• by Joseph L. Vigil, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • August 1998 •
Schools are not the only institutions using technology to enhance their goals and objectives. Technology is also used in the medical field to provide better assessment and treatment to patients. But oftentimes, patients feel like cogs on an assembly line. Lab technicians make patients sit in miserable positions and drink green gook, all to accommodate this magic machine. Then they want the patients to write a big check to pay for the privilege of using this machine. Later, their doctors focus on the computer printouts while ignoring the patient’s own testimony.
Good doctors realize the value of human interaction and guidance. Administrators, teachers and students should view technology in the same perspective. The needs and benefits of all students, including limited-English-proficient (LEP) students, should be examined closely when deciding to integrate appropriate technology that enhances, rather than drives, the curriculum. And all educational technology should be utilized with human interaction and guidance.
Too often, technology is used in education as an afterthought that may hit or miss in enhancing the curriculum and students’ learning. To ensure the proper use of technology, the lesson must dictate how technology will facilitate the learning process.
Technology equipment may not be just a computer, but may include graphing calculators, compasses, video equipment, overhead projectors and chalkboards. Choosing the appropriate technology for the mandated or desired curriculum takes some time and practice. A good resource for educators to start this journey is available via the Internet at http://ed.info.apple.com/education/techlearn/curric.html. The first section of this web site is entitled “Integrating technology into your curriculum” and includes a curriculum center, teacher success stories, getting started with technology and in-service education. Other sections of the web site are software, parents and families and more.
Another great resource is the Teacher’s Internet Use Guide developed by the STAR Center.*
Equity of access is an issue that must be addressed to ensure that all populations, including those in rural areas, have access to technology. The question of whether or not schools are required to provide access to technology for their students has been raised in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized the lack of equity in teaching tools in schools. It stated in Green County vs. School Board of New Kent County, Virginia, that school districts must actively work toward desegregation in every facet of school operation – racial composition, faculty, staff transportation, extracurricular activities and facilities. These have become known as the Green Factors. Since 1968, these six factors have been used by the federal courts as a basis for determining the degree to which equal educational opportunity and “unitariness” exists in a district under review by the court (Vigil, 1997). The Green Factors exist to ensure that all students have the same opportunities.
Districts that have provided staff and students with technology often do not ask teachers their opinion of how to set up the computers, what software to purchase or how to schedule students. Teachers are more likely to integrate technology into their curriculum if they have the opportunity to be involved in these decisions. Also, hands-on instructional technology training for teachers will make a world of difference. After a group of teachers have received training, it is a good practice for them to share and work with other teachers in the school or district. This approach builds capacity among the staff and moves a district ahead more quickly. Teachers will have more success in integrating technology if they have teacher and student mentors to teach, encourage and motivate them.
Learning English on the Internet has assisted LEP students whose teachers are seeing the benefits of computer networks:
Communication with people actually living in other countries where the language is spoken improves the quality of students’ work. A notable example was a group of students who learned English by participating in international cultural exchanges via the Internet. These students made significantly more progress than did students in a control group who studied English traditionally with a textbook (Meagher, 1995).
Students are able to share information and ask other students questions about themselves and their communities while they are using language to receive and share information with their peers. This approach motivates the students to learn the language and the culture of other students.
Instructional focuses for teaching LEP students can be identified with the creative use of a computer. Computer activities can be designed to develop higher levels of language use in the content areas. When students create math story problems on “stacks” using Hyperstudio software they develop the English language and can share with and motivate other students.
Parents can develop appropriate story problems as well. They can use school computer labs to create and solve story problems with their children. The students, who quickly learn the computer software, can mentor their parents and teachers, thus developing teacher, parent and peer support.
Student interaction is a benefit in working with computers. Two or three students can share a computer and interact with the computer, Internet, software and each other.
Students need guidance and structure to use computers to enhance learning. Teachers may need to spend some time organizing the students and clearly defining the intended outcomes of their computer experiences.
Real world applications motivate students to use their skills to solve problems in real situations rather than the meaningless problems found in text books. The computer can link teachers and students to science and math work going on in the field such as the Jason Project, a virtual learning experience. The Jason Project is especially appealing because it combines the best of human innovation (Internet technology and electronic collaboration) with the best of human nature (the desire to understand and protect our fragile ecosystem). Jason X: Rainforests – A Wet and Wild Adventure (http://www.jason.org) will take teachers and students on a venture to explore the fossil, temperate and tropical rainforests of earth during this year-long program.
Computers can also aide teacher’s classroom management for student success:
The computer can ease the administrative burden teachers face; it can spark and help manage incredible class discussions; it can take a group of students on a field trip to a far away world without ever leaving the classroom; it can provide teachers with a more powerful “chalkboard” than ever imagined; it can do all this and much more (Dockterman, 1991).
Many people worry that computers are replacing teachers in the classroom. Yet computers can never be expected to replace teachers. While teachers can use computers to supplement text books, activities and projects in their classroom, human interaction, guidance and modeling are vital to successfully integrate technology into the curriculum.
Teachers can model the appropriate use of technology for their students by using technology to facilitate learning and even for classroom management such as keeping track of attendance and calculating grades (see article Creating a Grade Book on the Computer). Doing so shows students how technology can be a useful everyday tool.
Integrating technology into the curriculum is not an easy feat. It requires a great deal of thought and patience: thought to ensure the appropriate technology is being used to increase student achievement and patience to ensure that teachers feel comfortable with the new technology. Teachers must be ready to move forward and make well-informed decisions about purchasing hardware and software and to adapt technology to fit our changing views and needs as educators.
*The STAR Center is the comprehensive regional assistance center funded by the US Department of Education to serve Texas. It is a collaboration of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and RMC Research Corporation.
Dockterman, D.A. Great Teaching in the One Computer Classroom (Watertown, Massachusetts: Tom Snyder Productions, Inc., 1991).
Meagher, M. “Learning English on the Internet,” Way of the Ferret (Eugene, Oregon: International Society for Technology in Education, 1995).
Vigil, J. “Questions and Examples for Technology in Schools,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 1997).
Joseph L. Vigil, MS, is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 1998 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.]