The emerging and widespread use of technology to support persons with disabilities is evident by the growing number of studies investigating the use of technology-based interventions (Goldsmith & LeBlanc, 2004), including mobile technologies (Mechling, 2011). Much of the most recent research on the use of such technology has focused on a heterogeneous group of students who have a diagnosis of moderate/severe intellectual disability (reflected by IQ scores below 50) and/or autism spectrum disorder (MSID/ASD). As technology begins to permeate educational programming, school psychology trainers and practitioners alike need to identify the most promising and helpful tools that can be deployed readily within classroom contexts to assist in supporting the education of students with MSID/ASD. Part of that process not only involves awareness of available technologies, but also awareness and understanding of the extant research literature that supports their use. As such, this article examines how technology, specifically mobile technologies, can be used to support and teach students with MSID/ASD to be more independent.
The awareness and understanding of the use of mobile technologies for individuals with MSID/ASD has particular relevance to the field of school psychology, as practitioners increasingly have been called on to support the educational needs of students with low incidence disabilities (especially those with ASD; see Sansosti and Sansosti in this issue). Moreover, it is highly likely that parents and advocates frequently request the use of mobile technologies within school-based settings due to the proliferation of inexpensive devices (e.g., iPads) and dedicated applications geared to students with MSID/ASD. In fact, many parents report their child's fascination with and propensity for learning from visually based media, such as computers (Nally, Houlton, & Ralph, 2000). In addition, recent research has identified that individuals with MSID/ASD not only demonstrate significant skill acquisition when taught using mobile technologies, but also prefer instruction delivered through such devices (e.g., Shane & Albert, 2008). As such, contemporary practice within school psychology requires practitioners to gain competencies in understanding and advocating for the use of mobile technologies for students with MSID/ASD in schools. Unfortunately, the initial training and ongoing professional development in principles and applications of technology for supporting the education of students with MSID/ASD that school psychologists receive is minimal at best, and, nonexistent at worst. By increasing their awareness and understanding of how technology can improve outcomes, school psychologists likely will be able to contribute valuable prevention and intervention ideas that will assist with developing a more thorough evidence-based instructional program for students with MSID/ASD. Given the focus of this special issue, we will attempt to comment on ways that school psychologists can assist with the integration of technology into educational programs and ongoing interventions, as well as within students’ Individualized Educational Plans. Although this cannot serve as a step-by-step strategy that will work for all students in all situations, we hope that by calling attention to the role that mobile technologies can play and the evidence in support of their use, we can raise awareness of strategies that will be effective for students with MSID/ASD and, in turn, help service providers consider technology options for all students.
Foundation for Educational Programming
Before proceeding, it is important to better define the context of our focus on how to employ mobile technologies as part of the educational program for students with MSID/ASD. Essentially, our discussion hinges on two main strategies that serve as important guidelines for service delivery. First, it is important to utilize the criterion of ultimate functioning, which is defined as: “an ever changing, expanding, localized, and personalized cluster of factors that each person must possess in order to function as productively and independently as possible in socially, vocationally, and domestically integrated adult community environments” (Brown, Nietupski, & Hamre-Nietupski, 1976, p. 8). Currently, outcomes for individuals with MSID/ASD lag far behind the criterion of ultimate functioning. Second, it is important to incorporate the criterion of the least dangerous assumption, which specifies that “in the absence of conclusive data, educational decisions ought to be based on assumptions which, if incorrect, will have the least dangerous effect on the likelihood that students will be able to function independently as adults” (Donnellan, 1984, p. 141). The latter assumption is necessary because the rapid evolution of educational technologies make it increasingly difficult to determine what works best; for example, the iPad became popular in schools soon after it was released and well before research could be conducted on its long-term effectiveness. Because both of these elements are dynamic, truly achieving and sustaining the criterion of ultimate functioning and the criterion of the least dangerous assumption are not possible without an equally purposeful educational plan. However, we will focus on the ideas of maximum independence and productivity to illustrate the roles technology can play in helping to foster this level of inclusion.
Life Skills and Long-Term Outcomes of Students with MSID/ASD
Life skills are those skills needed to realize a productive daily life. They include everything from toileting, grooming, and other personal care to banking and money management skills, grocery shopping, and communication and social skills. Unfortunately, limited acquisition of such skills likely prevents individuals with MSID/ASD from functioning independently within community-based settings. More obviously, limited social understanding, misinterpretation of social cues, and an inability to understand others’ perspectives will make it tremendously difficult for individuals with MSID/ASD to develop and maintain long-standing interpersonal relationships. Taken together, individuals with MSID/ASD likely remain dependent on others for life-long care and are unable to be self-productive members of society.
In terms of employment, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Survey-2, for recent graduates (up to 4 years out of high school), only 51.8% of individuals with intellectual disability (any level) and 66.4% of individuals with ASD were gainfully employed outside of the home (Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009). Pulling from the same data set, Bouck (2012) narrowed the focus to include only individuals with a moderate to severe intellectual disability and found the employment outcomes were quite bleak—69.2% of this group were not employed within 2 years after high school. In terms of living situations, only 22.1% of individuals with an intellectual disability and 27.6% of individuals with ASD had lived on their own in the 2 years following high school graduation. Moreover, 13% of individuals with an intellectual disability and 22% of individuals with ASD had lived in a group home or some other supervised living arrangement. Sadly, when Bouck isolated those individuals with moderate to severe disabilities, she found that 97% of the group was living in a dependent situation (i.e., a caregiver was required to assist them daily).
Employment and living situations are merely two post-school variables by which to judge quality-of-life outcomes. These two factors are highlighted here to help illustrate the degree of dependence and lack of integration into typical life events experienced by individuals with MSID/ASD. Dependence and limited engagement in work come with social costs to the dignity of the individual, as well as financial burdens for families and, in some cases, the government. At up to 8 years after high school, of those adults reporting living either independently or semi-independently, almost 48.4% with an intellectual disability and 33.6% with ASD relied on food stamps. In terms of social engagement, 28.3% of individuals with an intellectual disability and 50.8% of those with ASD reported participating in any clubs, religious services, or volunteer work in the previous year (Newman et al., 2009). This level of isolation diminishes the quality of life and reduces opportunities that could lead to employment and further skill development.
Increasing employment through skill building, support, and opportunity, while helping individuals become proficient in the tasks required to safely and happily live independently, would have the dual effect of easing these burdens on families and the government while at the same time contributing to the general well-being of the individual. Technology clearly can play a role in supporting instruction to increase opportunities for employment and independent living. Another, more nebulous role that technology can play is in the area of self-determination. Wehmeyer (1996) described self-determination as acting as the primary causal agent in one's life and making choices and decisions regarding one's quality of life free from undue external influence of interference” (p. 24). Self-determination, according to Wehmeyer, includes several components, including choice making, problem solving, self-instruction, self-advocacy, and self-awareness. High levels of self-determination correlate positively with enhanced quality of life for individuals with MSID/ASD (Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998). The remainder of our discussion focuses on the evidence-based ways that mobile technology can help with improved skill development, as well as ways that mobile technology can lead to growth in some of the components of self-determination.
Roles for Mobile Technology
Broadly, technology is no different from any other tool. The power comes not from what it is, but rather how it is used. Technology cannot help with everything, but skilled application of technology can increase many areas of independence for students with MSID/ASD. Beginning with the broad term of assistive technology that was first codified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004), Part B, Section 612, (1), the definition simply states that assistive technology is: “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities” (Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988; IDEA: 20 U.S.C. Part A, Section 602). This definition was modified further under the IDEA in 2004 to exclude any surgically implanted medical devices. Although this definition captures just about anything imaginable, using the terms of IDEA, we will separate it into two different, but overlapping, applications: (a) instructional technology and (b) assistive technology. Instructional technology explicitly is used to teach skills. Once the skills are learned, the technology is no longer necessary and, therefore, is not utilized. For example, a software program designed to teach typing concepts and/or keyboarding would fall into the category of instructional technology, as it was used to teach a specific skill. Assistive technology, on the other hand, most often plays a role in the ongoing support of an individual who is completing a task. A digital reminder that triggers a vibrating alarm and alerts the user to take his or her medicine would be an example of assistive technology. Combining and interweaving these two ideas into how technology is applied for students with MSID/ASD can help in conceptualizing how to best build an instructional program. Although there is a range of commercially available products that fall into each of these broad categories, we focus instead on those tools or applications that are freely available (often part of the mobile device operating system) that teachers, parents, and other service providers can customize to meet an individual's needs. This is not to ignore the effective commercially available software; rather, it is to focus attention on those practices that have emerged in the literature that are easy to implement and do not require the purchase of specialized and, at times, costly software.
Mobile Technology and Skill Instruction
An emerging literature base is exploring the potential of mobile technology as an instructional tool. Largely, mobile technologies have been used to deliver video or photographic support to learners (Mechling, 2011). Initial work with mobile technology focused on using portable DVD players to present video models of tasks to individuals with MSID/ASD. For example, Mechling, Gast, and Fields (2008) combined a portable DVD player with a system of least prompts procedure to teach cooking tasks to a group of young adults with moderate intellectual disability who acquired and maintained task performance. As technology has shifted away from optical media and in favor of smaller, more mobile, devices, several researchers have used techniques similar to Mechling et al. to deliver video modeling instruction in settings where skills are needed (i.e, kitchen environment), rather than with a student sitting at a television or computer in a classroom setting. For example, Van Laarhoven, Johnson, Van Laarhoven-Myers, Grider, and Grider (2009) used a video-prompting procedure on an iPod to help instruct a young man with developmental disabilities to complete vocational tasks in a competitive work setting. Mechling, Gast and Seid (2009) adapted this approach with a personal digital assistant to teach cooking skills to a group of individuals with ASD and to a group of students with moderate intellectual disability (Mechling, Gast, & Seid, 2010) when using both video and photographic prompts. Similarly, Mechling and Seid (2011) used video and photographic prompts on a personal digital assistant (PDA) to assist pedestrian travel by students with moderate intellectual disability. More recently, Walser, Ayres, and Foote (2012) used an iPhone and a video-modeling procedure to instruct a group of high school students with moderate intellectual disability to prepare food.
These studies have used technology to deliver video-based instruction in the form of models (where a learner views an entire task sequence and then is asked to complete the task), as well as prompts (where only individual steps of a task are shown as part of an instructional sequence). Traditionally, there have been hosts of other response-prompting procedures to teach similar types of skills (e.g., constant and progressive time delay, system of least prompts, most-to-least prompting etc.; Wolery, Ault, & Doyle, 1992). The power of technology comes in its ability to: (a) provide multiple sets of materials and equipment (i.e., in a community or classroom setting, a teacher does not have access to multiple sets of materials, such as two sets of washing machines and dryers); (b) provide a repeated “perfect” model every time it is needed; (c) allow the individual to rewind and review the video instruction as often as needed; and (d) remove some of the burdens associated with modeling tasks in vivo. Without technology, if educators wanted to model an individual step and then ask students to perform it, they would have to ask the students to watch them complete the step and then undo the step. Consider the scenario whereby an educator prompts the student to open the lid to a washing machine. The educator might secure the student's attention and then lift the lid. He or she would have to then close the lid for the student to have an opportunity to imitate the step. If the student imitates exactly what was modeled, then the student would open the lid and immediately close it, not the desired response! With technology, educators can use a single set of materials demonstrated on a video and simply show the step that needs to be completed. In addition, with a video model used on a mobile device (and shared between teachers, parents, etc.), the student has the advantage of seeing the exact same demonstration of the task, regardless of who is trying to teach the skill. This has the advantage of increasing procedural fidelity and improving learning.
In short, the work with mobile technology has tended to focus on the use of the technology as an instructional support for teaching chained tasks in the areas of life skills and vocational/employment skills. The examples provided earlier all relied on video as the primary prompting support, but both photographs and audio prompting, via mobile devices, also are evidenced in the literature (Cihak, Wright, & Ayres, 2010; Davies, Stock, & Wehmeyer, 2002). Cihak, Kessler, and Alberto (2007, 2008) reported on the use of a hand-held prompting system designed to improve independent transition between tasks. The system consisted of pictures and audio, with task directions, on a PDA. Students learned to use the system to prompt themselves between activities. Improvements in transitioning like this have been similarly accomplished with lower-tech picture schedules (e.g. Carson, Gast, & Ayres, 2008; Spriggs, Gast, & Ayres, 2007). The difference with Cihak et al. (2010), aside from the technology itself, is that technology, for many students, is motivating and preferred (Mechling & Seid, 2011).
In 2005, Taber-Doughty conducted a study to compare the differential effects of a system of least prompts procedure and self-prompting with pictures with self-prompting with audio cues (only the auditory prompting would be considered mobile technology). The use of self-auditory prompting has been documented previously (Alberto, Sharpton, Briggs, & Stright, 1986), but in the 2005 study, Taber-Doughty considered student preference (i.e. choice, an aspect of self-determination) for prompting systems and discovered that the students tended to perform best with the prompting system they favored. Although this may not hold true in all cases, when it comes to technology and wanting to “fit in,” or at least not stand out, educators may find that using something that looks more typical (e.g., smartphone) may aid learning and that providing students with an opportunity for choice may, in itself, help promote more self-determined behavior.
Mobile Technology and Self-Determination
Clearly, learning new skills using mobile technology is a positive outcome that could potentially feed into aspects of self-determination. For example, if a student has a larger repertoire of skills, he or she may have a greater sense of self-efficacy (one of the components of self-determination cited by Wehmeyer, 1996). However, mobile technology goes beyond this because in addition to teaching skills, it can provide valuable ways to promote self-management and self-instruction. In terms of self-management, Cihak et al. (2008) demonstrated that mobile technology could be used to assist students with following tasks in a sequence in much the same way many professionals use calendars or to-do lists. Cihak, Fahrenkrog, Ayres, and Smith (2010) replicated these findings by substituting video for the photographs. In the context of a withdrawal design (ABAB), four students with ASD demonstrated better performance with the support than without. The students did not become more independent per se, but they learned to use a system to self-manage their behavior and meet classroom expectations in a general education setting. The portability of the technology combined with the fact that it supplanted a teacher assistant (who would often be assigned to keep a student on task) allowed for a more positive inclusive experience. Mechling and Savidge (2011) also found that their use of a PDA with multiple prompt levels (i.e., pictures, video, audio) increased the ability of three students with ASD to self-manage and transition between tasks within their independent work sessions.
A second, very prominent benefit of mobile technology is its use for self-instruction. Today, when most individuals are confronted with a task that they do not know how to perform, they have the problem-solving skills (another feature of self-determination) to seek out resources, such as reading a reference manual, searching the Internet for instructions, or watching a YouTube video to help them complete the task. Having portable technologies readily available allows persons to self-instruct, which is another feature of self-determination. Bereznak, Ayres, Mechling, and Alexander (2012a, 2012b), building on work by Mechling et al. (2010), taught two high school students with autism how to operate an iPhone to prompt themselves through two daily living tasks and one vocational task. Another participant did not have the motor ability to operate the iPhone for himself, so the teacher mediated the prompting. The demonstrated benefit is that once students learn to use a system, they can build their own skill repertoire, as needed, by using that single set of skills (i.e., using a smartphone) to work their way through a novel task. Further, the flexibility of the technology allowed the teacher to use it for one set of students in one way and then individualize delivery of the system for a third student.
Although mobile technology will not provide all students with a means to self-manage and self-instruct, it can provide a flexible way for educators to build a variety of supports from which many students can benefit. The value of these self-management and instructional supports goes beyond the potential for learning and staying on task. Whereas many students with MSID/ASD participate on the margins of school activities and do not have as many opportunities to successfully engage with their peers without disabilities, technology has the potential for bridging this gap by serving as a common medium shared by their peers. Mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets, are pervasive, and their presence in a learning environment, lunchroom, hallway, or other school setting blends in more readily than teachers walking beside a student with small photo albums or laminated card stock with picture prompts. In addition to their mainstream acceptability, the use of mobile technologies has the potential for increasing social opportunities of students with MSID/ASD through contact with peers or other individuals by using avenues such as emails and text messaging. Social media, including blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, may also provide opportunities for ongoing, instant, social interactions with persons who share common interests.
Training Mobile Technology Use
The full potential of technology cannot be realized if educators and students do not know how to use the technology to enhance learning. One of the first caveats for introduction of technology to a student is that one cannot expect the student to learn from the technology until the student is taught to use it. Although this seems obvious on the surface, more than one educator has turned away a piece of assistive technology because it “did not work for the student,” when, in reality, the student was not taught to use the technology in the appropriate way. Walser et al. (2012) evaluated video modeling for teaching a group of three high school students, each diagnosed with a moderate intellectual disability, how to use an iPhone. They indicated that two of the three participants had never touched a smartphone before. This may have contributed to their reluctance to use the iPhone during baseline due to a fear of breaking it. Because of this, the first author demonstrated the durability of the iPhone to the students by striking it on the table. Their lack of training and hesitation to use the technology was quickly alleviated following the instructor's demonstration. This may have contributed an adaptation threat, as baseline responding was low until the first author smacked the phone on the table several times to show them that they were unlikely to damage the phone (Bereznak et al., 2012b).
Teaching students with video modeling as Walser et al. (2012) did, however, is limited in that it still requires direct intervention of adults in the environment to provide support. Bereznak et al. (2012a) sought a means to teach a group of high-school-aged students with ASD to use mobile technology to complete a novel task. Wanting to ensure that students were appropriately relying on the phone for video supports prior to requiring them to use the phone to learn the target tasks for the study, Bereznak et al. created a series of three simple assembly tasks. When completing each step of these three tasks, it was not possible for students to infer the next step because the models developed were completely contrived. This resulted in the students learning to refer to the phone to see the next step and, then, responding accordingly. Students were verbally prompted and physically guided as needed, as they learned to use the iPhone to complete the assemblies.
In another series of studies focused on training technology use, Hammond, Whatley, Ayres, and Gast (2010) simply used video modeling on a laptop to teach a group of adolescents with intellectual disabilities to access different features of an iPod. Hammond, Muething, Ayres, and Gast (in review) replicated this procedure with a group of students with ASD. In each case, systematic direct instruction and video modeling resulted in skill acquisition.
An important point of recognition gained from these studies is that none departed from fundamentally sound direct systematic instruction to teach students how to use the technology to self-instruct or self-manage. Assuming that educators are well versed in systematic instruction (behavioral instructional procedures such as time delay, least-to-most prompting, graduated guidance), the next step would be to identify what, if any, advantage technology may have in a given instructional situation, followed by teaching the students to use the technology. Other student support personnel, such as school psychologists, are well positioned to raise awareness of the possibility that technology solutions are available that can enhance learning, lead to more self-determined behavior, and distally impact postschool outcomes. The challenge then is to work collaboratively with educational teams to identify which technologies may be best suited for the learner and to provide the necessary training in its use.
Technology on the Horizon
Most information written about technology is dated the moment it is published. Although the summaries of the extant research provided in this article regarding existing mobile technologies and their fundamental interventions have remained fairly constant over the past 10 years, new possibilities are forthcoming. Methodologies covered here certainly will evolve to take advantage of new technologies, resulting in differing procedures and applications for educators.
Some of this evolution will capitalize on hardware advances. For example, most smartphones now have global positioning system (GPS) capabilities. This allows for a range of options for teaching community navigation. Whereas previously intensive community and classroom video simulation training was used to teach skills such as using public transit (Mechling & O'Brien, 2010), new methods already are being pioneered that rely on the use of the GPS capabilities (Davies, Stock, Holloway, & Wehmeyer, 2010). GPS technology can be tied to other features of a smartphone to trigger events based on location. For example, in Apple's iOS (iPhone), alarms can be set based on geographic location to deliver text-based reminders. This is a technology that could, in theory, be adopted to provide location-specific supports in the form of audio or video prompts for nonreaders. This could lead to enhanced opportunities for self-management, as well as self-instruction.
Another technology that is beginning to be explored as a means to provide instructional support is referred to as covert audio coaching (bug-in-ear). Bennett, Brady, Scott, Dukes, and Frain (2010) presented a set of procedures using mobile technologies to provide audio prompts to individuals working in supported employment. The advantage in this situation is that individuals in supported employment do not have to have their teacher or job coach right next to them. Instead, the instructor can stand away from the area (thus allowing more natural social interaction) and provide audio support as needed. With a smartphone and a Bluetooth headset, this is a simple procedure to adopt and, again, blends in with the environment. In addition, Google has recently circulated video demonstration teasers of their Project Glass, referred to as “Google Glasses,” that is still in development. The glasses include a video camera that faces outward toward the environment and can transmit information regarding what the user sees. Likewise, the user is able to view, within the lenses of the glasses, information overlaying on the environment (e.g., address to a building). Combining the features of the glasses with a teacher positioned remotely, an individual with MSID/ASD would have even greater flexibility to receive feedback and coaching while engaging in a task without the proximity of their trainer, who may impede social interactions. Similar developments are being explored in the area of augmented reality (using technology to “overlay” information on a naturally occurring situation). For example, Escobedo et al. (2012) reported using an augmented reality system to support younger children with ASD with engagement in appropriate social interactions on the playground. The system incorporated a curriculum called Social Compass (Boyd, McReynolds & Chanin, 2010) and provided students with prompts and cues, as well as a self-assessment component, for students to rate the quality of their own engagement after each episode.
What will develop in the next 2 to 3 years related to technology is uncertain. Innovators of technology already are recognizing and acknowledging the marketing opportunities surrounding the field of ASD. Further, as the baby boomer generation ages and requires more assistance to maintain their day-to-day activities (including cognitively demanding tasks), the market for technology products will undoubtedly increase to support their needs. This aging population of adults who have the resources to purchase more technology to enhance their lives increases the likelihood that a flood of new software and hardware products will be available in the near future that will have application to the lives of those with MSID/ASD.
Considerations for the Future of School Psychology
The rapid and constant pace of change in technology is creating both opportunities and barriers for the field of school psychology. Opportunities related to practice include better methods for customizing instruction and providing “just-in-time” supports, which previously may have required constant adult presence (e.g., one-on-one paraprofessionals). Along these same lines, the application of mobile technologies for students with MSID/ASD provides the opportunity for the school psychologist to step back from providing direct support. That is, once a school psychologist trains the student(s) or consults indirectly with educators on how to use the strategies or instructional techniques to enhance classroom learning, they reduce the demand for their expertise in developing, implementing, and monitoring the intervention within classroom contexts from start to finish. In so doing, the school psychologist likely has created more time for collecting and analyzing meaningful data, with the added benefit of increasing opportunities to follow up with educators on the progress of interventions for students. Such an indirect approach permits students with MSID/ASD an opportunity to learn with tools that (more or less) ensure faithful delivery of instruction, which, in turn, creates greater independence. Whether this includes a self-monitoring system to cue students to evaluate and record their own behavior or applications that deliver instructional prompts, by embracing and promoting the use of mobile technologies, school psychologists can work both effectively and efficiently.
Taking advantage of these and other emerging opportunities requires school psychologists to use and explore technology continually, as the rapid pace of change can create significant challenges for the field. To begin with, schools (both university campuses and kindergarten to Grade 12 buildings) are forever playing technological catch up as digital innovations emerge that require ongoing upgrading of the technological infrastructure (e.g., access to devices with increased processor speeds, increased bandwidth to run complex online applications). Some locations may be adept at keeping up with these changes (typically those with greater financial resources), whereas others are falling further behind, creating a divide based largely on the quality of educational technology. Moreover, there exists an equal divide in the number of highly trained professionals who have access to the latest technologies and are prepared to train future school psychologists and/or provide ongoing professional development and technical assistance to practitioners in the use of mobile technologies. As a result, there exists the possibility that some training programs in school psychology, as well as current districts employing practitioners, will be better suited to embrace, use, and evolve their technology applications to benefit students with MSID/ASD. Although such inequities may take years to overcome, there are several strategies/approaches that both trainers of school psychology and current practitioners can use to keep evolving.
School Psychology Trainers
The relative ubiquitousness of computers in everyday life, combined with the ever-evolving expansion of computer-based technologies, requires that future school psychologists be competent in using technology in the delivery of services in schools. In fact, elements of technology now permeate each of the 10 broad preparation standards within the most recent Standards for Graduate Preparation of School Psychologists (National Association of School Psychologists, 2010). As such, it is important for trainers of school psychologists to consider how best to prepare students with an understanding of both the broad aspects of technological applications (e.g., data gathering and storage, data-based decision making, communication,) and, as it relates to this article, the more narrow application of intervention supports for students with MSID/ASD.
First, trainers should examine how formal instruction on the research support for and application of mobile technologies can be embedded within existing, required intervention courses. Technology-specific courses likely may be insufficient to train future practitioners how to best use technology to support learning because, in these courses, technology becomes an abstraction where it is taught without specific regard to practices or context. Rather, technology supports embedded in courses on (traditional) intervention may prove more fruitful if trainers model and explain a traditional intervention and then demonstrate and/or incorporate technology-based examples of that same intervention. For example, training discrete trial instructional procedures or time-delay techniques using traditional materials can be paralleled with the software that is available for mobile technologies that incorporate those same techniques. By learning the foundational procedures, they understand how and why a technique works and then by observing a technological application of it, can better explain how that tool can support learning. In doing so, practitioners stand a better chance of understanding the relationship and value of the technological application and, in turn, are better equipped to justify the inclusion of technology in support plans.
Second, trainers should consider opportunities for co-teaching content within a variety of courses. For example, school psychology trainers may wish to make attempts either to directly co-teach or team with expert speakers, who possess a strong background in the use and application of technology in education (e.g., instructors/practitioners from instructional technology or educational psychology). The content of such collaborations should focus on interventions and instructional supports that can develop academic, behavioral, and social–emotional skills for students with MSID/ASD.
Third, trainers may wish to require specialized projects during practicum and internship that require students to utilize various mobile technologies with students with disabilities and/or those who are at-risk for academic, behavioral, or social–emotional failure. Such projects should focus on the development, implementation, data collection, and evaluation of the use of mobile technologies. This application not only has the benefit of teaching students the logistics of intervention development and implementation, but also has the added benefit of demonstrating to field-based supervisors how the research conducted at the university level can be applied effectively within a classroom context. In addition to such projects serving as a teaching tool, trainers should encourage students to use such projects as demonstrations and/or pilot studies and publish results in research-to-practice outlets (e.g., School Psychology Forum, Communiqué, Intervention in School and Clinic) or as research briefs in more scholarly journals.
Ongoing Professional Development for Current Practitioners
Given the push for increased use of technology in classrooms, combined with similar requests by parents and advocates for educators to use a variety of technological supports for students with MSID/ASD within the school context, there exists a need for current practitioners to engage in a host of ongoing professional development activities. As such, the field of school psychology is similar to all other service-oriented professions in that practitioners must continually seek to strengthen and broaden their skill set to remain relevant and effective. With a strong theoretical foundation and competence in applying traditional methods, school psychologists have the fundamental tools to continue their professional growth and incorporate new technologies. The challenge becomes how to access and learn about these technologies.
Perhaps the quickest way to gain immediate information about emerging technologies is through attendance at professional conferences. Although conference sessions typically excel at providing attendees breadth, they often fall short in delivering in-depth information and practice with technological tools. Given this limitation, technology-specific conferences likely will offer workshops and trainings allowing attendees an opportunity to explore the available technologies and observe applications of such within a variety of contexts. However, there remains a caution that echoes what we indicated was true related to technology-specific courses: there is a danger in the technology becoming an abstraction, where the focus is more on the technology than on how it relates to practice.
Another, less structured, strategy is to allot time over the year to explore software demonstrations that often are available free of charge online or in device-specific “app stores.” This clearly places the onus on the practitioner to seek out different mobile technology applications (not to mention that the practitioner needs to have the basic skills to load software, etc.). However, this approach does not differ significantly from turning to research journals when needing assistance with an intervention technique, except that the practitioner must rely on the criterion of the least dangerous assumption. Finding potential interventions is not likely the greatest challenge. Instead, the challenge rests in separating those that are likely to work from those that are unlikely to benefit a student. This is where the school psychologist's training and understanding of traditional intervention supports become critical. Applying knowledge of other analog interventions may allow the school psychologist to identify supports that are worthy of further exploration and trial application with a student.
Finally, efforts should be made to create collaborative projects that benefit both researchers and practitioners. That is, researchers/consultants who have familiarity with mobile technologies may work with schools to develop a supportive infrastructure. Both the school psychologist and researcher/consultant can work together to identify the needs of buildings (or the larger district) and align those technologies that best meet the needs of students. Once the needs are identified, the researcher/consultant can provide ongoing training with school psychologists and other student support services personnel. Once this small team of individuals has the foundation, they can provide a trainer-of-trainers approach to others within their building(s). While the building (district) teams are implementing mobile technologies with students, the researcher/consultant can provide ongoing, supportive technical assistance (e.g., troubleshooting difficulties, modeling application of strategies, observing the schools progression). In so doing, it is likely that schools can increase their capacity to use mobile technologies to support the education of students with MSID/ASD, as well as provide the much-needed applied research.
Successful integration of technology into a student's educational plan requires understanding of the student's strengths and weakness, knowledge of the student's needs, and an awareness of available technology. Whether the technology is incorporated to help teach a specific skill or designed to support greater independence via self-monitoring or self-instruction, school psychologists, teachers, and other student support service providers need to be comfortable and knowledgeable with regard to technology to deploy it successfully. The literature base on evidence-based practices likely will always lag behind the newest innovations. However, when those innovations (such as the augmented reality system previously mentioned) are based on other evidence-based practices and incorporate the techniques and procedures of those, then these new innovations become reasonable tools to include within educational plans. The challenge will be maintaining knowledge about what technology is available and what evidence exists to support the use of that technology with differing populations of students.
Realizing that most adults engage with mobile technology on a daily basis to complete essential daily living tasks (i.e., use of recipes on an iPad cooking application; setting an alarm clock on a smartphone; looking at maps on an iPhone for navigation), there already exists a general awareness concerning the capabilities of technology. It now becomes a matter of seeing how that technology can assist with instruction or provide aid with daily supports for individuals with MSID/ASD. Understanding the context in which mobile technologies are used daily for typical mundane tasks, but in ways that make those tasks easier, may reveal ways that school psychologists can use these technologies to support individuals with MSID/ASD. Providing all students with a chance to learn from and engage in the self-directed behaviors that many adults take for granted (finding answers to your own questions, teaching yourself new things, keeping track of your appointments) is part of the fundamentals of independent living. New developments in technology continually will lead to easier and more powerful ways to exploit these supports. By capitalizing on the instructional capacity that becomes possible with technology and the potential to use the technology as an ongoing support, individuals with MSID/ASD may achieve greater levels of independence, approaching the criterion of ultimate functioning. In doing so, they may achieve a higher quality of life and allow resources to be directed toward other areas of need.
There are obvious barriers that are present when incorporating technology. These include acquisition costs, maintenance costs, keeping all devices electrically powered and available for daily use, and meeting the individualized challenges and needs of students when “one size (device) does not fit all.” In the end, however, increasing independence can help mitigate these factors if the technology truly leads to greater independence and enhanced productivity. To this end, no new teaching procedure or technology should be implemented without a sound plan for evaluating and monitoring its effectiveness. Documenting failures, as well as successes, and conducting rigorous research are important for ensuring that sound practices are applied to the education of all students.