Using Web 2.0 technologies with special needs students in distance education

Zahid Majeed
Allama Iqbal Open University

Islamabad, Pakistan

E-learning and Web 2.0 have changed the methodologies of distance educators/instructors and the learning styles of students with special needs. Of Pakistan's population of about 200 million, around 10% have special needs (Majeed 2012), for whom a few hundred educational institutions up to K-12 are available. The formal education system is unable to cope with the special needs of disabled students, and therefore their drop-out figure is alarming. Only one institution in the country Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) welcomes these students for school education up to graduate level. The results are encouraging because the ODL system is much more flexible and accommodative for special needs students. These students mostly use cell phones and the Internet for communication in their education and daily lives. More than 500 special needs students have enrolled each year in various AIOU programmes, mainly in the Department of Special Education. The department has developed a support system, involving online education/e-learning and Web 2.0 technologies for the teaching-learning process of these special students. An experimental study was conducted to assess the implications of Web 2.0 technologies for these students. The study involved experimental and control groups, with a total of 40 students with the following special needs: hearing impairment, visual impairment, social/emotional disturbance and physical handicaps. In a pre-test conducted three months before the treatment, it was found that, in their studies, they relied mainly on textbooks, teachers and colleagues/friends. After the treatment, a post-test was carried out, and the difference between the pre- and post-test were very positive: the students were more independent and learnt a lot without the help of others. They were directly in touch with their teachers, classmates, experts and the community. The students recommended that Web 2.0 technologies should be made part of all AIOU programmes with special needs students, and that other students would also benefit from the use of these technologies.