PRESCHOOL TEACHERS AND SUPPORT STAFF'S EXPERIENCESIN USING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN SERVING PRESCHOOL CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES: A CASE STUDY
Tamakloe, Deborah Emefa
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The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore preschool teachers, paraprofessionals and a speech therapist's choices and uses of assistive technology (AT) in an early intervention preschool class. Using observation and face-to-face individual interviews, as data collection tools, the researcher set out to understand the experiences of these practitioners including factors that act as facilitators or barriers to AT use. A Framework analysis of the data collected indicated that teachers, paraprofessionals and the therapist's choices and uses of AT in the preschool class were driven by multiple factors. At one level, there were the factors that directly related to practitioners' own philosophies of teaching children with disabilities and beliefs about the effectiveness of AT in supporting early intervention. In addition, there were factors related to resource issues and working together as a team. AT was used in the classroom with children with disabilities: (a) as mediation technologies to support children's learning and development; (b) to facilitate higher psychological functions enabling them to make requests and take turns; (c) as tools that facilitated the lower and higher mental functions and social interaction; and (d) to facilitate social interaction among children, teachers, parents and therapists. Results further indicated that the use of AT required adults and more competent peers to take on different roles and AT use with children needs to be embedded in play experiences to extend children's learning and development. Effective professional development for teachers and their support staff as well as the provision of adequate AT resources to enhance children with disabilities cognitive, communication and social skill development were noted. These factors are discussed in detail within the context of the lived experiences which were analysed in light of current research and practice with implications for future practice, research, and policy development provided.