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Identifying the right technology to support a student (and the black box technique)

The black box technique, (also known as the tools in the SETT framework) is very simple. It allows you to make a recommendation for appropriate technology for a student even if you have never heard of that technology before.

SETT is an acronym for:

  • Student – know your student’s learning needs and abilities

  • Environment – understand the demands of the learning environment

  • Tasks – set learning goals and know the tasks the student is expected to do to achieve those goals

  • Tools – identify the right technology to support the student (black box)

This blog on the AutisMate website gives a good explanation

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Image from http://autismate.blogspot.co.nz

Black box techniqueimage

Simply imagine that you are giving your student a black box. List the features that the black box would need to have to support that student’s learning. Once you have developed the list, use it to select technology options with the specific features you are looking for.


Here is an example of a feature list for a student whose learning goals are to improve their independence in tasks involving reading and writing. They also aim to improve the legibility and quality of their writing and increase their output:

  • keyboard access – for increased speed and improved legibility because the student struggles to write with a pen

  • provides spelling support – because their difficulty with spelling tends to stop the flow of writing and this, in turn, means the student often gives up

  • text-to-speech – so they can have their work, and other text, read aloud to them as their reading level is below their comprehension level

  • save and review work – so they can edit and easily change work

  • portable - from class to class and from school home

  • dedicated - able to be used all day and in all classroom situations

  • long life battery – able to be used all day

  • quick and easy to use e.g. open and load/ able to get started with work

The black box technique is great because it takes the focus off the technology and back onto the students learning needs.

If you come up with a list and have no idea what technology would be a good match you can then get help from a technology expert. The district technology coordinator at your local Ministry of education office may be able to provide some ideas – or post here and we may be able to help.

Note: this blog replaces an earlier version that was deleted due to my change in profile/workplace



  • Alison P

    Thank you Lynne - I love the idea of the black box technique. I sometimes feel we get trapped into providing the same assistive tools again and again without considering the "big picture" for the student. I especially feel the learning environment can become a secondary consideration to the tools but this method ensures it is fully considered.

  • Lynne Silcock

    Thanks Alison

    Yes I agree the technique is very powerful and keeps the focus on the learning.

    I also agree about the environment. In the past I have seen people consider the needs of a student in isolation. When this happens the result can actually support isolation instead of enhancing inclusion .

    Now that standard everyday technologies such as iPads and laptops have so many accessibility options we can sometimes recommend them even when students have quite specialised needs - and this can be one small thing that supports collaboration and inclusion.



Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology

Using technology to support students with disabilities and special learning needs.