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Using technology to help learners with additional needs during the pandemic

Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 6:36 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Area Education Agencies in Iowa have traditionally focused on students with disabilities. The federal designations for the services these students receive are called Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 Plans. These terms are familiar in education, and for families of students with special needs. But the thousands of educators who work in Iowa’s Area Education Agencies, known as AEAs, have been expanding their services to and skills to reach learners who don’t have IEPs or 504 Plans.

One such expert is Maggie Pickett, who works for the Grant Wood Area Education Agency, which serves 32 school districts in seven counties, including the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She is a Digital Learning Consultant and says technology in the learning environment can elevate struggling learners and enhance the experience for those who don’t have barriers.

“Technology in the last two decades have seen a boom. Our mobile devices, laptops weren’t available 10-15-20 years ago and we’re able to leverage some of those technologies to help individual learners but also large classrooms of learners,” Pickett said.

Pickett said parents are sometimes reluctant to embrace computers in the classroom because that’s not how they learned. And while digital devices are often used for entertainment or distraction, at school teachers have to be clear that the screens are only for learning. Setting that expectation early and reinforcing it often are critical to ensuring iPads, computers and other technological tools support the classrooms' goals. And it can give students who have disabilities an opportunity to excel at school.

“We have the experience at Grant Wood AEA partnering with districts forever with students with disabilities specially being supported with IEPs or 504s... So when we can use a text reader and the lights just turn on. A lightbulb from the heart when we can give them opportunities to interact and engage with their text and is a powerful moment for students, teachers and parents. Technology now with how available text readers, dictation on our phone we can offer them and it’s just a shift in design to instruction not only to engage with their learning but a force in how they engage and it’s quite exciting,” Pickett said.

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