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This study proposes to determine the impact of Assistive Technology (AT) on disabled students in South African higher institutions. The disabled people in any society are generally facing many debilitating quandaries, including physical, emotional and physiological degradation. As a result, empowering people with disabilities to realize their self-esteem as well as enhance their skilling and employability represents an interesting and challenging task to government, industry, interest groups and individuals worldwide. However, the emerging assistive technology provides a unique opportunity to alleviate the challenges of people with disabilities. Exploiting this novel technology, our current goal is to determine the impact of AT on disabled students in South African higher institutions. Randomized control group pre-test and post-test experimental design will be used for impact determination. Cronbach alpha will be used to measure the reliability of the data solicited from participating students in a kind of participatory survey. Bootstrapping statistics will be used to analyze the result of the experimental design and correlation will be used to discover relationship between data samples. As a case study, we would like to validate our design using randomly selected students from University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology and University of Witwatersrand, which due to their closeness to the researchers makes the study cost-effective. We are hopeful that our design would be systemic enough to be easily extrapolated into other institutions. The expected contributions of this study are to: (a) explore different types of AT available to disabled students, (b) determine the user-friendliness of the AT, (c) compare the performance of disabled students with non-disabled peers and (d) determine the impact of AT on disabled students in South African higher institutions.
Keywords: Assistive Technology, disabilities, South Africa, disabled students
The disabled people in any part of the world are generally facing many debilitating quandaries and they are not experiencing the kind of comfort, dexterity and optimism that most non-disabled people enjoy. The number of people with disabilities, continuous to insistently increase due to high rate of accidents, natural disasters, diseases and increasing number of aging people. For instance, disabled people in South Africa account for 5% (2 255 982) of the total population (Statistics South Africa, 2001), which significantly outgrows the previous statistics of (please supply previous statisticsâ€¦.) and in many parts of the world, the story is sympathetic. As a result, the impact of having some more people with disabilities in our society than ever before is immeasurable. The South African government has embarked on encouraging initiatives to have more disabled South Africans obtain formal education as a way to provide succour so that disabled people are better empowered in the society. For example, the Ministry of Education improvises that South African schools should provide AT services and equipments for disabled students to enable a balanced (free and appropriate) public education. These initiatives make the use of AT practically relevant in our schools be it higher or lower institutions of learning.
An emerging AT is any mobile device or infrastructure that can be used to maintain or improve the capabilities of individuals with disabilities (IDEA, 1990). With careful planning and guidance, the vast number of AT devices and software can be potentially beneficial to disabled students (Duhaney & Duhaney, 2000). AT can enable people who are suffering from a wide range of natural disabilities to enjoy more comfortable lives. These technologies are being used at home, schools, work places and also in communities as a whole by disabled people (Howell, 1996). The use of AT is allowing people with disabilities to be more independent, productive, self-confident and for them to easily integrate into the mainstream society. The technology, for example, can enable a student with physically impaired hands or arms to be able to operate a computer with a switch or an onscreen keyboard, a mute student to communicate using a device that speaks and a student who cannot walk can be assisted to do so with specialised mechanical devices (Mirenda, 2001).
As a result, the impact of AT on disable students in South Africa is undoubtedly enormous. Moreover, not only is AT beneficial for teaching and learning purpose, the living style of disabled students can be greatly improved socially by allowing them, for instance to play games and communicate fluently. However, many issues and obstacles such as lack of AT knowledge, training, funding, poor coordination between service providers and technology developers as well as fear of these technologies are hindering the successful application of AT in the society at large. That is why this study proposes to evaluate the impact of AT on disable students in South African higher institutions.
1.1. Problem Statement and Research Questions
Today, the greatest challenge confronting the South African students with disabilities is to smoothly integrate into the society, participate in a competitive educational system and be equipped for the professional economic world. A number of emerging technologies: assistive and adaptive have been developed to cater for disabled students. But, very little literature has been written about these novel technologies. Additionally, the evaluation of their impact on the end-users has also not been widely reported. One way to ensure best outcomes for disabled students in South Africa would be to evaluate the impact of AT on these students. To do so, different types of AT would have to be identified and equal opportunities would have be given to disabled and non-disabled students to compete. Thus, a participatory research is necessary to determine the impact of AT on disabled students in South Africa.
The main research question to solve in this study is: what is the impact of AT on disabled students in South Africa?
To answer this question satisfactorily, first it is important to identify various AT available and determine their contributions towards improving the academic performance of disabled students in South Africa. As result, following research sub-questions will be squarely addressed in order to solve the main research question.
What are the different types of AT are available to disabled students?
How user friendly are the available AT to disabled students?
Does AT smoothly integrate disabled and non-disabled students?
Does the use of AT improves the academic performance of disabled students?
How is AT used by disabled students to facilitate social networking?
What influence is AT playing in the life of disabled students?
1.2. Goals and Objectives of the Study
The core goal of this study to determine the impact of Assistive Technology (AT) on disabled students in South African higher institutions. This could help to uncover some unresolved issues introduced by disabled students on the impact of AT in their learning environments. This goal will be accomplished by implementing the following primary objectives.
To identify different types of AT that are available to disabled students in South African higher institutions.
To determine the user-friendliness of the available AT to disabled students in South African higher institutions.
To determine whether the use of AT smoothly integrates disabled students with non-disabled students.
To determine whether the use of the AT improves academic performance of disabled students in South African higher institutions.
To determine how is AT used by disabled students to facilitate social networking.
To determine the influence that AT is playing in the life of disabled students?
1.3. Expected Deliverables
Within a 2 year project leading to an award of MTec degree, it is important to ensure that there are clear expectations for what can be delivered in these timescales. We hope to deliver the following.
A comprehensive account of disabled students learning experiences and a clear documentation of the impact of AT on disabled students.
A set of recommendations for practitioners, support staff, institutional managers and program developers on ways to manage the challenges of disabled students in the society.
2. Literature Review
Most of the recent literature focusing on the impact of ICT on students in Universities across the world can be classified into three sources:
Literature and case studies that have been developed from publicly funded studies to determine the impact of AT in higher education exist in academic domains and are mostly inform of case studies (e.g. Skills for Access, DART, ALERT).Other studies that support this include Seale(2006).
Research studies that have explored the general education experiences of disabled students exist in both academic and non-academic domains (e.g. BBC, OUCH, SKILL). Other studies that support this include; (Mortimer & Crosier, 2006), Shelving et al. 2004 and (Fuller et al. 2004).
Research studies that have explored the specific e-learning experiences of disabled students Have generally been conducted in the UK,an example of this is Draffan et al. (2007) in a survey of the use of and satisfaction with AT by disabled students in UK higher institutions. Another survey by Cobham et al. (2001) also tried to explain the specific experiences of disabled students when using AT.
The important conclusion from these studies is whether their findings are true for all students, especially the disabled students who may need emerging technology such as AT effective learning?
The unique novelty of this study in relation to these studies listed above are abvious.With the use of participatory research methods, this study shall; (a) be a voice for the disabled students; (b) get raw (first hand) information from the uses themselves. This enables to answer the paradigm of "Nothing about me, without me" since the users are involved in every phase of this study. The important conclusion from these studies is whether their findings are true for all students, especially the disabled students who may need emerging technology such as AT effective learning?
In particular, some of the most significant change in the education of students with disabilities in South Africa has been the initiative to adapt the inclusive education theory into their education system (Patton, 1992). This form of initiative is mainly a collaborative setting that includes a content specialist paired with a learning specialist and then leads to sharing of the teaching responsibilities, which will later benefit the education of all students. The use of inclusive education may change from one institution to other, but it clearly indicates that it is extremely important as enabler for students to achieve their ultimate educational goals. The rapid developments in innovative ICT infrastructure, particularly in the field of AT rekindles the hope and aspiration for those who have so long been deprived of opportunities with which life has burdened them: visual impairment, physical disability, hearing impairment and Communication impairments (Levin & Scharffenberger, 1990). More importantly, disability is being recognized as a social construct created by ability-oriented and ability-dominated environments.
Traditional methods for studying the impacts of AT on disabled students in South African higher education includes: (a) interviews, (b) questionnaire surveys and (c) focus groups. However, in recent time, there has been a need to develop methods and practices that enable the student voice to be more focus on AT studies (Levin & Scharffenberger, 1990). However, it should be clarified that efforts to include disabled students in studies of the impact of AT in the learning environments may need new alternative methods besides the traditional methods. Researcher can draw their learner-centred AT research studies from two related filed methods to analyse the impact of AT on disabled students in universities, these include: (a) participatory design and (b) participatory research. These methods are commonly used for designing AT and to incorporate the related fields of user-centred design, co-design and inclusive design (Hanson, et al., 2007). Participatory design according was defined as the involvement of disabled students throughout the entire phases of the study (Hanson et al. 2007). This study involves: (a) working directly with the disabled students to fully participate in the study from phase one throughout to last phase, (b) involving the real disabled students in their real contexts, ignoring window dressing to keep the deficiencies of their school secret, (c) a continuous cycle of development and evaluation phases until both the researcher and research participants (disabled student in this case) reach an agreed solution, (d) dual participation between participants (disabled students) and designers in development of key AT methodologies. The benefits of participatory design methods are obvious when researching intensive study on the disabled students and how they use these technologies in daily activities (Davies et al. 2004). The strong in-depth analysis offered by such methods appears to be highly applicable to research studies focusing on hearing the student voice.
This study, therefore nominates participatory methods to be used to explore the impact of AT on disabled students in three higher education institutions in South Africa, taking three universities: (a) University of Pretoria, (b) University of Witwatersrand and (c) Tshwane University of Technology as a case study. This study advocates that there is the need for research to be written from the disabled student's perspective and that is why participatory research is an appropriate approach for this study. Although most of the educators in south Africa are trying to make sure that the disabled students use the same technology as non-disabled, it has been hard for the disabled students to deal with the fact that most of the software being developed do not accommodate the aspect of inclusive education and design for all (Fischer, 1995).
Research Design and Methodology
The methodology of this study will try to demonstrate how the use of participatory methods of research will be used to show how the goals and objectives and problems questions of this study were meant. The most common forms of participatory methods are by use of interview plus, questionnaires and focus groups.
The first objective (to identify different types of AT that are available to disabled students in South African higher institutions.), this study shall design a template of various AT from different literature study on AT. This AT template is then presented to the research participants (disabled students) to choose what are the different types of assistive technologies they are currently using.
The second objectives (to determine the user-friendliness of the available AT to disabled students in South African higher institutions), this study proposes to include in the questionnaire a question that enables the disabled students to select one option from 1-10 how user friendly they think the AT they are using are. The higher the number, the more use-friendly that participant feels about that AT.
The third objective (to determine whether the use of the AT improves academic performance of disabled students in South African higher institutions), this study proposes, after ethical approval has been granted from the various university, this study shall ask the University Authorities to provide academic transcripts of the research participants, to see if using these ATs have helped them improve on their academics.
The fourth objective (to determine how is AT used by disabled students to facilitate social networking), this study proposes with the use of a questionnaire and interview plus, the research participants will be asked to choose or list the social networks that they are using at that current state and how much easier ATs have helped these students while using these social networks.
The fifth objective (to determine the influence that AT is playing in the life of disabled students), this study proposes to have a controlled and experimental sample of participants. Since the South African government encourages the use of inclusive design, most of the ATs are used by both the disabled students and their non-disabled peers. During the interviews and answering of questionnaire, the research participants shall be asked to list how they feel ATs have helped them; both negative and positive responses shall be encouraged. Thus study will encourage these participants to even include non-academic influences of ATs on them.
The focus group and interview plus shall be mainly used when the participants and answering to the questionnaire. These forms of participatory research methods shall also be used to enable the research participants to provide any additional information that they feel that this study might have left out.
This study shall during the first focus group meeting provide each research participant with the proposed questions that this study intends to use. Each participant shall be asked to first tick which questions they feel are relevant to this study. Using an excel sheet, every question shall be listed in one column and another column showing how many students have chosen a particular question. This number is then divided by the total number of research participants to determine the mean score. The higher the mean score, the more relevant a question is to this study. The same format shall be used when deterring the best relevant data collection tool to use. These mean scores can also be classified as alpha scores.
3.1 Overview of data collection tools
The data collection tools that will be used in this project consist of (a) interview plus (b) questionnaire and (c) focus groups. The use of these tools is not unique to research that uses a participatory approach; several general studies of disabled students in higher education have employed these methods. However, what is unique about the use of these data collection tools in this study is that participation influenced the nature and focus of each tool:
4. Project Plan
4.1 Summarised Project Plan
Student recruitment Phase 1 - all inclusive
Phase 2 - purposive
Table 1:Project Plan
4.2 Master Project Plan
Work package and activity
WORKPACKAGE 1: Startup/Project Planning
Objective: To provide project management for the project
1. Produce project plan, workpackages, and dissemination plan.
2.Reading of project material
Gathering literature from library and internet
2. Choose of University to use
List of University
3. Write Chapter One
Presentation of Proposal
WORKPACKAGE 2: Communication
Objective: Maintain communication with Cordinator, and external interested parties
Team Communication with Cordinator
Minutes of meetings/emails - weekly
Academic and Student Services Staff - University of.........
Minutes of meetings/emails - weekly
External interested parties (Disability South Africa)
Minutes of meetings/emails - weekly
Minutes of meetings/emails - weekly
WORKPACKAGE : Questionnaire
Objective: Develop questions that will answer the Goals and Objectives
Developement of Assisitve Technology Types Questionnaire
Developement of Goals and Objectives related questions
Revised Chapter One
Hand in Research Proposal(Chapter One)
WORKPACKAGE 3: disabled Student recruitment Phase 1 - all inclusive
Objective: Participation of max available of disabled students
Student Services support and Ethics Committe
Acceptance of outline questions and support of project
(Re)formulate interview questions with disabled students
Pilot / Questionnaire acceptable to participants and evaluation of changes made.
Data Analysis from initial questionnaires and contact with students from Phase 1
Analysis and report on outcomes of initial questionnaire, e-mails and discussions with students.
WORKPACKAGE 4: Phase 2 - purposive
Objective: Recruitment of students who agreed to participate during Phase 1
Participatory research of methodology - initial discussions,on-going evaluation and implementation
Analysis and report on Methodologies
Interviews/ participation/development of artefacts
Analysis of interviews - summary report
WORKPACKAGE 5: Data collection
Objective: Systematic Storage and re-formatting of data
Collection of Data from participants
Raw data available to team
Accessible Multimedia artefacts
Data available to team with captions, text descriptions, etc.
WORKPACKAGE 6: Data Analysis
Objective: Evaluation of all the data and other artefacts collected
Analysis of interview data from Phase 2
Synopsis of transcripts accepted by individual participant
Analysis of all artefacts provided by participants
Agreement with participants, as to which artefacts are used for dissemination.
Analysis of all external the data gathered in relation to the project.
Agreement with team as to inclusion of external data relating to the project e.g. accessibility guidelines etc.
WORKPACKAGE 7: Evaluation /Reporting
Objective: Evaluation of methodologies used and completion of progress and final reports
Draft to Advisory Group and Team Itemised report of progress to date
Final evaluation of the questions used and Research Question Report
Draft summary report detailing how the research questions have been addressed and drawing out lessons learned from the particular institutional context;
Methodology Critique and analysis
Draft report of a critique of the chosen methodology
Recommendations/Guidelines on impact of the use of Assistive Technologies
Draft recommendations and guidance for practitioners, support staff, institutional managers, learners, content providers, instructional designers, technical and program developers
Hand in final research paper
Table 2:Master Project Plan showing the activities that will be involved