Technologies that can help enhance teaching: Why we need to keep up
There are many tools at educators’ disposal today, and it is in teachers’ best interests, as well as the best interests of their students, to use these devices and technologies to help enhance teaching.
When we think of technology in education the humble blackboard may not spring to mind but it does what many expect of technology. It fundamentally changes the classroom and it can be a spontaneous, shared, interactive space where teachers and students collaborate, participate, and interact with each other and develop ideas.
According to Becker (2000), computers serve as a “valuable and well-functioning instructional tool” but he does point out that they must be used under the right conditions for them to be truly valuable. He says that teachers should be personally comfortable and at least moderately skilled in using computers themselves and that the school’s daily class schedule should be designed to permit the allocation of time for students to use computers as part of class assignments. Additionally he points out the importance of integrating computer use into the everyday learning environment by ensuring the availability and convenience of sufficient computer equipment that allows students to combine computer activities with other learning tasks. Finally Becker tells us that the teachers’ personal philosophies should support the constructivist pedagogy, one that is student-cantered and incorporates collaborative projects defined partly by student interest.
Becker highlights the wider life-skills benefits of using technology in the classroom. He tells us that where technology is implemented in a responsible way, that tool is having an impact, not only on students’ performance in class, but on their academic effort outside of class as well (Becker, 2000)
Technology and learning
Learning is defined as “an activity where one can gain knowledge of or skills in by study, experience or being taught” (Oxford Concise 1990) and by definition learning can occur anywhere but Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tells that we can have periods of focused learning or moments of “optimum flow” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Forrester & Jantzie recognised the potential of computers to replicate these optimum moments of flow by providing many of the requirements for optimum flow as identified by Csikszentmihalyi (Forrester, D. & N. Jantzie, 1998).
Technology is an ideal platform for the classic behaviourist approaches of drill & practice and tutorials (Thorndike, 1932) and can support Constructivism by helping learners focus on realistic approaches to solving real-world problems and on knowledge construction, rather than reproduction (Mayer, 1992, Jonassen, 1991, Wittrock 1974).
Typically within student groups, individuals have different learning styles which Felder describes as “characteristic strengths and preference in the ways they take in and process information” (Felder, 1996). Fleming (1995) used the three main sensory receivers to categorise learning styles into Visual, Auditory, or Kinaesthetic (movement) types and Gardner (1983, 1993) proposed that each individual is capable of seven ways of processing information: Linguistic, Logical, Spatial, Musical, Bodily, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. Computers have real potential in developing the different forms of intelligences of Gardner’s theory that acknowledges learning as a holistic experience and the vast array of software applications and multimedia capabilities of computers can be used to target each of the intelligences.
Today’s young student population are one of the first generations to grow up surrounded by digital technology (Prensky 2001). Prensky describes those students as Digital Natives and claims “our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”.
The use of technology in education is aimed at advancing student learning and helping them and their teachers work smarter. The range of tools available is varied and ever expanding. Familiar presentation tools like PowerPoint, overhead and LCD projectors enable the sharing of ideas and discussions within the classroom. Add to that technology like interactive whiteboards, video conferencing and screen-casting and the possibility of for broader collaboration, communication and ultimately more effective learning experiences are possible.
Laptops are portable workstations and enable students and teachers to access resources locally, on networks of on the internet. Smaller devices like smartphones, Ipads and Tablets have the advantage of enabling the same access from device that will fit in your pocket.
There are many online facilities that students and teachers can utilise for little or no cost. Social networking sites like twitter and Facebook can facilitate collaboration and communication. Wiki’s, blogs and YouTube can provide platforms for presentation and sharing of ideas and collaboration.
Clickers (Classroom Response Systems or Student Response Systems) are systems that allow the teacher to present multiple choice questions to the class. The system consists of keypads/remotes, a receiver, software and a classroom projection system. The students key in their answers using their keypads and the receiver collects those answers. Once every student has answered the software will instantaneously generate a bar chart showing the distribution of results. The use of clickers in the classroom requires the participation of all students and if used effective will engages students more and give teachers a better idea of how they are thinking, Student engagement is identified by Duncan (2006) as one of the two “oldest and most fundamental challenges” faced by education, the other being keeping track of students’ state of understanding. Duncan argues that clickers can address both challenges.
Benefits of technology in education
Using the technology discussed earlier, there are significant benefits to be gained for students and teachers. Educators can be more flexible with time and place since technology allows learning anywhere, anytime; not just in one particular classroom for a fixed period of time which offers enormous advantages for students who cannot attend classes at regular times (Valentine, D. 2002).
Since students can have access to the same tools over the web that they would use in class ideas can reinforced by experimenting with the simulations themselves, anytime, anywhere.
Technology allows students to explore new avenues for self-expression by creating multimedia presentations, digital photography, blogging, video and audio podcasts, they can even publish a class e-newspaper or a class website.
Collaboration becomes much easier using technology and boundaries like time, location and language are easily overcome. The Dissolving Boundaries project connected geographically and culturally distant schools using technology and makes the best possible use of computers through audio, video, multimedia, and online written communication (email, forums and blogs). The study has shown that the use of technology has provided an invaluable learning, communication and collaboration experiences through various media types. The variety of media types connects with Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory where individual students can maximise their contribution in ways that work for them, all possible using technology in the classroom. One student commented that it was “nice to have a break from work,” clearly indicating a heightened level of enjoyment, involvement, a feeling of control supporting Csikszentmihalyi‘s idea of moments of optimum flow.
If technology were to be wholly embraced there would be significant lifestyle and financial benefits too. Compare the weight and cost of text books to a single 40 GB hard drive that can hold approximately 2 million pages with illustrations not to mention the internet which is unimaginably large. The personal productivity of both students and teachers would also benefit technology enabling faster and more accessible communication, organisation and scheduling. The environmental benefit is of printing less paper and using less ink is worth considering too.
The use of Technology as a learning tool has significant benefits but there are other benefits for the student beyond the classroom as ICT skills themselves are very important as a life skill in this digital age.
Technology for students
The use of technology in education enables more effective learning; it can give students a sense of control and can sustain student’s interest and enjoyment of the learning experience. The use of technology is very relevant to students as they are what Prensky describes as Digital Natives and as such use technology in virtually every other part of their lives. The ability to access resources online is a huge benefit to students and using portable devices like Tablets and e-Readers students can carry a library of information in their schoolbag.
Beyond the classroom students can benefit from technology in education. Proficiency in ICT skills will prepare student for life after school where we are seeing virtually every aspect of our life being transformed by ICT. Banks and other financial institutions offer online banking. Governments around the world are planning to transform their services to modern ICT systems where they and cut costs, increase efficiency and allow their citizens to access services directly (IBM, 2010). Citizen self-service web portals demand a basic level of ICT skill, but advanced ICT skills would enable citizens to fully utilise the facilities that governments are developing right now. Some government services in the future will only be available online, for example the Office of the Revenue Commissioners in Ireland is making electronic filing of tax returns mandatory from the 1st of June 2012 (http://www.revenue.ie/en/online/ros/mandatory-e-filing.html).
It is in teachers’ best interests, as well as the best interests of their students, to use the many tools at educators’ disposal today. By using these devices and technologies they can enhance teaching because technology supports both the behaviourist and constructivist approaches and it can be tailored to focus on some or all intelligences. It can be used effectively to create learning environments that trigger optimum moments of flow and encourage social and collaborative learning.
The benefit of technology use in education travels beyond the confines of the classroom and prepares students for the digital world of the future where interaction with governments and other institutions are moving quickly to replace existing paper based systems with ICT systems.
Want to know more? Check out our post on the learning effectiveness of mono-sensory versus multi-sensory learning environments.
Andrew Tully is an educator, designer, marketer, programmer and wood-turner, but not necessarily in that order. As founder of Learning Glue, making education work beautifully with technology is a passion.
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