How iPads, iPhones, Macs are used in the special education classroom

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Using iOS and iPadOS in the classroom opens up affordable options for students and teachers alike after the initial investment. Let a special education teacher show you what Apple devices can do in education.

For teachers, saving time and money is paramount. These will of course be followed shortly by securing all classrooms and closet rooms. In fact, the ability to harness the power of Apple’s devices and software is certainly useful when attempting to perform such conservation.

Many teachers are turning to technology to help them create better lessons, save on supplies, and provide more opportunity and student success. Here are some ways teachers are using iPhones and iPads in the classroom while saving their hard-earned, sharpened pencil money.

Physical flashcards vs. flashcard apps

Teachers typically have to pay out of pocket each school year to replace their flashcard packs. Teachers swear this is the package that will stay perfect; but try what you will, these paper multiplication table cards are no match for any class or age!

This has led to an increase in the use of flashcard apps. Rather than having to determine if this year’s set can make it to next September, there’s always a fresh digital pack available on your iPad.

If you’re a teacher and want to make sure you’ve got the right set, be sure to check a few different options before presenting it to your students. There are tons of flashcard apps on the App Store, each ready to help with the assessment of a variety of topics. You can even download an app and create your own!

Dedicated voice hardware and apps versus iOS and iPadOS

New and experienced teachers quickly learn that the same iPad or iPhone that replaced their flashlight and camera has now also become a multi-tool in the classroom. Special educators and administrators are no strangers to the ridiculous costs of dedicated hardware and software.

Speech-to-Text or Text-to-Speech (TTS) hardware and software are unnecessarily expensive. Even if teachers simply download an app, it can cost more than it needs to. For example, NaturalReader has great features and great feedback scores, but its freemium options range from $9.99 to $109.99 for a monthly or yearly subscription.

Better managing the tough education budget can be using a combination of free note-taking and dictation software that’s already built into iOS or iPadOS.

Students who need or need assistive technology to write can use an iPhone or iPad to open a new note and dictate their answers. Then their data can be copied almost anywhere on the iOS or iPadOS systems and to your favorite word processor. Best of all, these notes can be saved to the cloud and later presented as evidence of student progress!

FM Units vs. AirPods with Live Listen

FM units allow teachers to amplify or broadcast lessons for the benefit of specific students with hearing disabilities or delays. Unfortunately, these devices are often built with ’80s hardware, programmed with ’90s software, and then sold for double the price of an AirPods and iPad combo.

FM units may also require a medical certificate or be part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This makes them expensive and difficult to obtain without a prescription. Here’s one listed on Amazon for $1863. And that’s at the low end of the pricing.

However, tons of money could be saved by using AirPods and LiveListen.

Live Listen is a free, built-in accessibility feature for iOS and iPadOS. Just about any type of AirPods and Beats wireless headphones can connect to an iPhone or iPad, allowing them to use their headphones as a listening device. Similar to an FM device, the iPhone or iPad becomes the device’s microphone and transmitter, and the AirPods/Beats become the receiver and headphones.

While it hasn’t hit the mainstream yet, this combination has the potential to save teachers, schools, and entire school districts thousands of dollars.

There are a few downsides, but the list is pretty limited.

First and foremost, the student must own either a pair of AirPods and an iPhone or iPad; or at least be able to connect their AirPods to their teacher’s device. Not only do these devices need to be charged and managed for everyday use, but also for long-term storage.

Second, AirPods are by no means free. They can get lost or even swallowed, so teachers and parents of young students and/or certain students with disabilities may find that AirPods Max are better and still a lot cheaper than the alternative.

On the other hand, it must be reiterated that the cost of an iPad and AirPods Max combo still costs less than almost any FM unit option, and not by a bit.

Cost less

Manufacturers and vendors like to charge extra for semi-niche products because, frankly, they can. And the US insurance industry lets them charge extortionate prices.

As long as there is little competition, prices will remain high. Proprietary technology for education, and specifically for special education, is an expensive endeavor, but today’s FM units are nothing surprising.

Calling FM units glorified walkie-talkies would be too bold a metaphor. These technologies are widely used and certainly shouldn’t cost schools or families inordinately much money.

It’s important to remember that the instructors are the professionals and it’s not strictly necessary to meet their equipment requirements. However, it is equally important to spend some time becoming familiar with the hardware and applications used in the classroom.

Whether you’re a teacher or a parent of a child with special needs, always be aware of how much money you can save simply by knowing.