Integration of Technology in the Classroom:
An Instructional Perspective
by Ron Richmond
SSTA Research Centre Report #97-02: 36 pages, $11.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This resource was developed by the Saskatchewan
Instructional Development and Research
Unit (SIDRU) for the Saskatchewan School
This report explores issues and concerns relating to
the pedagogical uses of the new technologies for
learning across the curriculum. There exists
appropriate pedagogical uses and potential misuses
of technology in the classroom. Within the
broader definition of technology, there is a need to
move beyond acquisition of tools and ensure the
development of technique if teachers and students
are to profit from greater access to technology. This
report calls for greater support for teachers in
learning to use technology effectively in the
AN OVERVIEW OF TECHNOLOGY
CHANGE IN EDUCATION
The New Technologies in Education
Prospects for Change
Debate Over Standardization
A Saskatchewan Approach to Quality
The Needfor Strategic Planning
The Needfor a 'Systemic' Perspective
ASSESSING THE POTENTIAL
IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY
Reflecting on the Nature of
The Transformational Effects of
The Effective Management of
Technology in Classrooms
Technology and Empowerment
Centralized Vs Distributed Control of
Questions of Structure
Technology as a Social Symbol
Demand for Maintenance and
Advantages of Systemic Integration of
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN
Reasons for Acquiring Technology
Practices and Issues
Curriculum-Free versus Curriculum-
CONSIDERATION OF SYSTEMIC
A Systemic Approach
The Emergence of Standardized
The Role of the Teacher—The
The Critical Needfor Technical
Back to: Technology
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The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the authorand may not be in agreement
with SSTA officers or trustees,but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making
This review of technological change in education focuses primarily on educational
practices in K-12 classrooms and the expected effects of new forms of electronic
communications and computer-based technologies in these settings.
We have the opportunity and challenge to explore the potential benefits of one of the
most significant developments in communications since the invention of moveable
type. However, planning must ensure that priority is given to the quality of teaching
and learning and that educators at all levels understand the pedagogical relevance of
Although technology has been acquired by schools primarily to support
learning about technology, it is now possible to consider technology for its potential
in supporting learning with technology. The latter applications may be categorized
according to various types of available software. Each type has different potential
benefits and limitations when applied to classroom situations. In preparation for the
effective use in classrooms, teachers will need to have a critical understanding of
these different types of applications, and be given guidance in integrating the new
technologies into their repertoire of teaching skills and strategies. Basic to this
analysis is the idea that tool-type technologies are only as effective as the techniques
employed in their use. Too often, the emphasis on technology acquisition is to acquire
the tools without adequate priority to technique.
Effective use of technology to support teaching and learning across the curriculum has
the potential to transform the learning environment. While there are calls to use
technology to restructure, there are reasons to view these calls with a critical stance,
and to recognize that few blueprints for this type of massive change exist. Rather,
there is much experimental use of technology in classroom learning. Many attempts to
implement change are locally conceived and are often dependent upon the leadership
of certain key educational leaders. While this may be perceived as meeting immediate
needs there are reasons to believe that, as a strategy, it is inadequate to bring about the
significant and effective change that is possible with the new technologies.
A major weakness of current change strategies for achieving greater learning with
technology is the optional 'add-on' nature of most attempts at local change. Typically,
teachers and students engage in classroom learning within an existing system of
teaching/learning resources and relevant methods. Adding new technologies to an
existing system does not achieve a transformation so much as the addition of more
responsibilities for technical creative approaches by teachers. Some teachers will feel
comfortable adding technology in their teaching. However, other teachers may
perceive technology as demanding too much time and effort for the limited benefits
that they perceive will accrue them or their students. If new technology is to achieve
an appropriate supportive role for both teachers and students, a plan for systemic
change is needed to use technology in a highly integrative way so that both teachers
and learners can realize practical benefits of having technology available.
Since local attempts to enhance learning is currently the primary mode of bringing
about change, it is important for teachers to understand the pedagogical functions of
various types of technology and software. At a basic level, it is possible to distinguish
between objectives and activities that focus on technology as an 'end' of instruction,
and those that focus on technology as a 'medium' for enhancing learning across the
curriculum. In the latter case, there is a need to recognize that certain software
applications promote forms of 'direct' instruction. Often these applications (including
educational games, simulations, practice activities and tutorials) are easiest for
teachers to use and have the potential to provide significant assistance to teachers. In
the past, however, many of the products in this category were misused in the
classroom and, at times, earned the criticism of more discerning educators. Effective
use of software intended for direct instruction has been beneficial in many settings
and for many specific uses when implemented by teachers who have a clear
understanding of potential benefits and limitations of such learning resources.
Other learning software includes the common basic applications, such as word
processing and spreadsheets, which serve quite different purposes in the learning
environment and make different demands on the creative ability of teachers. Too
often, the reliance upon tool-type software in the classroom creates significant
demands on the teacher without adequate provision for training and the continuing
support necessary for teachers to implement these methods successfully.
Providing adequate support for teachers, both in terms of professional development
and on-site technical support, is critical for the effective encouragement of teachers to
become active technology-using teachers. A number of issues relate to this process
need to be taken into account when developing plans for technology implementation.
Planning and implementation strategies that place a high value on a systemic
perspective considered essential when addressing the full range of needs and inherent
relationships that together create and sustain an effective learning approach.
Finally, it is important to recognize that certain cooperative and commercial
approaches to achieving change in the classroom are on the horizon. Such options
provide means to develop an instructional model for adoption at the local level. While
the options are limited, the trends in the use of technology indicate that
standardization and mass utilization of products will affect both cost reduction and
quality enhancement. The prospect for use of these approaches seems to be currently
in conflict with the strong desire for local control. However, there are examples of
approaches to reading instruction, for instance the Reading Recovery program, where
development of strategies, resources, and provision of professional training is
considered to be highly successful in achieving desired change at the classroom level.
Instructional leaders should critically monitor the development of such products at the
IBM TLC program. While costs may yet be too high and curriculum content issues
continue to exist, it is likely that major solutions to the effective integration of
technology throughout the curriculum will be achieved more quickly through
collaborative and even certain commercial approaches than through relying upon local
initiatives to bring about the desired change.
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Many educators believe that the new computer- and communication-based
technologies have much to offer K-12 education and that infusion of technology into
school settings will bring profound changes. While significant change is already
underway, and more change can be expected, the trends are in need of critical
In this paper the nature of technology is analyzed, together with the nature of teaching
and learning, to identify the potential application of technology to classroom learning.
Different types of applications to learning are identified together with an analysis of
the benefits and limitations of each. The paper identifies and analyzes different
perspectives on how change should be approached and implemented.
AN OVERVIEW OF TECHNOLOGY CHANGE IN EDUCATION
THE NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN EDUCATION
Tin K-12 classrooms and the his review of technological change in education focuses
primarily on educational practices expected effects of new forms of electronic
communications and computer-based these settings. The report technologies in does
not address such specialized interests as distance learning applications, recognized to
be of critical although these are interest to parents and educators in remote
communities. Rather, the focus is on nature of teaching and the more generic learning
with technology and the strategies for approaching technological change in typical
The 'new technologies' referred to throughout this report include the educational
applications of computers and communications technologies which commonly come
in the form of stand-alone computers, local area networks (LANs), and connections to
the Internet and other forms of wide area networks (WANs). It is also assumed that
schools will have a mix of older and newer equipment: Some that have full
multimedia capability (color, graphics, sound, animation, and display of short audio
and movie clips), and some that can be used in a more limited way for word
processing and a variety of less sophisticated, but effective, interactive learning
The Promise of Change
Just as the industrial revolution created tools that served to off-load the physical
labour previously carried by both 'man and beast,' the information revolution is
creating tools that promise assistance in the intellectual dimensions of our lives. While
the technologies of the industrial revolution were at times misused and misapplied, so,
too, the technologies of the computer-generation must find their appropriate place
within our communities and our schools. Some would rather wait until the
experimentation is completed and guidelines for effective use are made clear. For
others, participation in formulating appropriate practices is a professional experience
they would hate to miss.
We have the opportunity and challenge to explore the potential educational benefits of
one of the most significant developments of our generation. Many of the issues
confronting us are complex. We live in a changing context of new products and
capabilities. Indeed the rapidity of change in the field creates high expectations for
new and fascinating applications to learning, but the lack of stability created by
constant change counts as one of the significant stumbling blocks to implementing
widespread change in classrooms.
Consideration of technology in the educational context must be approached with some
clear priorities. It is essential to give priority to the nature of teaching and learning and
to question the pedagogical relevance of the new technologies. Without a constant
reminder of how humans learn, a preoccupation with technology may well introduce
distortions of value and purpose that the critics of technology in the classroom most
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PROSPECTS FOR CHANGE
For most people following the current trends in information technology, it seems only
a matter of time before the power of these new technologies will be harnessed for
significant learning advantage in the schools throughout our country. Many educators
believe that a revolutionary change in K-12 educational practice is about to occur. The
roles of both teachers and learners are expected to significantly change. Indeed, some
believe that the institution of schooling will be massively restructured.
Adopting a Critical Stance
While prophets of a 'new millennium' abound, critics are attacking the perceived
trends and superficiality of educational analysis which accompanies the head-long
rush to promote the use of high technology in schools. Maclean's gave space to this
debate in it's 1996 back-to-school issue (August 26, 1996), as did the CBC in a recent
showing of its News Magazine (July 9, 1997). Are educators moving too quickly to
embrace the new technologies? Educational decision-makers must have a clear
understanding of the purposes for which the technology is being acquired and a
workable plan for ensuring that the intended goals are likely to be achieved. With
tight budgets and competing needs, debates will continue.
Popular Expectations for Change
In contrast to the historical pattern for introducing change into schools, the current
acceptance of technological change is often characterized by a bottom-up rather than
top-down approach. If teachers and local administrators are not clamoring for the
latest technology, it is often parents who have initiated or given strong support to the
changes they perceive to be critical to the education of their children. Too often in
these scenarios, there is too little debate about the educational value of the technology
being acquired, and too much confidence that hardware is a cure-all for whatever
educational short-comings are perceived to exist.
The Forces for Educational Change
Some of the primary forces for change in schools include:
the continuing debate about what constitutes "education," "intellectual
competence" and "preparation for life"—are we preparing the next generation
adequately to cope intellectually in the new information age?
the growing demands for technological literacy and personal technical
competence as a means for people to access, select, and effectively use
information of relevance to their lives—do young people have an appropriate
set of abilities to use the new technologies adequately?
the concern for schooling efficiency that includes the possibility of controlling
per-student costs through the judicious use of new communications and
interactive learning technologies—can technology help us to be more effective
in schools while still maintaining reasonable controls on costs?
a general concern for increasing the effectiveness of schooling for all students,
and a specific concern for meeting the needs of 'at-risk' students and others not
currently well-served by established schooling environments—can technology
break-down some of the systemic barriers that have tended to discourage
certain groups of learners and replace these with learning opportunities that are
motivational and engaging for all.
Perceptions of Needed Change
Strategies for achieving change in schooling practices may be categorized according
to the extent and depth of required change. Easiest to implement, perhaps, are the
minor adjustments to the existing ways of doing things. By making a series of small
corrections, significant change will evolve over time. In recent years this approach is
increasingly viewed as 'tinkering with the system.' Some educational planners view it
as an inadequate response to the real needs which call for more substantive change.
Needed changes, it is argued, are more basic and 'systemic'—changes that are likely to
be only achieved through "restructuring with technology." (Knapp & Glenn, 1996)
Educational leaders continue to debate the prospects for classroom reforms. Even
among those who call for major infusion of technology into the classroom call for
radically different roles for technology. Although change in K-12 schooling practices
permeates the educational scene throughout the continent, many of the architects of
change have only the briefest of sketches to guide them. It is well known that
educational practice is frequently guided by traditions, by philosophical perspectives,
and by the charismatic leadership offered by key individuals. (Sarason, 1995;
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DEBATE OVER STANDARDIZATION
Technology—at least in some of its most powerful forms—thrives on standardization
and wide-spread acceptance. Costs are lowered as standardized items are mass-
produced and distributed. To date, many of the technical tools have been developed
for markets other than the classroom—often the office and the home. The educational
market is highly specialized. Standardization applied longitudinally, along the
learning path of a given student, suggests limitation of experience and potential
boredom rather than enrichment of the learning enterprise. Standardization, if needed
to bring costs down and achieve continuing commitment to quality enhancement,
must be achieved latitudinally—across increasing numbers of schools, school
districts, and beyond. For example, an excellent math or science lesson will be most
useful only once in the typical learning path of an individual student. It becomes an
economically viable product only if its use is distributed across thousands of students
in hundreds of schools.
Use of computers and the wide-area communications capabilities provided by e-mail
and the Internet create a plethora of uses of technology in the classroom. In contrast to
the concern for standardization and mass production, many advocates promote a view
of technology use that is highly idiosyncratic and dependent upon the teacher's
creativity and technical competence. Herein lies part of the complexity of addressing
the issues relating to technology in the classroom. There are significantly different
uses for technology in the classroom. Some educational applications involve only the
common software applications that have been primarily designed for the work place.
Other applications, however, require the programming of interactive lessons which
can lead students step-by-step through the development of key curriculum ideas.
Within this context, educators debate whether technology should be viewed primarily
as generic tools, subject to the creative uses of teachers, or whether a technology can
realistically support the development of new systems where learning might be
facilitated with a radically different, technology-rich, learning environment.
Because of the variety of perspectives on technology and its uses, there is concern in
some quarters that technological change will occur in classrooms for the wrong
reasons and that technology will redefine both the form and substance of learning
activity without careful consideration to its inherent biases and limitations.
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A SASKATCHEWAN APPROACH TO QUALITY CHANGE
In Saskatchewan, the thoroughness of recent curriculum reforms and the continuing
commitment to renewal suggest that a good foundation has been laid for an in-depth
examination of the role of technology in the classroom. While it now seems inevitable
that technology will play a significant role in the transformation of classrooms in the
future, other educational practices must be maintained and extended. These include
curriculum reform, quality interpersonal relationships within the school, the use of
peer- and cross-age tutoring and mentoring, and new ways of integrating parental
involvement in schools. Approaches to technology change must support such
developments. Technology, as important as it may be in the restructuring process, is
not a panacea. Rather it only one significant part of a much larger integrated effort to
recreate enhanced learning environments for children and youth in the province
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THE NEED FOR STRATEGIC PLANNING
While educators are often aware of needed improvement in schools, the potential role
of technology is not always clear. However, there is a growing recognition that the
approach chosen for engaging in technological change has significant cost
implications and needs to be approached with both technical and professional insight.
Leaders who choose to promote technology need to be aware of the growing body of
research findings—much of it currently summarized on the Internet—that is relevant
to decision-making, while being sensitive at the same time to specific local needs and
priorities for change. (Cradler, 1996).
Two major problems characterize technology implementation efforts: 1) lack of
clarity about the purposes and processes of implementing technology, and 2) limited
understanding about the systemic change necessary for successful implementation.
Without effective planning to address such critical concerns, there is evidence that
considerable waste in resources will continue to be associated with technology
acquisition and use—a loss that schools can ill afford.
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THE NEED FOR A 'SYSTEMIC' PERSPECTIVE
The concept of 'systemic' change is central to technology implementation. The term
emphasizes the complexity inherent in classroom learning environments, the
importance of inter-relationships which exist among various components of an
instructional/learning system, and the significant relationships that exist between the
classroom and the larger organizational and community environment. The complexity
and uniqueness of each community require that change facilitators adopt a process of
planning and implementation that is open to collaboration with stakeholders. Without
such participation, research findings suggest that change efforts have little hope of
continuing success. (Carr, 1996)
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ASSESSING THE POTENTIAL IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY
REFLECTING ON THE NATURE OF TECHNOLOGY
Technology as Tool and Technique
The idea of 'technology' encompasses both 'tools' and 'technique.' In general, a
'technical approach' may mean either an approach that is dependent upon specialized
tools, or it may refer to an approach that is characterized by well-defined and
The integration of the new media technologies into learning environments can be
analyzed in terms of both tools and appropriate techniques. Acquiring a tool may be
desirable, but learning to use it effectively is of critical importance—a matter that is
frequently overlooked in our current preoccupation with acquiring physical hardware.
The Importance of Technique
Learning to use certain computer-based technologies effectively is not always a
simple process. A computer, by itself, is of little educational value in the classroom. A
computer acquires value only with the addition of software—a program that
effectively reconfigures the machine into a highly specialized tool. We can expect that
teachers will need dozens, if not hundreds, of programs. Furthermore, each
reconfiguration or application is associated with appropriate techniques for its
Realistic expectations for effective use of computers in the classroom are important.
First, some forms of technology will make heavy demands for the professional
development of teachers. For example, word processing by secretaries may be only
one part of the expertise possessed by individuals, but expertise in using this one
software application is often considered critical to their productivity. In the future,
teachers will be expected to have skills with word processing comparable to many
secretaries while, in addition, will be expected to guide up to 30 youngsters in
learning its use, develop the technological literacy to converse meaningfully about the
technology, and be able to trouble-shoot the variety of problems created by novice
users who are struggling to achieve skill and competence. Likewise, effective teachers
may be expected to be proficient with dozens of other specialized software packages
in addition to word processing—and be skilled in teaching others to use these
techniques as well.
While technology, from slates to VCRs, has always been a part of schooling, it is also
true that technologies used in stable conditions are largely taken-for-granted. It is
difficult for educators to imagine an approach to teaching and learning that differs
significantly from what we have been conditioned to expect in schools. Teaching skill
in using the existing technologies has been acquired through extended personal
experience, the inculcation of teaching methods in teacher education programs with
the conventional technologies, and the continuing use of these technologies, with only
slight variation in schools today.
How Tools Define our Current System
What has evolved over the years are patterns of professional functioning, dependent
upon certain physical technology elements (chalkboards, textbooks, worksheets,
writing instruments, and even different types and arrangement of classroom furniture),
that define the instruction and learning of teachers and students.
There have been some changes. We have witnessed the introduction of resource
centres in schools that have supported some significant changes in learning methods.
Many teachers also attempt to implement cooperative learning methods. Long since
forgotten, but no less significant, were the ill-fated attempts to use the concept of
open-area classrooms. Some of these techniques have been introduced with relatively
little demand for new and different hardware-type technologies. But change of
methodology—as in the case of resource-based learning—often creates demands for
further change in the types and variety of both the tools (i.e., resource materials) and
facilities (i.e., resource centres).
Our concept of learning resources now includes a vast range of on-line, immediately
accessible electronic resources that will create a new framework for expanding
resource-based learning methods. New techniques will need to be acquired by
teachers and new facilities will be required to effectively integrate these new
resources into classrooms.
Sophisticated Tools May Simplify the Teacher's Role
The type of new technologies now being considered for adoption, are often
qualitatively different from many of the older-style, more primitive technologies.
While it is true that using word processors, spreadsheets or the new multimedia tools
in the classroom will place certain new demands on teachers, there are other computer
applications that are sufficiently well designed that first-time users can find the
products of immediate advantage in both teaching and learning.
The level of sophistication in newer educational software products has largely reduced
barriers to effective use. Well-designed software products using the newer graphical
user interfaces (GUIs), popularized by the Macintosh and Windows operating
systems, create user environments that are highly intuitive, increasingly natural, and
potentially 'transparent' to the user. The goal in the design of such tools is for learning
to take place in ways that allows users to focus directly on the curriculum ideas being
developed with few distractions by the hardware/software tools that mediate the
This review suggests that there are categories of hardware/software applications (for
example, many curriculum-specific products) that make relatively few demands upon
the technological sophistication of teacher and students. However, teachers need to
use their pedagogical knowledge to decide when and how to use these tools for
Transformation of Teaching
From a systemic perspective, the introduction of computer-based technologies into
schools will have a transforming effect on the roles of teachers and the administrative
and physical structures of schools. From a professional perspective, teachers will be
expected to add to their repertoire of teaching strategies and methodologies. This is
not likely to come easily, since there is seldom much time available for practicing
teachers to acquire new skills and strategies. But new tools, without appropriate
techniques to use them effectively, render the tools largely ineffective.
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THE TRANSFORMATIONAL EFFECTS OF TECHNOLOGY
Technologies always have a 'transforming' impact on the environments into which
they are integrated. The current models of schooling have evolved over time to
maximize the functional possibilities of schools equipped as we have know them.
Changing one major element of this environment can trigger a cascade of changes,
which will 'transform' the nature of schooling itself. This systemic change will affect
the interrelationships and interconnections in classrooms and schools.
Minimal Change Expected with 'Add-On' Technologies
Many school people are only starting to become aware of the potential of changes
underway. In the early phases of such changes, technology will tend to be added in
ways that makes few demands for substantive organizational change. For instance, we
can expect that students will learn word processing to allow them to create their
papers and reports in the crisp, attractive form which students themselves, find to be
so attractive and motivational. From a curriculum perspective, however, not much
may change immediately. Additions to the curriculum will have to be made to include
the introduction of some basic computer knowledge and skills, the development of
keyboarding skill, and ability to create and manipulate graphic images that may be
used to dress up a report. All of these changes are generally regarded as marks of
progress. However, research and writing skills likely will not have changed
substantially. Technology in this case, may be viewed as peripheral to the basic
curriculum processes involved. But the potential to bring substantive change to the
educational scene through technology starts with activities of this type.
The 'intelligence' of computer- and communications-based technologies now promises
to add significant value to the learning process. The new technologies can create a
strong impact on the ways learners engage in the perceptual, communicative and
intellectual domains of schooling activity. The potential of the computer as a 'mind
machine' promises to do for the 'knowledge industries' what earlier forms of machines
have done for industries that relied on physical labour.
Advancements can fashion a new and different environment for learning. Not only
will advantages be gained through the connectivity possible between schools and
across national borders, but the management of learning in the broadest sense can be
assisted in the selection and implementation of emerging classroom systems.
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THE EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT OF TECHNOLOGY IN CLASSROOMS
Technology is a phenomenon that can and must be shaped and controlled to meet real
needs. Technological change may appear, at times, to take on a certain life of its own.
There is a fear that 'technology rules' and that human needs at times are relegated to
Who Designs and Controls the Systems?
It must be understood, however, that change is the product of collective personal and
social decisions and actions. While technology may be blamed at various times for
changes that threaten our quality of life, these criticisms are often misdirected. Any
new system has been designed and implemented by human decision-makers. In
education, as elsewhere, new systems will be put in place by people. It is critical to
consider who will make the decisions, and the values that will guide the decision-
If technology seems to take on a life of its own, it is because heavy investments are
frequently required to implement new systems and, once they are in place, there is no
turning back—the new system must be used. Problems also arise due to the
'unintended consequences' which invariably become evident after new systems have
been adopted. There are frequently many positive details about an existing system that
are taken-for-granted—details that are not fully understood and appreciated, at least
not until it is no longer available. The introduction of new systems, often perceived to
be so glamourous and convenient when promoted, often have hidden flaws and short-
comings that frequently lessen the enthusiasm of adoptees at later stages.
Importance of a Balanced Critical Stance
While there is an important role for critical analysis of trends involving the new
applications of technology, it is also important to balance this stance with a critical
assessment of prevailing instruction and learning practices. This balanced examination
of both new and old systems is necessary to determine what needs to be preserved and
what needs to be replaced. The current system is highly deficient in many ways; we
have become conditioned to accept its limitations and too often rationalize its lack of
While change, for the sake of change, is clearly foolhardy, clinging to the familiar and
the routine will jeopardize effective learning on the part of many students. While a
conservative approach to change may be a pragmatic stance until the advantages of
change are evident, there comes a time when a conservative response must be
classified as reactionary and possibly even professionally irresponsible.
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TECHNOLOGY AND EMPOWERMENT
While the increasing reliance upon sophisticated technology is creating profound
changes in society, many of us still choose to use the latest technology for our
personal benefit. Technology, especially in those cases where we personally have
chosen to adopt and use it, is found to be 'empowering.'
Our common experience with technology is that we can do more—better and faster.
Even a book is a far more efficient form of participating in story-telling than is the
more 'natural' and intensely 'human' methods of past storytelling. While few would
deny the beauty and appropriateness of traditional story-telling, we recognize the
advantage of capturing stories in media form—experiences in an accessible and
convenient form. The new technologies create a similar opportunity to break the
conventional molds of teaching and learning practices. They are following the same
trends that we learned to with books to new levels of sophistication, interaction, and
Technology Frequently Increases Local Freedoms
With so many opportunities to use sophisticated technologies elsewhere in life, it is
evident that today's students expect and even thrive on increased access to technology
in the school environment. Many of the computer-based applications, from word
processing and Internet browsers to graphics programs and other multimedia
development software, represent powerful tools that provide learners with
opportunities for creating something intensely personal. Other forms of technology,
such as many of the interactive learning programs, are highly structured and designed
to simulate the role of the tutor in one-on-one interactive learning contexts. But even
within these highly prescribed forms, students have unique opportunities to enjoy a
flexibility and quality of learning that exceeds what is available in traditionally
structured, teacher-centred learning environments.
Can Teachers Achieve Freedom with Technology?
Teachers, too, need support in discovering the empowering benefits of technology.
Too often novice users of the newer technologies are intimidated by the required
discipline to use the new technology effectively. This phase of learning seems far
removed from the feelings of empowerment that technology often promises. When
technique has been mastered, however, through structured professional development
experiences and adequate practice, the technology will become a commonplace
extension of the teacher's personal capability—in a manner not unlike our use of
telephones or the driving of our cars. Technology has the power to multiply the
effectiveness of teacher time and energy directed at teaching and learning.
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CENTRALIZED VS DISTRIBUTED CONTROL OF LEARNING SYSTEMS
One of the great fears of technology is the perceived lack of control that accompanies
increased use of technology. In the same way that centralized publications and
distribution of textbooks limits local control, so other forms of electronic media raise
issues of participation and control. Centralization of production is a critical attribute
of most technical products. If production did not occur, there might well be much
greater local control, but local personnel would also be inundated with labour-
intensive demands that would be overwhelming and counter-productive. With
technology, compromises are sometimes necessary in balancing the advantages of
centralized and standardized production in the interests of maximizing the effective
use of limited resources.
Adoption of technology has usually broadened the range of options in people's lives.
While centralization of book publishing continues, the variety of books from which
individuals can select is more than adequate to meet the particular local standards for
form and content. So, too, with the emerging new technology alternatives for schools.
Although the range of choice is not yet adequate, the variety and quality of products
are increasing rapidly.
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QUESTIONS OF STRUCTURE
Structure in any environment creates an arrangement of freedoms and limitations that
both enable and restrict. The new learning technologies are celebrated for their ability
to convey information in multimedia formats, with little delay, and with greater access
to vast stores of information. To achieve these 'freedoms,' however, an infrastructure
of hardware and software technology must be in place, all configured according to
high degrees of technical conformity to industry-wide standards and conventions.
Indeed, many of the 'high-touch' benefits are found increasingly to be achievable
through 'high-tech' environments.
The key to optimum technology integration is to provide the appropriate freedoms
conducive to effective learning within technology structures that are ideally designed
to support such teaching/learning activity. Unfortunately, the classroom market in the
past has not been lucrative enough to entice the media industry to respond with quality
products for classroom use. Even the production of educational software, especially
those products identified as 'edutainment,' has been developed primarily for the home
market. Educational versions of many software products have appeared to be
'afterthoughts' with only minimal efforts expended to truly create a product for
effective use in classrooms.
The development of quality products for the school market is an expensive process
that requires a huge potential market. That market is now under rapid development
and expansion. Indeed catalogues of software products for schools are burgeoning
with new titles. It seems that high-quality products will continue to be developed for
use in schools in the future.
Table of Contents
TECHNOLOGY AS A SOCIAL SYMBOL
A seductive aspect of technology needs to be recognized whenever plans are made to
acquire it. Technology can exert an irrational influence on people. Potential users are
frequently given to flights of fantasy, because technology frequently promises more
than it delivers.
In adopting technology there are significant pitfalls to be avoided, and the motives of
proponents for change need to be understood and frequently countered. As with
automobiles and other technologies with which we are familiar, computer-based
technologies are too often adopted as adornments and status symbols rather than
acquired simply for their functional value. There is little reason, for instance, to equip
labs with $3000 Pentiums for the purpose of providing practice in keyboarding or
providing opportunity for text entry if a $300 notebook-type machine can perform
essentially the same functions. With shrinking budgets and continuing needs for
expansion of hardware to meet classroom needs, close attention needs to be given to
the functional value of acquired equipment.
Table of Contents
DEMAND FOR MAINTENANCE AND REPLACEMENT
During periods of improvement and change, technology becomes obsolete rapidly.
IBM, for instance, has only been marketing personal computers for 15 years, but there
has been a great deal of change in that brief period of time. It seems that the rate of
change of computers appropriate for classroom use is leveling off and the periods for
effective use of equipment can be extended before obsolescence sets in. While
advances continue to move ahead on the networking fronts, currently PCs clearly have
more than enough power and capability to meet most of the interactive needs of
classroom learners for many years to come.
Technology, however, has a way of breaking down. The open-architecture system
continues to have many areas that can and do go wrong. Although systems are
improving rapidly in reliability, we are still reliant on a version of technology whose
development is 'in progress.'
Table of Contents
ADVANTAGES OF SYSTEMIC INTEGRATION OF TECHNOLOGY
As identified earlier, a 'systemic' perspective on change in the classroom represents
some of the most effective approaches to planning for, and guiding the
implementation of, new technologies in support of learning. For instance, asking
teachers to simply 'add-on' additional technical enhancements to their existing
classroom practices may provide an appropriate challenge for some teachers, but,
'add-ons' are frequently perceived to be 'options.' They may be tried for a time, then
discarded. For lasting effect, appropriate ways and means must be found to integrate
technology into the teaching and learning environment so that instructional and
management demands on teachers can be reduced.
There is a tremendous need in many classrooms for teachers to have more time—not
less—to interact at the personal level with individual students. Technology has
provided labour-saving benefits in most environments where it has become
established. We must be realistic in assessing the work-load effects of technology on
teachers if we expect the new technologies to be accommodated by them.
Table of Contents
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM
REASONS FOR ACQUIRING TECHNOLOGY
To clarify the instructional functions of technology in schools, a primary distinction
can be made between:
technology as an objective of instruction, or an 'end' or goal to which learning
is directed, and
technology as an enhancement to learning methods, or a 'means' by which
learning can be facilitated across the curriculum.
Learning About Technology—A Focus on 'Ends'
Until recently, the primary reason for computers in schools has been to
learn about and learn how to use the technology. Prior to specialized courses at the
secondary level, the emphasis has been on integration of technology into general
classroom learning as provided by the Technological Literacy aspect of the Common
Essential Learnings (CELs). Many schools have gone beyond this more informal
approach, however, to specify appropriate learning content and activities for various
grade levels, K-12.
Many now argue that learning about technology represents a 'new basic' for schools,
and deserves strong emphasis along with such traditional areas as reading, writing,
and mathematical competencies.
The focus on learning about technology commonly includes the following:
keyboarding skill development
basic computer operation and care of files and media
basic concepts and terminology (the core of 'technological literacy')
use of common tool-type computer applications: word processing,
spreadsheets, data base and graphics programs
use of such wide-area networking capabilities as e-mail and the Internet
learning the basics of development-type programs such as Logo or HyperStudio
developing an awareness of the social impact of technological change.
Learning With Technology—A Focus on 'Means'
In contrast, the interest in technology as a means by which learning of objectives
across the curriculum can be facilitated is commonly described as
learning with technology. This category of use differs significantly from the first.
Teachers use both 'curriculum-free' and 'curriculum-specific' software that conforms
in difficulty level and content to the established curriculum.
The focus on learning with technology includes at least the following:
use of 'curriculum-free' programs such as the common tool-type applications
(identified above) for exploring ideas and relationships with data; engaging in
problem solving, locating, organizing data and presenting information; creating
reports of various types
use of the Internet and CD-ROMs to access information
use of 'curriculum-specific' courseware of the following types:
~ educational games
~ practice activities
Learning Both With and About—Attempts to Integrate Purposes
The two different emphases on technology may be integrated to a degree in the
classroom. This integration is achieved in different ways at different grade levels.
For example, children at primary levels can benefit from the interactivity of using the
computer as a kind of teaching machine. In a game-like activity, children can practice
identifying shapes and attributes of figures, recognizing numbers and letters, and
performing simple mathematical operations—sometimes through simulated
manipulation of objects. The language arts program, for instance, can often be
enriched through activities such as spelling practice, identifying and using appropriate
words, and writing short stories. As children engage in these activities, they learn to
feel comfortable with technology and are generally predisposed to further learning
At this level, activities may be implemented in various curriculum areas through the
writing and printing of short paragraphs or longer reports. Programs such as Kid Pix
allow very young children the freedom to create their own graphics and to type in
some brief comments about their pictures. The results may be printed out in a size
suitable for posting in the classroom or at home.
In later years, the integration of technology as both ends and means occurs with the
use of the common tool-type programs (word processing, etc.).
A Summary of Instructional Uses of Technology
A summary of the types of activities that characterize learning about computers and
learning with computers and those that attempt to integrate both, is summarized in
Table of Contents
COMPUTER-MEDIATED LEARNING: PRACTICES AND ISSUES
The Nature of 'Mediated Learning'
The use of computer-based media for instruction and learning is sometimes referred to
as 'mediated learning.' This describes situations where the primary learning stimulus
for engaging students is not provided by the teacher, but is provided at least to some
degree by the computer software.
Curriculum-Specific Learning Software—Direct Instruction
In the case of computer-based practice and tutorial programs, the software is designed
in most cases to provide a linear sequencing of information, questions, feedback,
answers, and so on, much as the teacher would do one-on-one with the learner.
Sometimes the term 'direct instruction' is used to classify this type of teaching whether
structured by the teacher in a conventional classroom setting, or whether structured in
the form of a computer program.
In this type of learning software, there may be varying freedoms for the student to
select and terminate lessons at will, but their role is typically that of a reader, possibly
a listener, and definitely a responder. If student responses are consistent with those
deemed acceptable by the teacher/author of the program, students will be judged
positively on their responses and often receive some type of feedback or grading on
These are the types of programs that are increasingly integrated with a database of
performance objectives. As students proceed through the curriculum, their progress
can be recorded and tracked. Students can proceed at their own rate. Where these
approaches are appropriate, research findings indicate that learning may not
necessarily be better than that achieved by conventional classroom approaches, but
learning is often achieved in less time. (Geisert & Futrell, 1995)
A number of the more popular types of curriculum-specific learning software are
analyzed for their perceived benefits and limitations in Table 2.
Curriculum-Specific Learning Software—Indirect Learning
Another form of curriculum-specific software includes simulations and programs like
Logo. In these cases, students operate in an environment with freedom and choice.
Using simulations, learners may choose to make good or bad decisions from time to
time, and the program will respond with consequences that simulate reality. In this
way students may learn from their mistakes, but in quite a different manner than most
linear practice programs that respond immediately with an evaluation of user input.
Types of Computer Uses in Schools
Levels Learning about computers Learning with computers Integrated activities
Primary develop positive
develop awareness of
activities to reinforce
verbal, mathematical, and
general skills such as
use of a variety of
software and simple
creative tools designed
especially for this level
start some formal
Intermediate extend understanding of
basic operations and
develop proficiency in
basic operations of
processors, and graphics
develop proficiency in
word processing to 20
develop skill in
use a variety of
based interactive learning
programs that are
with curriculum learnings;
use a mix of computer-
based activities together
with other activities to
develop and consolidate
appropriately structured in
progressive steps to
identify suitable learning
goals for students as a
group and individually;
progress with computer-
based records of mastery
use programs such as
LogoWriter to develop
some basic concepts of
number and geometry
while developing a sense
of computer programming
management and creative
expression through the
explore topics of
curriculum and personal
interest through use of
CD-ROM and Internet
access; create reports by
documenting sources of
information located in
Secondary establish basic
expectations for all
students in the practical
uses of technology
ensure that all students
develop the vocabulary
of technology use—both
concepts and correct
technology in use
provide opportunities for
specialized courses in
acquire a range of
software as resource
materials in support of
consider acquisition of
course materials in cases
instructional support may
be lacking or over-
encourage use of
spreadsheets and database
programs in addition to
word processing and
graphics programs for
among data elements
use the Internet to
critically assess various
points of view and assess
validity and biases of
different sources of
A program of this type is generally considered an example of an 'indirect learning'
approach. It is often favoured by teachers because such approaches tend to provide a
larger and more realistic context for learning. It also places the learner in a more
active role, with greater freedom for the learner to make decisions.
Logo is a kind of interactive environment in which a student learns to control a
simulated turtle that can be directed to different positions on the screen, creating a
track as it proceeds. Learners can be asked to create a geometric figure of certain size
or shape. They may respond by doing this in any number of ways. The task is
generally presented as a problem, and learners develop certain problem-solving skills
in coming up with a solution that works.
Curriculum-Specific Learning--Examples of Direct Instruction
Types Benefits Limitations Concerns
Educational games usually enjoyable by
students; may support
some are well-designed
and potentially very
often detracts from learning
often sound, animation
and competitive nature
render learning value
knowledge and skills
be sure learner is
ready for this type of
practice and is
range of challenge.
Practice activities useful when massed and
distributed practice is
valuable for consolidating
skills and some verbal
too often used to teach
rather to practice
program are often low-
cost, poor quality and are
used inappropriately or
use where level
can be adjusted to
record of individual
performance can be
Tutorial lessons generally of value to more
may provide an alternative
means of learning/review
often found to be boring
if not used in a mix of
content often differs
significantly from textbooks
and other in-class
may have value
approach is required
short tutorials are
often integrated into
select with care;
quality is often an
This, too, is an example of indirect learning. The task to be achieved does not depend
on any one particular procedure that might be memorized. Rather, different
procedures can be attempted with a variety of potential learnings to be achieved along
In both of these settings, there is an active role for the teacher, but in terms of direct
interaction with learners, it is significantly reduced. Most of the learning that takes
place is dependent upon feedback provided by the program. In both types of programs
summarized here, the computer assumes many of the interactive functions that
teachers would provide if they were available one-on-one with the learner. The use of
these programs can have a significant role in improving the amount and quality of
engaged learning time for students while actually freeing up the teacher to engage in
other teaching functions within the classroom.
A summary of the benefits and limitations of the more popular types of curriculum-
specific learning software that exemplify indirect instructional methods is analyzed in
Allocating Resources for Mediated Learning
In the past, extensive use of technology as a means of instruction and learning has
suffered from a lack of adequate computer facilities. With continuing cost reductions,
this situation is changing.
Curriculum-Specific Learning Software--Examples of More Indirect Instruction
Types Benefits Limitations Concerns
Simulations can be used for discovery-
often used as a culminating
activity after basic learning
has been achieved
there are not a lot of
good simulations out there;
difficult to design
too much reliance on
discovery will be counter-
important to be
realistic about the
need for advanced
teaching in the basic
be sure the model
Logo (math, geometry,
strong on problem-solving
and 'learning by doing'
can be used effectively to
explore many geometric
concepts and relationships
range of challenge
issues; too often task is too
promise of developing
skills has not been realized;
some advocates are now
questioning it value
periodic use is
learning goals are
can be a used
well with some
students who are
and need some
While resources have been in short supply, it is common for these learning resources
to be allocated to special education needs in schools. Specialist teachers in this area
are frequently committed to checking for mastery of basic knowledge and skill
components that are prerequisite to higher-level learning. Through 'direct teaching'
methods and the provision of a variety of practice activities, these fundamental
building blocks are developed and established through intensive one-on-one
interaction with learners.
While mediated learning provided by computer interaction is only one of a number of
methods used in such settings, the novelty of using a computer, and the immediacy of
feedback to learners, can provide a series of effective learning activities for many
Learning Centres and Equitable Use
When one or two machines are located in elementary classrooms, the machines are
often used as 'learning centres.' Consistent with the idea of most learning centres is the
situation where children may choose to engage in certain activities as an alternative
and extension of learning in the classroom. When computer resources are made
available to students in this way, there is a risk that the computer is simply defined as
a novelty or as an 'extra.' Learning centres help to create a rich and varied learning
environment in the classroom, and, from a learning management perspective, can
provide a 'convenient' means to use a computer in the classroom. From a learning
perspective, however, it risks misuse of computers in that the informality of learning
centre use often results in varying opportunities for learners to access the resources.
Students who are already performing well academically often have greater
opportunity to access the centres, with less opportunity accorded to students who
might profit most from the interactive learning capabilities of the machines.
To optimize the learning potential for this form of learning, teachers need to structure
activities so that an appropriate match is made between activities and student needs,
and routines and schedules are developed appropriately to ensure that students who
can profit from this type of activity are able to gain regular access to the workstations.
Mainstream Use of Mediated Learning
The significant potential for technology in the classroom can only be realized as
adequate equipment becomes available for broad-based simultaneous use for
classroom groups of students. A number of strategies exist to maximize the
effectiveness of five, ten or more machines that might be available to a class of
students. Effective use is dependent upon the convenient availability of suitable
software products and sources of information.
The management of software resources is a major organizational responsibility for
teachers unless the machines are networked to provide a centralized store of accessed
resource materials. When a variety of resources are available 'on-line,' it is possible
for teachers to break away from the 'lock-step' instructional models that characterizes
teacher-centred group-based instructional practices, and put in place strategies to
allow for various types of individualized learning activities and progress. The need for
access to resources may not be a major problem when only a few computer programs
are in use. As the number of such lessons increases, the time and care required to
manage resources escalates dramatically. Local area networks are needed to support
broad-based mediated learning in the classroom.
Publishers are responding to this need through the marketing of series of computer-
based learning resources that match the scope and sequence of courses, often from
first to eighth grades. With continuing reductions in costs, acquiring quality on-line
resource materials to enrich classroom learning opportunities is a possibility for
teachers in all classrooms.
Table of Contents
CURRICULUM-FREE VERSUS CURRICULUM-SPECIFIC RESOURCES
Computer-based technology has value in a learning context only to the degree that
appropriate software is available and teachers and students have appropriate
techniques at their disposal to use the technology effectively. The provision of
software is critical and represents a significant portion of the cost of equipping a
school and classroom appropriately for learning. There is a specific role for
curriculum-specific courseware, as there is for reference materials that may be
available in CD-ROM format or browsers for accessing learning resources on the
Internet. Basic computer applications fulfil yet another role.
Consider the case where a spreadsheet program is used to develop some
understanding of exponents in mathematics. By exploring sequences of numbers
involving exponents, it is possible to graph the changing magnitude of such sequences
and gain an appreciation for 'exponential growth.'
When applied to real life applications such as the cost of compound interest in
purchasing a car or a home, technical tools can provide a highly-interactive learning
environment within which students can 'plug-in' their own real-life applications and
immediately obtain results for analysis. These creative approaches to the use of
technology demand a level of technical sophistication on teachers.
In contrast to the tool-type software, some commercial courseware anticipates student
interests, and provide highly structured activities that lead students to specific
understanding of how, for example, compounding interest works. The pre-existing
structure and programmed sequence of tutorial interactions will be designed to lead a
'typical' learner step-by-step toward intended understandings.
While the first approach has been structured creatively by teachers skilled in the basic
operations of spreadsheet technology, the second approach is much less dependent
upon teacher mastery. Further, while the first approach would be implemented with a
group of students having simultaneous access to computers (possibly on a 2:1 basis)
and being able to follow instructions and activities as a group, the second approach is
designed for students operating independently at their own pace, or in small groups.
Assessing the Potential of Curriculum-Free Programs
Tool-type programs that do not directly teach or practice specific curriculum learnings
are often called 'curriculum free' programs. The programs have no inherent
relationship with any part of the curriculum. Rather, as tools, their value and
usefulness derives from the creative ideas and instructional abilities of the teacher.
Reasons to Use Curriculum-Free Programs
Word processing software is so important that schools buy this software if it is not
already bundled with the computer systems when purchased. Programs such as
Microsoft Works include not only word processing, but the other common tool-type
software often considered to be the 'basic applications.' Often draw- or paint-type
programs are also acquired, if not bundled with new systems. This provides the first
argument in favour of use of these products: the software is normally available.
A second argument is that this type of software can be used to integrate technology
both as means and ends. There are many ways in which the broad range of
applications can be used in a variety of curriculum areas, especially from upper
elementary levels and above.
Barriers to Using Curriculum-Free Programs
While the arguments for use are sound, there are some realities that inhibit the
efficient and effective use of curriculum-free programs.
First, these programs are basically tools. For word processing and some graphics
programs, the applications are relatively clear and obvious. Still, teachers need to
create a context for their use—a writing assignment or a project of some type. The
program itself does not structure the learning activity. That structure must be provided
by the teacher. This structuring of appropriate learning activities is more complex if
the intent is to use spreadsheets and data base programs.
Second, as tools, there is a learning curve for any new user. While most teachers will
give high priority to mastering the fundamentals of a word processor, they need time
and effort to gain confidence in its use and master the majority of needed operations.
Unless some formal training is provided, many teachers will have a limited, and often
inadequate, understanding of the capabilities of the program and the standards for
appropriate use in creating documents. If this is an issue for word processing, it is an
even bigger issue for spreadsheets and data base programs.
Third, there is the need for students to develop functional use of the programs before
they can be used efficiently in many exploration activities.
All of this means that a heavy responsibility is placed on teachers (especially at the
upper elementary and secondary levels) to provide effective instruction. Most of these
applications depend upon teachers' creative energy to devise projects and activities. In
most cases, the training and implementation that teachers receive to assist in this
implementation is inadequate. In contrast to most information-specific programs, the
use of curriculum-free software does not reduce the work-load of teachers. Indeed, the
work is significantly increased for those who have the professional commitment and
personal interest to pursue these applications in the classroom.
The situation for lower-elementary teachers is not so critical in that the skill levels are
not as advanced and, if software has been appropriately selected, programs should be
simpler for students to use. In schools where teachers at the lower-elementary level do
a good job in this area, expectations will be even higher at the upper-year levels for
teachers to exhibit advanced skills.
Summary of Benefits and Limitations of Curriculum-Free Software Use
A summary of the potential uses of curriculum-free software products is summarized
in Table 4.
Assessing the Potential of Curriculum-Specific Courseware
Curriculum-specific courseware represents quite a different category of software
products from those examined immediately above. In the earlier analysis of various
forms of mediated learning, a range of software designed to teach and reinforce
concepts and skills was described.
Instructional Software Type--Curriculum Free Software in Curriculum Areas
Subtypes Benefits Limitations Concerns
Word processing clearly, a basic skill in
neatness of product can be
motivational and provide
an affective boost
creative applications exist
throughout all content area
too often used without
adequate initial instruction;
learners stumble about with
word processing when they
should be focusing on
learners often fuss with
how it looks rather than
what it says
suitable for age-
simpler the better—
Spreadsheets a great tool for exploring
practical math applications
all secondary students
should have basic skills
as above, there is a need
for basic instruction in how
it functions before
attempting to use it in
science, math, social studies,
watch for highly
for use at elementary
Data base programs sometimes useful in
intermediate science and
students should have an
understanding of this
as above, attempts to
implement it in content areas
should be preceded by some
development of skill
programs such as
have databases that
are easier to learn if
already been learned
Graphics programs a variety of tools of many
different levels of
great tools for conveying
increasingly useful in the
use of the Internet and
many students will have
these programs at home;
reports can look great even
if content is mediocre
risk here that students
without all the 'techie tools'
at home can lose out if
projects don't look so great
activities and use of
time will become
more of a problem;
some of these tools
are a lot of fun, but
teachers need to be
cautious about the
priorities in use of
various programs now
exist from Kid Pix to
too great an emphasis in
school may detract from
other basic instructional
projects can be
consuming and often
a powerful and fascinating
great potential for
along with curriculum
objectives make excessive
demands on teacher's
time and technical
There is a history of some early forms of these products that may negatively skew the
perceptions of many teachers and educational leaders today. In the early years of
microcomputers, an assortment of low-cost and low-quality 'educational' software was
often provided to schools at minimal cost. Often the software was developed by
students with minimal programming capability and the development of such products
was seldom under the direction of professional designers. The easiest types of
software to create were drill-and-practice programs that were highly repetitive and
lacking in a significant aesthetic appeal. It was common to refer to this software as
computer-assisted instruction—or, later, computer-assisted learning. While this era of
software development is long-since behind us, a legacy remains. Too often teachers
and administrators recall this type of software as representative of the curriculum-
specific lessons that were developed to assist in classroom learning.
In contrast, new products coming on the market show marked increases in quality.
Many products now have multimedia capabilities; many have greater flexibility in
matching difficulty level with needs of learners. Some have increased capability to
leave records of student activity and performance levels, and many programs are now
available as an integrated series of lessons that better support the range and scope of
the classroom curriculum.
Implications for Teachers
New applications promise teachers instructional support and have the potential to off-
load the increasingly heavy classroom burden. Their judicious use in the classroom
provides for a range of electronic learning resources that can be increasingly seen as
alternatives to teacher-directed lessons and common seat work. Use of these programs
does not signal the automation of teaching and learning within the classroom as feared
by some, but rather represent possibilities for various degrees of sharing of the
To use curriculum-specific technology to best advantage, teachers need a renewed
professional understanding of the potential role of technology as a medium for
learning and a renewed understanding of the teaching methodologies and strategies
that must now accommodate various types of technology integration across
Teachers may be inclined to approach these new applications with skepticism. While
a critical stance is to be encouraged, we must avoid the assumption that a given
product must provide 'all things to all children.' In contrast, teachers who find value in
many of the new products are critically aware of the potential benefits and short-
comings of a particular product. Some of the pros and cons of different software types
were outlined in Tables 2 and 3.
Indirect Instructional Applications
Indirect teaching methods are increasingly popular in the classroom. Imbedded in
these methods are activities that address specific learning needs. However, rather than
separating out the knowledge and skill components into discrete activities that are
disconnected from larger, meaningful contexts, indirect methods attempt to create
larger, meaningful contexts within which the learnings are found to be practical and
Contextualized learning involves projects of some type and provides freedom for
students to pursue their own interests within acceptable bounds. As much as possible,
projects and activities are suggestive of real-life activities, if not directly connected
themselves to real-life. Structuring activities and orchestrating them to optimize
learning for students remains one of the great challenges that occupy the planning
time of creative teachers. These methods provide opportunity to engage learners in
ways that are highly interesting, practical, and personally meaningful to students.
When motivation can be sparked through creative activities of this type, learning is
thought to be more natural and the learnings acquired to be of greater personal
relevance leading to better understanding and retention.
Balance of Approaches
As much as current pedagogical methods have championed the more indirect methods
of learning, most teachers find exclusive use of these methods limiting. When the
methods are balanced with other more direct teaching methods, they have
considerable benefits for learners. A mix of methods is considered appropriate so that
methods match the learning needs of students and the characteristics of the learning
objectives prescribed by the curriculum.
Indirect learning resources available in computer-based format include use of both the
curriculum-free applications, and programs that are focused to a degree in a particular
Choosing the most effective method may have a lot to do with how well students are
motivated to focus attention on an activity. In this example, the group-learning
environment may create a social environment that can capture student interest and
engagement more effectively than would be the case when students are expected to
work independently. On the other hand, two students might be encouraged to view a
learning program of this type together in an environment where a teacher/mentor
circulates among learners, talking with them while they engage in a variety of
interactive learning activities. The methods of ensuring learner engagement would
certainly be different, but it is not immediately evident that one approach would be
better than the other.
The Spectrum of Resource Types
If creative teaching methods using such computer applications as word processors,
spreadsheets and graphics programs provide one range of technology use in the
classrooms, at the other end of the spectrum lie a range of highly-structured and
thoroughly programmed alternatives that are known as integrated learning systems
(ILSs). Such commercial systems typically come with a full suite of software that
spans an entire curriculum and includes tutorial, practice, testing and record-keeping
activities. Between these extremes, however, lie a variety of software products and
teaching strategies for infusing the learning environment with technology.
The potential introduction of technology into the classroom can take a variety of
forms. Some may be perceived to be labour-saving, others may actually demand more
time and effort on the part of teachers than conventional methods. Some may facilitate
very creative activities under the control of the teacher or students, others may be
much more structured and prescriptive. In every case, teachers will want to be
involved in choosing the type of electronic resources that suit their particular
Teacher Adaptation to Technology
Teachers need to adapt to the presence of technology in the classroom if they intend to
enjoy the benefits. This will often require basic changes to the teacher's role and an
upgrading of technical competencies to enable teachers to appropriately select, adapt,
and structure suitable experiences for learners. Without an enhanced understanding of
how technology can and should be used in the classroom, the addition of technology
of itself is not likely to achieve anything like the desired results.
The largest unmet need for professional development to date is the need to address the
instructional strategies required to integrate technology across the curriculum. It is
precisely this need that must be met if the rapidly increasing expenditures on
technology are to be effectively translated into effective learning environments for
Table of Contents
CONSIDERATION OF SYSTEMIC SOLUTIONS
A SYSTEMIC APPROACH
A systemic approach to planning and implementation of change is quite different than
supplying a teacher with a few computers and closing the door. It attends, rather, to
the whole picture or environment for change. The following questions are intended to
stimulate systemic planning:
Physical needs. Are the physical facilities conveniently available? Are they
configured appropriately for the age/size of the learner?
Technical needs. Has the equipment and software been appropriately installed, tested,
and maintained? What help is available if the system fails? Are there levels of backup
assistance available, so that if the first attempts to correct problems fail, there is
another level of assistance to which the teacher can turn? Has the teacher and related
support personnel been given appropriate training in the functioning of the system?
Pedagogical needs. Has the teacher been given adequate support in identifying the
generic uses of various types of curriculum-based software? Have specific learning
objectives been clarified for various uses of a specific software product? Also, for a
given software product, have expectations been defined to guide teacher activity prior
to the hands-on student use, during use, and following student use of the technology?
What resources are suitable to complement the computer activity? To what extent is it
necessary to monitor individual achievement of intended learnings?
Instructional resource support. Have efforts been made to provide supporting print
materials or other reference materials to teachers to facilitate the implementation of
technology-based activity? Is there a need for printed reminders for students on
correct procedures? Is there a need for detailing tasks to be performed by students and
criteria for acceptable performance?
Monitoring/Evaluation resource support. Are there suggestions or other means
supplied that will provide convenient monitoring of student time on the tasks,
performance achieved, need for further time/practice/mastery? Are procedures in
place so students can engage in the activity independently, or with a working partner,
until learning expectations are achieved?
The Essence of the Systemic Approach
The difference between good planning on the part of a teacher, and the
implementation of a systemic approach to program delivery, is the degree to which the
organization attends to implementation details, utilizes proven practices and provides
effective support to teachers. The need for effective support is increasingly viewed as
critical to the emergence of quality schooling practices.
Table of Contents
THE EMERGENCE OF STANDARDIZED APPROACHES
The existence of learning models that are developed with a strong theoretical and
research base are often in short supply in our classrooms. This is changing on a
number of fronts. In the area of reading, a program called Reading Recovery is
receiving considerable attention. (Wilson & Davis, 1994) Methods used in this
program are highly prescriptive as it systematically integrates the best that is known
of reading methodology into a well-defined approach. Teachers are given extensive
training and support in implementing the model. The research results on student
achievement in this case appear to be impressive.
In attempts to infuse the curriculum with technology, a program marketed by IBM,
Teaching and Learning with Computers (TLC), provides an example of an overall
strategy for structuring teaching and learning activities. One of its goals is to provide a
flexible balance between technology and human interaction and a workable structure
for realizing the potential benefits of technology in the classroom.
As part of the TLC approach, a three-group organizational structure becomes a basic
pattern in the classroom. One group is lead by a teacher in an ideal 10:1 pupil-teacher
ratio. Another group works on independent or small group activities, while a third
group is actively engaged on computers. Meanwhile, a computer-based management
system operates in the background to providing a range of functions for both teacher
While commercial systems may be expensive alternatives, at least until a critical mass
of adopters makes possible significant cost reductions, the concept of broadly shared
development and enhanced support systems for teaching and learning is a growing
phenomenon in education.
Table of Contents
THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER—THE SHANKER PERSPECTIVE
There is much philosophical debate on methods of teaching and learning, and the
relative value of learning intents/objectives associated with various areas of study
across the curriculum. People have quite different points of view and advocate quite
different perspectives on the improvements that should be pursued on behalf of
children and schooling within society. This report attempts to maintain an open
posture concerning the values associated with those who advocate both 'direct'
instruction, where learning intents are quite easily identified and judged to be 'basic,'
and those who advocate more 'indirect' approaches to learning where content is
frequently viewed as 'means' to global ends such as critical thinking and knowledge
integration. While many teachers may have a strong commitment to one perspective
on this type of continuum, it is assumed that most teachers are open to an eclectic
approach that selects the most appropriate approach for the instruction and learning.
In reflecting on the American preoccupation with educational reform and the effects
of some of these issues on the lives of teachers, Albert Shanker (1995), President of
the American Federation of Teachers, sides with the U.S. National Commission on
Excellence in Education which articulated with "absolute clarity" why educational
reform was needed. The reason: "mediocre student achievement." (p 81)
In discussing the controversy of the Commission's report, A Nation at Risk (1983),
Shanker claims that the report was delivered at a time when the content of education,
the capacity to teach it, incentives for students to learn it, and leadership and fiscal
support were basic, touchy issues, long out of vogue with nearly everyone but
ordinary citizens, parents, and teachers. (p 81)
Twelve years later, Shanker claims educational researchers are still largely ignoring
'the problem' even though there is much talk about educational reform. 'Educational
reform,' he claims, has come to mean: "making curriculum
interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary/cross-disciplinary, integrated, thematic, and, of
course, relevant to 'real life.' (p. 81) He questions the tendency to philosophical
polarization on the issue when he comments, "Is 'traditional' curriculum or
'noncontructivist' pedagogy always bad or irrelevant? For whom and under what
circumstance? Are we trading one rigidity for another in the name of reform?" (p. 81)
Shanker brings into sharp relief certain issues inherent in much of the current
preoccupation with reform. He notes that "the new kind of curriculum reform involves
major changes in attitudes, values, and beliefs; managing difficult dilemmas and
conflicts; and lots of time." Shanker further laments on reviewing current research that
"every study calls attention to the time issue—teachers, especially, don't have enough
of it for any one of these reforms, let alone for all of them." (p 82)
Speaking as head of the American Federation of Teachers, Shanker's interest seems to
lie with the problems teachers face in attempting to achieve the many new
expectations being placed upon them. In commenting on reform attempts he suggests
that the 'system' is becoming more 'personalized,' claiming that
it sounds like we're going to be doing reform one school or partnership or
network at a time and trusting that a sufficient number of visionary leaders,
creative and tireless teachers, and outside sources of help…will emerge and
that all the diverse things they do will add up to a system. (p 82)
Shanker cites research that
offer[s] a useful antidote to this romance with the non-systemic, nonstandard,
and uncommon…. [Researchers] don't find this non-system congenial for
young children…. [Further, researchers] show us that letting a thousand flowers
bloom also means tolerating an even greater number of weeds and that
creativity alone cannot overcome the effects of not having a coherent system.
While the Canadian educational scene shares the culture of American curriculum
change in part, the issues addressed in this case by Shanker resonate with the
Canadian experience. Shanker does not declare opposition to the reforms that are
being attempted, but insists that the methods commonly used to implement such
reforms are largely unrealistic in terms of the demands being placed upon teachers. He
notes on the one hand that there is an understandable rejection of "standardization and
bureaucratization associated with systems [that] strangle the creativity, collaboration,
and application of intelligence necessary for school reform … to work." However, he
continues: "Unless these qualities are in effect systematized and backed up by
districts, states, and other key actors in the educational system these reforms won't go
anyplace." (p 82)
Shanker also affirms the view that there is a "tension that exists between the structure
or framework that is necessary to keep a system coherent and accountable and the
people and energy necessary to make the framework effective in real-life situations."
(p. 82) He continues:
Standardizing operating procedures, 'as far as extant knowledge allows… is
not at all a celebration of bureaucracy for its own sake. Rather, it is an effort to
standardize best proven practice in some areas so as to focus human attention
on performing nonstandard tasks well.' (p. 82-83)
While Shanker is exploring school reform on a broader basis than simply infusing the
classroom with technology, there are some fundamental planning and design issues
being addressed here:
provide standardization of practice based on proven models where this is
free teachers to focus primarily on matters which are inappropriate for
promote community linkages with schools, and
recognize that site-level improvement requires systemic and system-wide
Table of Contents
THE CRITICAL NEED FOR TECHNICAL SUPPORT
Widespread use of technology in schools will create a critical need for a range of
technical support functions. For technology to be taken seriously by teachers and for it
to make a sustained impact on learning, technical support must be there when needed,
it must function as intended, and people must know how to use it productively.
The old technologies in the classroom were typically 'optional.' If printed text was not
available, a chalkboard could be substituted. If an overhead projector was not
available, the diagram could be sketched on a chalkboard. The add-on strategy for
implementing technology may still view
e-mail, the Internet, and even various computer applications such as word processing
in the same way. Once a commitment is made, however, to implement technology-
based methods, down-time may have highly significant implications and create
significant disruption in the learning environment. For this reason, attention to
technical support is very important under all scenarios, but becomes critical once
teachers start depending upon it on a day-by-day basis.
In a fascinating article, "System 2000: If you build it, can you manage it?", Weiss
(1996) outlines critical issues in the support of technical systems in education. He
draws on years of experience in the information technology field and, more recently,
as a 'technology plan manager' for a New York school district, as he outlines four
different levels of planning, administrative oversight, and functional support for the
technical side of implementing and maintaining computer-based systems. He suggests
that school systems will be forced to address the needs that have already been
experienced by business and industry as they have moved to greater reliance upon
information technology systems.
School systems can contemplate the possibility of hundreds of workstations that need
to be put in place and maintained. His System 2000 model uses one computer for
every five students. In this scenario, he suggests that equipment needs to be purchased
as much as possible for 'functional identity,' in other words, the time and support
implications for dealing with machine-types and multiple configurations would drain
away far too much of the scare resources that can be reasonably be assigned to
technical support. Weiss claims that in standardized settings, it is possible to achieve a
ratio of one support person for every 500 or more computers, while it may be
necessary to have a ratio of one support person for every 50 or so machines in a mixed
environment. (p 414) For the same reasons, Weiss suggests the need for a single
hardware platform and tight control on the total number of software products for
Standardization, as suggested by Weiss, makes possible the careful testing of
equipment and software before purchase, the efficient set-up of systems following
purchase, and greatly facilitates the efficient maintenance of systems. Standardization
also makes possible more efficient approaches to both training and provision of help-
While Weiss makes his case for high standardization, he also recognizes the many
compelling reasons for 'flexibility' and claims that these two 'needs' will always
continue to be held in 'tension.'
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