brown abaca

Choose the right technology: Sometimes the oldies are goodies!

Author: Kenneth Holman

Although educators might not think of items without circuits and chips as technology, we cannot forget about no-tech and low-tech devices available to us.  Educators are tasked to consider the latest and greatest technologies available for our students which can be difficult with changes being commonplace from year to year.  Teacher educators might want to consider spending time increasing awareness of older technologies in teacher preparation courses as in some cases the oldies are the goodies. “How to support student needs” should drive questions like “what technology to use,” “how to use,” and “how to model the use for your teacher candidates.”

Use Universal Design for Learning to choose the right technology

To answer these questions, let’s start with exploring Universal Design for Learning. UDL is a design framework that provides insights on learner variability and guides the design of flexible, inclusive learning experiences (e.g., learning materials, tools, activities, assessments) to support learner variability. Now thinking about students with developmental dyscalculia (DD), how do you support teacher candidates in using UDL to choose appropriate tools and strategies for these students?

Consider student learning needs first

Developmental dyscalculia is a specific mathematics learning disability that affects acquisition of abstract arithmetic skills. Previous research showed that use of technology and manipulatives in mathematical courses for all grade levels supports learners with abstract mathematical concepts. For example, a study showed that the abacus was an effective tool for increasing arithmetic abilities in students from 8-9 years of age in China who were in an abacus course for 2-3 years. Although the abacus is as low tech as it gets for mathematics, it should be thought of as an effective tool to help both our students with DD and other struggling students. Another study found number lines to be an effective representational tool that improved fractions learning for students with and without DD. Interestingly, the study also found that the paper-and-pencil number lines were just as beneficial as an iPad number line application.

Oldies, but goodies

After identifying learning needs and research-based tools, the next step is to consider how UDL can guide the effective integration of these tools. Abacus and paper-and-pencil number lines may be considered as oldies, but they are goodies when they are used to support student learning needs, in our example, students with and without DD. According to UDL, however, learner variability exists in any given learning environment. Thus, implementing oldies in different formats, such as through multiple media, may help reach a wider student population. Tools in varying formats provide a more flexible and accessible toolkit with which learners can more successfully engage in learning. In the case of abacus and number lines, there are multiple resources that can go into a teaching toolkit, for example:

A simple strategy such as providing access to abacus and number lines in virtual and concrete formats for students can be an easy and effective way to model UDL in your teacher preparation classes. It is critical to demonstrate that the use of technology should always start with analyzing student needs, followed by identifying research-based strategies, and then using tools that support the implementation of those strategies to address learner needs. Sometimes, oldies are goodies if they are implemented appropriately based on learner variability in classrooms. Have you used UDL to guide technology integration into your teacher preparation programs and model the process? We’d love to hear from you. Why don’t you mosey on over to the CIDDL Community and share your tips?