How Accessibility is Driving The Top EdTech Trends

By: Verbit Editorial
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Technology is evolving faster than most of us can keep up. It’s hard to believe that the iPad made its debut a mere nine years ago. 15 years ago, who could fathom that we could keep a computer in our back pockets? Yet a few years later, the first iPhone made its debut and that is exactly what we do.

Keeping with this trend, educational technology is also progressing at a rapid pace. Even though the first online courses were launched in the 90s, the technology required to make the experience equivalent to an in-person learning experience has only blossomed in the past ten years.

One of the most exciting parts of the educational technology boom is that it provides access to all learners, including those with disabilities. Looking at 5 edtech trends for 2019, we can see how accessibility is fueling the technology development and benefiting everyone in the process.

Interactive Whiteboards

The SMARTboard has the distinction of being the first interactive whiteboard (IWB) introduced to the education scene back in 1991. In 1992, Intel invested in the company, propelling them to become a well-known brand name. Unfortunately, they were very expensive, making it a prohibitive cost for most school budgets. As the years progressed, more companies jumped on board, providing consumers with more options at competitive prices. However, only about half of US classrooms are using IWBs as of 2018 due to high costs, as per the National Science Foundation. Today, many schools are adding or switching over to interactive displays, which retain many of the same functions as a SMARTboard, for a fraction of the cost of an IWB.

IWBs benefit many different learning styles by appealing to auditory, visual and tactile senses. They are helping to make learning more accessible and enjoyable by enhancing education for individuals with hearing impairments or learning disabilities. IWBs have also become a great learning tool for students who are blind or visually impaired. Through integrations with other assistive technologies, the text on the screen can be read aloud and instructors can connect Braille displays with compatible software.

IWBs also provide students with physical impairments with different ways to interact with educational content. For example, adjustable heights help accommodate students who are wheelchair-bound. Students who are incapable of holding a pen or stylus can use their fingers, while instructors can use the hand over hand technique to guide them. IWBs also benefit students with learning disabilities. Their interactive and engaging capabilities can increase attention, which in turn boosts learning retention.

Artificial Intelligence

In 2018, Microsoft announced a grant program to increase the development of AI-driven accessibility technology in 3 key focus areas: employment, daily life, and human connection/communication.

An exciting area of AI development for accessibility is in Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology. In the higher education context, many colleges and universities are experiencing a backlog of AI transcription and captioning services, as the demand and necessity are higher than the capability for humans to get it done in a timely manner. Enter AI. For example, at BYU Idaho, Verbit’s AI-enhanced ASR technology cut their media captioning backlog, reducing wait time from weeks or months to days, often delivering in under 24 hours. The technology made YouTube clips, TEDtalks, movies, lectures, and other audiovisual content accessible to their deaf and hard of hearing students.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

Augmented reality (AR) has been around for decades but really began to surge in the last five years. Major developments in the market like Google Glass, the onslaught of 3D and 4D movies, and games like the worldwide phenomenon Pokemon GO have made AR part of daily life. Once again, accessibility is enhancing the development of cutting-edge AR/VR technology.

AR can now be used to help individuals with disabilities explore new areas or places. For example, an individual with a visual impairment may not be able to read the small lettering of signs on campus. With an application that uses a phone camera, signs can be expanded for easier readability. Many AR applications are also adding auditory and haptic feedback to accommodate those with visual impairments. Smart glasses now provide a feature to display captions in the field of vision for people with hearing impairments, so they can get the most out of events like concerts and theater performances.

AR is influencing the world of education by enhancing academic topics like the sciences and humanities. Areas like STEM medicine are being made increasingly accessible through AR, providing more disabled students with the opportunity to study these subjects.

AR technologies enhance the learning process for all students, not just those with disabilities. However, for those who do have a disability, it’s a game-changer. Ruth Richards-Hill says it best in her blog post on AR. “Big tech and the trimmings that come with it have “imagineered” my existence into one of relative normalcy so much so that few notice that I am any different.”

Learning Analytics

Consumer analytics have been around for a few years. How many times have you seen an ad pop up on your Facebook feed for the very product you searched for on Google just minutes earlier? A similar trend is occurring in higher education. The 2016 Horizon Report describes learning analytics as “an educational application of web analytics aimed at learner profiling, a process of gathering and analyzing details of individual student interactions in online learning activities.” These tools allow teachers to monitor their students’ digital activity, understand how they are learning, and tailor learning experiences to match.

Learning analytics powers the prediction of student behavior, curriculum design, and learning interventions. Although it is a relatively new concept, expect to see increases throughout 2019. Analytics can even reveal a learning deficit that a student wasn’t aware of, and help educators devise an individualized learning plan to help the student succeed. This will not only help map out strategies for learners with various disabilities but will improve overall student success and retention rates.

Adaptive Learning

When all these trends come together, they result in adaptive learning, providing the ability to creating more personalized learning experiences and guide students through the curriculum. This type of approach would be almost impossible for a teacher to implement in a traditional classroom, but with educational technology, the somewhat impossible becomes a reality.

With adaptive technology, teachers can more effectively adapt coursework for all students. Educators can track how each student is progressing, and effectively monitor and analyze the information collected. The benefits extend to the students themselves as well. According to Educause, adaptive learning provides students with greater control over their learning, higher engagement, better information retention, more confidence, and higher graduation rates. Adaptive learning levels the playing field for all students, which makes for an overall better learning environment for everyone.

With seemingly endless possibilities, it’s clear that exciting times lie ahead in the field of higher education for both instructors and learners alike. As technology develops further and understanding of different learning styles and strategies grows, the gap between the abled and disabled learner will shrink, eventually disappearing altogether.