Throughout educational history, research does not acknowledge society ever as having special education schools until 1829 when the New England Asylum for the Blind was established. After this instance, states excluded children with disabilities from public education up until the twentieth century. With the Bill of Rights being passed in 1791, the federal government did not include education in any of the amendments, which in return became the responsibility of the state.
As the number of children with special needs increased, these children were excluded from attending public institutions. As Plessey vs. Ferguson declared separate but equal, special schools were built for particular races only. African Americans were excluded from any school or special state institutions.
Special education students and families did not receive a break until Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas; the Supreme court ruled separate but equal was unconstitutional. Essentially, a racial segregation cases, parents of children with disabilities began to file suit against their education agencies based on the decision, which stabled in principle that all children should be guaranteed an equal education opportunity (The History of IDEA, 2001).
Two landmark court cases for special education students were: PARC v. Pennsylvania and Mills v. Washington, D.C. The cases argued that it was the state’s responsibility for education students with disabilities, going against the Bill of Rights. As a result, in 1975 the federal government passed the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act; later changed to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This act guaranteed a free and appropriate education that emphasized special educated services and related services, ensured the rights of the children with disabilities and their parents, assisted states and localities to provide education for disabled children, and assessed the effectiveness of efforts to educate children with disabilities. IDEA was reauthorized in 2004 to make changes in the structure and to ensure civil rights were guaranteed.
The focus of this presentation is about the learning content in distance education for students with learning disabilities. According to most definitions, learning disabilities (LD) are a group of disorders that affect the ability to acquire or use listening, speaking, concentrating, reading, writing, reasoning, or math skills (Epstein, Grinberg, Ilovitch, Klemes, & Zuker, 2006). Education has seen tremendous advancements, with the current trend being that of learning from a distance. With this being stated, special education students also have the rights of taking classes via the internet. Special education students have many advantages and disadvantages in distance education. The advantages of special education students learning in an online setting are: the use of an assistive computerized learning environment, intelligent tutoring system, and the confidence of the students.
The assistive computerized learning environment impacted society in a tremendous way. In the second half of the twentieth century, and particularly during the 1990s, special attention and efforts were devoted to research and treatment relating to children and adults with one or more learning disabilities (Epstein, Grinberg, Ilovitch, Klemes, & Zuker, 2006). Evidence obtained from this research proved that assistive technologies, computer hardware and software, can help students overcome multiple types of learning disabilities. Assistive technology was used to help students successfully complete their online course requirements. Most assistive programs targeted students who suffered from print-related problems. One of the technologies developed to overcome students’ reading difficulties is computer programs that provide synthetic speech output, synchronized with text (Epstein, Grinberg, Ilovitch, Klemes, & Zuker, 2006). Research shows that there are multiple programs available to deliver text (AT&T’s Text to Speech & Kurzweill 3000 to name a few). It has been shown that using computer readers enhances the reading rate of individuals with dyslexia, makes reading less tiring and less stressful, and makes the time they are able to devote to reading more sustained (Epstein, Grinberg, Ilovitch, Klemes, & Zuker, 2006).
Most online learning environments offer a program called intelligent tutoring system. The intelligent tutoring system offer individualized instruction to all its students. Intelligent tutoring system follow learners in their individual approach through a problem, providing context-sensitive hints and feedback, not just on learners’ final solution, but on their intermediate step as well (Aleven, Fischer, Schworms, Stahl, & Wallace, 2003).
Online learning environments also provide special education students with a sense of confidence in their educational experience. The online environment may offer a unique social advantage as compared to the traditional classroom (Ahern, Cooper, Lan, Liu, Tallent-Runnels, & Thomas, 2006). Most special education students are shy in a face-to-face setting; they avoid attention from their instructor and peers. Online learning environments allow special education students to hide their identity and remain confident within them self.
With all good things, there are the bad. The disadvantages of special education students in an online learning environment are: learning styles of the students are not considered, no accommodations/modifications in assignments, and no support services.
The expansion of distance education opportunities surface the need for online courses to meet the needs of individuals with special needs (Horney & Keeler, 2007). Online courses are created without taking into consideration of the multiple learning styles of its students. It is the responsibility of course designers therefore to intentionally create courses that address needs and styles of all individuals, including those with disabilities (Horney & Keeler, 2007).
Research states that course instructors test drive courses in order for them to model assignments and to determine course objectives. Accommodations and modifications (as included in individualized education plans) are not considered in the development of course content and assignments. Instruction can and should be designed to be flexible enough to support the range of diverse learners, not just the “typical” student (Aplin, Grabinger, & Ponnappa-Brenner, 2008). Accommodations for those with disabilities must be located within the instruction rather than placing the onus of finding support outside of the course environment (Aplin, Grabinger, & Ponnappa-Brenner, 2008).
Students with special needs have no support within online learning environments. In on campus classes, students can find support at the disabilities office which offers tutors, note takers, extra time, and separate rooms for test taking (Aplin, Grabinger, & Ponnappa-Brenner, 2008). Without this school service, most students have to pay for outside educational services while the vast majority drops-out of school.
While it remains important to be sensitive to the cognitive and academic barriers faced by adolescents and adults with LD, systemcatic change remains the key to successful post-secondary outcomes (Gregg, 2007). In order for special needs students to be successful, they must have academic pathways that allow success. Thank you for your time and now I present to you Mr. Christopher Nelson.
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