• By Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • April 2007

Imagine a classroom where…

    • A fourth grade student in San Antonio creates a movie where she acts out similes and idioms to be used as a teaching tool in other classrooms.
    • A seventh grade student in New Orleans creates a spreadsheet tallying the progress of houses rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina to be used in a local newsletter.

Imagine students using the full power of technology tools available to them in an environment where technology is not an enrichment activity but an expectation. This is the promised land of technology integration: seamless use of technology that requires higher-order thinking skills in everyday instruction.

There is no limit to what students can do and what teachers can expect once technology is fully integrated into instruction. This article addresses some basic but pivotal ideas to start you on your way to successful integration.

Students Must be Creators

Imagine a teacher who reads every day to his students but never allows them to touch a book or read from one. It is a ludicrous scenario, but one that often occurs with computers in the classroom. Frequently, teachers are the only “user” of a classroom computer. This is most evident in classrooms where technology integration consists mainly of teachers delivering traditional lessons with PowerPoint. While there is a time and place for this type of activity, it is not the most effective use of technology.

When planning a technology-infused lesson, instructors should ask themselves: “Are my students using the technology to produce, create or communicate?” and “What higher-order thinking skills are being addressed?” Simply, who is creating and why? By expecting students to create and to address higher-order thinking skills in their projects, instructors are taking the first step to seamless integration.

Go Beyond PowerPointless

So now your students have begun creating. And they have started using PowerPoint to show their understanding of classroom material. Is this enough?

Consider the following assignments: A social studies teacher assigns a PowerPoint presentation on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and an English teacher assigns students to make PowerPoint vocabulary “slides.”

These assignments may have been sufficient to engage students when PowerPoint was a novelty, but they hardly constitute effective integration. Why?

Ask yourself the following when assigning PowerPoint lessons: “Am I asking students a higher-order thinking question? Are my students synthesizing, applying or evaluating a concept or are they simply locating and recalling information?”

While the production of technology-infused products forces students to make important decisions (transitions, type size, colors, timing, narrations, music, etc), the content should always reflect the highest levels of cognition. Furthermore, the technology tools themselves should be used to help express these levels of cognition or to answer problems that without technology are too cumbersome to solve or express.

Consider the following scenarios.

  • A social studies teacher assigns students to create a PowerPoint presentation on the causes of the U.S. Civil War. Students are asked to embed movies where they take positions on states’ rights by acting out historical figures.
  • A math teacher assigns students to create a PowerPoint presentation on examples of real-life decaying functions with embedded movies that display graphs of corresponding exponential regression equation (i.e., coffee getting cooler).

Without technology (MovieMaker and PowerPoint), students could hardly take on the persona of historical figures without resorting to mini-theatrical productions! Without technology, students would have a difficult time representing mathematical functions or showing real-life examples of said functions.

It is only by expecting students to work on projects that foster higher-order thinking skills that PowerPoint ceases to become PowerPointless.

Keep it Real!

Keeping it real means being authentic and in a classroom. Being authentic is the gold standard. We speak of authentic assessments when we think of assessments that actually enable students to fully express what they have learned rather than simply recalling facts or figures. We speak of authentic products when we think of assignments that connect and build on student’s experiences or prior knowledge. It is what all educators should strive for, and what many educators fall short of doing. Technology presents instructors with a perfect opportunity for “keeping it real.” But how?

Very often with technology this means going outside the boundaries of what one considers a “lesson.” Recently, while demonstrating a lesson on PowerPoint in a biology classroom, I walked around and monitored student progress. Most were on task, except for a few in the back who I caught on a “social” web site similar to MySpace. To my astonishment these students had mastered the basics of HTML to produce startling web sites without relying on templates or such. I stopped what we were doing and asked the class how many of them knew how to write a web page. Over three quarters of the class knew how to do it and had their own personal pages.

In spite of recent controversies surrounding the “social” web, educators ignore this opportunity at their own peril. Imagine students being asked to collaborate with students from across the world through the use of “social webs” or Google applications.

Imagine the same energy and motivation that students use with these new technologies being harnessed to motivate and fuel their imagination. In order to “keep it real” we must value students’ technological fluency and build on a rich bank of knowledge that is a pre-requisite for success in the modern world.

Hector Bojorquez is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2007 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.]