Thursday, October 25, 2007

Technology in the Classroom

More is expected out of students in school as more information has been made available. As technology has been added to the classroom, it has not always been integrated like it should. Educational technology is sometimes discounted as using technology just because it is there, which is unfortunate. Technology should be integrated into the classroom environment where it makes sense, along with appropriate curriculum reforms and training.

I’ve been starting to study a little about Problem Based Learning (PBL), and many of the characteristics of learning mentioned Roschelle, et al. seem to fit with the methods used in PBL, such as learning through active engagement, learning through participation in groups, learning through frequent interaction and feedback, and learning through connections to real-world contexts. They discuss students gathering data on weather and pollution to send to scientists that actually analyze the data they receive. Mistakes in gathering the data are not penalized, but rather used as a learning experience to analyze why the measurement error might have occurred. More is probably learned through failure and the analysis of that failure than always succeeding the first time. I see this with some of the parents of Scouts that I work with – although the majority of the parents couldn’t care less what we do or don’t do (which is unfortunate), there are always one or two who get very upset when everything does not work out perfectly in one of our activities or with an award the boy is working on. It’s important to make mistakes and work through them.

Some of my readings in PBL have stated that when using the PBL approach, students actually learn less than students might learn in a traditional environment, but they understand the material they do learn better and retain that information much longer. Roschelle states that “teachers who succeed in using technology often make substantial changes in their teaching style and in the curriculum they use. However, making such changes is difficult without appropriate support and commitment from school administration.” It is unlikely that an approach like PBL that might lead to decreased short-term standardized test scores could be easily justified and implemented, even though deeper learning actually occurs.

One of the most important justifications for integrating technology into a classroom is the ability to provide more immediate feedback. It is important to receive feedback quickly, if not immediately, on work that has been done. If the technology that has been implemented is customizable by the user, individuals with different learning styles will be able to take advantage of the features that will help them, and turn off the features that distract them. I try to do that in my teaching, providing multiple methods of learning and practicing the material, but it would be interesting to actually research which methods of those provided that people use to study and then how they perform.

Roschelle, J. M., Pea, R. D., Hoadley, C. M., Gordin, D. N., & Means, B. M. (2000). Changing how and what children learn in school with computer-based technologies. The Future of Children, 10(2), 76-101.

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