The increasing role of ICT in special education – a closer look into the integral role ICT plays within an SEN environment

ICT infrastructure is the physical and technical components of a school network. This includes everything from cabling, switches and routers to the management systems that run behind the scenes.

It also feeds into every moving part of pedagogy, the method and practice of teaching, as it is what enables communication, feedback, and assessment in a learning environment. Poor infrastructure will have a negative impact on teaching staff and their lessons, so investing in an ICT strategy is crucial.

What software, hardware, and digital tools are being implemented?

When creating an ICT infrastructure, there are many solutions an SEN school can choose from.  The end solution should be bespoke to the school aligned to their individual requirements, what the curriculum requires, and the budget that is available.

There is software specifically designed for SEN schools. One that is used commonly is a design tool called InPrint, that gives teachers access to over 18,000 editable symbols that can be printed off and used as visual supports and learning materials. Another is Grid Player, which is an accessible app that offers a range of interactive learning activities and games.

These tools can be downloaded on to one tablet and shared among the class, or on multiple laptops, iPads, and computers, depending on what the school has invested in.

These devices can then all be linked to an interactive flat panel whiteboard at the front of the class, so students can interact by answering questions, creating drawings, or taking notes. The first whiteboard of this calibre was introduced in 1991, by SMART Technologies, and was simply an LCD screen attached to a computer. The interactive whiteboards in classrooms now are much more advanced and offer better capabilities. They can be drawn on by the teachers and students in real-time, allowing them to write, colour in and play educational games.

What potential does ICT have for physical impairments or learning difficulties?

The ability to customise screen displays has an enormous benefit for students with physical or visual impairments. If a student is not able to see a screen clearly from the back of a classroom, or cannot move closer to the board, the text and images can be easily resized or displayed against a background of a different colour.

This customisation is something that cannot be done with physical textbooks, and so there is an opportunity to tailor the curriculum exactly to the student’s needs.

Dynamic learning helps with a range of learning difficulties too. If a student has ADHD for example, the improved interaction can keep them engaged and interested.  Images in front of them can be updated in real-time, helping to minimise distractions from their learning.

With individual tablets, laptops, and iPads available and all working on a connected network, each student can work at their own pace too and the teacher can submit their work for them when they are ready.

How have the core ICT systems in place for SEN environments changed in the last five years and what can we expect to see in the future?

In the last five years, core ICT systems in SEN environments have changed significantly.

There has been a shift away from rooted desktop computers and a movement towards portable devices with touch screens that students can interact with using their fingertips.

Previously, a classroom might have had just a traditional dry-erase whiteboard and paper notepads. Now, classrooms might have one personal device per student that they can have with them all day, helping them to keep their notes and drawings all in one place.

It has been realised in recent years that app availability in the classroom is relied upon more heavily than in mainstream schools. The latter use interactive tasks and games as an extra-curricular activity for breaks, but these are a crucial part of SEN learning. Without an ICT backbone, this learning cannot be facilitated as effectively.

In the future, ICT has the potential to facilitate remote learning for SEN schools. While SEN learning environments do operate best in the physical classroom, there is an opportunity in the future for students to connect remotely if they should need to work from home.

Zoom classes became a popular and successful option for mainstream schools during lockdown and allowed teachers to continue their curriculum remotely. If all the software and learning tools are downloaded to individual iPads and laptops that students take with them, there is the potential for learning to continue even if they are shielding for health reasons at home.  

However, there is still some work to be done to make this commonplace for SEN establishments as these schools are equipped with specific tools for students with special needs, and the teachers are specially trained to teach students with learning disabilities. Some students need constant 1-to-1 support, which would not be possible from home, meaning they will miss out on the crucial expertise that they need.  Routine can also be extremely important for these students and any disruption to this routine can have a negative impact.

How can AzteQ Group play a role in providing integral ICT support?

With these factors in mind, it is critical that SEN schools choose a digital enablement company that can facilitate the right technology and support for their teaching staff.

Digital enablement companies assess the needs of the individual school and help them decide what equipment, tools and devices will be needed, factoring in the class size, and the needs of the students.

Once an ICT system is up and running, the job of the digital enablement company continues with ongoing support. The needs of a school and its students are constantly changing, and as the curriculum improves or becomes more complex, support like this will help them adapt.

AzteQ Group offers this ongoing support to education providers, installing software, and liaising with third parties or engineers where necessary to make sure every part of the puzzle fits together. As well as physical installations, AzteQ Group gives advice and guidance on what is needed to tackle new challenges. Email me at pipthomas@azteq.com or call AzteQ at 01442 244444 and I’d love to organize a discovery call with you.

Pip Thomas,
Customer Experience Director,
pipthomas@azteq.com

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