Theses Doctoral

Technology and Special Education: Designing Effective Professional Development for Equitable and Inclusive Classrooms

Du, Xiaoxue

This dissertation investigates the adaptation of a research-based professional development approach, Innovating Instruction, for special education teachers. This adapted approach uses assistive technology (AT) as a catalyst for helping teachers acquire design skills needed to include more inquiry-based practices. The adapted approach introduces effective teaching practices based on the learning sciences and demonstrates multiple ways to use AT to meet the needs of students. To address the “unexamined link between the use of design practices and the introduction of technology within a learning science framework,” (Meier, 2018, p.142), the Innovating Instruction© professional development framework (2018) at the Center for Technology and School Change provides a three-part approach to implement these changes: design, situate, lead. Two recent National Science Foundation grants have established the model’s positive impact on teachers’ ability to design projects, to shift from disciplinary to transdisciplinary project design, and to shift instructional thinking to include inquiry-based approaches.

This dissertation responds to an important challenge in special education: the limited opportunities to prepare special education teachers to provide high-quality instruction to support all students. It uses technology as a catalyst to help special education teachers learn about design practices that engage students in inquiry practices that are culturally relevant and build on student strengths.

The intervention introduced teachers to inquiry-driven design practices and used technology that supported new ways of understanding the capacity of special needs students through a six-month professional development program. The research design used was a convergent parallel mixed methods approach to analyze both qualitative and qualitative data to capture how special education teachers used AT to design inquiry-based learning. The analysis revealed a statistically significant shift over the period of the professional development, implementation, and reflection phases in terms of teachers’ ability to design inquiry-based projects that integrated AT. Also, the findings showed the importance of “situating” teachers’ needs, encouraging collaborative learning with colleagues, and developing a shared knowledge base of inquiry-based teaching strategies in special education classrooms. Findings from teacher questionnaires and interviews showed emerging leadership activities: teachers took more initiative to design projects and collaborate with other teachers in the school community.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Thesis Advisors
Meier, Ellen B.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
November 3, 2021