles and Closed Captions (YouTube)
Students and teachers acting as good digital citizens is important. Copyright and fair use: Is it legal to caption public YouTube videos that don’t belong to you? http://www.3playmedia.com/2014/01/08/copyright-law-fair-use-is-it-legal-to-caption-public-youtube-videos-that-dont-belong-to-you/
Audio Description: Benefits, Sources, and Tools
For an introduction to audio description, go to the website of Listening Is Learning. Be sure to explore the examples.
Here’s an example of audio description. Watch it twice; the first time with your eyes closed. The Hunger Games with audio description: Katniss hunting
The Audio Description Project. Search for audio description by television, movie, DVD, and more.
Turn on and try Audio Description
Video-described shows by network (Audio Description Project)
Audio Description for NetFlix
Research suggests that audio description is beneficial for sighted students. Read the following article from Listening Is Learning: http://listeningislearning.org/background_description-no-bvi.html
Walter H. Kimball is Professor of Education at the University of Southern Maine. Dr. Kimball has been a special education teacher, school district special education director, school district Title One director, university professor, and project director for an assistive technology certificate program. He currently serves as a Product Reviewer for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). He gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Cynthia Curry to this post.