It's About T.I.M.E.! (Technology Improving the Methods of Education)

Introduction

Wouldn't you say that it is about time for all educators to at least give technology infusion a try? What's holding them back? Educators tend to ask themselves the same questions:

  • Why do I need to use technology in my classroom?
  • How will technology help prepare my students for those high-stakes standardized tests?
  • How can I integrate technology into my lessons without it causing chaos in my classroom?
  • When do I have the time to use technology?
  • How can technology benefit my students who have special needs?

But perhaps a more important question is: How can we afford not to teach with technology?

Background

Researchers have discovered the answers to these questions and many more by testing and applying basic research theories related to improving educational practices through technology infusion. According to Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999),

"Winds of change are blowing through American classrooms from several directions. Schools are serving a more ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse student body than ever before. From our universities and research institutions, studies about education, cognitive psychology, and neurology have offered new insights on how humans learn. And from the marketplace, the infusion of technology has redefined work skills and society's expectations about what it means to be an educated person."

Based on previous research, several factors have emerged regarding technology integration into the educational setting.

Research Related to Technology Integration: A Case In Point

Researchers link technology-enriched learning environments to improved higher-order thinking skills.

  • Studies of Peck & Dorricot (1994) and Van Duson and Worthen (1995), (as cited in Hopson, Simms, & Knezek, 2001-2002) affirms that "the use of technology applications allows students to organize, analyze, interpret, and evaluate their work." These are higher order thinking skills that are made possible with the use of technology.
  • Meyer, K.A. (2003), 6, reveals that "there is growing evidence that online learning, if appropriately designed, will improve students' critical thinking and writing."
  • In the study of Hopson, Simms, and Knezek (2001-2002), 109-119, acknowledged, "technology was the tool that allowed the students to move beyond knowledge acquisition to knowledge application".

Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999), chapter 4, shares an excellent example of a Biome research lesson that promotes higher-order thinking skills.

"Following a textbook study of biomes, this eleventh grade environmental science class began an Internet research project of two of the biomes discussed--the rain forest and another of their choice. Pairs of students accessed Microsoft's on-line travel site, Mungo Park, 'traveled to a rain forest and another biome and maintained a journal on each contact. Working in pairs, the students used daily journals, as well as other research sites and non-Internet sources to develop a word-processed research paper on two biomes. Through the journal-writing component, students reflected on and recorded their impressions about both the information gathered and the information-gathering process. The classification, analysis, and synthesis of raw data into a refined report modeled the progression of higher-order thinking skills. Finally, the timely, real-world data from primary sources needed for such an exercise would have been impossible to gather without the Internet."

Thus, technology does serve as an important tool (and in some cases, a necessary one) when engaging students in higher-order thinking skills and ultimately preparing them for success on high-stakes standardized tests.

Project-Based Learning

Researchers continually show that project-based learning using technology can and does build cooperative group and team cooperation skills and promotes the opportunity to build social skills that are team-oriented.

According to Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999), chapter 3,

"Introducing technology into the learning environment can encourage cooperative learning and student collaboration. If they are allowed to converse, most students like to talk about their computer work and share their strategies. Classroom activities that are structured so that computers encourage collaboration build on the learners' desire to communicate and share their understanding. It takes planning and intervention to build successful cooperative groups with or without computers, but groups that use computers as teambuilding tools have a better start with collaborative work. Beyond the classroom, computer networking allows students to communicate and collaborate with content experts and with fellow students around the globe."

Likewise, learning is affected by social interaction. As Adam, S. & Burns, M.(1999), chapter 1 explain,

"Discussions, conversations, explanations, listening--all these are ways we learn by interacting with others. Project-based activities encourage social interaction and introduce multiple perspectives through reflection, collaboration, negotiation, and shared meaning. In many situations, learning is enhanced by verbal representation of thoughts--it helps to speak about an idea, to clarify procedures, or float a theory to an audience. The exchange of different perceptions between learners enriches an individual's insight."

Teachers concerned about "time issues," need worry no more. Teachers who use a project-based approach to teaching soon realize that the student is doing most of the work. The teacher still has important responsibilities to carry out — like "establishing the structure that launches student exploration, serving as a team leader and guide to completing the project with success, setting and keeping curricular goals, assessing students to ensure that learning is occurring and managing classroom activities so that all students participate in the active learning process" (Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999) chapter 1)

However, it is a different kind of "work". It reminds me of what a teacher once told me: "Work smarter not harder!" Working smarter allows teaching and learning time to be much more productive. A good example of a project-based learning activity that involved technology and promoted cooperative group skills was recorded by Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999), chapter 4:

"This lesson is a good example of a learning activity enhanced by technology. Students were able to choose their favorite story and create a similar tale based on their own interests. Cooperative groupings allowed for collaboration as students brainstormed, dialogued, and critique their products. The interdisciplinary nature of the exercise provided a window on the culture of a chosen country. The word-processing program made for easy revision and reflection on the writing process. Finally, through Email and the Internet, students were able to connect with their counterparts in other schools and to publish their work to a broader audience."

Technology and Real-World Experiences

Researchers also validate that by using technology as an educational tool, we prepare our students for real work skills and future success in the technological society that we live in today. Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999) chapter 3, report that

"as students gather more real-world data, share their findings with learners beyond their school, and publish their findings to the world, their role broadens from investigators of other products to designers, authors, purveyors, and publishers of their own work. The use of real world tools, relevant experiences, and meaningful data inject a sense of purpose to classroom activity. Part of the mission of educational institutions is to produce workforce-ready graduates who can, among other things, manipulate and analyze raw data, critically evaluate information, and operate hardware and software. This technological literacy imparts a very important set of vocational skills that will serve students well in the working world."

Technology and Students with Special Needs

The best thing about technology is that all students can benefit from it, regardless of their age, sex, social-economic status, or special needs. Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999), chapter 3, state:

"Technology has allowed schools to provide greater assistance to traditionally underserved populations. Assistive technology such as voice recognition systems, dynamic Braille displays, speech synthesizers, and talking books provide learning and communication alternatives for those who have developmental or physical disabilities. Research has also given us an indication that computer-mediated communication can ease the social isolation that may be experienced by those with disabilities. Computers have proved successful in increasing academic motivation and lessening anxiety among low ability students and learning disabled students, many of whom simply learn in a manner different from that practiced in a traditional, non-technological classroom."

Conclusion

Technology-enriched environments can aid in the preparation of students for success on high-stakes standardized testing by improving critical and higher-order thinking skills. Technology can also be integrated into teaching without causing chaos. All students can benefit from learning with technology, especially students with special needs. Technology has actually made learning possible for special needs students in ways that did not exist before. Hopefully, more and more educators will come to understand the benefits of utilizing technology in the classroom and the role that technology plays in the future lives of their students and begin to model what researchers have indicated to be effective teaching practices through technology infusion. It's About T.I.M.E.!

References

Adams, S. & Burns, M.(1999). Using Technology to Enhance Learning. In Connecting Student Learning & Technology (Introduction). Austin, TX: Pangloss Publishing.

Adams, S. & Burns, M.(1999). Learning as a Personal Event. In Connecting Student Learning & Technology (chapter 1). Austin, TX: Pangloss Publishing.

Adams, S. & Burns, M.(1999). Building On Technology's Promise. In Connecting Student Learning & Technology (chapter 3). Austin, TX: Pangloss Publishing.

Adams, S. & Burns, M.(1999). Using Technology to Enhance Learning. In Connecting Student Learning & Technology (chapter 4). Austin, TX: Pangloss Publishing.

Adams, S. & Burns, M. (1999). Making It Work. In Connecting Student Learning & Technology (chapter 5). Austin, TX: Pangloss Publishing.

Hopson, M. H., Simms, R. L. & Knezek G. A. (2002-2002). Using a Technology-Enriched Environment to Improve Higher-Order Thinking Skills. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 34(2), 109-119.

Meyer, K. A. (2003). The Web's Impact on Student Learning. T.H.E. Journal, 30(10), 14,16,20,22,24, &1.

Email: Willie Ennis, III

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