In the field of special education there have been many trends that have swung the pendulum and changed the landscape in the way in which special education services are provided to students. In the past 20 years, students have moved from the Resource Room to the Learning Center to being fully included in the general education classroom and back again. I have seen Special Education teachers lobby to establish themselves as “teachers, not just a destination.” I have witnessed the shift from teachers to case managers. But, no matter what they call themselves or where the services are provided, I have seen these teachers working tirelessly to fulfill the requirements of the students’ IEPs and to meet the strict and varied deadlines required to stay in compliance for themselves and their schools. It’s no wonder that these superheroes continue to seek out new and improved ways to ensure that their students will succeed. And, despite the nationwide shortage, these amazing teachers continue to protect their caseloads by seeking ways to better manage their time and efforts. Among the most recent of these improvements has been bringing Special Education services from the classroom to the virtual space. As technology has continued to advance and to become intertwined throughout school campuses, Special Education teachers are leading the charge to bring services to students no matter where the need brings them.
So, why the move to bring services online? The benefits of providing Special Education services online are as varied as the needs of the student receiving them. While the idea of providing Special Education services to students virtually is relatively new, researchers have been studying the ways in which technology can increase student performance since the early 1960s. Based on a review of studies on Computer-Based Instruction (CBI), students tend to do as well in using computer-based instruction as the in-person control group (Feldhusen & Szabo, 1969; Jamison, Suppes, & Wells, 1971; Thomas, 1979). Additionally, many of the leading organizations for therapists and educators, have written position statements in support of utilizing online, synchronous services. Such organizations include the American Occupational Therapy Association, the American Speech-language and Hearing Association, the American School Counselors Association, and the California Association for Behavior Analysis.
Students are growing increasingly proficient at using the computer to attain academic proficiency and many schools have invested in a 1:1 computer model for the student body to access curriculum digitally. A recent article in the Education Week concluded that “1-to-1 laptop programs helped improve students’ academic achievement at statistically significant levels in English/language arts, writing, math and science” (Education Week, May 17, 2016). Students spend many hours of their day reading, writing and researching online. With the technology readily available, teachers and therapists find that providing services online allows them to meet their students where they are regardless of geographic differences. Online platforms allow teachers to log directly into the student’s work and assist them in real-time while addressing their IEP goals. Sharing documents in real-time is just one way that online Special Education teachers are helping students to meet their goals.
Many states, including California, are experiencing a decrease in the number of Special Education teachers and Designated Instructional Service (DIS) providers entering the field. Schools are at risk of being out of compliance for not providing services to the students while spending months trying to find highly qualified teachers and therapists to fill vacancies. Still, other states are in a hiring surplus with teachers fighting to find their forever job. By offering services online, teachers and therapists from other states who possess the appropriate credentialing and licensing are able to fill vacancies hundreds and thousands of miles away. With a secure portal, teachers can traverse the expanse of the globe any time of day. Students can more effectively access their teachers via email and video conferencing in order to get help on assignments and to assist with modification in the classroom. Additionally, other members of the IEP team can collaborate and even co-treat to help students to meet their goals more effectively via live, online, face-to-face sessions regardless of their location.
While it is important to continually assess the effectiveness of any method of service delivery, online Special Education services are trending, and students are reporting great success. Teachers are also reporting that they enjoy meeting their students online and collaborating with their students on assignments in a new way. An online Special Education teacher with Total Education Solutions was quoted as saying that providing online services has “sparked my teaching imagination again!” And schools are excited to fill vacancies without compromising quality.
To find out more about Online Special Education Services, contact Total Education Solutions – TES Connect at TESConnect@tesidea.com for a free demo. Check out our video on YouTube and see services in action.