Technology that helps – not hinders – inclusive learning

Photo of Sue Cranmer and Kirsty Young
Dr Sue Cranmer (left) and Dr Kirsty Young (right)

For parents, kids + mobile devices can be a volatile combination – but for teachers of children with disability, these same devices represent a wealth of untapped opportunities.


A new research collaboration between UTS researcher Dr Kirsty Young and University of Lancaster academic Dr Sue Cranmer aims to uncover innovative uses for mobile devices that will support students with disability to achieve their learning goals.


Assistive technologies like text-to-speech, voice dictation and electronic worksheets have revolutionised the ways in which children with disability can engage at school. But Dr Young and Dr Cranmer want to look at the use of these technologies beyond their assistive potential: they intend to investigate teachers’ pedagogical practices and examine the use of digital technologies to enrich the learning experience for all children in inclusive ways.


“There’s a lack of research around how teachers of students who have disabilities are using technologies other than as assistive devices,” Dr Young says.


“What we’re interested in is to think about how they can be used in the innovative ways that non-disabled students and children get to use them.”


One of the big challenges is to support teachers to innovate with digital technologies in ways that engage all students equally in the class and to be inclusive of those with disability.


“A big thing for disabled students is feeling stigmatised and different, so if you’re in a class where everybody has the same device and is using it to engage with the same type of learning, then they’re fitting in and it means so much to their sense of belonging,” Dr Cranmer says.


Dr Young and Dr Cranmer met through an existing partnership between their two universities and discovered a significant intersection in their areas of research focus – both the UTS Centre for Research on Learning in a Technological Society and Lancaster’s Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning are making a significant contribution to knowledge in the areas of technology-enhanced learning for inclusive education, STEM pedagogy, STEM teacher professional development and university STEM education, among others.


Dr Young has a background in inclusive education design, delivery, development and research, while Dr Cranmer is an expert in the areas of digital technologies, inclusion and innovation. She has recently published a book on the subject, ‘Disabled children and digital technologies: Learning in the context of inclusive education’ for Bloomsbury.


This joint research provides an opportunity to complement each other’s areas of expertise.


“I was very excited by the work happening here,” Dr Cranmer says.


“When I first spoke to Kirsty, I realised there was a real synergy between what we were doing and what we were interested in.”


In 2019, Dr Cranmer spent two weeks at UTS meeting Dr Young and her colleagues to flesh out the details of the collaboration, including identifying potential projects and researchers who would take part in the work. She also delivered two seminars to UTS researchers and research students.


Currently, the collaborators are preparing a publication on the digital practices of secondary teachers, and they’re in the process of identifying funders for a larger project to compare the ways in which mainstream and specialist schools in Australia and the UK use digital technologies for inclusive education. Dr Young and her colleagues are surveying special education teachers to identify what might be considered innovative uses of technologies in specialist schools; this will be distributed to support the broader body of work the collaboration will produce.


The research has the potential to deliver important new knowledge in a field where, internationally, very little is being done. By shedding light on innovative practices that are already in use at schools in Australia and the UK, Dr Young and Dr Cranmer have the opportunity to start building a repository of best practice approaches to technology-enhanced inclusive education.


It’s good news for teachers, and even better news for students with disability who stand to benefit from increased opportunities to engage with technology-enhanced learning in meaningful ways.


“As educators who care about diversity of students in the class, if we can find things that are working and find those pockets of innovation where it’s making a difference with students, particularly those with disabilities, it can be transferred to other schools,” Dr Young says.



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