Inclusive Education and Social Software
James Durnford Memorial University of Newfoundland
For many years learners with special needs, and their teachers, were largely segregated from the rest of the school (Honey, Culp, & Spielvogel, 2005). Jimenez and Graf (2008) observed that all students belong in regular schools and classrooms, and that inclusive programs can benefit everyone. Honey et al. reported that schools today are becoming more inclusive. Inclusion, or inclusive education, involves more than simply allowing children with special needs a place to sit inside the regular classroom (Corbett, 2001, p.58 as cited in Schneider, 2009, p.11). Students with special needs, regardless of the extent, or form, of their disability, should be welcomed, valued and encouraged (Brandon, 2006). The National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion (FSU Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy, 2002), outlines the characteristics of inclusion as a situation where all students, including those with considerable disabilities, are offered equal opportunities to receive a meaningful education. In addition, instruction should occur in age suitable classrooms in local schools, with special needs students receiving the necessary additional aids and support services, in order to prepare them for productive lives as full members of society (FSU Center for Prevention & Early Intervention Policy).
3 Social software
Web 2.0, while not a complete reinvention of the internet, can be called the 'social Web', since its content can be more easily produced and posted by users, unlike Web 1.0 (Boulos, & Wheeler, 2007). Even though many Web 2.0 tools were not intended exclusively for use in education, they have many features that support their use in a range of learning environments (Hartshorne & Ajjan, 2009). Online social software offers an incomparable opportunity to incorporate numerous types of decidedly unique internet resources into educational settings, including media that can encourage the growth of decidedly hands-on and multisensory learning environments (Jakes, 2003 as cited in Solomon & Schrum, 2007). This sort of rich, multisensory approach allows students to take advantage of any strength to overcome disadvantages (Logsdon, 2010).
Appealing to the various strengths and interests of individuals and groups of students is a strategy for inclusion (Hay, & Courson, 2000). Differentiated instruction is also a fundamental characteristic of any classroom in today’s schools, particularly those involved in Inclusive Education, if the needs of the many diverse learners are to be met (Pearce, 2009). Many of the unique features of social websites would allow students of varying abilities to find, develop, and discuss common interests. Futurelab reported in 2009 that, many online communities focused on particular hobbies such as photography which may engage the interest of particular groups of students (p.36). Such sites allow for tagging, and commenting thereby providing methods of collaborating and exploring mutual interests. Web 2.0 applications offer an innovative array of opportunities for students to express their capabilities, in engaging and worthwhile activities, whatever talents and expertise they may possess (Crook, & Harrison, 2008).
Social websites are already used by millions of people every day and user numbers are continuing to grow, with active users increasing by tens of millions each month, and monthly postings and uploads numbering in the billions (News Editor, 2010). These numbers indicate that for many people around the world, “the most significant news is what you and those you have reason to care about, did yesterday, are doing today, and plan to do tomorrow” (Klamma et al., 2007 p.73). This familiarity can aid in the introduction of social software as learning tools, since many students are actively participating in the use of the service(s) there are no impediments to their implementation into classrooms (Pitner et al., 2007 p.55). Pitner et al. found that the boundary separating education and the real, private world of users essentially disappears, producing a sense of comfort and security. Comfort and security are desirable features in inclusive learning environments (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2009).
Accessibility to course material, projects, teachers, and even the school itself, may be an issue for some students. One distinctive advantage of the online setting has been the capacity to overcome time/place restrictions on instruction and learning (Donoghue, 2006 p.83). Hocking (2008) found that absenteeism and drop-out rates were particularly significant for special needs students. Missing out on substantial amounts of school time, or failing to graduate, can be an educationally and socially damaging issue for students according to Hocking. Affordable hardware and free social software provide viable alternatives for overcoming these barriers; this technology also allows parents and teachers many more options and opportunities for staying in touch with students and each other. As Hardman and Carpenter (2007) observe, teachers are only a mouse click away from communication with not only parents but other school stakeholders as well.
According to Jukes and Dosaj (2004), the amount of time that recent college graduates spent using electronics such as video games, televisions, telephones and computers is more than triple the combined number of hours they spent reading and attending school. In light of these numbers it seems logical to integrate the technology, to which students have grown so accustomed, into the classroom. Meanwhile, even though social software may have a lot to offer students and teachers attempting to achieve learning goals in inclusive classrooms, Walker and Creanor (2009) point out, that online social software such as wikis or social networks accomplish very little by themselves; it is the system of people, web sites and activities which creates something of value (p.314).
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