New Vista School serves students with high functioning Autism and students with similar learning disabilities. A Research Project Sponsored by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the U.S. Department of Education, and conducted by SRI International Studies collected data that reflects the positive effects of using technology to run a blended program for curriculum and instruction. They found it has:
- Increased student motivation and self esteem
- Increased and improved technical skills
- Increased accomplishments of more complex tasks
- Improved social skills
- Improved access to education
Student Motivation and Self Esteem
Most teachers at New Vista have reported that when they use technology to assign homework or classwork, student motivation increased. Motivation is reflected in students who show more willingness to start and complete their assigned tasks. They are more engaged and on task if the lesson is online or if an online component is incorporated into a lesson plan. Completion of tasks has helped improve their grades which in turn reflects a higher level of confidence in their abilities and how they feel about themselves.
New Vista School has licensed ST Math to teach concepts through technology. Created by MIND Research Institute, ST Math is game-based instructional software for K-12 and is designed to boost math comprehension and proficiency through visual learning. Visual learning is integrated into every lesson at NVS in all classes.
The ST Math software, games use interactive, graphically-rich animations that visually represent mathematical concepts to improve conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills.ST math has visual models and simulations to demonstrate concepts. It gives immediate feedback to students when they understand the concepts and allows them to review concepts on incorrect answers. The increase in the sense of competency after mastering technology based tasks has led to increases in students’ sense of self-worth. ST Math also tracks students’ progress and reports and can be shared with students and parents to show mastery of competencies. In addition, our reading programs provide standardized feedback to staff students and families. The use of Edmodo is another way that students, staff and families can follow the progress of each student, and motivation and self esteem are increased by a community that provide a comprehensive, positive support system.
Technical and Mental Skills
Executive functioning skills help the brain organize and act on information. These skills plan, organize, remember, prioritize, increase attention and enable students to get started on tasks. Using technology like Edmodo to post assignments that require these skills help improve the organizational skills of students with autism. Edmodo is a platform that makes it easy for teachers to create private groups and manage and list assignments.
Accomplishment of More Complex Tasks
Teachers at NVS are unanimous in reporting that students were able to handle more complex tasks and assignments and incorporate the use of higher-order skills because of the supports and capabilities provided by technology. With online textbooks and online interventional reading programs like Reading A-Z and Accelerated Reader, teachers can create customized instructional paths to enhance comprehension and fluency.
Improved Social Skills
Another effect of technology observed by the teachers was an increased inclination on the part of students to collaborate: work cooperatively and to provide peer tutoring. Collaboration was encouraged when students were assigned to work in pairs or small groups. Teachers noted an increased frequency of students assisting and helping each other. Students in class groups on Edmodo exchanged comments and suggestions on homework, collaborated on ideas, and peer coached each other. This creates a more facilitating atmosphere in a classroom.
Improving Access to Education
Even though technology alone does not guarantee solutions to educational problems, Kulik and Kulik (1991) found that incorporating computer based lessons improves learning compared to non-computer based lessons. Using Webquests, simulations, interactive video instruction and other outside resources have all been found to be effective in increasing knowledge of the content being taught. In addition to improving access to education, technology provides time and flexibility for learners (Mason, 1994; Owston, 1997).
Technology has changed the roles of teachers and students in the classroom. The teacher is no longer the only resource for information and learning. When students are using technology as a tool or a support for communicating with others, they are in an active role rather than a passive role. They are actively involved in the process of learning rather than being the recipient of information transmitted by a teacher, textbook, or broadcast. The student is actively making choices about how to generate, obtain, manipulate, or display information. The use of technology allows many more students to be actively thinking about information, making choices, and executing skills than is typical in teacher- led lessons.
In conclusion, when technology is used as a tool to support students in performing authentic tasks, the students are in the position of defining their goals, making design decisions, and evaluating their progress.