Building Inclusive Tech Plans for School and District Leaders

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Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Research papers are a pairing of two 18 minute presentations followed by 18 minutes of Discussion led by a Discussant, with remaining time for Q & A.
This is presentation 1 of 2, scroll down to see more details.

Other presentations in this group:

Judianne Ganschow  
Stephanie Reich  
Allison Starks  

Learn about important considerations for school and district-level technology plans derived from original research with teachers. Teachers highlighted elements for inclusive technology use with attention to learning differences, linguistic diversity and financial resources. Implications for teacher training, technology decision-making, teacher collaboration and home-school communication will be shared.

Audience: Chief technology officers/superintendents/school board members, Principals/head teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Topic: Equity and inclusion
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Inservice teacher education, Special education
ISTE Standards: For Education Leaders:
Empowering Leader
  • Support educators in using technology to advance learning that meets the diverse learning, cultural, and social-emotional needs of individual students.
Equity and Citizenship Advocate
  • Ensure all students have skilled teachers who actively use technology to meet student learning needs.
  • Ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.
Additional detail: Graduate student

Proposal summary


Technology integration research conducted with general education has documented important factors for school-based technology use. Research finds that technology integration for learning is largely tied to capacities for schools (e.g., software, professional training, technology support, school administrator support; Ertmer et al., 2012, Blackwell, Lauricella, & Wartella, 2016, Tondeur, et al., 2017), teachers (attitudes and beliefs about technology, familiarity with platforms, teaching practices, time; Ertmer et al., 2012, Blackwell et al., 2016, Tondeur et al., 2017, Bauer & Kenton, 2005), and students (e.g., access, proficiency, connectivity; Hsu, 2016, Blackwell et al., 2016, Bauer & Kenton, 2005).
Within teacher capacity, studies find that teachers make decisions about technology based on internal and external factors. External factors include access to computers or devices, internet access, district policies, teacher training, technical support, peer support, and time (Tondeur et al., 2017; McKnight et al., 2016). Internal factors include personal beliefs, self-efficacy, previous experiences, visions of technology integration, and confidence (Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich, & York, 2006). However to date this empirical work is limited to general educators and teachers who are exemplary technology users. This study seeks to extend our understanding of factors related to teachers’ technology integration in special education, documenting enablers and barriers for teaching with technology and exploring teacher perceptions of how these factors inform the nature of inclusive teaching with technology.


A multiple case-study research design was used with semi-structured individual video-chat interviews (N=20) lasting between 45 to 60 minutes, followed with teacher surveys (N=18). Thematic coding and cross-case analysis was used to understand the context for special educator technology integration. Constant comparison methods were used to examine common barriers or enablers for technology integration and how these factors influenced teaching with technology. Data from the follow-up teacher survey about teachers’ perceived barriers for technology use, confidence with technology, pedagogical beliefs, and technology practices during the COVID-19 pandemic helped contextualize interview data.
Participating SPED teachers were recruited through professional networks and professional development (PD) sessions taught by the lead resaercher, which skewed the sample towards participants teaching in California. Only full-time, lead (e.g., not paraprofessionals or student teachers) SPED teachers working in US K-12 public schools that were normally held in person (not online schools) were eligible. SPED teachers were interviewed between May and September 2020 and given a $20 gift card.
Most teachers (N=14) worked as inclusion or collaborating teachers, with the remaining teachers (N=6) working in self-contained settings. The sample skewed towards schools with higher concentrations of free and reduced lunch (FARL) populations, with 11 teachers reporting between 50-100% FARL.


The study focused on the enablers and barriers for technology use in K-12 SPED and how factors at the student, teacher, and structural level might impact teachers’ experiences teaching with technology, both prior to and during the shift to remote learning.

Across all interviews, teachers spoke about student, teacher, and structural (e.g., school or district) influences on technology integration. Though participants discussed issues at each of these levels, further analysis indicated that these barriers were grounded in structural issues. Structures related to resource allocation, student digital literacy training, teacher training, decision-making for technology, SPED job roles, and home-school communication influenced how technology was used (or not used).

Resource allocation: Participants talked about the challenges of teaching with technology when students lacked devices, internet connectivity, appropriate software, and digital literacy skills. Student access to devices varied based on school resources and how resources were distributed, according to teachers. Students’ limited access to devices was mentioned by more than half of teachers, and access to technology-enabled resources looked different based on FARL status, where more SPED teachers at lower-resourced schools reported problems with students accessing devices, home internet, and appropriate software. Software and applications used for technology-enabled learning were described as being heavily reliant on district- and school-level decisions for technology purchases and funding, which sometimes overlooked the needs of diverse students and families.

Student Digital Literacy Training: All participants reported student digital literacy skills as a barrier for using technology for teaching and learning, though it was unclear if teachers were thinking broadly or with the shift to remote learning specifically.

Teacher Training: Almost all participants (N=18) reported insufficient technology training as a barrier. Many special educators reported a lack of access to technology-related PD and issues with PD content. Schools sometimes conducted technology training without including SPED, so special educators often reported just “figuring it out” on their own time. SPED teachers used a combination of self-directed learning and social networks, both online and offline, to compensate for a lack of training, though this work often took place outside of school hours which was a challenge. Overwhelmingly, special educators expressed a need for more specialized PD for teaching with technology with students with diverse learning needs and teachers used various strategies to develop this specialized training on their own, depending on their access to resources and time.

Decision Making for Technology: Schools purchased devices and software, often without the input of teachers, students, or families. Special educators reported that platforms chosen by schools were often inconsistent, which created barriers for teachers to coach their students on each platform.
Schools also implemented policies for software and customization of school-owned devices. Lengthy and overly complex software approval policies could be especially problematic for SPED teachers and students.

SPED job roles: Technology integration was also limited by SPED teachers’ time constraints when job demands limited their time to learn about technology. Time to integrate technology depended on school-level structures around special educator roles, collaboration practices, and administrator decisions about scheduling. Collaborative relationships among teachers and specifically the relationships between SPED and GE were heavily shaped by school structures around shared responsibility, communication between departments, and inclusive school communities.

Home-school communication: SPED teachers had success in leveraging texting, mobile apps, and translation services to communicate with families, representing a more inclusive approach to home-school communication. The strategies employed by SPED teachers have implications for broader school efforts to reach all families and facilitate home-school partnerships. Texting can be more efficient for families who may not have easy computer or internet access, and mobile applications like Remind or Talking Points can be used on a smartphone, with the added benefit of in-app translation services.


SPED teachers are crucial voices to include for understanding technology access for children with learning differences. Technology integration can increase accessibility, differentiation, and collaboration, but its integration for SPED is understudied (Ciampa, 2017; Edyburn, 2013; Smith & Okolo, 2010). This study offers unique insights into what special educators need to support technology-enabled instruction for SPED students, with implications for more inclusive technology plans for all students. The rapid shift to remote learning and reliance on technology stressed school systems in ways that illuminated the structural barriers that often are attributed to teachers or students and widen gaps in educational equity. Special educators’ experiences identify practices that could help to close gaps for marginalized students, but such reforms require support from school administrators and technology leaders for digital inclusion.


Bauer, J., & Kenton, J. (2005). Toward Technology Integration in the Schools: Why It Isn’t Happening. Journal of Technology & Teacher Education, 13(4), 519–546. Retrieved from

Blackwell, C. K., Lauricella, A. R., & Wartella, E. (2016). The influence of TPACK contextual factors on early childhood educators’ tablet computer use. Computers and Education, 98, 57–69.

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.

Edyburn, D. (2013). Critical issues in advancing the special education technology evidence base. Exceptional Children, 80(1), 7–24.

Ertmer, P. A., Ottenbreit-leftwich, A., & York, C. S. (2006). Exemplary teachnology-using teachers. Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 23(2), 55–61.

Ertmer, P. A., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T., Sadik, O., Sendurur, E., & Sendurur, P. (2012). Teacher beliefs and technology integration practices: A critical relationship. Computers and Education, 59(2), 423–435.

Hsu, P. S. (2016). Examining Current Beliefs, Practices and Barriers About Technology Integration: A Case Study. TechTrends, 60(1), 30–40.

McKnight, K., O’Malley, K., Ruzic, R., Horsley, M., Franey, J. J., & Bassett, K. (2016). Teaching in a digital age: How educators use technology to improve student learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 48(3), 194–211.

Smith, S. J., & Okolo, C. (2010). Evidence-Based Practices : Where Does Technology Fit ? Learning Disability Quarterly, 33, 257–272.

Tondeur, J., van Braak, J., Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2017). Understanding the relationship between teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and technology use in education: a systematic review of qualitative evidence. Educational Technology Research and Development, 65(3), 555–575.

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Stephanie Reich, University of California-Irvine
Allison Starks, University of California-Irvine
Graduate student

Allison Starks is a technology researcher, former teacher and technology integrator in K-12 public schools, with experience in project-based learning, creating comprehensive digital citizenship programs at the district level, and facilitating family-school partnerships around technology. Allison partners with families and schools to leverage technology in equitable, developmentally-informed ways to promote positive youth development. Allison's work has been published with the MIT Press, Ed Surge, and on the ISTE blog. Her latest research has examined digital divides in remote learning responses to COVID-19.