New Trend #2: Using Technology to Support LearningEdit
For most teachers and classrooms, “technology” means using computers and the Internet as resources for teaching and learning. In principle, these tools have greatly increased the amount and range of information available to students (Cuban, 2001). With the Internet, it is now relatively easy to access up-to-date information on practically any subject imaginable, often with pictures, video clips, and audio to accompany them. On the face of it, therefore, the Internet and its associated technologies have the potential to transform (some would even say “revolutionize”) traditional school-based learning.
For a variety of reasons, however, technology has not always been integrated into teachers’ practices thoroughly (Haertel & Means, 2003). One reason is practical: many classrooms still contain only one or two computers, and many schools still have only limited access to the Internet. If students have to wait for a turn on the computer or arrange to visit the computer lab or school library, they may limit how much they use the Internet, no matter how much they or their teachers believe in using computers in principle. In such cases, furthermore, computers tend to function in relatively traditional or familiar ways: as a word processor (or “fancy typewriter”), for example, or as a library reference book similar to an encyclopedia, which also requires special effort to use.
Even so, though, one-computer classrooms create new possibilities (and challenges) for teachers. A single computer can be set up, for example, to present new assignments or supplementary material to students, either one at a time or small groups. In serving this function the computer gives a teacher a bit more leeway about when students are allowed to finish old tasks or to begin new ones. A single computer can also enrich the learning of individual students who are especially motivated. And it can provide extra or remedial review for students who need help with particular concepts, knowledge of skills. These changes are not dramatic, but they point toward an important change that technology makes possible in teachers’ traditional role: from being the single source for delivering information to students, to being a facilitator for students’ own constructions of knowledge.
The shift from “full-frontal teaching” to “guide on the side” becomes much more possible as the amount and use of computer and Internet technologies increases. If a school (or better yet, a classroom) has numerous computers with full Internet access, then students’ can self-direct their own learning much more freely, at least in principle, than if computers and the Internet are scarce commodities. With ample technology, teachers can focus much more on helping individuals in developing and carrying out learning plans, and on assisting individuals who encounter special misunderstandings or who need special help in using computers or the Internet as tools. In this way a strong shift to computers and the Internet can change a teacher’s role significantly, and make the teacher (and students, too) more effective and “efficient” about learning.
But there are limits and costs that come with the change toward technology, and some of these also affect a teacher’s role. The most literal of the costs is the money needed to equip a classroom or school fully: often that money is simply not available, or comes by depriving other valued educational initiatives, like hiring additional staff or buying needed books and supplies. But other limits and costs also occur that are less tangible and more subtle. In using the Internet, for example, students need help in sorting out good, trustworthy information or websites from the “fluff”—the unreliable or even damaging websites (Seiter, 2005). Sometimes the sorting can be difficult even for experienced teachers. And some educational goals simply do not lend themselves to computerized learning—including any performance-oriented activities, such as sports, driver education, or choral practice. Still other activities by definition require face-to-face interaction among individuals—notably drama, or the resolution of a conflict between two students who get in an argument. As a new teacher, therefore, you will need not only to sort out what technologies are possible in your particular classroom, but also what in principle might or might not be assisted by the new technologies. Then be prepared for your decisions to affect how you teach—your role—at least to some extent.
- Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Haertel, G. & Means, B. (2003). Evaluating educational technology: Effective research designs for improving learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Seiter, E. (2005). The INTERNET playground: Children’s access, entertainment, and miseducation. New York: Peter Lang.