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Research Topics, Questions, and Methodologies

View a description of each of the topics being addressed in the NATRI research agenda. The status of specific studies that are planned, in progress, and completed is available from the NATRI Information Main Menu.

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

NATRI staff are conducting research in seven different areas. This page provides a rationale for the research studies that are planned or are in progress, followed by a list of the research questions and a summary of the methodologies employed for answering the research questions. The information that is presented was taken from an article that provided an overview of NATRI and its activities (Lahm, Bausch, Hasselbring, & Blackhurst, 2001).

It should be noted that the information provided here represents the "big picture" of NATRI's research agenda. A variety of different studies are envisioned for each area that will address a number of the research questions that are presented in greater detail.

Access information about each of the seven research areas from the Table of Contents.

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Status of Assistive Technology in Schools

The goal for this area of research is to determine the status of AT use in schools and the role that AT provides in the education of students with disabilities.

Rationale

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defined an assistive technology device as "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 the functional capabilities of children with disabilities." (Federal Register, August 19, 1991, p. 41272).

According to the National Council on Disability (NCD), almost six million individuals with disabilities receive educational interventions under Part B of IDEA. NCD further stated that these individuals have a right to appropriate support services and assistive technology devices are needed to promote their learning in inclusive settings with their nondisabled peers. Since the inception of IDEA, the availability and use of assistive technology devices have increased. However, NCD reports that people with disabilities "still confront major barriers of discrimination" (p. 5). The extent to which AT devices and services are implemented in the schools is relatively unknown.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed:

  • What percentage of children requires AT devices and services?
  • What groups of children are using AT?
  • Does AT use vary according to grade level?
  • What human functions are aided by AT?
  • What types of AT devices are being used?
  • What AT services do schools provide?
  • What types of AT services are contracted to others?
  • To what extent do schools provide the services of AT specialists?

Research Methodologies

To determine the status of AT use, survey and case study research methodologies will be employed at schools located in baseline school districts. Initially, survey research will be used to collect information about individuals who use AT including age, gender, ethnicity, and types of AT. Case study methodology will be used to describe procedures implemented in school districts to provide access to AT devices and services and to identify the impact the procedures have had on student use of AT.

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<Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The goals for this area of research are to (1) determine the AT practices of state Departments of Education, (2) identify the AT policies and procedures that school district should follow, and (3) examine the validity of a set of quality indicators for the delivery of assistive technology services.

Rationale

In January 2000, after analyzing 23 years of the Department of Education’s state-monitoring reports, NCD released the evaluation results entitled, Back to School on Civil Rights (2000). The report revealed that all states and the District of Columbia were, to some degree, out of compliance with IDEA requirements. Issues of noncompliance were rooted in the policies of the state and in the implementation of those policies. Broadly stated, IDEA requires that educational agencies are obligated to provide or pay for services related to AT devices and services to ensure a free appropriate public education to children with disabilities.

State Education Agencies(SEA) have some latitude as how to interpret and implement the AT mandates of IDEA. There is a need, however, to determine the nature of AT practices of SEAs concerning the development and promulgation of AT policies, guideline, and technical assistance documents to local education agencies (LEAs).

Many SEAs and LEAs have AT policies in place to guide their AT services. It is important to identify promising practices that are currently in existence and disseminate those to agencies that are involved in developing or revising their AT practices.

Members of NATRI staff have been working with a group of people known as the QIAT (pronounced "quiet") Coalition. This group consists of AT practitioners representing local schools, state and regional education agencies, vendors, researchers, consumers, and families. Originally, this group was organized to develop a set of Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology - hence the acronym, QIAT. [Members of the group interact with each other via the QIAT Listserv, which is maintained by NATRI staff. The leadership team of the Coalition also serves as the AT Support Team for NATRI.]

These AT quality indicators have been reviewed over approximately 3 years by more than 1,000 people at professional conferences. Revisions have been made in the indicators as a result of feedback from these reviewers. There is a need to formally evaluate these indicators so that people in LEAs and SEAs that use them can determine their usefulness as a resource for guiding the delivery of AT services. Additional information about the quality indicators can be obtained from http://www.qiat.org.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed when examining the status of AT policies and procedures of SEAs and LEAs:

  1. What effect has IDEA had on the promulgation of AT policies and guidelines by State Departments of Education?
  2. What are the perceptions of state leaders regarding the need for AT policies at the state and local levels?
  3. What policies and guidelines are in place in LEAs to help IEP teams make decisions about AT devices and services?
  4. What are the requirements for documenting consideration of AT in IEP meetings?
  5. How do states monitor AT practices in local school districts?

When evaluating the assistive technology quality indicators of the QIAT Coalition, the following research questions will be addressed:

  • What is the need for AT quality indicators?
  • How important is each of the indicators in the QIAT?
  • How clear is the intent statement for each indicator?
  • What is the usefulness of the QIAT?

Research Methodologies

Three different studies will be performed to answer the questions in this area of research. The first will be a telephone survey of State Directors of Special Education, the District of Columbia, and U. S. Trust Territories. In addition to responding to the the survey questions, all Directors will be asked to send a copy of their state policies, guidelines & technical assistance documents. One purpose of the study will be to identify policies that can serve as models for other states or agencies that are developing or revising their own policies. Policy analyses will be conducted to determine the specific nature of the documents that have been produced by SEAs.

Directors and state AT specialists (i.e., the person who oversees the implementation of AT statewide) will be interviewed by telephone. This study follows up a previous studies conducted in 1996. Many of the questions used in the previous study will be asked again to compare attitudes and policy changes over time. Several additional questions will be added relative to new policy issues present today.

The second investigation will be an analysis of AT policies and guidelines that are being used in LEAs. These documents will be obtained from individual school districts that were identified as having promising practices by state directors interviewed in the telephone survey. Visitors to the NATRI Web site also are encouraged to share promising practices, as are those who attend conferences at which information about NATRI is presented.

The third investigation focuses on an evaluation of the QIAT indicators. It involves a survey of a purposive sample of 20 individuals, with knowledge and skills in assistive technology, from five different groups: (a) assistive technology leaders who coordinate and/or provide assistive technology services within local education agencies; (b) assistive technology leaders who influence, develop, coordinate, and conduct services at state and national levels, (c) assistive technology leaders who develop and conduct programs at colleges and universities to prepare personnel for K-12 education agencies; (d) consumers of assistive technology services and their families; and (e) leaders in the development of regulations and policies related to the use of assistive technology in education.

This last research study will be extremely important to future NATRI activities. If the AT quality indicators are favorably reviewed, they will be used as standards against which to evaluate AT programs in benchmark institutions. Additional information about the quality indicators can be obtained from http://qiat.org.

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Assistive Technology Decision-making when Developing IEPs

The goal for this area of research is to determine the ways that AT decisions are made by teams of people who develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students enrolled in special education programs.

Rationale

IDEA mandates that AT is considered for every student for whom there is an IEP. Members of the IEP team are those who are responsible for assuring that consideration of AT has occurred and for making decisions about AT practices that are written into the IEP. Little is known about the qualifications of the IEP team members making the decisions and how such processes actually occur. However, the National Center for Education Statistics (2000) reported barriers to the use of technology for students with disabilities include insufficient training of special education teachers to use technology, lack of computer equipment and adaptive devices for students with special needs, insufficient evaluation services, and lack of administrative support. Potentially, those factors could impact IEP team decision-making when considering assistive technology. Research in this area will explore the status of these factors.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed when examining the nature of AT decision-making when developing IEPs:

  • How are the functional needs of students for AT identified and considered during IEP meetings?
  • How does the IEP team make decisions about (a) when to refer a student for AT screening or assessment, (b) when to include AT in a student’s IEP, (c) whether additional information is needed in order to make AT decisions, and (d) when to conclude that existing AT practices are meeting the student’s needs?
  • How are appropriate AT devices selected, designed, or adapted to individual children?
  • How are parents involved in AT decision making?
  • What is the nature of the interactions among parents and professionals on IEP teams where AT is being considered?

Research Methodologies

A combination of structured interviews, direct observation, causal-comparative research, and interaction analysis will be used to determine how parents and professionals interact when AT is being considered. Persons at benchmark school districts will be interviewed about the processes followed when considering AT in IEP meetings. Trained observers will visit IEP meetings to document ways that AT is being considered. An interaction analyses of IEP meetings will be conducted in order to determine how parents and professionals interact when AT is being considered.

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Assistive Technology Training and Technical Assistance

The goal for this area of research is to determine the training and technical support needed by individuals who are involved with planning and implementing the use of AT devices and services with students.

Rationale

The AT mandates of IDEA cannot be implemented successfully unless professionals have the necessary knowledge and skills. Likewise, implementation is impaired if appropriate technical assistance and support if not available. IDEA strongly supports "activities to promote the development, demonstration, and utilization of technology" (Federal Register, August 19, 1991,Sec. 687) including teacher and parent training and technical assistance. Research is needed, however, to identify the necessary knowledge and skills, the training and technical assistance needs of teachers and other personnel, and the resources that are available to provide training and technical assistance.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed when examining the needs for AT training and technical assistance:

  • What are the knowledge and skills needed by teachers and other personnel who are providing AT services?
  • What AT training is needed by those individuals?
  • What training and technical assistance is available to support personnel who are involved in the provision of AT services?
  • What practices and structures have been successful in providing AT collaboration among special education and general education teachers?
  • How are interdisciplinary AT services provided?
  • What procedures are used to coordinate AT services with other agencies or service providers?

Research Methodologies

Survey research will be used to determine the specific status of special education teachers and related services personnel and their needs for training. Results of this study will be used by those who are responsible for designing both pre-service and in-service training related to AT.

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Planning and Implementing Assistive Technology Services

The goal for this area of research is to examine how AT is integrated into the learning environment and the ways that AT devices and services are used to facilitate instruction and access to the curriculum.

Rationale

Beyond training and technical assistance, service providers need to specifically plan for implementation of AT with their students. To support implementation, assistive technology was added to the list of special education services that can be included in a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP). IDEA defines assistive technology services as, "any service that directly assists a child with a disability in the selection, acquisition, or use of an assistive technology device" (Federal Register, August 19, 1991, p. 41272). Assistive technology that is not properly selected and implemented can give the impression that the technology is not effective. The apparent failure of AT can lead to under-use of the device, device abandonment, and the perception of stakeholders that AT is a costly risk. The goal of this study will be to identify effective and systematic AT implementation plans.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed when examining the ways that AT services are planned and implemented:

  • How do school districts plan and implement AT programs?
  • What is the relationship between AT plans and general technology plans?
  • What policies and practices support the use of AT in the learning environment?
  • How is AT integrated into the learning environment and in what ways are AT devices and services used to facilitate instruction and access to the curriculum?
  • What evaluation measures are in place to ensure that individual student access and academic needs are being appropriately met by assistive technology?

Research Methodologies

Data collected in some of the other topic areas will contribute to the answers of these research questions. However, the primary research methodology for this research area will be a series of case studies that will be conducted to explore AT planning, implementation, and evaluation at the school district, classroom, and student levels. The benchmark districts will be the focus of the case studies.

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Effectiveness of Assistive Technology Devices and Services

The goal for this area of research is to determine the effects that AT devices and services have on the academic, social, and functional performance of students who use them.

Rationale

Although intervention studies that evaluate the use of specific devices or services would be an ideal approach to answering research questions about the effectiveness of AT devices and services, resources and logistics prohibit them. Instead, a study will be performed to identify critical incidents in the use of AT devices and services that have been observed in past and current AT applications.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed when examining the effectiveness of AT devices and services:

  • What effect does the use of AT devices and services have on the academic, social, and functional performance of students who use them?
  • What approaches are effective?
  • What approaches are ineffective?
  • What are the factors that contribute to AT device abandonment?
  • What do professionals need to be able to do to effectively implement AT applications?

Research Methodologies

The Critical Incident Technique and case study research will be used to answer the research questions in this area. The Critical Incident Technique (Flanagan, 1964) is a qualitative research methodology that has been used successfully to identify job requirements, recommendations for effective practice, and competencies required by a wide variety of professionals in many disciplines. With this technique, researchers obtain descriptions of the effective and ineffective behaviors of people who are performing a given job. Persons in a position to observe student performance are asked to report on specific observable incidents that have had either a positive or negative influence. Reporters describe the ANTECEDENTS that lead up to the incident, the BEHAVIOR or ACTION that occurred, and the CONSEQUENCES of that behavior which led the observer to conclude that it was either effective or ineffective.

Participation in the Critical Incident study is open to anyone who knows of a positive or negative event that influenced the use of assistive technology or services through the NATRI website. Through a large number of incidents from a wide variety of settings, the validity of the positive and negative antecedents will be established. A range of effective and ineffective AT practices across functional areas and across the technology continuum will be identified.

Case study research will be conducted to defined the factors related to AT device abandonment. Solicitation of reports of device abandonment are made from the Web site, the critical incident report forms, personal contacts at conferences, and announcements posted on the QIAT listserv.

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Status of Assistive Technology Instruction in Personnel Preparation Programs

The goal for this area of research is to identify how institutions of higher education (IHEs) are developing AT knowledge and skills in those who are preparing for professional positions in schools.

Rationale

In order to implement the AT mandates in IDEA, it is clearly imperative that school district personnel have the knowledge and skills necessary for implementing those mandates. Schools are addressing this issue through the provision of in-service training and related professional development efforts. It is equally important, however, that instruction about AT is included in the curricula of those who are preparing for careers in schools – particularly teachers and administrators. Graduates of personnel preparation programs need to know about AT, the AT mandates, and how to implement them. In fact, Section 673 of IDEA 1997 authorized activities that prepare personnel in the "innovative uses and application of technology to enhance learning by children with disabilities through early intervention, educational, and transitional services." There is a need to know how IHEs are approaching this subject in order to determine whether additional efforts need to be made to improve their practices.

Research Questions

The following research questions will be addressed when examining AT practices as IHEs:

  • To what extent are Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) providing instruction to develop AT knowledge and skills among students who are preparing for careers in schools?
  • How is AT instruction being provided in IHE curricula?
  • Are IHEs preparing AT specialists who can assume leadership for the delivery of AT services in schools?
  • What are the barriers to implementation of instruction about AT in IHEs?
  • How can instruction about AT be incorporated into pre-service personnel preparation programs?

Research Methodologies

Survey research will be conducted to determine the status of AT instruction at IHEs. Questionnaires will be sent to a sample of IHEs in order to obtain descriptive data about AT activities and perceptions about a number of variables, such as readiness to provide AT instruction and barriers that may exist in the implementation of AT instruction. Respondents also will be asked to identify promising practices that may have implications for IHE personnel who are interested in developing or improving efforts to integrate instruction about AT into their curricula. Based upon responses to this latter inquiry, follow-up explorations in the form of telephone and e-mail interviews will be conducted to obtain additional information about the AT applications that are identified.

In an effort to locate promising practices about AT applications that may not have been tapped by the random sampling for the survey, notices will be placed in the Teacher Education Division (TED) and Technology and Media (TAM) division of the Council for Exceptional Children newsletters soliciting nominations for other in-depth interviews that will be conducted to obtain detailed information about AT practices at IHEs. Case studies will be performed to determine ways that faculty in IHEs have integrated AT instruction into the curricula.

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References

Flanagan, J. C. (1964). Measuring human performance. Pittsburgh, PA: American Institutes for Research.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Amendments of 1997, PL 105-17, §602, U.S.C. 1401[On-line]. Available: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/IDEA/the_law.html.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Amendments of 1997, PL 105-17, §687, U.S.C. 1401[On-line]. Available: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/IDEA/the_law.html.

Lahm, E. A., Bausch, M. E., Hasselbring, T. S., & Blackhurst, A. E. (2001). National assistive technology research institute. Journal of Special Education Technology, 16(3), 19 - 26.

National Center for Education Statistics (2000. Teachers' tools for the 21st century: A report on teachers' use of technology. [On-line]. Available: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2000102.

National Council on Disability (2000a) Federal policy barriers to assistive technology.[On-line]. Available: http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/assisttechnology.html#4.

National Council on Disability (2000b) Back to school on civil rights. [On-line]. Available: http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/backtoschool_1.html.

National Council on Disability (2001). National disability policy: A progress report: November 1999-November 2000 [On-line], Internet. Available: http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/progressreport2000.html.

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