by Jack Dieckmann, MA and Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2001

Dr. Abelardo VillarrealImage of Jack Dieckmann, M.A.Technology has the potential to influence the quality of instruction in creative ways that challenge the young minds of our children (Kuforiji, 1999). Although technology is presently used in the classroom for a variety of purposes, its full potential is yet to be explored. Many schools are still struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of technological changes and their applications to school operations and enhanced educational experiences for children.

Though implications for professional development are many, the development of a basic level of competency in the use of technology for instructional purposes among a critical mass of educators remains a difficult challenge.

Much has been written about the growing inequities in technology funding, infrastructure and access, known as the digital divide (Green, 2000). For example, data from the National Center for Educational Statistics show that the higher the percentage of poor and minority students in a school, the lower their access to technology. Fifty percent of high-poverty schools have dedicated computer lines compared to 72 percent of low-poverty schools (Green, 2000). Fewer than 25 percent of teachers of English language learners use technology, and when it is used, it is often for drill and practice activities (Padrón and Waxman, 1996).

While these issues continue to be critical to the mission of equity and excellence for all children, many classroom teachers, and sometimes even building principals, do not have the resources nor the training to provide technology access to diverse student populations.

Let us consider, for a moment, that the campus and the classroom are powerful units of change that can have a decisive impact on the academic achievement of all students. Even though the complexities of technology implementation issues – ranging from effective use to access to diverse populations – may overwhelm the most dedicated educators, principals, teachers and content specialists, they welcome the challenge. These dedicated professionals are asking, “How can we make the most of the technology we already have to improve student learning?”

The focus of this article will be on classroom-level technology in the teaching and learning process. We can call this the instructional core of practice. Furthermore, this article provides benchmarks and key indicators for teachers and campus instructional leaders to assess and improve technology integration in diverse classrooms.

Defining Terms:
A Prerequisite for Effective Dialogue and Communication

Because the same terms can be used by different people in different contexts to mean different things, we start off with a basic list of technology terms for a general agreement of what is meant.

Technology is an umbrella word that encompasses any electronic or digital process or apparatus associated with improving or enhancing a task or service. In schools, technology is used for information management (grades, payroll), communication (e-mail) and instruction (word processing).

Educational technology can include videos or CDs teachers use to help students understand content and/or become proficient in some technological skills.

Instructional technology refers to student learning that is directly facilitated by technology. Distance learning, whether satellite or web-based, is an example of instructional technology because students receive all their instruction via electronic conduits.

Assistive or adaptive technology includes devices that magnify print for the sight-impaired, for instance, or amplify sound for the hearing impaired.

Finally, connectivity typically refers to computer access to an internal network for file sharing and connection to the Internet, including the World Wide Web.

Technology as a Tool for Teaching and Learning

A tool is only as good as the user’s ability to use it to the benefit of all students and leave no student behind. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), in their NETS-T Standards delineate the following categories for technology use:

  • technology operations and concepts,
  • planning and designing learning environments and experiences,
  • teaching, learning and the curriculum,
  • assessment and evaluation,
  • productivity and professional practice, and
  • social, ethical, legal and human issues.

Texas, and other states, has adopted a statewide curriculum that includes specific guidelines for student competencies in technology for each grade level. North Carolina’s state curriculum also identifies teacher competencies in technology. National professional associations in mathematics, science, social studies and language arts all call for technology usage to support engaged learning. Private sector entities call for schools to produce students who are technologically literate, and able to compete in a global economy.

With technology, equitable funding and equipment are not sufficient indicators that the needs of all students are being met. As educators, we must pay close attention to the manner and quality in which technology is used to meet the instructional needs of students.

A principal or other observer may walk into a classroom and see groups of students clustered around computers. While this configuration appears to support technology integration, more information is needed about the context. The context includes the roles of the teacher and student, and the nature of the task. Each can be thought of along a continuum with key indicators that provide clues about the effectiveness and appropriateness of technology usage.

Technology and Diverse Students: From Deficit-based to Assets-based

Historically, students who under-perform on conventional measures of achievement, largely minority students, have been given remedial instruction consisting of rote memory skills and lifeless curriculum (Darder, 1997). Those students deemed to be gifted or high-ability are often given more interesting and engaging learning opportunities, rich in exploration and discovery.

Many times this stratification of learners and learning opportunities is promoted by a deficit perception of students’ abilities. English language learners and others considered “diverse” by the school system (non-Asian minority, migrant, limited-English-proficient, at-risk or economically disadvantaged) are seen as problematic and in need of remediation toward conformity.

This perspective erroneously guides decisions to group these students and sit them in front of computers for endless automated drill and practice until they “catch up.” Consequently, large sums of money for low-cognitive level software are spent. It is common to observe hand-me down computers for these students. Professional development is minimal and irrelevant, after all, it is basic skills that are being taught.

In contrast to this traditional and pervasive deficit-model of schooling, an assets-based approach (Montemayor and Romero, 2000) offers a more effective and equitable solution for educating all students in ways that lead to success. Assets-based thinking holds that each person is valuable and offers a unique contribution to the talent pool of the learning community. Students and their families bring a wealth of untapped resources (intellectual, cultural and experiential) that can enrich the learning experience.

Moll (1992) called these resources, “funds of knowledge.” Operating from an assets perspective, schools engage English language learners in challenging content and learning experiences, along with appropriate support for academic language acquisition. In special education circumstances, assistive technologies and support are used to include these students in the mainstream classroom, learning the same content. A student’s culture, heritage and traditions are seen as in-class expertise and springboards for learning in all content areas.

These enriched learning environments necessitate up-to-date and reliable computers, appropriate software and trained teachers. Robust connections to the Internet provide valuable learning resources for both students and teachers. It is these kinds of learning-rich, technology-supported and assets-based classrooms that provide a context for equitable technology integration. For the past 27 years, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), through its projects, products and services, has partnered with many schools and families across the country to help make the vision of equity a reality.

Teaching and Learning Together: A Context for Useful Dialogue and Joint Planning

The teacher, students and task form the core learning context. Assessment and aspects of the learning environment are embedded in the core context categories. We can consider each along a continuum of technology usage. The purpose of this framework is not to find ault, but rather to stimulate informed discussions among key stakeholders (teachers, administrators, parents) about the status and direction for technology integration at the campus level in support of increased student learning.

Many issues will surface as teams reflect and dialogue together, issues beyond those that are mentioned here and many beyond the control of the campus team. Nevertheless, a team commits to change what is within its influence. As a first task, a team develops and agrees on a few guiding principles. The following are examples of these principles:

  • Effective technology integration is a vital ingredient for student success and as such, our deep and best thinking is needed to make it a reality.
  • Each student’s needs and assets are unique. We commit to use technology in ways that affirm, challenge and inspire all students to grow intellectually, academically and socially.
  • It is more productive and more generative to approach issues and challenges from an assets-based model, focusing on the resources from which we can draw to work toward solutions that work for our campus.

If a campus team can articulate and agree on principles such as these, they can use these principles to guide in the decision-making process. These principles are used to assess the quality of decisions or dialogue and can serve to refocus the group.

It is important to remember that all components of the learning context – teacher, student and task – are interrelated. Progress in one dimension can facilitate progress across the board. For instance, as teachers adjust to their role as facilitators, students may become more active in the learning process. As students become more active in their learning, the teacher may adjust the kinds of tasks and products he or she expects. Despite the constraints of time pressures, curricular demands and resource availability, resourceful teachers orchestrate learning experiences across the ranges of technology usage.

The table below is a working document that provides a framework for assessing the use of technology in a classroom with a diverse student population. These categories, based on the learning context, are used to cluster benchmarks and indicators of equity and excellence in campuses and classrooms. This framework can be used to inform decision makers attempting to improve the integration of technology in an equitable and excellent manner.

As with any observation instrument, it is recommended that the teacher and the observer (administrator or other stakeholder) meet beforehand to discuss the criteria and then schedule a debriefing as a follow-up.

Assessment Tool for Equitable Technology Integration

Criteria for Equity and Technology in the Learning Context. Because our aim is equitable technology integration in the classroom, a set of criteria for equity in the learning context can be applied to technology use in the classroom. The criteria assess instructional practices that:

  • use a variety of languages consistent with language understood by students,
  • use technology as a tool for literacy development in English and other languages,
  • use assistive technology to increase access to all students,
  • modify the use of technology to ensure that all students benefit from instruction,
  • are accessible to all students, and do not target only a selected group,
  • reflect a deep knowledge of technology as a resource for bilingual and multicultural education, and
  • capitalize on the power of technology to provide equal opportunities to learn for all students.

Leadership and Support from Administrators

As teachers experiment with new technologies to fashion different learning environments, principals and classroom observers will need to retool the way teaching and learning are assessed and evaluated. Multi-tasking, cooperative learning, and project-based learning will span across days or weeks, requiring more snapshot visits to capture the learning in motion. Consensus must be reached in what the team means by “learning with technology.” If there is a mismatch for example, a school district may work very hard to procure a new computer lab for a campus only to find teachers resistant or unable to use it for meaningful instruction.

At the fiscal and physical plant management level, principals and leadership teams will need to find ways to address other aspects of technology. These include infrastructure, upgrades and equipment maintenance, policy and training needs. Again, all of these issues are important but subordinate to the learning goals that are possible with technology in classrooms.

This article framed a context for dialogue and suggested core dimensions – the learning event, the teacher, the learner and the task – and indicators to gauge levels of equitable technology integration. As teams become more adept and informed about the uses of technology, they may want to adapt their own. By mapping teachers’ and students’ use of technology in the learning process, principals and campus teams have a solid beginning toward creating a campus-customized plan for professional development for teachers (Fuller, 2000).

Classroom Assessment Tool* for Equitable Technology Integration

Directions: For each indicator, check if evidence exists. If it does, apply the Criteria for Equity to assess, guide, support and improve classroom instructional practices. Multiple classroom observations, teacher conferences and review of student work are recommended to provide comprehensive data.

Equity Criteria:
1 = use a variety of languages consistent with language understood by students
2 = use technology as a tool for literacy development in English and other languages
3 = use assistive technology to increase access to all students
4 = modify the use of technology to ensure that all students benefit from instruction
5 = reflect a deep knowledge of technology as a resource for bilingual and multicultural education
6 = capitalize on the power of technology, is accessible to all students, and provides equal opportunities to learn for all students


Evident? If yes, use equity criteria



Equity Criteria





















Teacher’s Use of Technology


  • Teacher uses technology to present a concept (e.g. animation of osmosis in science).


  • Teacher leads discussion and interactive questioning to assess what students understand from the demonstration.



Directed Instruction

  • Teacher models “how to” procedure using a technology application (e.g. how to import a graphic, how to use a graphing calculator).


  • Teacher provides directions to students in multiple modalities: audio, print and graphically.


  • Teacher uses multiple assessments to ensure that all students are proficient in pre-requisite skills.


  • Teacher demonstrates proficiency in technology tools for instruction and their use in classrooms with diverse students.




  • Teacher actively uses technology to facilitate cooperative learning with heterogeneous student groups.


  • Teachers abide by school policies regarding students’ access and use of Internet and other online sources (e.g. filtering software and supervision).


  • Teacher actively previews software packages that support the instruction of diverse learners.



Student’s Use of Technology

Basic Computer Literacy Skills

  • Students are able to manage files, print, save, edit and retrieve information stored electronically.
  • Students follow a step-by-step process to accomplish an application task (e.g. create a table).


  • Students demonstrate proficiency in productivity tools (word processors, spreadsheets and web browsers).




  • In cooperative groups, each student plays an integral part of planning and executing or presenting the technology-based product.


  • Students create and present multimedia products with purposeful and logical use of visual, audio and graphic elements (e.g. PowerPoint or Hyperstudio) to convey information.


  • Students’ products draw from or connect to their experience, language, culture and or family.




  • Students apply learning to investigate meaningful and relevant issues and topics that relate to their world.


  • Students demonstrate original and creative thinking and problem-solving in tasks using technology.


  • Students engage in spirited and inclusive discussions around content topics and use technology resources to formulate and debate conjectures.


  • Students have multiple forms to demonstrate mastery of concepts.


  • Students are fluent in a range of technology tools and are able to select applications needed to complete a task.


  • Students are able to consider the validity of information based on the credibility of the sources (e.g. propaganda or bias).


  • Students connect with outside experts and online, real-time information sources (e.g. NASA, Library of Congress).


  • Students include multicultural or global perspectives in their work.


  • Technology is transparent (e.g. students are not distracted by the mechanics of the computer program and can fluently navigate within them).



Nature of Task

Closed/Convergent Tasks

  • Tutorial programs reinforce conceptual and skills development.


  • Appropriate computerized diagnostic tests are given to assess student proficiencies and plan for appropriate instruction


  • Computerized games are given to reinforce skills and are available in an equitable manner (not simply as a reward to those who finish their work first).



Semi-Structured Tasks

  • Students use technology tools to compute, calculate, draw or design (e.g. calculators, PhotoShop).


  • Students compose essays, reports or stories about a specific topic or theme using technology.


  • Students use search engines to find information online (scavenger hunts).



Open-ended/Divergent Tasks

  • Problem, project, scenario or task is constructed so as to permit many, equally valid solutions (e.g. keeping the playground litter free, planning a colony on Mars).


  • Projects are designed to include family and community resources, perspectives and experiences


  • Language, culture and forms of student expression are welcomed.


  • Resources are readily available to students (e.g. Internet, CD Encyclopedias).


  • Project findings are discussed and evaluated in whole class discussions in ways in which each student’s ideas are considered and valued.


  • Project findings are exported to a larger community (parents, business leaders or other students).

*This is a preliminary assessment tool.

©2001, Intercultural Development Research Association


Darder, A. “Creating the Conditions for Cultural Democracy in the Classroom,” Latinos and Education (New York, NY: Routledge, 1997).

Fuller, H.L. “First Teach Their Teachers: Technology Support and Computer Use in Academic Subjects,” Journal of Research on Computing in Education (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, Summer 2000).

Green, L.C. “Bridging the Digital Divide in Our Schools – Achieving Technology Equity for All Students,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 2000).

Kuforiji, P. “Technology Education Teaching Strategies for Diverse Population,” Action in Teacher Education (1999). Retrieved from the Internet March 1, 2001,

Moll, L.C. and C. Amanti, D. Neff. “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms,” Theory into Practice (1992). Retrieved from the Internet May 7, 2001,

Montemayor, A.M. and A.A. Romero “Valued Parent Leadership,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2000).

Padrón, Y.N. and H.C. Waxman. “Improving the Teaching and Learning of English Language Learners Through Instructional Technology,” International Journal of Instructional Media (1996). Retrieved from the Internet March 1, 2001,

Jack Dieckmann, MA is a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D. is the director of the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2001 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]