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This study proposes to determine the impact of Assistive Technology (AT) on South African disabled students in higher education institutions (University Of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology and University Of Witwatersrand). In the modern world we live in today technology is the backbone of business and Industry.
The underlying principle of involving students in this study has their origins from two related field ;( a) participatory design and (b) participatory research. The data collection tools that will be used in this project consist of an (a) interview plus, (b) questionnaire and (c) focus groups. Linked to the overarching aim of exploring the impact of AT on disabled students, this study has a related objective which is to develop user-centered methodologies for eliciting the impact of AT on disabled students and to disseminate these widely in order to promote a participatory approach to designing and evaluating e-learning.
This study will recruit 30 participants from learning institutions around Gauteng (University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology) who will participate in all key phases of this study. The results from the project will be analyzed in order to further understanding of both the individual and collective experience of using technology as a disabled student. The expected contributions of this study are; (a) to deterring the impact of AT on South African disabled students; (b) to determine whether AT student blah bla blah() add something here
Keywords: Assistive Technology, disabilities, South Africa, disabled students
Disabled people in South Africa account for 5% (2 255 982) of the total population (Statistics South Africa. 2001). With the vast growth of Internet Computer Technology (ICT) in South Africa and the government initiative to have more disabled South Africans obtaining education, there has been need for Assistive Technologies to be implemented in these educational institutions. Assistive Technology (AT) is defined as any device or items that can be used to increase maintain or improve the capabilities of individuals with disabilities (Howel, 1996). AT can play an important role in special education because many students with disabilities need special instructional treatment. A number of AT devices and software are available that, with careful planning and guidance, can benefit students with disabilities (Duhaney & Duhaney, 2000). In South Africa, the Ministry of Education improvise that South African schools have to provide AT services and equipment for a student with a disability to ensure a ï¿½free and appropriateï¿½ public education.
The majority of students who enter higher education in South Africa are required to use online learning resources or activities (e-learning) to support their formal or informal learning in some way e.g. virtual learning environments, discussion lists, e-mail, podcasts, or library information databases. Initial work by Prensky (2001) and Oblinger (2003) argued that the students of today were sophisticated ï¿½digital nativesï¿½ of the ï¿½net generationï¿½ who would expect sophisticated uses of technology as an integral part of their university learning experience. Oblinger (2003) argues that this would require institutions to ask how well they know and understand the needs and requirements of these ï¿½newï¿½ students.
What little information there is about disabled students experiences of e-learning comes from three main sources:
1. Case studies developed from publicly funded learning and teaching projects and other non-academic organisations;
2. Research studies that have explored the general learning experiences of disabled students;
3. Research studies that have explored the specific e-learning experiences of disabled students.
What is not clear from these studies however is whether the conclusions from these studies are true for all students, particularly disabled students who may need to use AT to enable them to access learning materials and experiences that are provided digitally or online?
The impacts of use of AT on students with disabilities in South Africa are enormous. Not only is AT beneficial in classroom environments, disabled studentsï¿½ social lives have also changed as well as improved with better communication between the disabled students and their non-disabled peers. Life is all about communicating and interacting with one's environment. However, many issues and barriers impact on the successful use of AT such as lack of AT knowledge, training, funding, poor coordination between service providers, technology developers and fear/avoidance of these technologies.
With the use of AT, opportunities for disabled students are better enhanced. According to Rocklage, et al (1995:34) it should also be noted that Inclusive Education and AT go hand in hand. The combination of AT and Inclusive Education in South Africa support each other and leads to a much greater outcome when used.
The emergence of developments in the ICT sector particularly in the field of AT enkindles the hope 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 ï¿½a social construct created by ability-oriented and ability-dominated environments.ï¿½
AT is showing what is possible for the people who are suffering from a wide range of natural disabilities. 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 Assistive technologies (AT) is allowing people with disabilities to be more independent, productive, and self-confident and also enable them to be easily absorbed into mainstream society.
These technologies, for example, would enable a student with physically impaired hands or arms to still 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 gain access to bathroom facilities to be lifted to and from them using specialised mechanical devices (Mirenda, 2001). All these wonders are a result of the use of AT and the endless possibilities that are afforded by them. However, as important as these technologies are, there are many barriers that have hindered easy access to them such as funds and ignorance of the existence of these forms of technologies by the society.
Some of the most significant change in the education of students with disabilities in South Africa has been the initiative to adapt the ï¿½inclusive educationï¿½ theory into their education system (Patton, 1992). This form of initiative is mainly a collaborative setting which 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 both general and students with disabilities. The use of inclusive education may change from institution to institution but it clearly indicates that it is extremely important in enabling those students archive their educational goals.
Traditional methods for exploring the e-learning experiences of learners in higher education include interviews, questionnaire surveys and focus groups. There is growing recognition however of the need to develop methods that enable the ï¿½student voiceï¿½ to be a more central focus of e-learning studies (Levin & Scharffenberger, 1990). Efforts to engage students in a more meaningful way in studies about their e-learning experiences may require new methods and processes. New, that is, to e-learning researchers. There are however two relevant fields of knowledge and practice that e-learning researchers could draw on when developing their learner-centred research methods that could have particular relevance when researching the e-learning experiences of disabled learners: participatory design and participatory research.
Participatory design is commonly used as a method for designing assistive technologies and incorporates the related fields of inclusive design; co-design and user-centred design (Hanson et al. 2007). Participatory design can be defined as active involvement of users throughout the entire research and development process (Hanson et al. 2007) and is generally understood to involve: working directly with users; early and continual participation of users; engaging with real users in their real contexts; iterative cycles of development and evaluation until an agreed solution is reached and collaborative partnerships between users and designers. Participatory design methods are varied but have a strong ethnographic tradition with regards to conducting intensive observations of the user and how they use technologies in their everyday lives (Davies et al. 2004). The strong narrative and in-depth insights offered by such methods would appear to be highly applicable to research that is focusing on hearing the ï¿½student voiceï¿½ in relation to e-learning experiences.
Participatory methods appear to have great potential in enabling the voice of disabled learners to be a more central focus of e-learning studies. This study will present the findings from the research study which aimed to use participatory methods to explore the e-learning experiences of disabled learners in one higher education institution.
2. Overview of this study
[ï¿½] The first is voice as a say in any form of decision-making, planning or evaluation. This can refer both to the power of the individual in relation to others, and also the voice in a collective sense, that is democratic voice [ï¿½] The second concept of voice refers to people telling their own stories of themselves and their experiences. Voice in this sense bridges the individual and the collective as it speaks to both to the common threads [ï¿½] and to differences and diversity in the lived experience. (Swain & French, 1998:40)
2.1 Problem statement:
The greatest challenge today South African students living with disabilities is integrating into a normal society and participating in an already competitive educational system, as well as being fully equipped for the professional economic world. One way to ensure best outcomes for disabled students would be to assess and analyze the impact of AT on these students. To do this, different types of Assistive technologies would have to be identified and may level the playing ground and offer equal opportunities for disabled students as those available for their able bodied colleagues.
A number of technologies (Assistive/adaptive Technology) have been developed to deal with the phenomenon of students with disabilities in South Africa. But very little literature has been written about these types of technology and their impacts to the end-users from the disabled studentsï¿½ perspective. Even with some of the literature that has been written, most of it hasnï¿½t been written as a voice of the disabled students in South Africa but as review of other literature. This study deduces that there is need for research to be written from the disabled studentsï¿½ perspective, hats why participatory research is a far more eligible research format for this kind of topic. Although most of the educators in south Africa are trying to make sure that the disabled students use the same technology as their counterpart (non-disabled), itï¿½s been hard for the disabled students to deal with the fact that most of the software being made do not accommodate the aspect of inclusive education and design for all (Fischer, 1995).
Thus further participatory research is necessary to determine the impact of AT on South African disabled students.
2.2. Research Questions
The following research questions are raised from the problem statement. These include the following:
ï¿½ What are the different types of Assistive Technologies available to students with disabilities?
ï¿½ How user friendly are these Assistive Technologies( that is do students experience any difficulties in utilising these Technologies)
ï¿½ Does the use of AT improve studentï¿½s learning capabilities?
ï¿½ How does the performance of these disabled students compared to their non-disabled peers.
ï¿½ Does AT integrate disabled students with non-disabled students?
ï¿½ How do you feel about using technology to help you learn?
ï¿½ How do you use technologies for social networking and are they sometimes linked to your learning?
ï¿½ How do you feel about the support you have received?
ï¿½ Are there particular moments or events that have changed the way you have used technology in your learning?
2.3. Goals and Objectives of study
The overarching aim of this study is to explore the impact of AT on the disabled students in south African higher institutions (Tshwane University of Technology ,University of Technology and University Of Witwatersrand) in order to increase understanding of the many complex issues and interactions introduced by disabled studentsï¿½ requirements for accessible e-learning, compatible ATs and effective learning support.
Using participatory research and design, this study will conduct an exploratory study to determine the impact that ATs have on disabled students in South Africa. This goal can be accomplished by implementing the following primary objectives:
ï¿½ To determine different types of AT available south African students with disabilities;
ï¿½ To determine whether the use of the ATs improve learning capabilities;
ï¿½ To compare the performance the of disabled students with their non-disabled peers;
ï¿½ To determine the user-friendliness of these technologies
ï¿½ To determine whether the AT integrates disabled students with non-disabled students.
2.4. Deliverables and outcomes of this project
By addressing the aims, objectives and research questions outlined in the previous section, this project aimed to produce the following:
ï¿½ 30 personal accounts of disabled learnersï¿½ different experiences of learning and the role e-learning and other technologies plays in those experiences;
ï¿½ A summary report detailing how the research questions have been addressed and drawing out lessons learned from the particular institutional context;
ï¿½ A methodological report outlining the tools and techniques used and critiquing the chosen methodology;
ï¿½ Recommendations and guidance for practitioners, support staff, institutional managers, learners, content providers, instructional designers and program developers.
According to Cornford and Smithson (2006: 109), the purpose of a literature review is to examine what other have discovered about a certain topic so that one can use their insights and contributions in oneï¿½s own research. The literature review in this paper is divided into two sections. Firstly, this study will highlight some of the past research that have been discussed and researched by other parties, after which the different types of learning disabilities in South Africa are identified and defined. The different types of AT in relation to these disabilities are then tackled, the impact or relevance that these AT have had on these students is then discussed and then some of the barriers to access to these technologies is discussed.
3.1. Analysis of Research Studies
In the past decade, there has been a steady growth in the research focusing on the topic of AT and education for disabled individuals. With a vast majority of the research that has been conducted focused on the usefulness of AT in special education (Howell, 1996), inclusive classroom (Merbler, Hadadian, & Ulman, 1999), separate disability categories (Bryant & Erin, 1998), and faculty development and needs assessment (Bryan, Taylor & Hinojosa, 2002).
Mirenda (2001) summarized and analyzed the extent research literature on aided autism and AT for students with autism across a variety of dimensions. She urged for collaborative efforts across disciplines: education, speech-language pathology and applied behaviour analysis. Others have reported that AT devices and services have major implications for individuals with learning disabilities. Faculty members in higher education must take responsibility for designing teacher preparation and practice to better prepare teachers to work with students who use AT devices to compensate for their specific learning disabilities (Bryant & Erin, 1998). Results gathered from Weikle & Hadadian (2003) indicated that the inability to communicate has been a principal factor in the lack of success in inclusive school, work, and social settings for persons with severe disabilities. Communication abilities such as asking questions, making comments, and retelling stories appear to strongly correlate with later success with written language. Although there is excellent evidence for the efficacy of using various technologies to enhance emergent literacy skills in young children with disabilities, society has been slow in acknowledging these positive findings.
Woodward and Reith (1997) provide a historical perspective on past research conducted under this field of educations and technology for students with disabilities. Though research in this field has been going on for many years, mush of that research was not specific on persons with disabilities; instead, it focused on educational impact of technology specific to their non-disabled peers. Woodward and Reith (1997) exposed some of fundamental weaknesses with past research in this field. Woodward and Reith (1997) further on go to say that there was also a prejudice that one surrounds the idea that past research focuses on educational performance of students using the technology in more of an immediate impact mindset.
A second weakness to early research is that ï¿½much of the research has looked at the way that technology could monitor progress towards Individual Education Plan goals, assess students to determine eligibility for special education services, or document how technology is used under naturalistic conditions...ï¿½ (Woodward and Reith (1997), as opposed to how technology has assisted the student directly access content or improve academic performance. More recent research has focused on studentsï¿½ interaction with the technology.
For example, Wimberly, Reed and Morris (2004), conducted a studying focusing on barriers to educations and the impact of introducing Assistive technologies as an intervention. After their study, barriers specifically included items such as poor sound quality, inability to login into specific applications and environmental restrictions based on policies such as inability to listen to audio files within the schoolï¿½s public computer labs. However, even with these barriers the students still felt that the use of AT had helped remove some of the barriers that had impeded their education success (Wimberly et al, 2004). Qualitative response supporting this position provided by Wimberly et al., include ï¿½I find the [screen reading] software very helpful. It has allowed me to complete my assignment faster than I had ever been able toï¿½ and ï¿½It allowed me to process the info that I was reading much faster. I only wish I had it as an undergraduate.ï¿½
Another study that supports the idea that AT helps students perform educational tasks much better is conducted by Fichten, Asuncion, Barile, Fossey and De Simone (2001). Fichten et al, (2001) conducted 3 studies focusing on Technology needs for more than 800 students. A summary of all the studies showed that students were more on par with their non-disabled peers and teachers had better understanding and how to deal with the disabled students.
In all the studies mentioned above, two important issues are noted: (a) the impact of using AT is enormous; (b) there are vast ATs that are available for disabled students to use in their learning experiences. The uniqueness of this proposed study is immediately obvious. All the existing literature that has been written about this topic has been re-written from other peopleï¿½s literature. What this study intends to provide is to act as a voice for the disabled students, the findings and life of this study shall entirely involve the research participants themselves(disabled students).With this form of research, not only are we providing first hand information, the deliverables are entirely recommendations of what they want and would like to have.
4.Research Findings & Data Analysis
Data from the phase one interview plus will be collected and analysed using Excel. For question one, where participants were asked to tick the research questions that they felt were important, a tick will be captured by recording a ï¿½1ï¿½ in the column relating to each question. Open comments made regarding responses will be copied and pasted into an adjacent column in the spreadsheet. For question two, where participants were asked to tick the methods that they would be happy to use to share their experiences with the project, the total tally of ticks was recorded against proposed method.
In the phase two interviews, an Olympus recorder will be used to record the interviews. The resulting DSS and WMA files will be transcribed into Word documents. For some of the interviews, speech recognition software will be used to assist transcription (e.g. a researcher plays the audio files into their head phones and verbally repeats what they hear from the files so that a speech recognition application can capture their words and convert it into written text). Transcripts once typed will be e-mailed to participants for correction and additions. The transcripts will provide the basis from which issues are noted and strategies developed into artefacts.
In the phase three focus group, an Olympus recorder will be used to record the discussion. The resulting DSS and WMA file was transcribed into a Word document. This document was not coded, instead the transcription was used to identify quotes that supported or differed from the general findings of the interviews.
8. Research Design & Methodology
In this section we will define participatory research in the context of this study; provide an overview of the participatory phases of this study and of the data collection tools; describe the recruitment process and the data collection and analysis process.
8.1.Defining participatory research in the context of this study
Drawing from the fields of participatory design and participatory research, for the purposes of this project, we have defined disabled studentsï¿½ participation as:
Involving disabled learners as consultants and partners and not just as research subjects. Where disabled learners help to identify and (re)frame the research questions; work with the researchers to achieve a collective analysis of the research issues and bring the results to the attention of each of the constituencies that they represent.
This definition reflects the principle of "nothing about me, without me" (Nightingale, 2006; Nelson et al. 1998) and involves:
ï¿½ Working directly with disabled students (research participants) in the evaluation of the impact of AT on their learning environments;
ï¿½ Early and continual participation of learners in order to produce improved teaching and support practices;
ï¿½ Engaging disabled students in the design, conduct and analysis of ï¿½researchï¿½
ï¿½ Encouraging disabled students to own the outcome by setting the goals and sharing in decisions about processes.
In conceptualising the participatory nature of a research in this way, this study has mapped its approach against a framework offered by Radermacher (2006) which identifies six categories of participant involvement that range from non-involvement to participant-initiated, shared decisions with researcher. This studyï¿½sï¿½ methodology appears to fall into a category defined by Radermacher as ï¿½researcher-initiated, shared decisions with participantsï¿½ where the researchers have the initial idea for the research, but participants are involved in every step of the planning and implementation.
8.2 Overview of the participatory phases of this study
With regards to the participation of disabled students in this study, there were three key phases of participation:
ï¿½ Phase One (jan): Consultation regarding proposed research questions and research methods, writing of the proposal;
ï¿½ Phase Two (feb): Opportunity to contribute own experiences of using e-learning;
ï¿½ Phase Three (march): Opportunity to validate and interpret the results of the study and to contribute to the design, content and dissemination of project deliverables and outcomes.
In the first phase of this study participants will be consulted regarding the relevance of the proposed research questions and the appropriateness of proposed data collection methods. In the second phase of the study participants will be allowed to contribute their own experiences of using AT through an interview and the provision of additional information (e.g. artefact) in a form and media of their choosing. In the third phase of this study participants will be invited to advise on the analysis of the experiences obtained through phase two and what key implications needed to be drawn out from them. Each of these phases is will be described and evaluated in more detail in this study Methodology report (Seale, Draffan & Wald, 2008).
In addition to developing approaches that enabled the participation of disabled learners within the University of Pretoria, Tswane University Of technology and University of Witswaterand, this study will employ a range of approaches that will enable the participation of a wider group of stakeholders. These included:
ï¿½ Involvement of Student Support Services in recruitment of participants;
ï¿½ The setting up of a project advisory group;
ï¿½ Involvement of senior members of the proposed universities;
ï¿½ Involvement of professional experts as evaluators of the project.
8.3 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:
During the life of this project, a lot of activities shall be undertaken to make sure that all the deliverables are met well. In order to do; the activities involved in this project have been divided into different timelines/stages to make its planning and outcome more feasible. Below is a table showing the project timeline involved in the different activates.
The table illustrates the Key Activities that were undertaken and its sub Activities, it also shows the duration and any comment that was availed during that particular activity.
Key Activity Sub Activity Duration Remarks
Conceptualising ,finalising do project proposal ï¿½ Preliminary research
ï¿½ Define research questions/objectives
ï¿½ Formulate working thesis
ï¿½ Work on methodology and finish rough draft of methodology
ï¿½ Find committee members for dissertation proposal defense
Desktop/Literature Review ï¿½ Library work
ï¿½ Refine thesis and dissertation methodology
ï¿½ Write rough draft of literature review
ï¿½ Get feedbacks from committee members
ï¿½ Prepare working bibliography
Survey(Data Gathering) ï¿½ Postal of Questionnaires to participants
ï¿½ One on One Interview.
Write up ï¿½ Write Introduction
ï¿½ Finish writing methodology chapter
ï¿½ Finish writing literature review chapter
ï¿½ Incorporate feedbacks of committee members
ï¿½ Finish the bibliography
Analysis of the data Gathered ï¿½ Polish format of dissertation proposal
ï¿½ Prepare for the presentation
Submission ï¿½ 1st draft
ï¿½ 2nd draft after comments and amendments
Submission ï¿½ Final draft
Project Management ï¿½