Understanding the use of tablet devices in the classroom when teaching a group of learners diagnosed with autism
The increasing number of individuals diagnosed with autism, the shift in educational paradigms, and technology advances that allow affordability and accessibility were the motivation behind this study. Learners with autism have the potential to develop social and emotional skills as well as increasing motivation for learning while using technology, in particular tablet devices (i.e., iPads) as instructional tools. The purpose of this case study was to better understand the use of technology (in particular, tablet devices) to teach mathematics to a group of learners diagnosed with autism. Two research questions guided this study: (1) How do the motivational principles of the ARCS model impact the learners' motivation with classroom activities (i.e., with excitement? apathy? sense of accomplishment)?; and (2) How do learners interact with technology used in the classroom (i.e., as an instructional tool? as a rewarding mechanism? as an entertaining strategy)? Moreover, the hope is to potentially gain more awareness into the motivational impact tablet devices can have on learners on the autism spectrum concerning engagement and participation in learning activities. Participants in this study were five children diagnosed with autism between the ages of 8 and 11 who attended a middle school located at a large school district in a metropolitan area of a U.S. Midwestern state. The learners participated in a paper-based mathematics activity as well as interacted with an iPad to work on mathematics concepts. Observations and opportunistic interviews with learners and teacher were conducted. An in-depth semi-structured interview was also done with the classroom teacher.
In attempt to explore the research questions, data were analyzed using the Interpretive Descriptive qualitative research analysis method. Based on that analysis four themes emerged: (1) the motivational use of the tablet device in the classroom, (2) the
classroom activities' impact on learners' social interactions, (3) learners' behavioral changes resulting from change in classroom routine, and (4) teacher's motivational
strategy. The overall study provided an understanding of the motivational impact tablet devices potentially have on learners on the autism spectrum concerning engagement and participation in learning activities. The impact of technology was contingent on its strategic instructional or reward mechanism implementation in the curriculum. The study revealed that technology in general and tablet devices in particular are used in the classroom as reward mechanisms and entertaining strategies to seize and retain the learners' attention in order to achieve instructional goals. The findings also revealed how the learners' conceptual levels affect their response to the reward and influence their social behavioral skills that could become uncontrollable. Additionally, the findings raised awareness concerning the learners'reactions to the change in their daily structured schedule and revealed some practices to manage learners' behaviors.