Journal Issue: Children and Computer Technology Volume 10 Number 2 Fall/Winter 2000
The Challenges of Implementation
The preceding overview provides only a glimpse of the many computer-based applications that can enhance learning. But simply installing computers and Internet access in schools will not be sufficient to replicate these examples for large numbers of learners. Models of successful technology use combine the introduction of computer tools with new instructional approaches and new organizational structures. Because the American educational system is somewhat like an interlocking jigsaw puzzle,72 efforts to change one piece of the puzzle—such as using technology to support a different kind of content and instructional approach—are more likely to be successful if the surrounding pieces of teacher development, curriculum, assessment, and the school's capacity for reform are changed as well. Each of these organizational change factors is examined briefly below.Teacher Support
Effective use of computers in the classroom requires increased opportunities for teachers to learn how to use the technology. Studies show that a teacher's ability to help students depends on a mastery of the structure of the knowledge in the domain to be taught.73 Teaching with technology is no different in this regard. Numerous literature surveys link student technology achievement to teachers' opportunities to develop their own computer skills.74 Yet teachers commonly are required to devote almost all of their time to solo preparation and performance, with little time available for training in the use of technology.75
Technology itself, however, is proving to be a powerful tool in helping teachers bridge the gap in training on effective use of computers.14 By networking with mentors and other teachers electronically, teachers can overcome the isolation of the classroom, share insights and resources, support one another's efforts, and engage in collaborative projects with similarly motivated teachers. Teachers also gain valuable experience by using computers for their own needs.
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.Curriculum Modernization
The type of curriculum a school adopts has a significant impact in determining the extent to which computer-based technologies can be integrated effectively into the classroom. On the one hand, many parents and educators believe that students should master basic skills before they are exposed to challenging content, and computer technology can be used to support a curriculum with this emphasis through drill-and-practice applications. On the other hand, many learning researchers argue that the most effective way of promoting learning is to embed basic skills instruction within more complex tasks. They advocate adopting a curriculum that teaches the higher-order skills of reasoning, comprehension, and design in tandem with the basic skills of computation, word decoding, and language mechanics.76 Because computer technology has been most effective when used to support the learning of these more complex skills and concepts, computer-based technology can be integrated most effectively into a curriculum that embraces this tandem approach.
National associations and research institutions have called for challenging content to prepare students for the twenty-first century.77 To date, some progress has been made in setting more challenging goals in national standards and state curriculum framework documents, especially in the areas of science and mathematics. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics K–12 standards often are cited as an example of a sensible and widely implemented set of goals,78 and many experiments with technology are now oriented toward helping meet these standards. Progress also has been made in setting more challenging goals for science learning,3 but less progress has been made in updating goals in other subject areas. Strategies for effective, broad-scale adoption of particular technologies are dependent on progress in adopting more challenging national and statewide goals by community stakeholders, including teachers, parents, school boards, and administrators.Student Assessment and Evaluation
One of the biggest barriers to introducing effective technology applications in classrooms is the heavy focus on student performance on district- or state-mandated assessments and the mismatch between the content of those assessments and the kinds of higher-order learning supported most effectively by technology.79 This mismatch leads to less time available for higher-order instruction and less appreciation of the impact technology can have on learning. Time spent preparing students to do well on numerical calculation tests, vocabulary, or English mechanics cannot be spent on learning about acceleration, the mathematics of change, or the structure of Shakespeare's plays. Moreover, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate the contribution of technologies in developing students' abilities to reason and understand concepts in depth without new kinds of assessments. As noted earlier, compared with peers who learned algebra through conventional methods, urban high school students using a computer-based algebra tutor system performed much better on tests that stressed their ability to think creatively about a complex problem over a longer time period, but showed only a small advantage on standardized tests that do not adequately measure such higher-order thinking skills.45,80 Although it is challenging to develop ways to measure student understanding of complex concepts and higher-order thinking skills, current research on the effectiveness of selected computer-based applications may provide strategies that could be considered for adoption in future educational assessment frameworks.81Capacity for Change
Systematic studies of schools that have implemented educational reforms provide useful information about the organizational dynamics of significant change and the role computer technology can play in this process. In a series of cross-sectional case studies conducted in 1995, several key factors associated with effective use of technology in schools were identified:82
- Technology access and technical support;
- Instructional vision and a rationale linking the vision to technology use;
- Critical mass of teachers in technology activities;
- High degree of collaboration among teachers;
- Strong leaders; and
- Support for teacher time for planning, collaboration, and reporting technology use.
These findings were echoed more recently in a 1998 survey of more than 4,000 teachers, who identified these key factors affecting school computer use: (1) location and number of computers available to a class, (2) teacher computer expertise, (3) teacher philosophy and objectives, and (4) school culture (see the article by Becker in this journal issue).
Specifically, this survey found that Internet use is more common in schools where teachers talk to their colleagues and have the opportunity to visit each other's classrooms.83 In fact, such teacher-to-teacher interaction was more strongly associated with Internet use than was participation in training on how to use the Internet. These studies suggest that the relationship between technology use and education reform is reciprocal: although technology use helps support school change, school change efforts also help support effective use of technology.84