Special Education Teachers and Parents: Collaboration

A Qualitative Research Proposal

This qualitative study will explore how the use of technologies can enhance collaboration between special education teachers and parents of children requiring special education services in early childhood. The ability for the special education teacher to communicate and collaborate with parents of students receiving special education services is important for student academic success. One way to streamline such collaborations is through use of innovative methods and technologies (Karst & Van Hecke, 2012).

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So it is paramount to use effective innovative methods and technologies for facilitating such collaboration. The review of literature will be supplied below so as to provide the background for the study, as well as to better identify and define the research problem in question. The theoretical framework and researcher positionality for the proposed study will also be discussed, and research design and methods will be offered for the proposed study.

Literature Review

Background

The review of literature on the topic of special education on the whole, and special education for kids in their early childhood, indicates that parents of children with disabilities tend to experience serious stress, a considerable proportion of which originates in the fact of their child’s disability (Harry, 2008; Karst & Van Hecke, 2012). In particular, Karst and Van Hecke (2012) emphasize that parents of children with autism spectrum disorders suffer from multiple additional problems, including greater stress, lowered effectiveness of parenting practices, and increased physical and mental health problems. Children’s disability-related behaviors were also found to decrease maternal involvement in kids’ education (Benson, Karlof, & Siperstein, 2008).

It might be possible to state that generally, most parents of kids with any type of disability suffer from additional stress due to the fact that their child’s disability imposes additional demands on these parents.

Simultaneously, the collaboration between special educators and parents of children with disabilities is known to have multiple positive effects (Trivette, Dunst, & Hamby, 2010). It might be possible to state that it is within the capabilities of a special educator to help guide the parenting efforts aimed at children with special education needs (Karst & Van Hecke, 2012). In particular, the collaboration between special education teachers and families of children with disabilities can both teach parents how to better deal with their kids and increase the effectiveness of special education interventions (Dempsey & Keen, 2008).

However, special education teachers may sometimes find it difficult to participate in effective collaboration with general education professionals (Friend, Cook, Hurley-Chamberlain, & Shamberger, 2010), let alone with parents of children with special needs (Starr & Foy, 2012), who often do not have educational backgrounds. Therefore, it is critical to explore ways which may assist special education providers in their collaboration with parents. One of the possible ways to facilitate such collaboration may be via innovative technologies (dos Santos, Schlünzen, & Schlünzen, 2016; Rock et al., 2009).

Nevertheless, it might be possible that special educators may need additional assistance in implementing innovative technologies – not only for the purpose of enhancing collaboration between these educators and families of children, but also for the purpose of implementing educational interventions. In particular, it is known that special educators may not always have the skills necessary to effectively use innovative technologies (Arhipova & Sergeeva, 2015; dos Santos et al., 2016; Manning & Carpenter, 2008; Nam, Bahn, & Lee, 2013; Parette, Blum, & Boeckmann, 2009). In particular, Manning and Carpenter (2008) stress that the existing curricula for pre-service special educators are already tightly filled with important content, so introducing additional content pertaining to the use of technology is problematic.

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It is also worth considering the factors which stimulate special educators to use technologies in their practice. In particular, Nam et al. (2013) found out that the use of assistive technologies by special educators was strongly affected by how useful these educators considered these technologies to be. It was also affected by the perceived ease of use of these technologies and the perceived ease of use also affected special educators’ self-efficacy when employing these technologies. It might be possible to extrapolate these findings and assume that the perceived high usefulness and ease of use of innovative technologies might stimulate special education teachers to use such technologies to better increase their collaboration with families of young children requiring special education.

Problem Statement

As the literature review indicates, it is known that the special educator/parent collaboration can enhance outcomes of children with disabilities, as well as relieve the stress of parents resulting from the fact that their child has a disability. It is also known that special educators may sometimes find it difficult to collaborate with families, that innovative technologies may help address this problem, and that teachers may be reluctant to use innovative technologies. However, it is apparently unclear what particular difficulties special educators may experience when collaborating with parents, and what these teachers think about the possibility of using innovative technologies to improve collaboration. Thus, it will be helpful to explore their opinions and perceptions about these issues.

It should also be stressed that the offered problem has been poorly researched in the literature but the previous studies related to the topic used a variety of approaches – both qualitative (Friend et al., 2010; Harry, 2008) and quantitative (e.g., Benson et al., 2008; Trivette et al., 2010) – depending upon the particular problems they were addressing.

Research Questions

Several research questions may be proposed:

  1. How do special education teachers providing education for kids in their early childhood in (STATE THE LOCALE) communicate with families of their students with special needs?
  2. How can innovative technologies be used to streamline communication between special education teachers and families?
  3. What are teacher and family perceptions of innovative technologies used to communicate between teacher and family?

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for the current study includes the general conception of special education, according to which children with disabilities need to receive educational interventions purposefully constructed for their type of disability in order to decrease the adverse effects of their disability on their development so as to eventually achieve better life outcomes.

A more specific framework that can be adopted within the given general theoretical framework is the one proposed by UNESCO (2011). It is a conceptual framework for utilizing ICT (information and communication technologies) to educate people with disabilities. It offers to take into consideration several factors that are context-independent and apparently underpin the effectiveness of utilization of ICT in special education (UNESCO, 2011, p. 85).

These factors include:

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  1. the need to train teachers to use ICT;
  2. the need to make ICTs available to all special educators and special learners;
  3. the potential of ICTs to realize the right of special learners to have adequate educational opportunities (UNESCO, 2011).

Also, the following principles are accepted within the framework:

  1. ICT is not a goal, but merely a tool for improving education;
  2. ICT should be used for promoting inclusive education;
  3. ICTs should be available in any learning situations when they are required;
  4. ICTs should be implemented systematically (UNESCO, 2011).

On the whole, this conceptual framework provides several guiding principles pertaining to the use of innovative technologies, and explains critical factors required for successful use of such technologies in the field of special education regardless of the context.

Researcher’s Positionality

The research paradigm which will be adopted for this study is that of anti-positivism / interpretivism. On the whole, the terms “anti-positivism” and “interpretivism” are sometimes used interchangeably, to denote the position according to which one views their social reality and interprets it according to their point of view and knowledge, which, in turn, both emerge from one’s daily interactions and experiences (Kuada, 2012).

Thus, people have varying positions, which makes it impossible to grasp these in a precise, definite, mathematics-like manner, which is required for investigating them as the natural world is usually studied – e.g., using precise numerical descriptions. Furthermore, this means that the whole society and its elements might not be researched in the same way as the natural world. Consequently, they require different methods of inquiry than the empirical methods of the natural sciences (Kuada, 2012).

In practice, this means that the researcher needs to use qualitative research methods to be able to express the nuances of individuals’ opinions and perceptions pertaining to the issue in question; however, these opinions are in any case interpreted by the researcher, because the researcher also understands them in the light of his/her own opinions, experiences, etc.; hence the term “interpretivism.” All in all, adopting an anti-positivist/interpretivist research paradigm means that qualitative methods of inquiry will be used in the proposed study (Kuada, 2012).

With respect to the researcher’s positionality, it should be noted that he originates from Saudi Arabia, is a Muslim, and is in the privileged position of being a Ph.D. student. He has also only recently changed his views on diversity from rather conservative to more open-minded ones. In this case, “conservative views” means that, while being unconsciously aware of e.g. such issues as racial discrimination, and, unfortunately, having participated in it because it was a “natural” way to act in his environment, he refused to acknowledge their existence; and that he had negative opinions about various “non-traditional” phenomena such as the LGBT, gender theories, etc., believing that people who are part of these groups or proponents of such theories simply defy their appropriate role in the society, causing harm to the latter.

These views changed to more open-minded ones thanks to the course in epistemology, where various issues were considered; the discussions permitted the researcher to see these phenomena in a new light, changing his position towards them. This is particularly important for an educator due to the need to work with various populations, and it is an educator’s duty to treat each learner fairly and not harm them simply because of one’s views.

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The researcher came to the proposed topic thanks to knowing how important collaboration between parents and teachers is for students with special needs, especially in their early childhood. Parents play a crucial role for children in their early age (Benson et al., 2008), so collaboration with special educators is pivotal at least because the educators can help and advise the parents, who rarely have any training in special education.

This topic is important to the researcher because he hails from Saudi Arabia, where collaboration is difficult (Alquraini, 2011, p. 156), which is due to several reasons. Parents rarely know how important it is to extend the time of special education services even at home; they do not receive training from care providers; and it is usually difficult for teachers to access parents. Thus, parents and teachers communicate little about the child and what should be done when the child is at home. Therefore, the researcher assumed that developing or using technology would increase collaboration and communication to help Saudi Arabian children with special needs in early age.

Research Design and Methods

Research Design

As has been previously noted, a qualitative research approach will be used for this study. This is due to the fact that the research questions are qualitative in nature; they are aimed at exploring and documenting the opinions and beliefs of participants which cannot be measured on a quantitative scale. Additionally, there seems to be a gap in research literature when it comes to exploring the difficulties that special educators experience when collaborating with families of young children, and also when it comes to special education teachers’ awareness of technologies that can be used for facilitating such collaboration. Thus, it is needed to perform a qualitative, explorative study prior to conducting any quantitative research.

The research design will be phenomenological, for it is appropriate when it is needed to explore the views of reasonably large sample of participants who experienced the phenomenon in question.

Method

The research methods will be chosen in accordance with the selected research design. More specifically, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with several tens of respondents; it is possible to interview 20 participants for the current study. The questions for the interviews will be purposefully designed for the current study while taking into account its research questions.

Participants

The target population of the current study will be comprised of special education teachers who work with kids with disabilities or other special education needs in their early childhood. The sample will be drawn from a number of local establishments of special education that serve young children with special needs. The establishments will be contacted via phone, and then the researcher will either speak with potential participants via the phone or visit the establishments personally so as to invite these special education teachers to participate in the study by serving as an interviewee. The time and date of the interviews will be agreed upon.

Data collection and analysis

As has been previously stressed, the participants will be interviewed on a date and time that will previously be agreed upon. The responses of the interviewees will be audio recorded, and then these recordings will be transcribed for further analysis. After that, the researcher will identify the most common responses and/or themes in the collected data, and consider them further. Conclusions will be made with respect to the research questions identified for this study.

Ethical Issues

It is also worth pointing out that the respondents will be asked to provide their informed consent prior to taking part in the study, most likely at the time when they will be asked to participate in the study, and when the date of the future interview will be agreed upon. It might be possible to state that the current study does not appear to have an extremely high hazard of violating ethical norms; however, the risks pertaining to the publication of personal details and/or health issues of the clients of the respondents will exist (Kuada, 2012). Consequently, the anonymity of participants will be preserved; their names will not be published anywhere; their personal details will not be given to anybody except the researcher and probably his possible co-researchers; and the professional secrets of respondents, as well as the details pertaining to their learners, will not be revealed anywhere.

References

Arhipova, S. V., & Sergeeva, O. S. (2015). Features of the information and communication technology application by the subjects of special education. International Education Studies, 8(6), 162-170.

Benson, P., Karlof, K. L., & Siperstein, G. N. (2008). Maternal involvement in the education of young children with autism spectrum disorders. Autism, 12(1), 47-63.

Dempsey, I., & Keen, D. (2008). A review of processes and outcomes in family-centered services for children with a disability. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 28(1), 42-52.

Dos Santos, D. A. N., Schlünzen, E. T. M., & Schlünzen, K. Jr. (2016). Teachers training for the use of digital technologies. Universal Journal of Educational Research, 4(6), 1288-1297.

Friend, M., Cook, L., Hurley-Chamberlain, D., & Shamberger, C. (2010). Co-teaching: An illustration of the complexity of collaboration in special education. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 20(1), 9-27.

Harry, B. (2008). Collaboration with culturally and linguistically diverse families: Ideal versus reality. Exceptional Children, 74(3), 372-388.

Karst, J. S., & Van Hecke, A. V. (2012). Parent and family impact of autism spectrum disorders: A review and proposed model for intervention evaluation. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 15(3), 247-277.

Kuada, J. (2012). Research methodology: A project guide for university students. Gylling, Denmark: Narayana Press.

Manning, J. B., & Carpenter, L. B. (2008). Assistive technology WebQuest: Improving learning for preservice teachers. TechTrends, 52(6), 47-52.

Nam, C. S., Bahn, S., & Lee, R. (2013). Acceptance of assistive technology by special education teachers: A structural equation model approach. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 29(5), 365-377.

Parette, H. P., Blum, C., & Boeckmann, N. M. (2009). Evaluating assistive technology in early childhood education: The use of a concurrent time series probe approach. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(5), 5-12.

Rock, M. L., Gregg, M., Thead, B. K., Acker, S. E., Gable, R. A., & Zigmond, N. P. (2009). Can you hear me now? Evaluation of an online wireless technology to provide real-time feedback to special education teachers-in-training. Teacher Education and Special Education, 32(1), 64-82.

Starr, E. M., & Foy, J. B. (2012). In parents’ voices: The education of children with autism spectrum disorders. Remedial and Special Education, 33(4), 207-216.

Trivette, C. M., Dunst, C. J., & Hamby, D. W. (2010). Influences of family-systems intervention practices on parent-child interactions and child development. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 30(1), 3-19.

UNESCO. (2011). ICTs in education for people with disabilities. Web.

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