The nABLE framework adapts the SAMR model for use in inclusive learning environments where a variety of learners with varying levels of ability and other special needs are present.
The different levels of the SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) are as follows:
• Substitution: At the lowest level of the model, technology acts as a direct substitute and there is no fundamental change in the kind of learning tasks that take place. An example would be a situation where students now type their essays instead of writing them with pen and paper. The task is the same, only the media use has changed.
• Augmentation: At the next level, there is some enhancement in functionality but the task still remains fundamentally unchanged. To continue with the previous example, here students would use the spell check and built-in dictionary of their word processing app to identify and correct mistakes prior to submitting their essays.
• Modification: At this level, the learning task is altered somewhat, but not fundamentally changed. This level marks the first step across the line from enhancement of the traditional curriculum to its transformation. Students begin to take charge of their learning as they make the transition from consumers to creators of knowledge. For example, they may add visual appeal to their essays by adding images found on the Web to bring the content to life.
• Redefinition: At this level, the learning task becomes increasingly student-driven, and there is a focus on collaboration. Students not only add their own images taken with the cameras on their devices, they upload the essays to a blog where others can comment and provide feedback. The task becomes more authentic.
As with the SAMR model, in the nABLE framework there is a distinction between a basic level of technology integration (access and built-in supports) and a more transformative one (leveraging multimedia for expression and creativity). I use Expression and Creativity to emphasize student agency and voice as the two driving forces for a more transformative experience with technology for students who have special needs. The basic premise of the nABLE framework is that students with special needs should be held to the same high standards as other students and given the same opportunities to express their creativity.
Now that I have provided a broad outline of the framework (which can be seen in Figure 1), let us take a look at the different levels in more detail.
Figure 1. nABLE Framework
Needs assessment and profile
Implementation of nABLE (or any framework) should begin with a good understanding of the individual’s strengths, weaknesses and interests. Once a detailed profile of the learner has been developed through a collaboration between parents, teachers and other trained professionals, the next step is to select the appropriate app(s) for providing access to information and communication.
Access to content and tools
At a most basic level, students must be able to perceive and process the information before they can do something with it. Thus, at the Access level, the focus is on eliminating barriers to learning by allowing students to access information in the format that is best for them in accordance to the UDL principle of multiple means of representation.
Built-in supports and scaffolds for learning variability
Some learners may not have easily identifiable disabilities that require them to use the built-in accessibility features to access content, but they may need additional supports to make it easier for them to process information. For these learners, some features built into operational systems allows them to select text in order to have it read aloud. This feature includes support for word highlighting to aid with tracking and decoding. With a built-in dictionary, learners can look up any unfamiliar word as they read without having to exit the app to look up the word in a separate website or app. This ability to stay within the app for such tasks as looking up a new word can aid students who would be easily distracted by the switch between apps.
Leveraging multimedia for learning
At this level, the focus is on providing students with a range of options for how they can show what they have learned. In many apps, students can use the built-in Dictation feature to enter text by using just their voice to dictate the text. Learners can also use the cameras and microphones built into their mobile devices to show their understanding by creating movies, narrated slideshows and voice recordings. For students who find it difficult to type or express themselves in writing, these options can provide a much needed alternative for expression.
Expression and Creativity
At the highest level of technology integration under both SAMR and the nABLE framework, the focus continues to be on providing avenues for creative expression. However, there is a subtle shift in that the focus is on the development of a strong, independent student voice. Much of the work at this level is done with creativity apps. A key goal at this level is to disrupt and challenge preconceived ideas of what people of different levels of ability can do when they are empowered by technology.
New technologies are providing a unique opportunity for people of all levels of ability to share their own unique voice and become powerful advocates for themselves. However, I believe we have some work to do to realize the full promise of technology for all learners, including those with special needs. One key obstacle is that the support for accessibility varies among the apps students could use at the higher levels of both the SAMR model and the nABLE framework. This support tends to be better with the Apple apps (iMovie and Garageband, for example) but it is less consistent with third party apps. As advocates, we can play a role in improving accessibility by bringing the need for it to the attention of developers. This was the case with Book Creator, where after a correspondence between the author and the app’s developer the ability to provide accessibility descriptions for images was added to the app. This support will help make the content created with the app more accessible to those who are blind.
In addition to pursuing full support for accessibility in creativity apps, we will also need to rethink the way in which we employ emerging technology so that it is not just assistive but empowering. When the technology is used in an assistive way, it helps learners complete activities of other people’s design and choosing. When it is used in an empowering way, it is used by learners to complete activities of their own choosing and desire. As a person with a disability, finding my own voice with the help of technology has played a significant role in my academic and professional success. I would like nothing more than to see other students have that same opportunity so that they too can become “more powerful than people think.”
Luis Perez is educator, author, presenter and inclusive learning consultant with a passion for accessibility and universal design.