16 SES 04 B, ICT and Inclusion
Every day thousands of students miss school because of a health issue. Often these young people cannot connect to their classes and continue their education. This paper reports on one part of a study conducted over five years in an Australian hospital. Prior to this study some staff at the hospital had begun exploring the possibility of using Internet resources to establish contact between students in hospital and their schools. In an endeavor to learn about approaches to enabling the education of hospitalized students through the use of technology the researcher visited specialist children’s hospitals in Melbourne, Sydney and London, in addition to exploring online sites of institutions that claimed to working in this area of education.
Three terms used throughout this paper are defined below. The “project” refers to an Australian Research Council funded project conducted at a hospital for young people in Melbourne, Australia. The term “young people” is used when referring to children and adolescents who are enrolled at a school. Participants in the project came from both primary and secondary schools, with most aged between ten and seventeen years. They had been diagnosed with a “chronic illness”, "...an illness that is permanent or lasts a long time. It may get slowly worse over time. It may lead to death, or it may finally go away. It may cause permanent changes to the body. It will certainly affect the person's quality of life" (The Chronic Illness Alliance, nd).
The project aimed to investigate various types of electronic multimedia communications that might assist young people to continue their education even though they were absent from school for extended periods because of illness. When the project began there was a perception among hospital staff, parents and teachers that the greatest issue for hospitalised young people was to overcome their illness. However interviews with chronically ill students indicated that this was only partly true, as there was an equally strong desire to remain connected with teachers and classmates. These young people anticipated returning to school in the not too distant future, and they wanted to re-join their existing cohort of classes and friends.
In excess of ten thousand young people aged from 6 to 18 years attend the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RCH) every year with some form of health condition. The Education Institute at the RCH states: “We aim to make the transition from hospital back to school or kindergarten as seamless as possible by keeping students connected to their regular learning environment and their peers.” (Education Institute, nd).
Helping hospitalised students with school work is not a new concept, and internationally many health systems and hospitals have developed schemes for enabling hospitalised students to study while in hospital. In the past decade there have been major changes in two areas. First and most important, students at all levels have become considerably more technologically savvy. While there is no proof that young people are dependent on technology, there is ample evidence from recent studies (for example Fraillon, Ainley, Schulz, Friedman, & Gebhardt, 2014; OECD, 2014) that teen-agers and adolescents are high-end users of various forms of mobile communications technology. The second recent change relates to the increased availability of digital communications technologies in students’ schools and homes. Internet access through computers or mobile devices is now ubiquitous in most countries.
The aim of this project was to investigate the types of digital technologies, and the associated methods of use, that were effective in assisting young people with a chronic illness who were forced to miss extended periods of schooling. Participants completed a survey of their current use of digital communication technologies, and were interviewed during their hospitalisation. Data were also collected from classroom teachers and from Education Support Staff at the hospital. Throughout the project small video cameras were used to record interviews with young people, parents and teachers. When appropriate permissions were obtained, several examples were recorded of young people at the hospital using digital technology to connect to and participate in lessons with their teacher and classmates. Australian education systems do not require teachers to develop individual computerised learning plans for each student, and so when a student is suddenly hospitalised for an extended period there is no relevant information readily available that can be electronically shared with an organisation such as a hospital. When this project commenced members of the Education Institute staff would travel to a hospitalised student’s school to meet with teachers in order to be informed about some of the classroom activities the student would miss. These meetings were not appreciated in some schools, and several teachers were reluctant to disclose their planning. Findings clearly indicated a strong desire on the part of students to continue their education through ongoing contact with schools, teachers and classmates. While these students were eager to establish contact, this was not always easy or possible for teachers. This research project has demonstrated a need for educational administrators, at both system and school levels, to provide both time and technological assistance to teachers in order to enable hospitalised students to continue their education.
One of the things this project clearly showed was that as long as the school staff wanted to cooperate, it was not difficult to establish effective digital connections and interactions between hospital wards and school classrooms. Some schools had access to ICT technicians to assist with connecting, while others used teacher and student skills. There were several examples of teachers who wanted to connect with a hospitalised student during a lesson, but felt technologically inadequate, so instead they used students from their class to set-up, connect, and control the technology. In terms of the ICT technology employed, the project tended to follow the guidelines suggested by the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. From 2007 public school teachers were issued with a laptop computer, and then later these were replaced with a netbook. Eventually tablet computers became common in schools and for personal use. Findings from the project show that neither the style of device (laptop, netbook, tablet) nor the brand made any significant difference. Almost any device with an internet connection and a camera appeared to be suitable. Similarly there did not appear to be any advantage in purchasing expensive commercial communications software for both student and teacher to use. In general the free software used in the project was as successful as the commercial products that were trialed.
Education Institute (nd). Retrieved January 5, 2018 from: https://www.rch.org.au/education/ Fraillon, J., Ainley, J., Schulz, W., Friedman, T., & Gebhardt, E. (2014). Preparing for life in a digital age. Springer-Verlag GmbH. Nisselle, A., Hanns, S., Green,, & Jones, A. (2012). Accessing flexible learning opportunities: children's and young people's use of laptops in a paediatric hospital. Technology,Pedagogy and Education, 21(1), 3-20. OECD (2014), A Teachers' Guide to TALIS 2013: Teaching and Learning International Survey, OECD Publishing, Paris. The Chronic Illness Alliance (nd). Retrieved January 5, 2018 from: http://www.chronicillness.org.au/about-2/
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