Bridging the Digital Divide with an EETT Grant

Walk into Ms. Miller’s seventh-grade language arts classroom today and your first hint of something exceptional is the ray of projected light shooting from the ceiling. Follow the light and your eyes are led to the projected image of the day: a live search of an online database for periodicals related to Ellis Island. Next, your line of vision may focus in on the six multimedia computers, printer, and space-age looking scanner neatly aligned beside the traditional language arts accessory, the bookshelf.

While this description may describe any number of classrooms that you have recently visited, what is not always apparent is the potential impact that this environment has on student attitudes towards learning.

Positive Impact on Student Engagement

The key word is “potential” impact. A classroom may be readily equipped with the most advanced technology, but there is no guarantee that this will effect learning. Various studies indicate that technology has a positive impact on student engagement; however, a great degree of this impact has been shown to be a novelty effect. The real factor for successful and enduring student engagement is how the technology is used, in the classroom, to augment teaching and learning.

Research reveals that technology-enriched classrooms have the greatest likelihood of enhancing student attitudes about learning (Becker, Ravitz, & Wong, 1999), increasing positive social interactions (Wallace, 2004), and developing student’s information literacy skills (Grisham & Wolsey, 2003) when:

  • Technology is only one of many tools upon which teachers continually draw;
  • Technology is used only when it is the best fit or the most appropriate tool for the specific learning objective;
  • Technology integrates with the curricular framework;
  • Productivity software and tools allow student exploration and experimentation;
  • Teachers use technology to differentiate instruction, and
  • Teachers are willing to step out of the traditional role of dispenser of knowledge and take on the new role of facilitator of learning.

With these well-researched components, one school district’s project was developed to have a lasting impact on student’s lives and learning, and even to close the digital divide.

The EETT Project

Last year, Ms. Miller’s classroom had one computer, no LCD projector, and no scanner. Her thoughts of having a technology-rich classroom were a distant dream. Ironically, Ms. Miller has long been technologically-adept, employing it to create lesson plans and assignments, take attendance, keep records, and locate resources to supplement the curriculum. She also believes in project-based learning, where she has developed and assigned both group and individual paper-and-pencil based projects. Ms. Miller knew she had the potential to have a greater impact, if she could just get the students more excited about the projects.

Fast forward to a year later, when Ms. Miller’s classroom, along with that of every other seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher, has six multimedia computers, a ceiling mounted LCD projector, a top-of-the-line document scanner, a digital camera, and a digital camcorder. Each computer has up-to-date productivity software and an abundance of information literacy resources available at the click of a mouse. With all of these technological additions to Ms. Miller’s classroom, you may be saying, “At last, Ms. Miller has what she needs to engage students.”

If only it were that straightforward. Ms. Miller realized, as have several researchers, that it is not the technology that creates the impact; it is how the teacher directs the use of the technology that has the potential for meaningful impact on student engagement and attitudes about learning (Becker & Ravitz, 2001; Wallace, 2004).

The breakthrough happened thanks to the Enhancing Education Through Technology, or EETT, Competitive Grant, round two award. Authorized as Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind Act, 2001, EETT enables schools to address core teaching and learning needs through technology tools. This project, entitled Power InLit, short for Power In Literacy, provided the opportunity for seventh- and eighth-grade students to use technology in their language arts classrooms to attain information literacy standards through researching, analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and communicating information as an active and engaged user of knowledge.

Curriculum Drives the Technology

Throughout the Power InLit project, students use standards-aligned information literacy resources, State and adopted language arts curriculum resources, and project-based artifacts to meet the content standards in the areas of reading comprehension, literacy analysis, writing strategies and applications, and listening and speaking strategies and applications. Students have access to multimedia computers, E-mail, digital video, digital and video cameras, project-based software, scanners, printers, LCD projectors, and information literacy tools. Additionally, information literacy resources differentiate instruction and provide universal access to the curriculum for English language learners and students with special needs.

Supporting Reading and Writing

Underlying goals of Power InLit are to increase the quantity and quality of reading and research materials available to students. Research has confirmed that recreational reading increases reading ability and literacy development (Krashen, 2002). Access to a K-16 online periodical/journal database allows the assigning of State standards-aligned articles to individual students or groups of students, and, if required, have them answer online comprehension questions. Articles are Lexile™ leveled, as are the literary resources available through the language arts curriculum, and teachers may receive answers online. Educators posit that reading is essential for student success in all areas of the curriculum; therefore, reading resources that are standards-based, curriculum-aligned, and provide immediate feedback to students become essential components of the Power InLit project.

In the same way, the project enhances writing strategies that enable students to organize and think critically about ideas and concepts. According to Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001), the generation of nonlinguistic and linguistic modes, found in graphic organizers, enables students to elaborate on a concept, idea, or process. Although all participating students would benefit from the use of an electronic graphic organizer, student-generated electronic graphic organizers are especially beneficial to the English language and special needs students (Swanson and Hoskyn, 2001). All participating students develop electronic graphic organizers to facilitate the reading and writing process.

Teachers also assist students in making real-life connections with project-based learning activities using technology to reach beyond the walls of the classroom. Research reports, multimedia projects, E-mail, blogs, Podcasts, and video presentations are examples of assignments that maximize students’ ability to make connections with the world. Research supports the associated benefits of using project-based learning to meet academic standards and to facilitate student motivation and engagement, more time on task, more complexity, and a sense of pride and accomplishment (Simkins, Cole, Tavalin, & Means, 2002). By way of the Power InLit project, students experience and achieve these benefits.

Impact of Using Internet for Research

Power InLit makes abundant use of the Internet which (along with student E-mail, discussion boards, information literacy resources, and video technology) has enabled students to directly locate and communicate with experts who can provide valuable information to support the curriculum (Mercurius, 2003). According to Means (2001), “The potential of technology to provide the conditions that research indicates are conducive to meaningful learning: real-world contexts for learning; connection to outside experts; visualization and analysis tools; …problem solving; and opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision” (p. 58) are built into the Power InLit project. Students using technology for collaboration in an authentic environment have opportunities for social interaction, connections to learning, and the critical evaluation of information. In the language arts classrooms, students are taking technology to the next level; they are demonstrating meaningful learning by using technology effectively.

Teacher as Facilitator

Teaching with technology incorporates a fundamental shift in the instructional process. Teachers become the facilitators of learning and are no longer seen as “the expert” who dispenses information into student minds. The classroom takes on a constructivist approach. T eachers in the Power InLit project organize student work around meaningful activities and augment the content through constructivist teaching practices; thereby, students benefit from inquiry-based instruction and self-directed learning (Becker, 2000).

Change In Teaching Style

In Ms. Miller’s classroom one of her students inquired about formatting the layout of her Microsoft® PowerPoint presentation. The following demonstrates her constructivist teaching practice.

“How are you going to make the text larger?” Ms. Miller asked, while observing the student’s work on the projector.

“I forgot.” The student replied.

“You forgot!”


“I’ll give you a hint. Highlight all of it,” responded Ms. Miller.

“Ah Ya,” replied the student.

Ms. Miller’s interaction with this student demonstrates her development towards teacher as facilitator and student as a self-directed learner.

As many teachers in the Power InLit project, including Ms. Miller, have discovered, the goal is not about the technology, it is all about the creation of meaningful learning activities. Teaching with technology is not synonymous with integrating technology into the curriculum (Mercurius, 2003). Being labeled as a competent technology user is different from knowing how to teach effectively with technology (Becker & Ravitz, 2001; Wallace, 2004).

Teacher Profile

The participating teachers are seventh- and eighth-grade language arts, English language development, and special day class teachers. Approximately 30 teachers from three middle schools are participating in the project. Six of these teachers were selected to be Technology Integration Coaches due to their curriculum expertise. Each participating teacher has committed to a two-year training program that culminates in the creation of a professional portfolio. Teachers focus on creating student-centered classrooms that use technology to enhance the learning process.

The experience level of the Power InLit teacher ranges from beginner to adept veteran. All teachers are content area specialists; however, their personal use of technology, and their experience in using technology to enhance instruction and student learning was minimal. Over 75% of the seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teachers completed the “CTAP,” or California Technology Assistance Project proficiency assessment ( Analysis of the data indicated that a mere four percent of the participating teachers surveyed stated they were proficient in the area of instructional technology, but an average of 22% of the same group felt they were personally proficient in various technology applications.

Professional Development: One-on-One Coaching Model

Using the results of the CTAP proficiency assessment, the project implemented a systematic professional development program focused on increasing teacher’s personal and instructional proficiency levels was. According to Joyce and Showers (1999), teachers are challenged to transfer the theories and strategies acquired in professional development settings into actual classroom practice. Based on the findings of Joyce and Showers, it was apparent that Power InLit’s professional development program provides for real classroom models and experiences, peer-coaching, and teacher collaboration in order for teachers to transfer application knowledge into meaningful instructional strategies.

Peer Coaching

Thus, the CTAP Region 10 Professional Development faction was selected to provide the professional development support for the Power InLit project. CTAP’s partnership has supported the integration of technology into the language arts curriculum through the training of coaches and technology integration expertise. The six Technology Integration Coaches, two from each middle school, attended the first professional development session; a four-day summer Coaching Academy provided by the CTAP partnership. The coaching academy did not teach the teachers how to use technology. It reviewed adult learning theory and research-based coaching models to assist first time coaches in the collaborative process of one-on-one and peer support. Each coach was responsible for:

  • 10 follow-up coaching days;
  • six after school project-based workshops;
  • two full-day collaborative workshops;
  • one information literacy workshop;
  • two formal pre observations, observations, and post observations.

Each semester participating teachers must attend two project-based workshops, two full day collaborative workshops, and one information literacy workshop. Coaches and participating teachers maintain a professional portfolio demonstrating their increased use of technology to support the curriculum. Portfolios include electronic student work samples, teacher lesson plans, documentation of workshop participation, and personal reflections of their technology integration experiences.

The professional development provides both theory and practice with enhanced strategies to augment the instructional foundation for reaching the approximately 3,400 students that will benefit and be literacy-nourished through the development of the project. The project provides numerous technologies and differentiated instructional strategies to empower the teachers with augmenting the individual literacy needs of the students.

Students in the Digital Age

By providing students with opportunities to use technology to move beyond the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge and comprehension) to the higher levels (application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) students are expected to become active, engaged, and independent learners. An ideal PowerInLit classroom:

  • Uses technology to read, gather, write, and present;
  • Accesses information efficiently and effectively;
  • Evaluates the accuracy and relevance of information;
  • Organizes and applies information in critical thinking and problem solving; and
  • Produces and communicates ideas in electronic and multimedia formats.

As one Power InLit teacher bragged, “My students are thinking at levels that I never thought they would be able to achieve.”

Multimedia: The Students’ World

Students expect to see and use technology in the classroom. As a colleague says, the millennial generation is “light impulse” trained while pre-millennial generations are “pencil paper” trained. Unlike the majority of the teachers in the Power InLit project, multimedia technology is the means of communication of the students. Therefore, when the Power InLit program began, it was not a surprise that the students embraced the resources at a much quicker pace than the many teachers did. As one student pointed out, “This is the way I learn. I like to read from a screen. It’s natural for me.”

It is also readily apparent that students take a more active role in learning when technology is in the instructional mix. An amazing thing happens when an image is projected onto a screen at the front of the classroom – students pay attention. Questioned about this phenomenon, a student confirmed, “It’s cool. It’s like we’re watching TV and the pictures and sound make what the teacher is saying more interesting.” This is just one example of how technology changes students’ perceptions and attitudes towards learning.

Students’ Social Interaction and Attitude

Through the Power InLit project, students are responsible for cooperative learning and the publishing of several assignments. What has astonished teachers is that students have taken these assignments well beyond the stated requirements. Once students understand that their work will be published electronically or on paper, their attitude toward the quality of the work increases. Several students were asked about a recent project that culminated in the publishing of a group newsletter. Each student agreed that they took more time than normal making sure the grammar, spelling, and content were correct. One student whispered, “I don’t like to write, but the computers makes it easier and more fun. I knew I had to make sure my article didn’t have mistakes, because everyone was going to read the newsletter.”

Another student described working in a group on a multimedia presentation. She mentioned. “I really like working with my friends. If there is something I don’t remember, they can help me. I’m really good at drawing, so they asked me to choose all the pictures. It was cool to see my drawings projected on the screen.”

The students participating in the Power InLit project are getting the opportunity to shine in an area with which they are extremely comfortable – technology. From the student statements, it is evident that technology, when used to its potential, enables students to feel connected to learning, experience pride of ownership, develop social connections, and essentially engage in meaningful learning.

Author’s note : The name of the teacher, Ms. Miller, is a pseudonym.

Email:Paula S. Ford and Neil Mercurius


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