Studying the Effects of Technology in the Classroom on Students with Cerebral Palsy in Auckland, New Zealand

 Ivana Premasinghe at the Carlson School

During the summer of 2017, I volunteered at the Carlson School for students with Cerebral Palsy in Auckland, New Zealand. During my time as a volunteer, I was intrigued by the advanced, integrated utilization of technology in the classroom by the students and the teachers. This sparked me to return to the school in the summer of 2018 to conduct extensive research on the effects of technology in the classroom on students with Cerebral Palsy. For my qualitative research project, I observed each of the participating classrooms and took written observations about their technology use throughout the day. I also conducted extensive interviews with the teachers in the classrooms. I then combined the observations and the interviews to create a thematic analysis of common technology-related themes within the school. Finally, I made this into a large document and corresponding PowerPoint, which I sent to the teachers and administrators at the school for them to utilize once I left. 

For the observation portion of my project, I observed five different classrooms at the Carlson School, which were divided based on age. I observed rooms 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 with students ranging from ages three to 21. These rooms were selected by the school’s administration due to their amount of technology usage. I spent full days observing the classrooms so that I could observe all of the activities that took place throughout the school day. The days followed a schedule: block 1, morning tea, block 2, lunch, recreation time, block 3, end of the day. The blocks usually consisted of multiple activities within the given time period. There was also still technology use during the students’ food and recreation breaks as well. I began with general observations about the layout of the classroom, schedule of the day, and notes from the teacher. I spent the rest of the day taking detailed notes on technology use in the classroom. I also brainstormed themes, interview questions, and the questions I had for the teachers.

After school, I conducted an interview with the teacher of the classroom that I spent the day in. I conducted interviews with all five teachers, and I also conducted an in-depth interview with one of the therapists at the school as well. I began all of the interviews with the same open-ended questions about the most useful functions of technology in the classroom, the downsides of technology, and about balances between technology and non-technology related activities in the classroom. Following these questions, I moved on to more specific questions based on the teachers’ answers and based on other observations or questions I had noted while I was observing in the classroom.

For the thematic analysis, I wrote a lengthy reflection based on the results and conclusions from five categories: personal reflection, positive effects of technology, strategies utilized by the teachers, negative effects of technology, and future exploration. My personal reflection highlighted the difference of coming back to the school as a researcher instead of a volunteer and included what I learned from working in multiple classrooms instead of one. Some positive effects of technology included: giving students a voice, helping to keep students focused, allowing people to understand the personality and interests of the students, allowing teachers to customize the students’ learning, and allowing students to mold their own learning experience.  Some teacher strategies to maximize the effects of technology in the classroom included: encouraging students to use their devices often, making a layout of the classroom that encouraged the students’ technology use, utilizing music to help get students ready for the day, and teaching students important patterns and decision-making in addition to helping them with technology. Some of the negative effects of technology included: it did not always work, it could serve as a distraction, and that many of the devices were quite pricey with a long waiting list. Through future exploration, the school will continue its positive strides towards integrating technology in new and innovative ways into the classroom.