Abstract

This study aimed to analyze how the Social Software tools could respond to the needs of parents and teachers of students with multiple disabilities in improving their practices, as well as provide information and resources related to the topic of multiple disabilities. The study was implemented in Portugal and involved 45 participants: 25 special education teachers, 5 regular education teachers, and 15 parents of children with multiple disabilities. Using the NING platform, we built a social network, which we set in motion by creating online spaces to share experiences and thoughts. These spaces sought to respond to the needs and difficulties reported by the participants. We adopted a Design-Based Research methodology and used several data collection methods and analysis techniques. The results showed that several dimensions were crucial to create this Social Network, such as the tools, the moderation and the management of the social network and the participation of the teachers and parents involved. It also confirmed that the flexibility of the tools used led to the development of a stimulating environment that allowed sharing experiences and knowledge about multiple disabilities. The teachers' participation revealed progress over time. The most active participants assumed attitudes of creator and critic, whereas the roles of collector, spectator and inactive were taken on by those with a more passive attitude. The teachers exhibited more active attitudes than parents. The teachers' assessment of the social network was positive for all the aspects under study and they felt that their participation had a significant impact on teaching practices. Results indicate that parents did not actively get involved in the social network, which shows that virtual contacts may not properly serve their needs. We infer that parents need a different approach, more focused on supporting and less on learning. Overall, the study indicated that the Social Software allowed co-created knowledge among teachers, sharing of experiences, thoughts and resources, along with supporting better connections and cooperative learning. Nevertheless, such co-creation can only be achieved if participants take an active role in the use of the Social Network.

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