The Many Faces of TPACK/Special Education Teacher Education


by Tuğba Altan

Integrating technology into special education is a popular subject as integrating technology into general education at K-12 and higher education levels. The process of technology integration into education is very complicated and there isn’t a certain way to integrate any of the technologies into educational settings. All types of technologies have their own affordances and limitations for education and every technology may not be useful for all educational contents and pedagogies. Special education is defined by IDEA (2004) as “…specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” Within special education, students with disabilities “…may learn the information and skills that other students are learning” (Pomona, 2013) in general education. Each child with a disability may have unique needs in terms of his/her disability. However, some categories of special needs were determined to provide appropriate instruction and meet special needs of children. These categories are;

•hearing impairment (deaf/hard of hearing),
•hearing and visual impairment (deaf/blind),
•language/speech disorder,
•severe orthopedic impairment,
•other health impairment,
•significantly below average general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period,
•emotional disturbance,
•special learning disabilities,
•traumatic brain injury,
•gifted and talented characteristics (IDEA, 2004; Turkish Ministry of National Education, 2013).

In special education, technology integration process may be more complicated than general education in some ways. First of all, each student with special needs may have unique needs than students in general education. For example, a student with special learning disability needs a different and appropriate instruction process than other students. Because, he/she may have some “difficulties including writing difficulty, motor skills difficulties, difficulty with performing mathematic calculations, attention or concentration difficulties and social communication/emotional behaviors difficulties” (The Open University, 2006). So, teacher should prepare an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is consistent with special needs for each student with disability (IDEA, 2004). It may also be more complicated because of students with special needs may have different social vulnerabilities, motivation and attitudes in learning process (Nilsson & Pareto, 2010). In that case, special education teachers should select the most appropriate technology to facilitate their students’ learning in a particular content in terms of their individual differences and special needs. For this purpose, special education teachers may need professional development to have competence in technology integration. Also, there may be a need for technology integration courses in pre-service special education teacher education. So, pre-service teachers may gain essential technology skills and learn how to use these technologies in their future teaching. When pre-service teachers are learning how to integrate technology into special education, TPACK framework may provide a systematic and meaningful way to develop appropriate skills for technology integration. TPACK framework provides the knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content components and their interaction with each other. This perspective could help teachers to know about advantages and constraints of three components and selecting the most appropriate ones with each other’s (Mishra & Koehler, 2008). In this respect, this chapter focuses on affordances of TPACK for special education teacher education in order to provide a meaningful understanding of technology integration among pre-service special education teachers. The chapter firstly examines the meaning of technology for special education and goes through with technology integration efforts into special education and the affordances and constraints of TPACK in special education.

The Meaning of Technology for Special EducationEdit

In special education, students have similar learning needs such as reading and writing skills, math, science and language skills and social skills etc. like students in general education. Additionally, they have different special needs in terms of their disabilities. For example a student with autism may need clear and Instructional technology may facilitate these students’ learning and they may also need some special technologies for their special needs. For example, a student with hearing impairment may need appropriate technology to help him/her for this disability and a student with visual disorder may need a technology to help him/her reading or writing something etc. All these types of special technologies are called assistive technologies. So, when we talk about integrating technology into special education, it means that we are talking about integrating two different types of technologies in terms of intended use. Instructional technology helps students for their instructional needs while assistive technology helps students for their physical needs.

Instructional Technology in Special EducationEdit

Instructional technology may offer some opportunities for students with special needs. According to a research results, a mobile educational platform for iPads and iPods supported learning skills including language, math, environmental awareness, autonomy and social skills for students with special learning needs. Students had experience of some different activities that they didn't have before and instructional technology and multimedia increased students' interest and attention on learning (Fernández-López, Rodríguez-Fórtiz, Rodríguez-Almendros & Martínez-Segura, 2013). In addition to mobile technologies, computers, educational softwares, games and technology enhanced learning environments etc. may be used to facilitate learning for students with special needs. According to a literature review, using computer-assisted instruction to improve reading comprehension for students with special needs provided positive effects in some cases but there was no significant difference in some others (Stetter & Tejero Hughes, 2010). In another literature review, online instruction is another technology that is used to facilitate learning for students with disabilities at K-12 level (Vasquez III & Straub, 2012). There are some efforts for enhancing learning environments for students with special needs by ÖZTEK Project in Turkey. Some prototypes related educational games were created for students with special needs in this project and project still continues (ÖZTEK, 2013). There are also other projects around the world for improving special education and one of them is No Child Left Behind project in USA (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). In Europe, there is a project, ICT for Inclusion, which accepts ICT as a key factor to encourage equity in educational opportunities and aims to provide ICT access, training of educators and research on ICT usage in special education (Europen Agency for Developments in Special Needs Education, 2013)

Also, teacher educators may benefit from instructional technology to prepare future special education teachers in higher education. A research compared web-based instruction to traditional instruction on a special education course in a teacher education program and results revealed that there were no significant differences in student achievement and satisfaction between two groups. So, researchers emphasized that web-based instruction was useful on special education content for general education pre-service teachers (O’Neal, Jones, Miller, Campbell & Pierce, 2007). In another research, online wireless technology was used to provide real-time feedback to special education teachers in their field experiences. According to results this technology provided immediate feedback to teachers and improved teaching and learning process. It was also cost-effective to other methods that are used for same purpose (Lock et al., 2009). According to Kennedy, Hart and Kellems (2011), enhanced podcasts that were developed in terms of multimedia learning theory principals are useful on learning for pre-service teachers’ from different departments on a special education course. They also suggested that conducting another research for examining the effects of enhanced podcasts that are developed by pre-service teachers on their learning (Kennedy et al., 2011).

Educators may also integrate technology into special education in order to improve pre-service teachers’ knowledge on technology integration into special education. Allsopp, McHatton and Cranston-Gingras (2009) examined pre-service teachers’ perceptions in a systematic technology integration effort of a department of special education. Their results demonstrated what’s going on when special education pre-service teachers were trying to learn how to integrate technology into their teaching and which phases were needed in this process. So, instructional technology offers three different purposes for using it in special education at both K-12 and higher education:

  1. facilitating learning for students with special needs at K-12 level,
  2. facilitating learning for pre-service teachers on special education content and pedagogy at higher education,
  3. facilitating learning for pre-service teachers on how to integrate technology into special education at higher education.

Assistive Technology in Special EducationEdit

Assistive technology (AT) is defined as “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.” (IDEA, 2004). Wheel chair, personal computer with specialized educational programs or software such as word prediction and voice to text; adapted computers with alternate input system such as switch interface, touch screen, adapted keyboard and touch-less mouse; augmentative and alternative communication devices and Braille note-takers are some examples of the assistive technology (Connor, Snell, Gansneder, & Dexter, 2010; Kamei-hannan & Lawson, 2012). Additionally, it is emphasized that some of instructional technologies such as tag reader, cell phone, iPod /mp3 player/ audio recorders, clickers, iPad, MS Word-auto correct feature, livescribe smart pen and concept maps can be used as assistive technology (Bouck & Miller, 2012).

AT is important to help students with disabilities in order to create convenient conditions to meet their learning needs. It has a great potential for students at school or anywhere so, students with special needs can continue to regular classrooms with help of AT (Judge & Sims, 2009). It is emphasized that AT helps students to gain positive learning outcomes in special education (Connor et al., 2010). For example; Kamei-hannan and Lawson (2012), examined the impact of Braille-note on writing with three visually-impaired students. Their results revealed that students wrote for a longer time with braille note-taker than Perkins braille writer and it affected their writing quality positively with its auditory features.

In some research results, teachers believed that AT was useful for their students learning but teacher’s lack of preparedness, requiring additional time, support, cost, usability and technical problems were barriers to use or continue to use AT in class (Bouck, Flanagan, Heutsche, Okolo, & Englert, 2011; Connor et al., 2010; Flanagan, Bouck, & Richardson, 2013). So, there are many advantages of AT for students in special education but teachers don’t benefit from its “full potential” (Judge & Sims, 2009).

Technology Integration into Special Education Teacher EducationEdit

In the literature, there are some efforts with different perspectives on technology integration into special education teacher education. One of them is collaborative learning process like community of practice on technology integration. In this perspective, teacher educators, pre-service teacher and K-12 teachers learn integrating technology into special education (Smith & Robinson, 2003). In another research, some technology integration courses were added into undergraduate special education curriculum (Allsopp et al., 2009). In the first semester of first year, pre-service teachers learned available technology applications and use for learning and teaching purposes at basic level in an introduction special education course. In the second semester of first year, pre-service teachers applied their knowledge on technology integration into real educational contexts at elementary level within two different special education courses. In this process, pre-service teachers had field-experience at a school. In the fourth semester of the second year, pre-service teachers had another technology integration course and applied their knowledge on technology integration into real educational contexts within field experience at secondary level (Allsopp et al., 2009).

Fitzgerald et al. (2009) implemented multimedia-cased based instruction in 20 different undergraduate and graduate courses related special education with 251 pre-service and graduate students from different universities. According to results, multimedia case-based instruction is effective for special education higher education students and there was a significant development between students’ pre and post concept maps. Graduate and special education major students believed that these cases provided them hands-on experiences and they were highly related with real classroom settings (Fitzgerald et al., 2009).

There are also efforts for integrating AT into pre-service special education programs to develop solutions for special education teachers’ lack of AT use for their students. So, pre-service teachers will be able to be prepared for using AT in their class during their future in-service teaching. Laarhoven and Conderman (2011) examined the first outcomes of an AT integration attempt of undergraduate special education program at Northern Illinois University. Faculty decided to integrate AT into different courses at different grade levels of pre-service special education and instructors were free to establish hands-on experiences for their students. Researchers conducted a survey including likert scale items and open-ended questions to pre-service teachers. According to results, pre-service teachers felt they were prepared to integrate technology into their teaching and emphasized that they were familiar and comfortable with using AT. Also, they had satisfaction with the technology integration effort of faculty (Laarhoven & Conderman, 2011).

Flanagan (2011) conducted a literature review about AT integration into pre-service special education. According to results, although there isn’t much research on AT integration into pre-service education, it is valuable in order to provide knowledge and experience on using AT for pre-service especially with case studies. But field experiences related AT usage are lack and so, practical experiences are important for pre-service teachers. Also, case studies should motivate them for critical thinking for specific aspects of AT integration such as evaluation, selection etc (Flanagan, 2011). However, AT integration into special education promotes pre-service teachers’ preparedness for using AT in classroom in future, Judge and Simms (2009) determined that education programs in US didn’t have enough AT course for preparing future special education teachers that will use AT in their classes.

Challenges in Technology Integration into Special Education Teacher EducationEdit

Although the research results demonstrated useful implications for integrating technology into pre-service teacher education in special education, some limitations and challenges of these approaches were indicated. Allsopp et al. (2009) emphasized that their approach on pre-service teacher education made a positive effect on pre-service teachers’ self-perceptions and knowledge on instructional technology abilities. But it was viewed that pre-service teachers couldn’t gain a broad perspective on how to use technology in different ways. They looked through a technology dependent perspective when researchers asked how they could use technology their future in-service teaching process (Allsopp et al., 2009).

In Laarhoven and Conderman’s (2011) study, although pre-service techers found AT integration into their courses valuable, they suggested that observing AT integration in real-classrooms and also having opportunity to implement AT during field experiences. Other suggestions were having hands-on experience and knowledge about AT in a speficific content; and AT integration into other courses except special education.

The Quest of TPACK in Special EducationEdit

There isn’t much research on TPACK for special education in the literature. In current research, Marino, Sameshima and Beecher (2009) offer a new TPACK model including assistive technology for special education. In another research, Lyublinskaya and Tournaki, (2013), examined TPACK developments of pre-service teachers through developing TPACK lesson plans for special math and science education in a course. These efforts may be first attempts to integrate TPACK framework for special education teacher education. More research is needed to understand effects of TPACK in this context. But, some implications may be developed via examining problems and challenges of technology integration process in special education teacher education in existing literature. So, it may be a guideline for how TPACK may use for special education teacher education.

Affordances and ConstraintsEdit

Firstly, TPACK framework provide a picture that demonstrates the intersections of technology, pedagogy and content knowledge for pre-service special education teachers. So they can realize that all these essential knowledge types for instruction are not separate from ecah other (Mishra & Koehler, 2008). As they learn the affordences and constraints of these knowledge types for each others sytematicly, they could select and use aproppriate ones for their purposes. So, TPACK may help them in order to gain a meaningful understanding of how to integrate technology into their teaching process and understand the importance of pedagogy and content knowledge for using technology effectively. This may be a solution for the challenges that Allsopp et al. (2009) emphasized; pre-service teachers couldn’t gain a broad perspective of using technology in different ways and they focused on technology.

Also, integrating TPACK into pre-service special education may affect pre-service teachers attitudes towards using different technologies that they use in daily life (e.g. social networks such as twitter, ) in class. So, they may realize different affordances of technologies as they think about appropriate technology for a specific pedagogy and content even though they don’t think before. Also, pre-service teachers attitudes may change towards using technology in class as they experience added value of TPACK for technology integration in real classroom contexts.

However, technology integration is a complex issue and requires available technology, positive attitudes towards technology, preparedness so, extra time and support for technological problems etc. For preparing pre-service teachers in order to use TPACK frame work in technology integration, faculty should have available technology resources, teaching staff , appropriate curriculum. Besides, they should design instruction in technology integration courses and provide authentic experiences to pre-service teachers (Tondeur et al., 2012). In this process, it is important that how they integrate TPACK into their instruction. Also pre-service teachers need authentic experiences of how TPACK framework is used by teachers in real classrooms. For this purpose, faculty should make collaboration with schools and other special education institutions (Tondeur et al., 2012). Additionaly, they should implement both theory and practice during technology integration via TPACK framework into special education teacher education.

According to Garaham (2011), description of technology is not very clear in TPACK framework and also, it sn’t clear how to use TPACK in technology integration; integrative or formative . So, there is AT in special education additionaly instructional technology in technology component of TPACK and special education could be needed an enhanced model of TPACK as Marino, et al. (2009) developed. So, TPACK is a guideline for pre-service teachers to use technology in classroom but it’s not a solution for all challenges for effective technology integration into special education teacher education alone.

Examples and ImplicationsEdit

There are two examples for using TPACK for special education teacher education. Marino, et al. (2009) emphasizes the importance of AT for special education and offers an enhanced version of TPACK including AT beside instructional technology in technology component. Firstly, with using this framework pre-service teachers must have knowledge on assistive technology and designing instruction with using this knowledge in other courses. So, they will have knowledge of benefits and barriers to appropriate assistive technology selection, adoption, implementation, and assessment. Also, framework suggests implications in pre-service education including a series of semester-long cyclical interactions with the enhanced TPACK model, which is supported by integrating course work, field experiences, and a broader community of practice (Marino, et al., 2009).

Lyublinskaya and Tournaki, (2013) conducted a research in order to examine TPACK development of special education pre-service teachers. They integrated TPACK into designing the technology integration into special education on math and science instruction course. In this course, pre-service teachers learned about a variety of technologies and how to use them in class for special education. Also, they developed lesson plans for both math and science content with hands-on experiences and small group and whole class discussions were conducted during course sessions. Their research results revealed that pre-service teachers’ scores significantly improved from the first to the second lesson plan in each component and overall. So, they emphasize that pre-service teachers had significant gains and course objectives met with learning outcomes.

Both of these attempts seem valuable for integrating TPACK into special education teacher education. However, they have some limitations; the Enhanced TPACK framework (Marino, et al., 2009) needs authentic implementations in order to evaluate effects of this model on pre-service teachers’ knowledge for technology integration. The other research is limited to a particular course and numbers of students at a university. So there is need for more research within authentic contexts. Also, for a successful integration of TPACK, special education teacher education programs should a systematic integration process of TPACK into both instructional and assistive technology integration courses in their curriculum as Allsopp et al.’s (2009) research. So faculty needs available technology, prepared stuff, technology integration courses with TPACK in curriculum at different levels of program. Also, they need collaboration with in-service teachers who use TPACK in their teaching process and other institutions in order to provide effective field experiences for pre-service teachers (Tondeur et al., 2012). During instructional design for technology integration courses, they should choose hands-on activities for pre-service teachers as preparing lesson plans in Lyublinskaya and Tournaki’s (2013) implementation. Also they could benefit from deep play and design-based activities as Koehler et al. (2011) suggested.

In conclusion, technology integration with TPACK in special education teacher education should encompass both theory and practice for a meaningful learning process for pre-service teachers. Also, evaluation process should contain both quantitative and qualitative methods in order to gain deep results for feedback from students.


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