Touching the virtual, touching the real: iPads and enabling literacy for students experiencing disability

In this paper we discuss the potential of iPads for supporting literacy learning in special education, with a focus on how the gestural and sensory experience of touch can enable young learners with moderate to complex physical and/or cognitive disability to engage in fun, independent and inclusive classroom-based literacy activities. We report on a case study where we observed the literacy learning opportunities offered by the touch screen interface provided by iPads for a diverse group of students aged 3 to 19 years in a special school in the English Midlands. We also made field notes and sought teachers' and students' views about the potentials and challenges of using iPads in the classroom. We begin by outlining our interdisciplinary theorisation of touch, and conceptualisations of its role in learning. Applying these concepts to the data, we discuss the affordances and constraints of iPad devices in terms of mobility, flexibility and sensory experience. We then illustrate how the sensory and kinaesthetic experience of human touch often enhanced the students' motivation, control and independence when engaged in literacy endeavour with iPads, and led to high levels of achievement and creative opportunities for their self-expression.

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