Edyburn’s Assistive Technology Rapid Literature Review
Professor Dave Edyburn contacted me recently with some exciting news about his recent work. It’s awesome and I want to share it with you. The government of the U.K. funded him to do what he calls a “rapid literature review,” to identify the best technology that is proven to help level the playing field for learners with special educational needs and disabilities. The charge from the U.K. Dept of Education was to extract some evidence-based guidance from the literature to guide new assistive technology (AT) policy initiatives. (Although the work was funded by the British Government, the findings aren’t limited to a British context at all.)
Sounds like a terrific project, right? And they certainly chose just the right person for the job in Dave Edyburn. He’s researched AT and education throughout his career and spent countless hours combing the research literature to give us his annual What Have We Learned updates.
His review gathered evidence from multiple sources from the years 2005 to 2019, concerning AT use and the outcome and benefits for students in special education. After combing through over 950 documents, Edyburn wrote up an overall report and 5 stakeholder reports.
You can access the reports in two ways:
Key excerpts from the Executive Summary
The main report starts with an Executive Summary. Here are a couple of excerpts to give you a feel for what’s in the report.
First, the knowledge base does provide moderate-to-strong evidence on the efficacy of specific applications of AT, particularly in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC):
This rapid review provides evidence regarding AT applications for all special needs and disabilities at all levels of the educational system. The most research validated AT intervention focuses on speech, language, and communication disabilities and the use of communication systems known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices. This body of research evidence is strong and exceedingly clear: providing individuals with a method of communicating, the earlier the better, improves a variety of outcomes relative to independence, educational outcomes, and quality of life.
Second, we need to make sure every student can access the AT that is right for their needs:
At this time, AT is an under-utilised intervention to provide pupils and students with special needs and disabilities a means for accessing and engaging in the curriculum in ways that are representative of the ubiquitous nature of technology in society. As a first course of action, let us be mindful that advances in universal usability have provided access tools on every smartphone, computer tablet, laptop, and desktop computer. Parents and educators are encouraged to explore the accessibility features on their devices as a critical first step in locating appropriate AT to help a struggling student. Realising the potential of assistive technology will require the coordinated efforts of students, parents, educators, administrators, policymakers, developers, service providers, and researchers to scale the number of pupils and students benefitting from AT interventions that have been shown to be effective.
I really recommend reading the full report, as well as the stakeholder reports. Whether you’re an educator, a policymaker, a researcher, or parent, you’ll learn something important by exploring this work.
But wait, there’s more!
In addition to the reports summarizing the research, Edyburn also created a database that includes the 968 citations. You can browse all of the entries, or search for particular keywords, authors, topics, etc. Each citation includes its Evidence Level as well, coded as: demonstrates a rationale, emerging, moderate, or strong.
You can go directly to the database page to view and explore it yourself.
Edyburn notes that there is much more to be learned from this dataset, but this is a fruitful start. It will be interesting to see how the U.K. Department of Education applies this work to their policy development.
By the way, if you enjoy exploring assistive technology data, you might also want to check out KPR’s AT-node database. This is in a similar spirit, with a specific focus on the use of computer access interfaces by people with disabilities. It includes text entry data from studies published since 1986.