Computer Literacy for Students with Special Needs: Dewey + Vygotsky

How can we create a positive future for students with ‘mild to moderate cognitive delays‘ in Quebec’s public secondary schools?At present, Quebec’s education system is in the process of major reforms. At the secondary level that translates into the creation of 3 learning paths for qualification to post-secondary programs:

  1. General Education Path
  2. Applied General Education Path
  3. Work-Oriented Training Path.

The first 2 paths culminate with a Secondary School Diploma (SSD), while the third path offers 2 options:

  1. TCST – Training Certificate for a Semiskilled Trade
  2. PWTC – Pre-Work Training Certificate

The students I work with, identified with mild to moderate cognitive delays, have generally not been expected to graduate from high school. The creation of the different learning paths at the secondary level may now offer a much more positive option for these students.

The question remains, how can we best ensure the success of these students within this framework?

I believe that by teaching all students computer literacy, how to use computer technology to enhance their learning, we are introducing them to valuable tools that will assist them in creating meaning from the raw material of the world around them. For students with special needs, in this case with mild to moderate cognitive impairments, facility with computer technology becomes even more valuable when we take into consideration the difficulties these students have with communication on a variety of levels and the possibilities that technology can offer them to overcome some of these difficulties.

I believe that in order to design effective programming we need to look at both the individual and society. In his comparison of Dewey and Vygotsky, Glassman (2002) identified similar questions they both pursued in their work including how we can understand human activity in order to promote and guide learning. The men differed, he argued, in the way in which they viewed the process of human activity. For Dewey he saw the point of entry as human inquiry – essentially we ask a question and search for the tools we need to solve it. For Vygotsky it is the social context that drives inquiry – social history and tools determine what we ask questions about.

If we look at learning from a systems theory perspective, we understand that every part of a system affects every other part. The individual can effect change on society and vice versa.

When I consider my question from within a systems theory framework, I come to the conclusion that BOTH Dewey’s and Vygotsky’s views must be taken into account simultaneously in order for authentic, meaningful learning to occur.

This paper will review the literature pertaining to the use of technology to enhance learning for students with mild to moderate cognitive impairments in light of both Dewey’s and Vygotsky’s views on learning, as each place emphasis on different aspects of a learning system, so as to better consider the whole system.

Some Articles I am reading…

Atkinson, T., & Atkinson, R. (2007). Creating learning communities for students with special needs. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 305-309.

Day, S. L. (2002). Real kids, real risks: Effective instruction of students at risk of failure. NASSP Bulletin, 86(632):19-32.

Downing, J. A. (2006). Media centers and special education: Introduction to the special issue. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(2), 67-77.

Hardré, P. (2004). Starting from the end: Designing instruction for technol-
ogy skills. AACE Journal, 12(3), 315-330.

Kingsley, K. V. (2007). Empower diverse learners with educational technology and digital media. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43(1), 52-56.

Li-Tsang, C. W. P., Lee, M. Y. F., Yeung, S. S. S., Siu, A. M. H., & Lam, C. S. (2007). A 6-month follow-up of the effects of an information and communication technology (ICT) training programme on people with intellectual disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 28(6), 559-566.

Liu, Y., Cornish, A., and Clegg, J. (2007). Ict and special educational needs: Using meta-synthesis for bridging the multifaceted divide. pages 18-25.

Looney, M.A. (2005, September). Giving students a 21st century education. Technology Horizons in Education Journal, 33(2), 58.

Mabry, L. and Snow, J. Z. (2006). Laptops for high-risk students: Empowerment and personalization in a standards-based learning environment. Studies In Educational Evaluation, 32(4):289-316.

Pierson, J. M. (1999) Transforming engagement in literacy instruction: the role of student genuine interest and ability. Annals of Dyslexia v. 49 p. 307-29

Popkewitz, T. S. (1998). Dewey, Vygotsky, and the social administration of the individual: Constructivist pedagogy as systems of ideas in historical spaces. American Educational Research Journal, 35(4), 535-570.

Prawat, R. S. (1999). Cognitive theory at the crossroads: Head fitting, head splitting, or somewhere in between? Human development, 42(2):59-77.

Prawat, R. S. (2002). Dewey and vygotsky viewed through the rearview mirror-and dimly at that. Educational Researcher, 31(5):16-20.

Waxman, H. C. and Padron, Y. N. (1995). Improving the quality of classroom instruction for students at risk of failure in urban schools. Peabody Journal of Education, 70(2):44-65.

Williams, P. (2005). Using information and communication technology with special educational needs students: The views of frontline professionals. Aslib Proceedings, 57(6), 539-553. Retrieved March 9, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 961001831).

Peter Williams, Hamid R. Jamali, David Nicholas. (2006). Using ICT with people with special education needs: what the literature tells us. Aslib Proceedings, 58(4), 330-345. Retrieved March 9, 2008, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1091223451).

Wissick, C. A. (1996). Multimedia: Enhancing instruction for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29(5), 494-503.


  • Tracy says:

    Elona, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    The questions you raise are important ones for me to consider as I continue with this research and my work as a teacher.

    I intend to continue posting my ideas online and hope (expect :) ) that you continue to comment. Your experience and insight is valuable!

  • I’m looking forward to reading you paper if you choose to publish it here.It would be interesting to read what the latest research has to say about computer literacy and students with ‘mild to moderate cognitive delays.

    I’m not up on the latest research and would have to speak from my own experience teaching students who are on the pathway to work. . What is it exactly we want these kids to be able to do in their lives that being computer literate will facilitate? How can computer literacy help create a positive future for these kids? Is it just a matter of teaching them how to fill out forms on different web sites using the computer. I spent lots of time back in the day teaching kids how to fill out job application forms, driver license forms etc using pen and paper.

    Given that more and more business is done on line, it seems to me that would be important for them to be able to do this on line. But, what else do they need to be able to do? Problem solve, send ecards for occasions, communicate using MSN, get along with people at work, etc. What is it we want them to be able to well once they leave school and are in the world of work and how can being computer literate help them do that. Sadly, I don’t really have a good answer for that. I hope so one does.

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