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An Interview with Dr. Debbie Irwin, regarding the publication of her recent dissertation.

Your paper "Teachers’ value beliefs and usage of one-to-one devices: for students with dyslexia: A descriptive study" has been published in Education and Information Technologies. Congratulations! Tell me about how you chose your topic.

I became interested in technology, and in particular assistive technology, in order to support students that I have been working with for years in a private school environment. The students, most of whom had dyslexia or a reading disability, were able to conceptually understand concepts taught in the classroom but were unable to access material in part due to poor reading skills. Or if they struggled with spelling and written expression, they often had a hard time really conveying what they had learned. So before the availability of one-to-one devices, many of these students had accommodations in the classroom and for homework which included having tests and materials read to them or having to scribe. I see assistive technology tools as a way to allow students with dyslexia to be more independent and take more ownership of their learning, while at the same time gaining access to the same learning materials as their peers. I came across the learning design and technology program at the University of South Carolina, which originally was called educational technology, and knew that was something that I could get excited about. So I spent the next several years studying and looking for ways to apply technology in the teaching and learning process.

I see assistive technology tools as a way to allow students with dyslexia to be more independent and take more ownership of their learning, while at the same time gaining access to the same learning materials as their peers.

What were the conclusions of your dissertation?

Overall, middle school teachers of dyslexic students agreed that one-to-one devices played an important role in the teaching and learning process. Participants strongly agreed that one-to-one devices prepared students for future use of technology and could serve as assistive technology tools. They were less likely to agree that devices promoted higher-level thinking or creativity during learning. Instead, teachers felt students benefited from mediated, guided lessons with direct instruction of core material. Overall, teachers agreed they had the self-efficacy skills needed to apply technology to their curriculum and strongly believed they had the support needed to implement technology in their classrooms.

The school where I conducted my research worked with students with dyslexia. This population of students benefits from direct instruction. It was not surprising then that the teachers saw technology as a supplement to instruction rather than the primary source. While some teachers noted the distraction devices could create in the classroom, the majority of the teachers believed that technology resources and assistive technology tools could support the academic and emotional impact of dyslexia. One teacher commented that technology helped to “level the playing field” for students with dyslexia, and another teacher stated that assistive technology made a huge impact on students’ self-esteem.

We hear a lot about one-to-one devices in news reports today. Can you describe what using a one-to-one device means in a school setting?

A one-to-one device program means that each student has access to an individual computer throughout the school day as well as at home. Prior to one-to-one devices, students usually either went to a computer lab to practice typing and word processing skills, or there were class sets of devices on a mobile cart that moved from room to room. Students had limited access and usage of devices, which for those with dyslexia was a bigger disadvantage.

You started your research during the start of COVID school closings. Did that affect your research topic or how you gathered data?

Fortunately, the onset of COVID and home-based, virtual learning did not change my research topic or proposed methods of study. However, during my data collection, COVID restrictions did have an impact on how I observed classes and interviewed teachers. Originally I was going to be going into the school, which would have allowed me to have greater access to teachers, the ability to see a whole classroom, and become familiar with the school culture. But when I was ready to begin my data collection in the Spring of 2021, COVID protocols were still in place limiting visitors on the school’s campus. This meant that all of my observations and interviews occurred on Zoom. Fortunately, by that time, teachers were feeling pretty comfortable meeting and conducting lessons virtually. During observations, though, once a computer was set up in the classroom, I was not able to see the whole class or view the screens of individual students to know for sure if they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. For instance, I might see that a student was working on a computer, but I could not see the screen to know whether they were actually staying with a teacher during the lecture or whether they had pulled up another site or were playing a game. Whereas if I had been in a classroom, I would have had a more global view of what is happening and could position myself so that I had the best vantage point. This was noted as a limitation of my study.

Based on your findings, what would you tell parents about their child using a device for school?

While we do not want to give up or stop building literacy skills, devices can be a valuable tool in enabling students to not only access reading material and content above their reading or even grade level, but they can also allow those with dyslexia to convey their knowledge and understanding without being hampered by poor spelling and writing abilities. When given the opportunity to utilize assistive technology, many students gain confidence and are willing to tackle more demanding, deeper learning. Devices can be a game changer!

What is your recommendation to teachers who may feel they do not have the skills or knowledge to use one-to-one devices in their classroom?

I’d say start small. Find a colleague, especially one in your content area and/or working with a similar population of students, and learn from them. Try one or two things at a time to implement and use it for a while to become familiar with the tool and application. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes - that’s how we, and our students, learn. And solicit help from kids. Many are excited and skilled at using technology.

Based on your research, what recommendations would you give administrators when they ask their teachers to implement devices?

One of the best ways administrators can support teachers who are implementing devices into their instruction is to provide appropriate content-based professional development centered on 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Researchers have found that teachers are more likely to integrate technology when they have the support of their administration and peers when they feel comfortable using the tools they have been given and are provided sufficient time to plan lessons that integrate devices. The teachers in this study noted they felt greatly supported by their administrators even when mistakes were being made and lessons didn’t go perfectly.


About Dr. Debbie Irwin

Dr. Debbie Irwin recently had the findings of her dissertation published in the Journal of Education and Information Technologies. She is the owner and founder of Designed With A Purpose in Greenville, South Carolina, a private tutoring and hybrid homeschool specializing in assisting children with dyslexia and other learning needs. Dr. Irwin is also the co-author of Serving Learning Disabled Students in Christian Schools. You can follow Dr. Irwin on LinkedIn or contact her at


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