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Seesaw That! Special Education Teachers' Thoughts About Flexible Digital Tools

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Dr. Sue Anderson  

Learn how elementary special education teachers used Seesaw for active learning, formative assessment and home-school communication. This study of five teachers reveals how they developed and used knowledge (TPACK) and adaptive reasoning when implementing flexible technology tools to meet students' needs before and during the pandemic.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Attendees may want to download the Seesaw app (, but they can also access it on the web.
Topic: Online tools, apps & resources
Grade level: PK-5
Subject area: Special education
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
  • Provide alternative ways for students to demonstrate competency and reflect on their learning using technology.

Proposal summary


Digital tools such as Seesaw can support differentiated instruction, provide multiple modalities for representing content, increase student engagement in learning activities, and provide data to monitor progress toward learning goals in special education settings. Seesaw is a flexible web-based tool (with an app for mobile devices) that allows teachers to create engaging digital activities that allow students to easily create, combine, and share photos, drawings, text, audio recordings, videos, and links. According to surveys conducted by Seesaw (n.d.), educators agreed that the tool helped to engage students in learning and to assess progress over time. Another study showed that parents valued using Seesaw to see and comment on their child’s work (Willis & Exley, 2018).

The current study builds on previous research that investigated elementary and/or special education teachers' technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) and reasoning processes (Anderson & Putman 2019; Boschman, McKenny, & Voogt, 2014; Ciampa, 2017; Courduff, Szapkiw, & Wendt, 2016; Heitink, Voogt, Fisser, Verplanken, & van Braak, 2017). To learn to use a new technology effectively, teachers not only need to know about and be able to use the digital tool, but must also combine that technological knowledge with their pedagogical and content knowledge (Koehler, Mishra, & Cain, 2013). This combined knowledge allows teachers to effectively use technology to facilitate learning in particular content areas using appropriate instructional approaches (Brantley-Dias & Ertmer, 2013; Niess, 2011). This knowledge provides the basis for teachers' choices and actions; their pedagogical reasoning underlies planning, instruction, and evaluation, and their reflection on their experiences expands their knowledge base for teaching (Shulman, 1987). Successful teachers monitor the effectiveness of technology-enhanced learning activities and use their observations to plan future lessons (Kennedy & Deshler, 2010; King-Sears & Evmenova, 2007). By reflecting on these experiences, teachers may further develop their TPACK and technological pedagogical reasoning (TPR).


Five female elementary special education teachers at a private laboratory school for students with high-incidence disabilities participated in the study. Their teaching experience ranged from 1-46 years, with an average of 19 years. Four of the teachers had master’s degrees and one was working on a master’s degree. The teachers held or were working on degrees in elementary education and special education, and one held degrees in art and learning technologies. All of the participants were introduced to the Seesaw program in the summer of 2019.

The laboratory school is located on the campus of a private university in the southwestern United States. The school provided opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to observe, study, research, and participate in a high-quality educational program for children with learning differences and academic difficulties. The school assigned students to one of six grade levels according to their academic strengths and weaknesses, rather than chronological age. There were 8-12 students in each level. Approximately 60 students (about half boys and half girls), ranging in age from 6-13, attended the school. Most of the students exhibited characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, communication disorders, and/or autism.

The school had ample technology, with all academic classrooms having an interactive white board, projector, computer for the teacher, plus three desktop computers for student use. The art/technology teacher had 12 desktop computers and a large TV monitor connected to an Apple TV. All students had their own iPad. The teachers and students used a variety of apps, including Seesaw, as well as comprehensive programs such as Lexia and Mathletics. Parents could access Seesaw to view and comment on their child’s work.

Data Collection
Each participant was interviewed once at the beginning of the school year to collect preliminary information. They were subsequently interviewed twice during the academic year. The first interview was held in the classroom in the fall semester, within 6 hours of an observation of a lesson in which the teacher and students used Seesaw. A small digital video camera with a wide-angle lens was used to record the observations and a digital audio recorder captured the interviews. The second interview was conducted via Zoom at the end of the spring semester, after teachers had been instructing students virtually for about two months. Since observations were not possible due to COVID-19, the researcher selected 3-5 digital artifacts from the students’ Seesaw journals instead. During the interviews, the researcher questioned the teachers about their knowledge and reasoning related to planning, conducting, and evaluating the activities related to each observation or artifact. The audio recordings from the interviews were transcribed and analyzed as primary data sources. Video recordings, artifacts, field notes, and research journals were used for data triangulation.

Data Analysis
The researcher used qualitative thematic analysis techniques to identify patterns and themes in the interview transcripts. Dedoose ( was used to segment and code the data. The researcher and two graduate students reviewed each other’s coded excerpts, noted disagreements, and discussed them until reaching consensus. Coded excerpts will be exported to an Excel spreadsheet in order to sort, count, and select them by various coding categories. Data analysis is expected to be completed by December 2020.


Preliminary examination of the data suggests that most of the teachers were initially enthusiastic about using Seesaw and found it to be reliable and easy to use. They especially appreciated how Seesaw could be used for school-home communication. The parents enjoyed seeing their students’ work on Seesaw and the students liked it when their parents commented on their work. Seesaw provided a way to keep track of students’ progress over time and gave parents information about how their student was doing in school. Seesaw kept students work in one place and eliminated the problem of losing work done on paper. It also provided students with engaging activities and allowed them multiple ways to show their knowledge. Several teachers allowed students to choose from several activities or formats. Students could type, draw, take a photo, and/or record audio or video in responses to activities posted by the teacher. Seesaw also provided students with an opportunity to reflect on their work, self-assess their progress, and receive timely feedback from their teachers and parents.

The teachers relied on a variety of sources to learn about Seesaw, including an inservice workshop at the beginning of the year, online support information on the Seesaw website, the Seesaw activity library, and help from their colleagues. One of the participants served as a primary source of immediate technology help within the school and was described by another participant as a “godsend.” Teachers often experimented with or practiced using Seesaw before using it with their students. While Seesaw was relatively easy to use, there were times when logistical issues caused confusion. During the pandemic, the teachers met together via Zoom each morning and a “tech corner” was established on Seesaw for posting how-to videos and other helpful technology information. A Zoom meeting was also held for parents so that they could learn to navigate Seesaw and help their students with it during the pandemic.

Some of the teachers used Seesaw more extensively and in a greater variety of ways than others. The variability in the way that teachers and their students used Seesaw reflects the flexibility of the program as well as differences among the participants. Some teachers used the program minimally (e.g., having students take pictures of written work) while others used activities in the Seesaw library or made up their own Seesaw activities. When instruction shifted to the virtual realm during the pandemic, the teachers adapted their use of Seesaw to the situation. For example, prior to the pandemic, most teachers used Seesaw as a way of sharing students’ work with parents. However, during the pandemic, when students were learning from home, the parents were aware of what their students were doing, so the teachers began using Seesaw as a way to communicate the schedule, assignments, and instructions with the students and their parents. They also adapted in-person lessons to the online context. For example, instead of acting out commercials, the students created and posted a virtual billboard to advertise one of the 13 colonies, thus accomplishing the goal of the activity, but changing the format. The pandemic required flexibility, and also provided an opportunity to examine how the teachers used their knowledge and reasoning processes in light of changing circumstances and challenges.

The teachers made planning decisions and spontaneous in-the-moment decisions related to using Seesaw based upon a variety of information sources including their knowledge of Seesaw and other technologies, the curriculum, instructional objectives, pedagogical strategies, student characteristics, student behavior and work, and feedback from students and their parents. As the teachers implemented Seesaw for various purposes, they evaluated how well it worked (or didn’t) and made decisions about whether to carry on with, modify, or discontinue using Seesaw in that manner. For example, one teacher posted screencasts for her students on Seesaw, but after receiving feedback from them, decided to shorten the length of the videos to better maintain their attention. Teachers weighed the pros and cons of using various digital tools, tried them out, and selected the ones that worked best. They also used programs such as Mathletics, Notability, BrainPop, and Zoom for whole class instruction and individual tutorials. Although some teachers experimented with new tools, familiarity was an important technology-selection criterion during the pandemic.

The conference presentation and paper will provide descriptions of various creative and effective uses of Seesaw to support in-person and virtual learning, as well as specific examples of how the elementary special education teachers developed their knowledge and reasoned about using Seesaw and other related technologies before and during the pandemic. Overall, Seesaw was an effective digital tool for a special education setting and as its name suggests, was a useful way to convey digital information “back and forth” before and during the pandemic. However, Seesaw alone was not sufficient for communication during the pandemic. Teachers used multiple, and sometimes redundant means of communication, to exchange information with students and their parents.


This study provides insight into elementary special education teachers’ knowledge, reasoning, and action when planning for and implementing flexible and multimodal tools such as Seesaw. It contributes to the scarce body of knowledge on the application of the TPACK model in special education contexts. Understanding the thoughts and actions of elementary special education teachers regarding technology integration will help educators, technology coaches, and leaders better develop, provide, and engage in effective professional development that enhances teachers’ ability to use technology to support differentiated instruction, provide multiple modalities for representing content, increase student engagement in learning activities, provide data to monitor progress toward learning goals, and enhance home-school communication in special education settings.


Anderson, S. E., & Putman, R. S. (2019). Special education teachers’ experience, confidence, beliefs, and knowledge about integrating technology. Journal of Special Education Technology.

Boschman, F., McKenney, S., & Voogt, J. (2014). Understanding decision making in teachers’ curriculum design approaches. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(4), 393-416. 11423-014-9341-x

Brantley-Dias, L., & Ertmer, P. A. (2013). Goldilocks and TPACK: Is the construct “just right?” Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(2), 103-127. Retrieved from

Ciampa, K. (2017). Building bridges between technology and content literacy in special education: Lessons learned from special educators’ use of integrated technology and perceived benefits for students. Literacy Research and Instruction, 56(2), 85-113.

Courduff, J., Szapkiw, S., & Wendt, J. L. (2016). Grounded in what works: Exemplary practice in special education teachers’ technology integration. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(1), 26-38.

Heitink, M., Voogt, J., Fisser, P., Verplanken, L., & van Braak, J. (2017). Eliciting teachers’ technological pedagogical knowledge. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 33(3), 96-109.

Kennedy, M. J., & Deshler, D. D. (2010). Literacy instruction, technology, and students with learning disabilities: Research we have, research we need. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 33, 289-298.

King-Sears, M. E., & Evmenova, A. S. (2007). Premises, principles, and processes for integrating TECHnology into instruction. Teaching Exceptional Children, 40, 6–14.

Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., & Cain, W. (2013). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Journal of Education, 193(3), 13-19. Retrieved from

Niess, M. L. (2011). Investigating TPACK: Knowledge growth in teaching with technology. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(3), 299-317.

Seesaw Learning, Inc. (n.d.). Seesaw for schools efficacy study. Retrieved from

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.

Willis, L., & Exley, B. (2018). Using an online social media space to engage parents in student
learning in the early-years: Enablers and impediments. Digital Education Review, 33, 87-104.

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Dr. Sue Anderson, Texas Christian University

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