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Issues about Technology Integration

From the Professional Development Desk:
CUE Newsletter - January/February 1999

by Barbara Bray

The teacher down the hall has five computers in her classroom. Her students are using them everyday. You just received two computers yourself, so you asked this teacher for ideas. She gave you CD-ROMs her students use when they complete their assignments. You asked another teacher whose students use the Internet for research how he manages it. It turns out his students go online to search their topics. When you go to his room to observe, there appears to be no structure to their computer use: students surfing, jumping from topic to topic without direction. Which one is integration? Neither.

Since so much money has gone into acquiring technology, there is a lot of pressure for accountability. Are students using and benefitting from the computers? We know classes where computers just sit. And, there are situations where teachers have students use computers just for the sake of complying with the funding source. They just log the time students are on the computers: no planning or thought to how this activity works with the curriculum. A concern I have is that these activities are either not essential to learning or not manageable. Teachers are overwhelmed just teaching and spending the time to see how technology fits ends up low on their priority list. Our job as staff developers is to help teachers see what integration in their classroom looks like, and how technology can be appropriately and effectively used to reach student academic goals.

Business vs Classroom Integration
Think how businesses integrate technology. Just imagine someone in the Biotech industry who is given a new software program and told to complete a report due the next day, all without any training on this new program. Businesses know better; training is the key. Yet, even this is nothing compared to what teachers are asked to do. Some schools have more constraints than others, so for the purpose of getting my point across, let's take a good situation. A 2nd grade class with 20 students, a principal who believes in risk-taking, and parents involved. Now take literacy. Three computers were placed in the classroom to increase students' reading scores. This teacher has always had the computer teacher work with students on the computers. Now she is supposed to use the computers in her classroom. No training. Very little management skills. Her answer is to have each student draw a picture in Kid Pix and tell about it in slide show with parents' help. Is this integration? Sort of, but are computers really helping her students be better readers?

"Businesses know better; training is the key."

Another approach might be to give the 2nd grade teachers time to collaborate with a technology expert and discuss how technology can support teaching reading. They have time to look at the literature selections and develop ways to enhance student interaction with one of the books: students write and edit their own versions of the book with the help of a parent volunteer; they interview the author online; and they create their own video book talks. These types of assignments can help students work with the text in a way that requires analysis and creativity while appealing to most students' interest in technology and allows for differences in abilities and learning styles.

"These types of assignments can help students work with the text in a way that requires analysis and creativity..."

Even teachers uncomfortable using technology (non-integrators) can see that students enjoy using technology, which means students can better enjoy and be more motivated by their schoolwork. Steps to Integration does not happen easily. Planning is important, and having enough time to plan is essential for successful integration. If class sizes are large with a range of abilities to work with, start simple. Find your experts and work with them to come up with rich activities using technology that will support the curriculum and achieve your goals for student achievement. If you ask a teacher who has classroom management problems to integrate computers, expect chaos. This teacher needs support in designing guidelines for computer use and in designing a unit that is meaningful and manageable.

Several factors for effective integration include:

  • Curriculum units that can benefit from technology (will technology support student achievement?)
  • Appropriate resources and skills needed for project
  • Sufficient time to plan with other teachers and experts
  • Good classroom management skills
  • Just-in-time support
  • Plans A and B if technology does not work
  • An environment that encourages risk-taking
  • Curriculum units aligned to standards
  • Students as experts

Any step toward integration, no matter what the teacher's experience or ability, takes time. Buy release time and find an expert to facilitate the process. Businesses spend 30% of their technology budget to do job-embedded training. Schools barely spend 5% and many times on workshops outside school hours. Let's be realistic about integration by providing appropriate resources and support so teachers develop activities that reach their goals for student academic achievement.

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