from Educators' eZine
The integration of Information Technology (IT) into schools is provoking an ever–evolving discussion. Conflicting research findings, new hardware and software, a lack of understanding of new technologies, plus the high costs of IT implementation will fuel the debate for some time to come. Against this background, in 2005 Atlanta International School (AIS) began the process of updating its classrooms with grade–appropriate IT hardware and software. This case–study charts the questions we asked, our insights and discoveries, our successes and failures, and our progress to date.
What have researchers found regarding introducing IT into classrooms?
We began by considering evidence that IT indeed can enhance student learning. Among the literature is a study by Stratham and Torrell (1996) in which researchers reviewed 200 studies on the effectiveness of technology in supporting student learning in grades K–12. Among the positive findings were that students seemed to work more collaboratively on IT projects and were more motivated when computers were involved. The general positive trend reported in their study is summarized in their conclusion: "With proper implementation, computer technology can transform the classroom and create a superior learning environment."¹
The term "proper implementation" is key here. Stratham and Torrell note that only when educators use IT resources with careful planning does student attainment show success. One way in which AIS interpreted "proper implementation" is to tie IT activities to the lesson outcomes and learning, and not use IT as a mode of writing (i.e., typing reports). In essence, incorporating IT as a learning tool is important.
In an early study Kulik and Kulik (1991) reported findings on the use of IT in the classroom based on their review of 240 studies focused on this topic. Their findings reflect similar conclusions: "In 81 percent of studies, students in computer–based instruction had higher exam scores than those students without technology."2 At the time, 1991, their study was the most comprehensive review of literature on IT use in K–12 classrooms. Later, Kulik (2003) repeated his research method looking at 75 new studies; he noted negative findings on "drill and practice" software, often used in math lessons, and positive outcomes for software programs like Accelerated Reader, a daily progress software used widely in primary and secondary schools for monitoring reading practice. The reward system that Accelerated Reader employs, which appeals to students, and its broad content base, were cited as possible reasons for the program's success.
Studies have found a minimal impact of IT and learning. Young (1997) tested 107 sixth graders in Georgia, exposing one group to lessons that included IT, and the other group to the same lessons but no technology. Overall, there was no significant difference in attainment between the two groups. Small studies like this are significant; however, it is important to note that larger reviews of more than 50 research studies tend to highlight the positive outcomes of technology use in schools.
Armstrong and Casement (2000), in their book The Child and the Machine, feel that IT interferes with children's development by stifling experiences in the natural world. However, in a school context they seem to suggest that when IT activities are tied closely to lessons, there are often positive correlations between enhanced learning and IT. An example of this is a science–based activity seen at a school in Atlanta where students investigated the nutrients that plants need to grow; the students were considering hypotheses that focused on the need for water and light. The teacher introduced simulation software where the students could see the effect of reducing air, water or sunlight on plants. This helped the students better understand how plants grow. They were able to visualize the process, which helped them to think about what was most important for plants in terms of air, water and light, and to determine the extent to which plants could survive without specific nutrients. This software program appeared to be a useful learning/teaching tool because it allowed the children to test their ideas and inform their outcomes, but it did not help students record data, nor did it present facts or theory. Moreover, since this software was tied to the lesson's goals and objectives, and engaged the students in the learning process, it positively affected their learning.
In summary, our review of published peer–reviewed articles suggests that educational IT, if carefully selected and used, can enhance learning. However, we need to keep in mind that IT can have negative impacts, as significant research has found. This caveat is reflected in the International Baccalaureate's (IB) advice to primary grade teachers: "IT provides opportunity for the enhancement of learning, and may significantly support students in their enquiries and in developing their conceptual understanding."3 The word 'may' asks educators to be discriminating with the application of IT in lessons, but there is a clear acknowledgment that IT can support learning.
The fact that teachers need to be discriminating in their software choices is clear, but this statement clearly indicates that IT can be a valuable resource when thoughtfully applied. Based on this advice from the IB and our own research, AIS decided to move forward with IT development and classroom integration. However, we constantly monitor its use to ensure that the IT software that we implement is closely tied to learning outcomes and that it is integrated into the curriculum rather than merely being an interesting distraction for students, or a simple mode of communication.
What our research found
To investigate whether IT would link directly with the Primary Years Programme (PYP), we looked at the PYP trans–disciplinary skills of communication from the IB. We wanted to see whether these skills could be taught via IT, or with the support of IT. Our conclusion: in nearly all cases, we found that trans–disciplinary skills can be taught through IT.
PYP Communication Skills
Communication Skills Using IT
Listening to IT instructions in a lesson or online broadcast
Presenting their research on countries to the class using Kidspiration® software
Reading electronic texts from children around the world and recounting what they have learned to their class
Writing journals and newspaper reports electronically, to have them electronically stored
Watching online movies about children from around the world and noting differences in lifestyles
Using Kidspiration® software to present research on various countries to the class
Considering shapes and colors when putting presentations together
For AIS, the strong findings from this research supported our decision to move toward IT integration. If we can link IT use and trans–discplinary skills as closely as this, then we could link our PYP units of inquiry to IT.
Our IT starting point
Two years ago, Atlanta International School—an IB school with 950 K–12 students, of whom 500 are in the elementary grades—was at a different place in terms of IT. We used the PYP and offered a dual language program where students from Kindergarten and up were taught in English one day and then a second language (French, Spanish or German) the following day. The school was not using IT specialists, but we did have technical support, although no educational guidance on IT. Hardware consisted of two shared spaces with computers 'packed in' for students (Grades 6 through 12) to drop in and use as needed. The computer–to–student ratio was approximately 1 to 30, with some additional hardware such as liquid crystal projectors, for example, dotted around the school. Documentation of IT coverage in the curriculum was nonexistent as were expectations for students and teachers.
Against this background, faculty and parents began to apply pressure on the administration to upgrade our IT resources. The arrival of a certified technology teacher/coordinator highlighted our inadequacies, as did the growing national and local press coverage of IT successes and failures in both public and private schools. Georgia's State Education Board was pumping money into IT development and teacher training, some of which we could access even as a private school. The state was also producing IT curriculums and expectations for students and teachers alike. Finally, the IB and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), via on–site inspections, were beginning to identify a lack of IT as a substantial weakness in schools. Thus, we began to assess our IT resources and options for introducing IT into our classrooms.
How we introduced educational technology
The arrival of myself as the Primary School IT coordinator in 2006 prompted the Primary School to look at IT with a clear focus and informed guidance. My position involved teaching fifth grade half time and coordinating IT the other half. It was a demanding position, but the classroom teaching provided fertile ground for me to test IT programs and gain insights in terms of IT applications and student needs and preferences. Being able to say, "I'll try this in the classroom," or, "It was not a problem in my room," proved to be powerful support of IT programs and gave credibility to my suggestions and recommendations. My IT coordinator role was a middle management position that required me to attend key meetings in school and push IT programming. Perhaps the most influential aspect of my role was the fact that I was not hired to be an IT teacher. I was there to guide, plan and support teachers but not teach for them. I should qualify this by saying that if teachers were nervous about teaching with IT, I would offer to assist or just be present for the lesson, but the expectation was that teachers were to teach IT to their classes with or without my support. The most important reason for this was to make sure that IT lessons were closely tied to the curriculum and lesson outcomes. Much research noted the importance of tying lessons to actual lesson outcomes; specialist teachers might pick up the general trend of lessons but not the precise direction; however, the assumption was that the classroom teacher knows best about what is going on in lessons and is able to integrate IT into the curriculum.
Keeping IT at the top of the school's agenda was, at times, difficult but proved helpful in encouraging teachers to integrate more IT into their classrooms over time. In faculty meetings, I made a point of sharing some of the latest software we had bought, or wanted to buy, or a new IT initiative that a teacher had implemented. Sometimes I would just simply discuss a recent lesson, or encourage more people to sign up for professional development in educational software. In many ways, it did not matter what I spoke about, as long as IT was part of the discussion. If action on IT was needed in departmental meetings, I would ask to attend to take notes on what teachers were doing with IT and what support they needed from me. Additionally, I would invest much time with teachers who were particularly enthusiastic or interested in incorporating an IT program into their curricula; conversely, I put no pressure on teachers who were clearly not interested in IT although I would continue to present new IT ideas to the faculty as a whole.
Stephen Covey (2003) writes that the most successful people focus on their area of influence, the things they can do something about, and ignore areas they can do nothing about. When we focus on things we cannot change, we get frustrated and achieve little. Therefore, it is important to look at your area of influence, and make changes where you can. The teachers who wanted to move forward with IT did so, and to my surprise, over time, with their enthusiasm, they brought many of the less enthusiastic teachers along with them. Now, the number of teachers who are not interested in educational IT has shrunk to the single digits in a faculty of 75 members.
Of course, we have achieved many accomplishments along the way: we have set IT skill expectations for teachers and students, developed IT schemes of work that fit inside our units of inquiry, introduced Smart Boards™ and laptops, and accessed local and state funding for professional development in IT. However, looking back, the most important step for me as the IT coordinator was to pose educational technology in a positive light, to emphasize how it can supplement teaching and stimulate learning. Everything I presented related to IT was positive; providing assistance was never presented as "too much trouble;" trying to solve hardware or software problems was always presented as a learning opportunity to both teachers and students. Because of this attitude, teachers quickly learned that I would not get frustrated with their problems and concerns, and they soon openly shared their concerns with me and asked for help and guidance whenever they needed it, no matter how small the problems may have been. IT can create many frustrating moments, and rightly deserves criticism for sometimes being clunky, "user hostile" and very expensive. Nevertheless, as IT hardware and software become more refined and user friendly, and as teachers become more familiar with operating it, bugs and all, it is proving to be an exceptionally useful teaching tool in our school. Listening to criticism and managing the problems that frustrated teachers faced with IT has been a substantial part of my job these past two years, along with helping teachers recognize and seize the opportunities that technology can deliver.
Educational technology is relatively new and therefore bound to cause frustrations and pose concerns, particularly because the education of children is involved. The years ahead will bring amazing new discoveries in IT software and implications for education, which will inevitably prompt heated discussions about its efficacy and cost effectiveness. Atlanta International School will be part of this debate, but it is clear that we have enhanced our curricula to date with this technology and will continue to integrate IT with a discriminating eye, to reap the positive and avoid the negative outcomes of educating students with the support of educational technology.
- Stratham, D. S. and Torell, C.R, (1996), Computers in the classroom: The impact of technology on student learning. www.temple.edu
- Kulik, Chen–Lin C. and James A. Kulik. (1991). Effectiveness of Computer–Based Instruction: An Updated Analysis. "Computers in Human Behavior 7:75–94
- International Baccalaureate Organization. 2007. Primary Years Programme. Making the PYP Happen: A curriculum framework for international Primary education. IBO
- Armstrong, A. and Casement, C. (2000) The Child and the Machine. Robins Lane Press.
- Baucer, J. and Kenton, J. 2005. Toward technology integration in the schools: Why it isn't happening. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education 13.4
- Covey. S. R. (2003) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey Co.
- Edwards, S. 2005. The Reasoning behind the scene: Why do early childhood educators use computers in their classrooms? Australian Journal of Early Childhood 30.4.
- Hamilton, B. (2007). Integrating Technology in the Primary Grades. ISTE Publications.
- International Baccalaureate Organization. 2007. Primary Years Programme. Making the PYP Happen: A curriculum framework for international primary education. IBO
- Kulik, Chen–Lin C. and James A. Kulik. (1991). Effectiveness of Computer-Based Instruction: An Updated Analysis. "Computers in Human Behavior 7:75-94
- Kulik. J. A 2003. Effects of Using Instructional Technology in Elementary and Secondary Schools: What Controlled Evaluation Studies Say. SRI International Project number P10446.001
- Lorson, Mark V. 1991. "A Comparison of Microcomputer-Based Laboratories and Traditional Laboratory Methods in the High School Chemistry Laboratory." Doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University. Dissertation Abstracts International, 52, No 03A (1991): 0870. (UMI Number: AAG9120688)
- Stratham, D. S. and Torell, C.R, (1996), Computers in the classroom: The impact of technology on student learning. www.temple.edu.
- Young, Jerry. W. 1997. "The Effect of Four Instructional Methods, Gender, And Time of Testing on the Achievement of Sixth Graders Learning to Interpret Graphs (Direct Instruction, Computer Aided Instruction, Video Observation, Computer Lab Activities)." Doctoral dissertation, University of Alabama. Dissertation Abstracts International, 57, no. 12A (1997): 5125. (UMI Number AAG9714291).