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A Case Study: Increasing student participation and understanding through the use of Blogs and Wikis in teaching mainstream

special education students enrolled in Social Studies Classes

Phase 1 Capstone Project EDTC 670 Dr. Green

2012 Donald Bierschbach University of Maryland University College

This paper explores an approach supported by research about using blogs, Wikis and other technologies to increase student involvement and participation of mainstream SPED and LD students. Blogs and Wikis require increased student engagement

and involvement in both in-class and out of class activities. While the correlation between blogs, Wikis and student achievement is hard to determine, there is evidence that supports the thesis that the environment provided through the use of technology, and specifically the use of blogs and Wikis, can diminish student anxiety, allow students time to formulate and present their responses and to make additions or corrections to their responses; this should allow for greater understanding, acquisition, and retention of the information being presented. This paper examines a variety of articles and studies that review the use and implementation of new teaching technologies such as blogs and Wikis and how they impact special education students understanding and learning.

There is a small but growing body of research, which examines traditional methods of evaluating student achievement and understanding and compares these methods with non-traditional methods of evaluation such as blogs and Wikis. Can the non-

traditional methods level the playing field and allow SPED and LD students the opportunity to learn and participate in a safe and comfortable environment through the use of blogs and Wikis? My report researches and analyzes the results, reliability and educational value of these studies. I examine resources such as blogs, Wikis and other software and how educators can use these new technologies to advance the learning experience of special education students in main-stream Secondary Social Studies classes. This study focuses on main-stream World History/English block classes. These classes have a very large percentage of students identified as special education and Learning Disabled (approx. 53% in each class). In these classes 0f nineteen to twenty-four students with learning and developmental problems tend to blend into the background and they rarely participate in class activities. Since their involvement in class discussions and other activities is minimal, it is extremely difficult to determine if they are actively engaged. It is equally difficult for them to demonstrate mastery of the material, using traditional methods of assessment and their test scores rarely reflect what they have actually learned.

Learning Problem
There is extremely low participation in class discussions and other activities by special education and learning disabled students in traditional main-stream Social Studies classes. This has contributed to low quiz and test scores as well as below average SOL scores. Since these students rarely participate in class discussions, it is difficult for classroom teachers to evaluate student learning and understanding using the traditional methods of evaluation. All data was collected from ninth grade Social Studies classes. Most of the information was obtained through

observation, personal interviews and interaction within inclusive World History Social Studies classes. The

observations included a 20 point information matrix divided in to 5 different categories each worth 4 points to record student participation, accuracy, analysis, application, and courtesy within each class. The data collected indicates that special

education students involved in regular main-stream Social Studies classes participate in class discussion and presentations at a significantly lower rate than their peers as indicated by the following observational data recorded in information matrices 1 through 9 that follow. It is important to note that the size and duration of the following study was

relatively small, thus making the results hard to verify. Data was collected from three teachers, three classrooms and nine classes. There are, however, definite indications that there is a significantly lower rate of participation in class discussion by special education students than by regular mainstream students.






School Description and population

I work in a suburban public high school in Northern Virginia. The school is made up of a diverse student body with students representing 46 countries and all of the U.S. territories. The school has a student population of about 2,000. English is a Second Language for many of the students. The percentage of SPED students is around 18%, which is slightly above the national average of 15%. While the percentage of SPED students in the school is relatively low the Sped students are concentrated in Special Education resourced mainstreamed classes where the SPED ratio is much higher. This study focuses on mainstream World History/ English block classes. These classes have a very large percentage of students identified as special education and or LD (approx. 53% in each class). In these classes of nineteen to twenty-four students with learning and developmental problems tend to blend into the background and they rarely participate in class activities. Since they are not actively engaged in class discussions and interactions, they rarely master the material and their test scores rarely reflect what they have actually learned.


Individuals Involved in this case study The diversity and multicultural make-up of students and staff at this school bring a wide variety life experiences and expertise to this study. The team of specialists participating in this study included classroom teachers, special education support staff, a school psychologist, counselors, student mentors, HILT teachers, technology resource specialists and of course the students themselves. While all of these members had

roles, the amount of time and participation varied with each individuals responsibilities. The specific teachers directly involved in this case-study include the classroom teachers (both English and social studies) a special education resource teacher, an Asperger resource assistant, an instructional technology coordinator and a HILT specialist. The classroom teachers play the biggest role. They are responsible for planning, organizing, and implementing the lessons. The teachers also meet with the SPED coordinator once

a week to discuss specific differentiated lessons that address the specific accommodations required by students IEP or 504 plans. The special education resource teacher works directly with special education students to ensure that all of their


required accommodations are being met she/he also works with other students as needed. HILT and ESOL resource assistants provide additional support as needed. The Instructional Technology Coordinator provides technology support as needed or requested, and he ensures that the necessary technology is functioning properly and available as requested. The roles and amount of time each of these participants contribute varies, but when taken together they form a very effective and cohesive group to ensure positive and timely support for the case study. Technology Based-Solution The technology-based solutions which will be used in the case study are as follows: 1. Blogs-a whole class educational blog will utilize school district blogging resources. Activities and blog prompts will be created based on state mandated knowledge required by the end of course Standards of Learning Test. Students will have access to

the prompts via the class website, and they will have two days to respond to a prompt of their choice. They will also be required to respond to at least three other classmates responses and engage in a back and forth dialogue.


2. Wiki-Students will be assigned to mixed ability groups and each group will be assigned a specific topic from the required information to be mastered. Each member of the group will be assigned a specific responsibly, and these roles will rotate at specific intervals during the term. The purpose of the WIKI will be a comprehensive and complete record of student participation throughout the term. The WIKI will also provide a smaller group environment for members to discuss and engage in further discussion about their assigned topic. 3. Security and password protected sites will be utilized to ensure student safety. Students will also be provided both an

in person and on-line briefing about personal and Internet Netiquette and personal safety. Researched-Based Evidence Many studies on the use of the Internet and multimedia based projects have been conducted, which consider their effectiveness and value in education and student achievement (Rivero, 2010).

results and conclusions vary, but they do share some common results:

All internet and computer based assignments including Blogs and Wikis have drawbacks.

Proper planning and desired outcomes must be clearly addressed and expressed.


Educators must move away from traditional methods of assessment and learn and implement the technology-based resources available in the twenty-first century classroom (Bryant,2010). Multimedia and internet-based assignments are the choice for the twenty-first century and the traditional methods of using technology in education must change in order to meet the evolving culture and diverse needs of the connected generation. Only by adapting these new technologies will all

teachers be able to help all students, especially mainstreamed special education students, to reach their potential (Tucker, 2009). Classroom blogs can and are very effective in extending the education experience outside the classroom. For class blogs to

be effective, teachers must establish clear guidelines and acceptable behaviors. This goes beyond traditional education and focuses on not only teaching the curriculum, but also on addressing the social and emotional aspects of individuals. The introduction of blogs creates a new learning environment and fosters a sense of community where students find it necessary to become self-directed learners and thinkers. This encourages students to use higher order thinking skills as they create and post entries in their blogs, along with commenting on other students blogs. (McGlinn, Lee, (2012)


In another example, Tucker (2009) concludes that the traditional methods of testing, such as the Norm Referenced Test and the Criterion Referenced Test, are outdated and no longer provide a clear or accurate measure of student learning and comprehension. They only measure a small portion of student knowledge and do not address students higher order learning skills, as described in Blooms (revised)taxonomy (Forehand, (2005) (fig 1.),and Buehls(2007)questioning matrix (Fig 1a) specifically, students ability to analyze, synthesize, and critique information, and to apply it to real life situations.

(fig 1)


(fig 1a) Wikis in the secondary Social Studies classroom provide students with the opportunity to actively contribute meaningful information to the internet. Wikis shift the educational process from the traditional teacher centered model to the student centered model of learning. In one study, student performance in high school history classes was evaluated by observing students involved in traditional activities and those involved in Internet based activities such as wikis and Blogs (McGlinn, Lee (2012). The results suggested that students engaged in the constructivist or Internet based learning had greater motivation


and demonstrated greater retention and deeper understanding than those students who engaged in teacher directed instruction (McGlinn, Lee (2012). The fact that students had to construct responses to the Wiki, as well as the Wikis of fellow students, helped students to link content, and develop a deeper understanding of the material and how the different events and ideas were connected to form the big picture (Heafner, Friedman, (2008). The integration and use of blogs and Wikis, encourages and promotes students higher order thinking skills (Cheng and Chau, (2011). All of the available tools discussed encourage and help

educators move from the traditional teacher-directed mode of instruction to the much more interactive student-centered model of learning. The results in almost every case showed increased student involvement, understanding and achievement by all categories of students, but the results were even more positive for the Special Education students. This is a direct result of the anonymity that the Internet provides. This anonymity helps the Special Education students

gain confidence and overcome their traditional lack of selfconfidence. The new found confidence they gain from actively

participating in on-line activities and discussions can be


traced to their more active participation during in-class discussions and activities. The findings also proved that the use of blogs and Wikis can help motivate students to think outside the box and expand their responses from simple answers while helping to develop better communication, and higher order thinking skills (Sipress and Voelker (2009). Finally, as teachers integrate new technology requirements such as blogs and Wikis. They must focus on non-traditional testing techniques such as authentic assessment in the evaluation of student centered learning (Prestidge and Glaser, (2000).



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