There are many ways for educators to build technology competencies, including training, professional learning communities, and technology coaching. Building technology competencies offers educators the opportunity to implement and build upon Universal Design for Learning by including the use of instructional and assistive technologies in their design process. The goal of educators developing technology competencies is to improve the design and delivery of learning opportunities for all students.
Technology competencies are a set of skills that educators are expected to acquire. For example, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), has a set of competencies that build the skills of educators to design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability. Some districts create or identify their own set of competencies that staff are expected to work toward. Whether using the national standards such as ISTE Educator Standards, district competencies, or the competencies an educator individually identifies, ensuring those competencies include the use of accessible materials and assistive technologies will promote inclusive learning opportunities in a balanced and inclusive technology ecosystem.
The Center for Inclusive Technology in Education Systems (CITES) uses an iterative design-thinking process, in partnership with local districts, to identify and refine a set of teaching practices that enhance the development of a balanced and inclusive technology infrastructure.
Actions educators can take to develop technology competencies for inclusive learning include:
- Work toward technology competencies.
- Use technology to create transformative learning experiences.
- Integrate accessible educational materials and AT to ensure students with disabilities are able to use and benefit from technology.
Taking a Team-Based Approach to Building Competencies in Accessible & Assistive Technology
New York City Department of Education (New York, New York)
The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) is the largest school district in the United States, serving approximately 1,126,000 students. Prior to the COVID-19 school building closures, NYC DOE focused on ensuring equity across the district with a vision for universal 1:1 technology access, as well as building the key supports needed to make such an undertaking work (e.g., teacher capacity, student digital citizenship skills). Given the challenge of bringing 1:1 device access to over a million students while ensuring equity and accessibility for all students, NYC DOE took a team-based approach, involving representation from a variety of departments to address system-wide technology capacity. NYC DOE’s Center for Assistive Technology prioritized strengthening the capacity of teachers, supervisors, related service providers, and school psychologists that know how to consider AT and conduct AT assessments. The Center for Assistive Technology historically provided various levels of support, including districtwide professional development (the Beyond Access Forum), on-demand support for districts and schools, and individualized support for students on specific pieces of AT. The goal of capacity building was to support, inform, and train school-based teams on Universal Design for Learning, instructional technology, and AT. These school-based teams were then charged with providing training and on-the-ground coaching for educators to use and integrate accessible and AT tools throughout instructional activities.
The rapid shift to online learning in spring 2020 accelerated this initiative, as the district noted: “The city had a crash course on accessibility . . . the impact of accessibility on students and their learning environments raised awareness and skills . . . COVID-19 resulted in a light-speed fast forward jump in the plan.” Further, the NYC DOE Center for Assistive Technology team noted that prior planning and collaboration helped lay the groundwork for rapidly building educator capacity. For example, in the yearly Beyond Access Forum, hundreds of teachers, administrators, service providers, students, advocates, and families attended dozens of workshops and AT demonstrations to build AT competencies at multiple levels of the educational system.