Using technology to facilitate inclusive teaching means evolving and focusing on student needs and benefits, not tech for tech’s sake, said panelists during “Inclusive by Design: All About Accessibility and Equity in Schools” a recent Tech & Learning webinar sponsored by Microsoft and hosted by Dr. Kecia Ray.
During the event educators shared how they’ve successfully incorporated powerful tech tools into their districts.
Watch the free webinar on demand here.
Inclusive Tech is An Ongoing Evolution
Tracey Rowley, Education Technology Integration Specialist for Tucson Unified School District, said that using tech tools to promote inclusivity is an ongoing effort.
“We continue to provide support and training on the different technologies that are available. We really want to empower our students, empower our parents, empower people, to be confident and to feel independence,” she said. “And we continue to innovate and pivot, based on the needs of our schools and our students and our teachers.”
Rowley shared how one student was able to use Microsoft’s Immersive Reader to translate her paper into Spanish to be able to work with her mom on the paper.
However, Rowley said you never want to focus just on the technology. “The last thing a lot of people want is more things: more things to do, more things to learn. So we've really focused on reinforcing the why and the how, and encouraging people to work together as they learn about these different tools that will increase accessibility and inclusivity.”
Tech Tools Should Be Used Intentionally
Aric Bilas is the Technology Integration Educator at Phoenix Union High School District, which has about 28,000 students, 10 percent of whom are in special education. In addition, there are approximately 100 different home languages spoken by students in the district. “We have a lot of need for accessibility, and inclusivity with our teaching,” Bilas said.
The district began a push in 2019 to use more technology to aid inclusivity in the classroom but leaders quickly learned that simply adding tech didn’t increase accessibility. “We were seeing initially that a lot of teachers were trying new things and doing new things, but they weren't necessarily doing it in a way that was meaningful to students,” he said. “So we incorporated Universal Design for Learning Tripoli framework to really help streamline that lesson design process.”
This process has resulted in more teachers utilizing available tools, including Microsoft Sway Presenter coach, a tool within PowerPoint that evaluates how a presenter delivers material including pacing, pitch, use of filler words, informal speech, euphemisms, and culturally sensitive terms, then gives you a report that includes statistics and suggestions for improvements.
As these tools have become more widespread, the district has seen a cultural shift. “Teachers in their classrooms are only using tools and technology that have these things built into them, they're looking for tools that use Immersive Reader, whether it's a Microsoft product, or it's a third-party product. If it doesn't have Immersive Reader built into it, they shy away from it.”
Getting the Most Out of Microsoft Tools
Jill Sitnick, the education industry executive and manager of the U.S. Training Partner Program for Microsoft U.S. Education, said Microsoft has many resources and online tutorials that can be found at The Microsoft Educator Center.
As a former English teacher, Sitnick, like many others, has a particular fondness for Immersive Reader, which was designed to help solve challenges around reading based on the latest literacy science and research. Text-to-speech options that highlight the word being spoken is a proven way to improve literacy in some readers.
“I'm writing a book, and I'm using Immersive Reader all the time to highlight the verbs to make sure I have the right tense. And I'm using the reading progress, the reading bar to proofread,” Sitnick said. “I always used to say to my students in my English class, ‘Proofread your essays backward, read each sentence separately.’ This is helping me do it. So you want to think a little bit outside the box in terms of what different tools you use for any population.”
Sitnick added that another great tool was Dictation, which types out what students say. “As an English teacher, I had to kind of sit back and say, ‘What am I really evaluating with students when I'm looking at a document with bad handwriting that I can't read?’ I really want to look at what the student's ideas are, and Dictate allows us to do that.”
Educators can also use dictation to make comments on student work and students can use it to comment on the work of classmates should the educator desire that. Another tool Sitnick recommends is Microsoft Editor, an AI-powered writing assistant that proofreads work. “It's not the 1997 editor that used to be there,” she said. “It is fantastic in terms of grammar, spelling, conciseness, conventions. I'm using it constantly as I'm evaluating my writing. It is a wonderful tool to help students proofread their own writing before they hand it in to a teacher.”