University of Kansas earns funding to improve the use of technology in special education

The University of Kansas has earned funding to launch a center dedicated to connecting researchers, educators and higher education faculty across the country to improve the use of technology in special education. The Center for Innovation, Design & Digital Learning has begun its mission to build collaborative networks, spur innovation and increase understanding of how technology can be harnessed to improve the education of students with disabilities.

CIDDL logoThe U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs awarded the five-year, $2.5 million grant to KU's School of Education & Human Sciences and Department of Special Education to establish the center, known as CIDDL. The center's leaders are inviting higher education faculty, researchers, teacher educators and department directors to take part to determine needs, develop research opportunities, offer professional development and secure funding for innovation.

A large portion of what we're doing is building networks so we can increase innovation in the field across the nation, especially among those in education who have an impact on students with disabilities. What we've known for decades is technology tends to be a difficult thing for people in education to conceptualize how it can be used in practice. But we believe the field has a lot of great innovative potential and power within it. There is a lot of knowledge and skill. We just have to bring it forward, and I think we can transform the field by empowering people to work together."

James Basham, Professor of Special Education

CIDDL will be led by Basham, Sean Smith, Yong Zhao, Kathleen Zimmerman and Ling Zhang of KU's School of Education & Health Sciences. They will partner with researchers at the University of Central Florida and CAST, an educational nonprofit and founders of Universal Design for Learning, as well as the Metiri Group, a national leader in educational technology and evaluation.

Through its networks, the center will help improve technological understanding of teaching, teacher education and boost educators' skills through professional development and micro credentials and how technology can be used in early intervention as well as in service personnel and leadership personnel preparation. It will also aim to develop new innovations in research and applications of technology in special education, including early intervention/early childhood special education. Networks will be incentivized to present ideas for new opportunities and rewarded for successful innovations. Anyone working in special education, higher education, educational research or technology development is invited to join the center or collaborate with others at ciddl.org.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented serious challenges to schools and educators around the world, CIDDL directors say it has also shown how limitations can lead to innovation and solving problems. Teachers have been required to use technology in novel ways and opened the door for new ideas.

"This can be a great opportunity to improve how technology can be a bigger part of our teaching and how we serve students," Zhao said. "Before the pandemic, many teachers were thinking about it and are now embracing it after seeing how technology can present new ways to serve students."

Educators have always found different ways to reach and inspire students, and CIDDL directors plan to harness that ability through collaboration to inspire each other to boost their technological skills and develop new ways to educate students with disabilities.

"Technology, by and large, is about solving problems," Basham said. "Getting faculty members, researchers and educators together to improve special education, early intervention and personnel preparation through a better understanding of the potential of technology is something we feel very strongly about, and we really want to help all faculty members at institutions big and small across the country."

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