By Erika Kluge, MFCS, President and AT Special Educator, THINK with Success

Technology is often deemed both friend and foe, the genesis of and the eradication of creativity and invention. Professionals, parents, and students alike face a daily conundrum regarding the facets of digital trends, the abuse and pro-use of technology, and the essential skills for graduates embarking into 21st century employment. How does one efficiently navigate the technology path from K–12 into college and career without being continuously told the route is “recalculating?”

Technology for academic purposes benefits all students and is essential for some, but there should be a balance so that it enhances learning while strengthening pedagogical and metacognitive skills. I advocate an approach that embodies the Universal Design of Learning (UDL): a variety of teaching methods offered to remove barriers to learning while providing all students with equal opportunities to succeed.

Know Your Accommodations

Students who require technology within the collegiate setting may request accommodations through disability services, which are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Independent educational consultants (IECs) need to be savvy about how to help all students accurately pilot their path toward college, regardless of disability service qualifications, and include technology in their comprehensive map. Assistive technology and technology in general can help students counter procrastination, frustration, anxiety, and even depression when they struggle with the efficacy of reading, writing, note-taking, memorization, math, or executive function skills. Consider how a student achieves greater personal success for the following specific academic tasks using technology.

Reading. Textbooks can be read using a traditional paper book format, a digital format, a digital format paired with computer synthesized voice, or an audio format that is either computer synthesized or human narrated. Annotation strategies available when using digital text can be advantageous to students: they can search for key words or phrases easily, they can highlight or create margin notes that can be extracted to create a study outline, they have instant access to word definitions, and they can leave voice recording annotations tagged within the reading.

Writing. Students can put information on paper, iPads, and tablets. Graphic note-taking can enhance comprehension and recall via the paper method and is augmented by the ability to add audio recordings, hyperlinks, and photo or videos when using technology. Although the “blue book” for exams remains in use, the ability for one to type, implement word-prediction (phonemic spelling and typing support), or speech recognition (dictation) can allow the student to write more efficiently and successfully when spelling, typing, or processing speed challenges exist. Lastly, writing tools for emulating graphic mind-mapping and the use of a writing tutor/editor can greatly aid college students.

Note-taking. Some students prefer using pen and paper instead of typing or vice-versa. There are apps, software programs, and devices that allow them to sync audio recording to what is being penned or typed. That feature is likely the most advantageous option available, especially if a student can be provided the lecture outline or slides beforehand. They can then highlight, underline, or write brief accompanying notes on the visual while tagging lecture audio. This offers a multimodal approach to learning. Further, students can also use the Cornell-System; graphic-mapping; or purposeful doodling, outlining, or shorthand.

Math. Math classes require students to read, write, draw, and compute. Computation tools are common; however, there are several technology programs and apps that offer the student a virtual pencil for more efficiency and graphic accuracy when writing equations and geometric answers.

Memorization and test-study prep. Memorization strategies, whether technology based or not, should be explicitly taught to students along with metacognition skills. Graphic mind-mapping and flashcards can be created with paper. Technology can enhance a concept by allowing audio recording and playback to aid retention. Many technology-based programs also allow the user to play games or take tests to enhance retention. Furthermore, they often track the user’s score, which allows the student to identify which concepts to study further. Helping students to identify which learning styles within the multi-modal approach offer them the greatest benefit is helpful.

Executive function. The use of a planner/calendar is a common time-management tool, whether it is paper-or cloud-based. Cloud versions allow students to create both private and shared calendars, which can be helpful for group projects. It is also easy to view or hide subcalendars, such as professor or TA office hours, writing center hours, and so on. Reminders can be quickly dictated into smartphones and smart watches, which then embed into calendars, emails, texts, or pop-up reminders at specific times or when one reaches an identified location. Task listing apps and programs are beneficial tools.

Some programs and apps help a student stay focused, and others restrict distractions. Visual timers are helpful for students to track segments of time elapsed and remaining. The use of cloud-based storage for files and documents reduces lost or forgotten papers or notebooks. Group project work is often a concept a college student will engage in. The ability to have cloud-based shared calendars, communication options, and documents can save time and reduce stress.

Make a Good Technology Match

IECs can help students better identify whether their college of choice is a good match by helping students inquire about the college’s technology options. Questions might include:

• Is there free Wi-Fi across campus?

• Are there specific computer brand/models required?

• What is the IT support?

• How many independent study rooms are on campus for reservation?

• Are free software programs offered?

• How is technology used in the classroom?

• What is the LMS system?

• What is the backup cloud storage offered?

IECs can also help students request accommodation services by providing them with knowledge about the procedure and student rights regarding the ADA. Questions to consider include:

• What accommodations are offered?

• How many disability staff members are there?

• Are tutors offered for free?

• What are the hours, and how many disability offices are there?

• Are assistive technology programs and devices offered for free?

• Is there preferential registration?

Technology evolves daily. It is an integral part of career settings. Embrace it, and help students navigate their academic experience and culminate into confident and competent future employee candidates.

Erika Kluge can be reached at [email protected].