A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Across the nation, 6.5 million, or 13 percent, of public school students ages 3–21 receive special education services. Yet 49 states report a shortage of special education teachers and qualified personnel. These significant numbers illustrate the nation’s demand for highly qualified teachers who are equipped to educate these students. Thankfully, Michael Kennedy, assistant professor at the Curry School of Education, is helping to produce the best possible teachers for such students, well prepared to make a difference as soon as they hit the classroom.

Kennedy has pioneered a new type of instructional tool designed to help teachers implement evidence-based practices. Content Acquisition Podcasts—or CAPs—unite the simplicity and appeal of multimedia with time-tested instructional design principles, resulting in benefits for students with special needs.

Comprised of engaging audio and visual content, CAPs are short instructional vignettes designed to convey a single topic of interest. A recent study conducted by the Curry School and published in the journal Exceptional Children shows that students who received multimedia instruction outperformed peers who read the same information in texts. Schools and universities across the country are already putting the videos to use.

Kennedy’s work was initially made possible through a $10,000 grant from the Dean’s Research & Development Fund—a discretionary resource established by Richard R. “Dick” Abidin, renowned professor emeritus of the Curry School, and Peter K. Scaturro, a member of the Curry Foundation Board of Directors and retired financial executive. Designed to support early development research with the potential to significantly impact education, the fund provides promising young faculty with the ability to pursue their work.

Asked about the grant, Kennedy noted the array of opportunities it has helped to create for his team. “That money has had a long life and reach for us,” he said. “It helped fund the Charlottesville teachers who wrote scripts for the CAPs we used in multiple studies, and it allowed us to conduct a study that informed numerous presentations and publications, extending the reach of our work. We’re tremendously grateful for it.”

Kennedy is now working to integrate the CAPs into a larger professional development process that includes providing teachers with access to individual slides as well as tools that measure teacher performance in the classroom.

Having recently secured a $400,000 early career grant through the Institute of Education Sciences, Kennedy has high hopes for the future of his research. “We’re committed to making sure special education teachers have the tools they need to go out into the world and do their jobs effectively. What we’ve accomplished to date is just the beginning.”


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