Our students live in an era known as the Digital Age. More information is accessible to all people in our society, and more industries are seeking employees who are proficient in information literacy combined with highly-developed technological skills. Therefore, technology is key in helping students use learning throughout their lives. As an IT educator at my middle school, I know that my students are part of a tech-savvy generation who demand 21st century classrooms that prepare them for modern-day realities and future employment. If technology is now considered a teaching and learning approach, what are its attributes? In this paper, I will describe various characteristics of technology as a teaching and learning approach, circumstances where technology in the classroom is thought to be most effective, and specific examples of the efficacy of technology.
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I believe there are three unique characteristics of technology as an approach to teaching and learning. First, as technology becomes more available, teaching and learning become more flexible and tailored to student needs. For instance, with the use of some types of technology, such as the internet, hand-held devices, and online classrooms, teaching and learning can extend beyond traditional classroom walls and campuses. Hardcopy textbooks become relics of the past, as inexpensive, up-to-date, and interactive e-books are adopted by more and more institutions. With hand-held computing devices, students are no longer reliant on a single computer lab in the school. Students now have the means to conduct online research and master technology skills that they will need in their future careers. For instance, as soon as tasks are assigned by teachers, students can begin working at any time in and out of class. This bodes well for blended learning and e-learning approaches to education. These are just a few examples of how teaching and learning takes place not only within the classroom but also outside the classroom too.
Technology further affects teaching and learning because it changes student and teacher roles so that teachers can offer more personalized learning. As Bitner and Bitner (2002) note, the traditional role of teacher has been radically altered with the advent of technology as a teaching and learning tool: “[Technology’s] use can allow teachers and students to become partners in the learning process. Technology integration necessarily alters the traditional paradigm of the teacher providing wisdom and the student absorbing knowledge and for good reason. The knowledge needed for tomorrow’s jobs will change before many of today’s students enter the job market” (p. 97). Rather than acting as expert lecturers who provide knowledge, teachers in today’s technological age play the role of facilitators who help students to think critically and learn actively. In this new relationship, students are much more engaged because lessons can be more customized and enhanced to fit each student’s learning style and progress. As more and more teachers are using adaptive learning software, gaming, coding and virtual reality in their classrooms, students can work and excel at their own level and pace. Students are active learners and authors, not just consumers when using technology: “Students today must learn to search and discover knowledge, actively communicate with others, and solve problems so that they can become productive life-long members of our society” (Bitner and Bitner, 2002, p. 97). Technology makes that happen by asking them to publish, share, and collaborate.
A third unique feature of technology as a teaching and learning approach is its ability to transform classrooms into highly collaborative spaces, where learning happens both in and out of classrooms. Technology facilitates interaction amongst students so that they can share questions and information while participating in relevant, real-world tasks prepared under the guidance of the teacher. As a result, technology changes teacher practices because the classroom is more student-centered. Students’ roles change too from passive listener to collaborator and occasional expert. Furthermore, as tasks become more collaborative, they also become more complex, and students develop various transferable skills: “Technology-based projects often require students to undertake a larger workload that can also be different in nature-completing open-ended tasks, collaborating with others, directing their own learning, and assuming new leadership roles to name a few” (Groff and Mouza, 2008, p. 33). In technology-rich classrooms, students are more likely to be engaged in specialized group projects rather than whole class activities. People rarely work alone to accomplish important tasks in the world of work; technology is allowing schools to better reflect the collaborative nature of today’s workplaces and perhaps better equip students with the skills they will need.
I believe it is the skill and attitude of the teacher that determines the effectiveness of technology integration in the classroom. When the teacher is confident with technology, employing technology daily in the classroom using a variety of tools to co-create lessons, assignments and projects that show a deep understanding of content, the effectiveness of technology integration is present in the classroom: “To be successful teaching with technology requires teachers to have a strong comfort level with, and consistently implement technology tools as part of their own repertoire of tools in courses they are teaching” (Keengwe et al., 2008, p. 561). Teachers who are most successful at technology integration in the classroom are those who are so comfortable with technology that they intuitively know when to use and how to use it for student teaching and learning.
When teachers are excited about and fully invested in employing technology, optimal teaching and learning environments are created. For instance, Darvasi (2014) recounts the story of a seventh-grade English teacher who used alternate reality games (ARGs) to transform his students’ study of The Odyssey. Using their teacher’s game-based version of The Odyssey, students had to follow QR codes and clues to re-assemble lost journals and make their way to the end of the game, often working together in groups to decipher hints in a variety of unexpected ways. Within this example, Darvasi (2014) argues that ARGs became “an immersive learning system that combine[d] rich narrative, digital technology, and real-world game play,” which allowed students to “exercise critical thinking, resilience, and creative problem solving to succeed in the ARG” (p. 1). While creating an ARG might seem implausible to many teachers, Darvasi believes that it is an achievable strategy, as it can be created via free user-friendly, web-based tools and digital software.
A second example of the efficacy of technology in the classroom is a personal one based on my seven-year experience as the IT teacher at my middle school. My class is completely online and paperless, based in a wiki website where students log in to access lesson plans, assignments and resources, as well as chat in real time with each other or with me. Using a variety of web 2.0 tools on my wiki, and mind-mapping, VOKI, and comic software (to name a few), students are challenged to develop problem-solving skills to both navigate the interface and software as well as work collaboratively on open-ended assignments. In my experience, the presence of the online environment motivates students to learn, perhaps mostly because the technology eliminates a one-size-fits-all approach to learning and customizes content to meet individual needs and learning styles.
Today’s students cannot effectively be taught with pen and paper only. These dated technologies, while perhaps perfectly acceptable several decades ago, do not reflect the realities or needs of 21st century learners. As a teaching and learning tool, technology modernizes classrooms, transforming them into spaces that better reflect the day-to-day lives of today’s learners and the skills they need to build for tomorrow. Just as we would never think of asking a student today to write a paper on a stone tablet, so too can we not ignore the necessity of various technological tools in making learning relevant and engaging for today’s learners.
Bitner, N., & Bitner, J. (2002). Integrating technology into the classroom: Eight keys to success. Journal of technology and teacher education, 10(1), 95-100.
Characteristics of Highly Effective Technology Teaching and Learning in Kentucky Schools.2009. Retrieved from the web site: http://education.ky.gov/curriculum/standards/teachtools/Documents/TechCharacteristicsARCCKDEPJK.pdf
Darvasi, P. 2014. How to Transform the Odyssey into an Epic Game in Alternate Reality. Retrieved from the web site: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/10/13/how-students-can-channel-the-odyssey-into-an-alternate-reality-epic/
Goddard, M. (2002). What do we do with these computers? Reflections on technology in the classroom. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 35(1), 19-26.
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