Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Using Tablet PCs to Increase Exceptional Student Learning Efficiency - Notes for a Proposed Symposium

If the National Association for Public School Learners or the Association of Public School Learners existed today, we would want to inquire about prospects of a major research university hosting a symposium to describe a research agenda addressing the question, "Which parts of special education instruction do Tablet and other mobile PC features increase student learning rates of exceptional learners in public schools, and what implications do these have for definitions of exceptionalities and their school programs?"

We would ask that researchers study this question from the view of learners. Few, if any, such studies exist. At its core, research would describe the relative learning efficiencies that Tablet technology allows slowest and fastest learners in public schools.

Perhaps call the proposed symposium SIPTEL for Symposium on the Impact of Pen-Based Technology on Education Learning? SIPTEL would complement annual Workshop on the Impact of Pen-Based Technology on Education (wipte) gatherings where researchers and evaluators report findings related to Tablet and other Ink PC instruction.

Toward a Case Statement

In 1936, the state of the art in diagnosing and treating human variation in schools exceeded the state of professional practice. In that spirit, four professors in Michigan created the first efforts of special education for the slowest learning children and youth. They figured out how to adjust school practices in order to use available and emerging instructional and learning databased information and technologies. Their efforts complemented growing evidence that supported special school programs for gifted and talented students.

A similar situation exists today. Researchers have known for decades that most of the slowest learning students have communication problems that appear to limit their learning. Evidence arguably indicates that these limits result to some excent from instruction geared to most students. At the same time, the fastest learning students spend much of their classroom time waiting for the teacher and others to complete these same tasks.

Advanced electronic communication technologies, one-on-one learning, etc. appear to make it possible to increase student learning rates and efficiency beyond current practice. Learning software that uses features of Tablet PCs can augment some instructional delivery modes, pace, and vocabulary. Anecdotes from classrooms with Tablet PCs indicate that they can allow students with communicate disorders to participate more fully in some regular classroom lessons. Tablet PCs also can allow the fastest students to complete assignments more quickly and with greater depth and breadth.

In this spirit, it appears useful to reexamine the logic, definitions, processes, etc. of educating students with exceptionalities as a different category from other learners. We think it appropriate to formulate a research agenda to reexamine these conditions.

Politics of Learning Efficiency

Unlike in 1936, the number of stakeholders in special education practice and research, etc. has increased and broadened beyond the direction of four or any existing aggregate of people. It now takes more than informal meetings of a few zealous professionals to adjust schooling of students labeled exceptional.

Symposium Purpose

This symposium would gather a highly select group of perhaps 50 international intellectuals, hardware manufacturers, software publishers, research scientists, teacher preparation specialists, government officials, professional association executives, foundation executives, et al. to outline ways to study the current gap between special education practice and learning with state-of-the-art communication technology.

They would propose ways to examine the extent to which state-of-the-art technologies can likely increase exceptional student learning rates and efficiencies and what additional questions to examine empirically in order to increase these rates and efficiencies further.

They would also suggest implications these rates and efficiencies have for definitions, programs, and content of learning by those currently labeled slowest and fastest learners.

A Call for a Host

This is a call for a dean of education in a major research university or a public policy think-tank director to host this symposium. As with all projects, funding follows a good idea. This symposium appears ripe for leadership.

I'm interested in seeing such questions addressed at the highest levels of empirical research. Please let me know if you have suggestions of people or offices that might have interest in this project. And, let me know whatever you post about such efforts.

Thanks for your time and brain cells loan on this matter.