Have you got a digital camera in your classroom? If so, it can provide the ideal tool for effective inclusive learning, especially for those with more profound disabilities. Add the multimedia authoring software packages that are increasingly offered free or at low cost, and you have tools to help pupils with day-to-day communication in the classroom and beyond, as well as providing the perfect platform for transition plans from school to adult life.
The Rix Centre is a charity carrying out research and development on the use of the media to help with learning disability. For more than five years it has worked alongside special and mainstream schools, exploring ways to use digital cameras and computers in the classroom as well as in adult and community care settings.
At JFK, a local authority special school in Newham, east London, digital cameras are used as communication aids in a weekly Rix Social Club. University students befriend pupils who do not speak and create video clips that capture other ways learners communicate: gesture, noises, behaviour and signing.
These clips form the first pages of the transition plans that go on to feature photos, sound and video clips charting the important things in the pupils' daily lives that need to be considered as these plans are made.
Video clips also provide the best way of recording achievements in living and work skill, plus a reminder of what routines and procedures pupils have learnt, such as boiling the kettle safely or using a photocopier.
At Mayfield Special School in Birmingham, video has enabled staff to show parents that what their children have achieved in school has outstripped their expectations.
Software such as Photo Story, available free online from the Windows website, provides easy ways to compile the materials so that they can be taken home or shared in review sessions, capturing pupils' skills, wishes, choices and desires in formats that everyone can understand.
Packages such as Comic Life offer an easy way to add captions, speech and thought bubbles to bring photos to life, reinforce what they are intended to mean and sequence them to tell stories.
Multimedia and social network-style personal profiles provide a popular platform on which to bring pupils with special needs together with peers from the mainstream. The independent living themes are relevant to the curriculum for teenagers with and without disabilities, alongside themes such as citizenship and disability awareness, plus technology.
Multimedia platform and user-generated content puts communication between pupils on a more level playing field than class activities based on writing, the Rix Centre has found.
Now that teenagers are so keen and confident, using new media for social networking after school on sites such as YouTube and Facebook, we have tools for inclusive learning and communications that pupils need no encouragement (and little assistance) to use effectively.
Andy Minnion is director of the Rix Centre, which is based at the University of East London
Find Photo Story 3 for free download at www.microsoft.comwindowsxpusingdigitalphotographyPhotoStorydefault.ms px.
Comic Life is available from plasq.comcomiclife and there are great ideas and tips for using this at www.macinstruct.comnode69.
Keep up-to-date with use of new media for pupils with learning disabilities at www.rixcentre.org.