FROM VIRTUAL COMMUNITY TO COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE – AN EXAMPLE OF SPECIAL EDUCATION
Special Education policy is radically changing in Portugal, with the inclusion of children with severe disabilities into mainstream schools. Until 2007-2008 these children and youth were integrated in special private institutions which were state funded and, presently, are being reconverted into resources centres for school inclusion.
Special Needs Education concept used to embrace a much larger spectrum of children and youth with learning difficulties, poor school performance or behaviour problems. Nowadays, only children with severe disabilities are being identified through instruments such as the International Classification of Functionality, and considered as Special Education target group.
In this context, new structures were created in schools to respond to the specific needs of these pupils: (i) units for pupils with autism; (ii) units for pupils with multiple disabilities; (iii) reference schools for deaf pupils; (iv) reference schools for blind pupils; a network of ICT resources centres for special education, located in schools, each one supporting other schools, at district level.
This project work takes into account an experience of a virtual community of special education teachers working in the ICT Resources Centres for Special Needs Education, extrapolating to a larger virtual community - Special Education Virtual Community - embracing the teachers of all the networks referred above. It aims at a truly dynamic and participated community, a community of practice, in which its members promote debate and share experiences and may help each other to find the most adequate solutions for the pupils they have to support.
KEYWORDS: eLearning, virtual community, community of practice, learning community, ICT, assistive technologies, accessibilities, special needs education, inclusive school.