The researchers wanted to find out how teachers use technology for the teaching of learners with specific learning disabilities. We wanted to find out what types of technology are used and what challenges teachers experience while they use technology for learners with learning disabilities. We also wanted to find out what teachers’ perspectives are about the value that technology adds to their teaching.
In the era of the 4th industrial revolution, it is the responsibility of teachers to prepare learners for the workforce after school. It is necessary that learners are technologically skilled when they leave school. The fast development of computer-based technology totally changed the available options for learners with disabilities, and ended their isolation and limited academic opportunities. The technology cannot take the teacher’s place, but it can contribute to a learning environment where learners are encouraged to take part. There are a lot of problems associated with the use of technology, like the high cost of connectivity, unstable internet connections, security problems, maintenance of technology, a teacher’s age or self-image, or even a lack of technology and a lack of training in the use of technology.
There are different types of technology to assist learners with learning disabilities, like Microsoft Ease of Access, text prediction software, different apps and different devices like cell phones, laptops, visualizers and TVs. The learners can also use supportive technology like a calculator to help with maths, and a tablet or computer to make notes if problems with writing are experienced. Supportive technologies help learners with disabilities to do specific tasks on their own, where they would have been dependent on others without it.
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) was used as a theoretical framework for the research. According to this model, the users’ perceived ease of use of a system as well as the perceived usefulness will determine if they use technology. External variables like a person’s age, training or support from management will influence how easy or useful a person will find technology. This will have an influence on the users’ attitude towards the technology, which will then influence the behavioural intention to use the technology, as well as the actual use of technology.
We used an interpretivist philosophy and socio-constructivist paradigm. Interpretivists believe that there is no objective truth. This was a qualitative case study. Qualitative researchers focus on a phenomenon in its natural context and try to understand and interpret the topic according to the meanings that the individual assigns to it. The goal of the research was to explore the use of technology during the teaching of learners with learning disabilities and to identify the perceptions of teachers with regard to the challenges and advantages that technology offers.
The researchers tried to gain an in-depth understanding of the teacher’s use of technology in the context of a private school in Pretoria East that caters for learners with learning disabilities. The school is conveniently situated near to the home of one of the researchers. The school employs 15 female teachers. Five permanent teachers were identified to take part in the study. They were chosen purposefully. They differ in age: two teachers are older, one is in the middle and two teachers are younger. They teach different subjects. Three of them teach grade 8–9 learners and two teach grade 10–12. We used individual semi-structured interviews as a data collection method. We gave a set of questions to the teachers and made appointments in their free lesson periods or after school. The interviewer used a pre-set set of questions, but could probe further to ensure in-depth data. The interviews took 30–45 minutes each and were audio recorded with a smart phone.
Atlas.ti was used to analyse the data and the route of a thematic content analysis was followed. Different codes were allocated to the data and it was categorised according to the research questions and the main themes of the study. The data was transcribed and verified with the participants for accuracy and completeness.
The participants signed a consent form and they were assured that they could withdraw from the study at any time and if so, their data would be destroyed. Pseudonyms were used and the participants were assured of their anonymity and confidentiality.
It was found that all the teachers use big modern TVs connected to their personal laptops in their classes. They use the TVs to show films of prescribed books, videos and PowerPoint presentations. They have access to Wi-Fi and the internet. One of the teachers also uses a visualizer for geography. In the classes of the younger teachers, learners are sometimes allowed to use their cell phones to Google something, but mainly for the Kahoot application, which is used as revision after the lesson. The school has a computer lab that the learners may use if necessary. The teachers are positive about the use of technology in their classes and they are satisfied with the infrastructure and the support that they receive from the school management. The school gives them what they need to use the available technology to its full potential.
The biggest challenge is that learners lose attention when they use their cell phones. For this reason, three of the five participants do not allow learners to use cell phones in their classes. Another challenge for the teachers was that the initial preparation with technology took a lot of time and effort, but all of them agree that they are comfortable with the technology now and that it was worth the trouble. Power failures and connectivity problems are also considered drawbacks.
The teachers are in agreement that the learners are part of a generation that grew up with technology and that they know it better than the teachers themselves. The learners can help the teachers if they need it. The teachers are of the opinion that they use the technology frequently because it is easy to use and useful in their classes. The use of the technology is also dependent on the subject they teach and the content of a specific lesson.
It is recommended that the school obtains devices that only contain the necessary work and applications required, so that they are ready for use by teachers and learners cannot be distracted by other content.
Keywords: challenges; learners; learning disabilities; teachers; technology; Technology Acceptance Model