How are digital technologies affecting learning?

Dr Sue Cranmer is researching how young people who are blind or visually impaired and educated in mainstream schools use computers and the internet for learning in and out of school. Here she explains who she’s been talking to and the findings so far

This small-scale exploratory study is investigating the potential opportunities provided by digital technologies and their advantages and disadvantages for learning.
At four schools in the north west of England I have interviewed visually impaired young people aged 7–17 and the members of the teams who support these youngsters. These teams vary but tend to include specialist teachers of visually impaired children who have the mandatory qualification, special educational needs coordinators, primary and secondary school teachers, and teaching assistants. Teaching assistants have a leading role in supporting the young person to use digital technologies so their own proficiency with technology is important.

Impact on learning

Early findings suggest that digital technologies are having a huge impact on learning, particularly in terms of nurturing young people’s independence. This independence is very important as young people need to develop the skills to self-manage and direct their own learning. As an example, young people are becoming experts at modifying documents for themselves by changing font sizes and colours.
Moreover, tablet computers are enabling some young people to take charge given the ease with which a youngster can capture an image of a whiteboard or other resource using the camera, zoom the text, brightness contrast so that they can gain
access to it independently.

Reducing stigma

Digital technologies can also help prevent young people from feeling stigmatised, as these technologies are also used by their sighted peers. As one student eloquently described it: “I like it because it’s more independent for me. I feel like just an ordinary person when I’m using it. I like to be a tiny bit different but I don’t like to be so much different that everyone treats me differently. I like to be just like a normal girl sort of thing, in the mix. And having an iPad, and my friends have iPads too, it just makes me feel like one of them basically.” The project is continuing with the final report due in January 2015.
Dr Sue Cranmer is a lecturer in technology-enhanced learning at Lancaster University