Despite innovations in digital technology and instructional design, tools to improve student engagement, and opportunities for digital learning, multiple decades of research in educator preparation and personnel development have identified the lack of technology preparation as a consistent issue throughout the United States (see more information in Lai, 2011; Okolo & Diedrich, 2014; Smith et al., 2016; Zhao & Frank, 2003). Attempts to support technology use and integration of personnel preparation, including developing educator preparation standards, have done little to change the outcomes. A meta-analysis study found that including even one course on technology integration can increase pre-service teacher knowledge of technology integration by 1.057 standard deviations. However, IHEs have been slow to integrate digital technology in coursework.
Concerns with an overworked faculty unprepared to effectively identify, use, and model technology use, overcrowded curriculum requirements, and the lack of technology infrastructure have been continual findings across the decades. To add to these existing issues, as IHEs failed to adequately prepare pre-service teachers to effectively integrate digital technologies, the rate of technological innovation in K-12 education environments grew exponentially in the last 10 years. According to Anthony G. Picciano and Joel Spring, school districts regularly spent roughly 36% of their entire budget on technology prior to the pandemic. Within the United States, educational software sales in 2019 were roughly $7.9 billion. However, a recent study showed that higher education continues to fall behind K12 markets with a lagging 23% of educational software sales. We now have the data to demonstrate that higher education has fallen behind the needs of K-12 education in the preparation of personnel to effectively utilize educational technologies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a massive push toward online, blended, and remote learning. This has intensified the need to prepare all personnel, including current IHE faculty, educators, related service personnel, and future faculty to effectively use technology to support students with disabilities (SWDs). The field needs a solution that is immediate, meeting the needs of current preparation personnel, and sustainable to meet the needs of future personnel. Unfortunately, the field is lacking a deep understanding of applied uses of technology, especially educational technology, to support SWDs.
Adding to this concern are the limited faculty members and doctoral preparation programs who focus on the research and use of technology within special education. At the time of this writing, a search of the top 10 special education programs listed by U.S. News & World Report 2020 revealed the University of Kansas (lead of this proposal) had the only doctoral program with a formalized and outward focus or specialization on technology. Beyond the top ten programs, the University of Central Florida has a notably large special education program, with known researchers and leaders in the area of technology and innovation including Drs. Marino and Vasquez (Co-PIs).
Many scholars may be technology enthusiasts, but tech savvy faculty are not experts in instructional design and technology innovation. A Pew Study suggested that educators might be competent technology users, but this competence is not indicative of effective classroom technology integration, especially for improving student outcomes. Instead, researchers suggested that special educators require skills developed through focused study and mentoring to address the demand of traditional and technology-enriched environments.
These leaders need an understanding of the history, theory, policy, research, and practice that drive current technological research, development, and practice. Personnel who serve individuals with disabilities and other diverse learning needs require skills regarding how evidence-based practices can be used and integrated into technology-rich environments with an understanding for how complex learning needs might be supported or negatively impacted by the intersection of the practice and the technology.
Without prepared experts, the field will remain unable to adequately prepare future scholars, teacher educators, educators, and SWDs. In essence, the field will remain at the whim of commercial interests that influence what, how, where, and when various technologies are integrated into educational environments. To support these needs, IHE faculty should be supported through a UDL based professional learning model that supports flexible learning by providing multiple means of engagement, content understanding and representation, and multiple ways to demonstrate understanding.
Suggested Further Readings:
Lai, K. W. (2011). Digital technology and the culture of teaching and learning in higher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(8), 1263-1275.
Okolo, C. M., & Diedrich, J. (2014). Twenty-five years later: How is technology used in the education of students with disabilities? Results of a statewide study. Journal of Special Education Technology, 29(1), 1-20.
Smith, S. J., Basham, J., Rice, M. F., & Carter Jr, R. A. (2016). Preparing special educators for the K–12 online learning environment: A survey of teacher educators. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(3), 170-178.
Zhao, Y., & Frank, K. A. (2003). Factors affecting technology uses in schools: An ecological perspective. American Educational Research Journal, 40(4), 807-840.