The use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices is vital to the success of students who may struggle with some speech or hearing impairments. However, the outcomes of these learners are strongly dependent on the willingness and readiness of teachers to make use of such technologies. In many cases, they are not able to cope with this task due to the lack of relevant skills. It should be mentioned that there have been several reviews that were supposed to discuss the way in which pre-service educators perceived the application of these tools. For instance, one can mention the article written by Aileen Costigan and Janice Light (2010) who assess the training programs preparing these professionals for the use of AAC devices in the classroom. Furthermore, it is possible to refer to the review by Baxter, Enderby, Judge, and Evans (2012) who examine the barriers preventing children and educators from adopting such tools in an efficient way. Additionally, other scholars studied the way in which information technologies could be applied to support students with special needs (Brock & Carter, 2013). Admittedly, these studies are very valuable, and the findings of these researchers should not be overlooked. However, much attention should also be paid to the key competencies that educators should possess to assist such students properly. Apart from that, one should examine a broader range of factors that influence teachers’ willingness to employ these devices in the classroom settings. For instance, a person’s self-efficacy should be discussed more closely. Thus, it is important to fill these gaps. In turn, this paper is aimed at examining various sources illustrating the preparation of teachers who should assist students using AAC devices. In particular, it is critical to focus on the indispensable skills of these professionals, their beliefs about the value of such technologies, and the degree to which they want to apply these tools.
The competencies that are needed for the use of AAC devices
There have been several legislative attempts to promote the development of children who can be affected by disabilities. For instance, one can mention the initiative named No Child Left Behind (Courtade & Ludlow, 2008). In turn, the critical task is to create the mechanisms that can support the work of teachers (Courtade & Ludlow, 2008). Policy-makers must get a comprehensive idea about the difficulties that teachers and learners can encounter; otherwise, the goals of the new policies will not be achieved. In turn, the development of new technologies has provided many opportunities to children and adolescents who may have speech disorders due to various health problems such as cerebral palsy or autism. For instance, they can considerably benefit from using such tools as speech generating devices. Additionally, in many cases, children may apply simple communication boards to interact with other people (Bailley, Stoner, Parette, & Angell, 2006). Overall, these technologies can enable them to take a more active part in learning activities. In turn, educators should have various competencies to make accommodations for such learners.
This tendency changes the roles and responsibilities of teachers. In their study, Soto, Muller, Hunt, and Goetz (2001b) discuss the main skills of professionals who should help such children. In particular, these educators should know how to introduce such learners to the curriculum (Soto et al., 2001b, p. 54). In other words, these children should learn the major topics and concepts discussed in the classroom. Additionally, these professionals should recognize the differences in the learning styles. This ability is essential for designing the exercises for these students. So, these teachers should be versed in the differentiated instruction. Apart from that, teachers should be skilled in creating the peer support for students who need to apply AAC devices. It should be kept in mind that in many cases, these individuals feel extremely marginalized in the classroom (Kent-Walsh & Light, 2003). Moreover, teachers should assist such learners in developing communicative skills. These children should be able to establish relations with other students (Brock & Carter, 2013, p. 217). In addition to that, teachers should be knowledgeable about the functioning of such technologies (Soto et al., 2001b, p. 54). They should know how these devices operate; otherwise, they may not understand how learners with disabilities communicate with other people. Apart from that, it is essential for these educators to cooperate with other professionals. In particular, they should interact with speech pathologists who better understand how a certain disorder influences the communicative skills of a student (Kent-Walsh, & Light, 2003). Moreover, pre-service teachers should interact with the parents of such students. This cooperation can help them anticipate possible challenges faced by students (Alquraini & Gut, 2012, p. 54). Overall, scholars note that the participation of various professionals is one of the pre-requisites for the efficiency of pre-service teachers (Rebelowski, 2003, p. 42).
Finally, researchers note that pre-service educators should be skilled in such a field as semiotics. This knowledge is critical for understanding the way in which children can use visual language to express their ideas or feelings (Soto & Olmstead, 1993). So, visual literacy is one of the main pre-requisites for such teachers (Soto & Olmstead, 1993). Furthermore, educators should ensure that children, who rely on such tools, are not ostracized by their peers (Finke, McNaughton, & Drager, 2008). Thus, they should help other students understand the language of the children who have some special needs. Furthermore, educators should become efficient communication partners (Douglas, 2012). Children, who apply AAC devices, are more likely to feel motivated and encouraged if they see that teachers can adequately respond to them (Douglas, 2012). To some degree, these examples indicate that pre-service teachers should have various skills. Furthermore, these professionals should anticipate different challenges that can influence the experiences of students. Thus, much attention should be paid to the quality of training programs designed for learners.
Teachers’ perceptions of AAC technologies
Overall, scholars identify various factors that shape teachers’ willingness to apply AAC technologies in the classroom. At first, educators are more likely to use these devices if they believe that such technologies can improve the communication of students (Soto, 1997, p. 195). Nevertheless, researchers also note that teachers’ views on the value of AAC devices depend on the level of their self-efficacy (Montgomery & Mirenda, 2014, p. 18; Soto, 1997, p. 195). It is one of the variables that profoundly shape their behavior in the classroom. In this case, the notion can be defined as the extent to which people are confident in their strengths, competencies, or knowledge (Alquraini, 2014). Very often, educators lack this self-efficacy. Sometimes, they feel confused about their professional roles and responsibilities (Montgomery & Mirenda, 2014, p. 18). For instance, they do not know if they should act as teachers or speech pathologists. One of the problems is that educators are not always confident in the ability to use these tools in the classroom (Alkahtani, 2013, p. 78). Therefore, some educators do not always recognize the benefits of applying these technologies. As a rule, such attitudes are widespread among those professionals who are not sufficiently trained in the use of various information technologies. One should also keep in mind that the level of people’s self-efficacy is dependent on the expertise of their college educators. For instance, approximately 34 percent of teachers report that their college educators did not major in this field (Ratcliff, Koul, & Lloyd, 2008, p. 55). Therefore, these people believe that they are not sufficiently equipped for assisting learners who may suffer from some disabilities. Apart from that, many students did not take a separate course in the use of AAC devices (Ratcliff, et al., 2008, p. 55). Therefore, they cannot always act efficiently in the classroom, and potential benefits of new technologies are minimized.
It is important to mention that in many cases, teachers have a positive attitude towards the use of AAC technologies in the classroom. They believe that such tools can support the developmental and social needs of students. This attitude of teachers contributes to the successful outcomes of students (Soto, Muller, Hunt, & Goetz 2001a). Nevertheless, at the same time, these professionals say that they should receive additional training in the use of such tools (Andrews, 2007; Alquraini, 2014). For instance, they need to know how to design assignments for learners with speech disabilities. They also state that the use of AAC technologies is not adequately explored during various training programs (Costigan & Light, 2010). It is one of the difficulties that many teachers have to overcome.
The barriers preventing educators from applying new technologies
One should keep in mind that teachers can struggle with various difficulties while trying to use such tools. In particular, they cannot always design the appropriate curriculum for such children (Sze, 2009, p. 427). Apart from that, these teachers say that they do not always receive support from other professionals such as school administrators or healthcare professionals. For instance, they do not always interact with those medical workers who assess the communicative needs of children and select the most appropriate AAC devices. One should bear in mind that students receive the assistance from those professionals who are not employed in schools (Montgomery & Mirenda, 2014, p. 29). In turn, teachers cannot discuss various issues with these medical workers and speech pathologists. So, the experiences of students are considerably impaired. Furthermore, researchers note that in many cases, teachers do not have much time to design the lessons for learners who apply AAC devices (Bailley et al., 2006, p. 139). Moreover, school administrators do not support these educators or encourage them. As a result, they often lose their motivation. Thus, it is necessary to change the policies of schools. For instance, much attention should be paid to the compensation offered to teachers. This approach can enable educational organizations to retain the most competent educators.
Additionally, researchers pay much attention to the quality of training programs that should support the needs of teachers. For instance, Costigan and Light (2010) note that the programs designed for pre-services teachers do not enable these professionals to become skilled in the use of AAC technologies. In particular, the sessions that were supposed to illustrate the applications of these devices were often rather short (Douglas, 2012; Nigam & Koul, 2012). As it has been noted before, the educators, who taught these courses, did not major in this field of study (Ratcliff, et al., 2008, p. 55). The main result of these deficiencies is that teachers are not able to provide the adequate assistance to students. It is one of the challenges that should be taken into account. Additionally, the surveys of these educators indicate that some of them have never seen the way in which such devices are operated (Subihi, 2013, p. 1). Thus, it is important to bridge the gaps in their knowledge; otherwise, the needs of many students will not be met (Subihi. 2013, p. 1).
Finally, scholars note that teachers, who major in this area of education, should attach importance to continuous learning. It is one of the areas that abound in many technological and instructional innovations. There are many devices and models that can improve the learning activities of students (Hanline, Hatoum, & Riggie, 2012). In turn, the duty of these teachers is to become skilled in the adoption of evidence-based practices described by other researchers. These activities will be crucial for developing more effective instructional strategies.
Overall, the review of these sources indicates at several significant trends. At first, they show that many educators are willing to adopt various technologies to promote the wellbeing of students who cannot communicate due to some disabilities. Nevertheless, these examples included in the chosen articles suggest that there are several barriers that block the efficient adoption of AAC devices. In particular, researchers focus on the deficiencies of the existing training programs designed for the needs of pre-service teachers and other educators. Apart from that, educators can work more efficiently if they cooperate with other professionals such as medical workers. Nevertheless, this collaboration is not sufficiently promoted. Moreover, they must be proficient in the use of the most recent research findings that are critical for improving the instructional activities. In many cases, educators do not have these competencies. As a result, the level of their preparedness is rather low. Admittedly, policy-makers may decide to promote the wellbeing of learners who may have some disabilities. However, such laws will be fruitless if there are no efficient training programs for future teachers who need to support such students. It is vital to remember that many educators have positive attitudes towards the use of such technologies. The main problem is that in many cases, they do not have the skills to incorporate such technologies.
It is important to consider the limitations of the studies included in this review. In particular, many of the researchers have chosen the qualitative methodology. For instance, they often relied on such techniques as focus groups and in-depth interviews. These methods are suitable for exploring the opinions of educators. In this ways, scholars can better identify the difficulties that many teachers encounter. Nevertheless, these approaches are not suitable for deriving findings that can be generalized. Additionally, in many cases, the samples of the studies were rather short. One should also bear in mind that systemic reviews have their inherent limitations. In particular, it is possible that authors overlook some informative sources that may not be compatible with certain arguments or hypotheses. However, despite these potential limitations, this systemic review is helpful for understanding the reasons why teachers may fail to apply AAC devices that can support the needs of many children. More attention should be paid to the quality of educational programs and courses developed for pre-service teachers who should be able to assume new professional roles that are more demanding. It is the main detail that should not be disregarded.
Overall, this review suggests that the use of AAC technologies is one of the top priorities for modern educators. They believe that such tools can considerably improve the experiences of students who may be affected by some physiological disorders. Nevertheless, the level of their self-efficacy is rather low. It is one of the variables that influence the attitudes of teachers and their instructional strategies. Therefore, one can state that it is necessary to modify the educational programs that are designed for pre-service teachers and other educators. This task can be vital for helping many learners who may be affected by different speech disorders. Apart from that, it is important to promote the cooperation of various professionals such as pathologists and educators. This cooperation can make teachers more prepared for the work with children whose communicative skills are not sufficiently developed. Finally, school administrators should offer more support to such educators because this encouragement can increase their readiness to apply AAC tools in various settings.
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