You are on page 1of 14

Running Head: CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

Constructivist Approach to Technology Integration in Elementary Education


Chris Humphreys
EDET 709-J50
University of South Carolina Columbia

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION


Abstract
If the educational system is to move towards 21st century teaching and learning best
practices for the integration of technology in the classroom, then a new approach to integrated
technology education is necessary to facilitate this transition. Current technology integration is
looked at through many different lenses depending on the background and educational
philosophy of the teacher in the classroom. It is the constructivist approach to this issue that we
will focus on as the greatest opportunity for successful integration of technology into the
classroom. This theory will be the paradigm shift technology integration needs to be successful.

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

Constructivist Approach to Technology Integration in Elementary Education


The constructivist learning environments are often defined as technology-based spaces, in
which students can explore, experiment, construct, converse, and reflect on what they are doing
so that they learn from their experiences (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999, p. 194). In these
types of classes the learning is student centered. Whereas in traditional classrooms are typically
more teacher-centered where the teacher is the giver of information and the students are the
receivers of the information. Only getting what the designer has created and laid out in the
instructional model for the class or lesson. Past research has shown that a technology-rich
learning environment can more effectively promote social-constructivist educational goals, such
as higher-order thinking skills, learning motivation, and teamwork, in comparison to traditional
settings (Rosen, 2009; Rosen, & Salmon, 2007).
Traditional instructional design models such as the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop,
Implement, and Evaluate) model are inappropriate for designing CLEs as the assumptions of
constructive learning are different from those of traditional instruction (Jonassen & RohrerMurphy, 1999, p. 61). With that being said we need to alter teachers way of thinking about
technology integration away from the teacher centered environments that Jonassen, Peck, and
Wilson described and embrace a constructive approach to allow students to develop and become
active learners. Essentially, The basic goals of education are deceptively simple. To mention
three, education strives for the retention, understanding, and active use of knowledge and skills
(Perkins, 1991a p 18). In order for students to become active learners means to have them work
in an environment where they can solve real world problems and apply their learning and make
sense of it. This change must be made through education programs at the university level, PD for
classroom teachers, and ETs as well as curriculum developers.

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

Traditionally speaking technology in education in most cases has been typically taught in
a computer lab where the teacher leaves their students with a subject matter expert of sorts
during special area time. This time is usually one time a week where the students are exposed to
educational computer software that school districts have purchased, digital citizenship activities,
and keyboarding based assignments designed to instruct the basics and functionality of the
keyboard. During this time the teacher is giving whole group lessons and then having the
students either follow along or working independently on their own computers. This type of
technology integration is more that of cognitive information processing (CIP) where the learners
brain is the processer of information similar to the way computers processes information. The
students are given information from the computer teacher then they process what to do with it
then they do it or the output. This is opposed to the research that a constructivist environment
where classroom teachers integrate technology and are more facilitators of technology rather
than teachers of it.
Theory
The constructivist approach unlike traditional learning theorys emphasis on direct
instruction and the transmission of knowledge, constructivism stresses the facilitation of
knowledge construction through connecting new concepts with prior beliefs (Ravitz, Becker, &
Wong, 200). That is when teaching students how to use program code in the elementary
classroom it is not advisable to follow a traditional learning theory as given direct instruction,
students are unable to make sense of what you are teaching them. This is especially the case
when they have no prior knowledge on the subject to relate it to. The transfer of knowledge does
not lend itself to this type of technology use. Students will find themselves overwhelmed by the
content of the instruction and lose sight of the intended purpose of the objective. This deals with

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

several topics discussed such as zone of proximal development and cognitive load theory. The
constructive theory rests on the assumption that knowledge is constructed by learners as they
attempt to make sense of their experiences. Learners, therefore, are not empty vessels waiting to
be filled, but rather active organism seeking meaning (Driscoll, 2005).
The (ZPD) is the research of Vygotsky. His work with the process of development in
children was his way to understand their skill development and how it changes over time. These
functions could be termed the buds or flowers of development rather than the fruits of
development (Vygotsky, 1978, p.86). This establishes that there are two independent yet distinct
types of development rather than just the total portion of development to account for. The (ZDP)
defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation (Vygotsky,
1978). Given the complexity of basic computer programming it is this (ZDP) that classrooms full
of five, six and seven year olds are different in every way. Take for instance a kindergarten class
of mostly five year olds. The range is from those that have just turned five to those who are
closer to six years old. They are close together by birth but their development is quite different.
So, a traditional style of direct instruction then putting them to work on a coding program will
cause those who are outside of their (ZDP) and cause them to become overwhelmed.
In a constructivist classroom the teacher will require this understanding of these
differences of student development as the teacher acts as a guide through their learning. Tapscott
(1997) defined the changing role of the teacher as less of an instructional transmitter but more
of a facilitator of social learning whereby learners construct their own knowledge (p. 148).
Working with students as they code or with any technology in the classroom and allowing them
to program or work in small groups or in pairs not only allows them to develop their social
constructivism but to assist each other if ones (ZDP) is greater than that of the other students is.

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

The teacher is the facilitator of the learning and guiding them as they make sense of new
information. This is a shift in philosophy where the teacher is as much a part of the class as the
students are. When integrating technology such as iPads, laptops, digital cameras, educational
software it is necessary for the students to have an active role in their learning. The teacher as
facilitator helps to define the role of language in cognitive development through interactions
with those more knowledgeable than ourselves (Lucus & Claxton, 2010, p. 177).
In order for this type of constructivist approach towards the integration of technology in
the elementary classroom to be possible one must look at the relationships that the teacher has
with the students. The establishment of warm, positive, healthy, teacher-student relationships is
crucial to promoting meaningful student engagement in the learning process (Beutel, 2010). It is
these relationships that help to engage students and allow them the freedoms to work together
and explore their learning without fear of working too loudly, sharing ideas, and solving
problems together rather than alone. Many teachers feel that this type of teaching and learning is
a loss of control in the elementary classroom. It should be viewed as organized chaos. Yes,
students will talk to each other, yes they will move out of their seats and discuss a problem with
another group, and yes they will learn how we as adults learn in the 21st century. The amount of
information is endless and at our direct disposal. If we face a problem at work we arent
generally expected to solve it ourselves. We pick up a phone and call someone with more
experience, email a college or a higher level of support, or research the issue to get the problem
resolved. We are not left to do this on our own and we need to teach our students at a young age
to be able to do this. This is a 21st century skill and an expectation by most employers in todays
job market. So, if the teacher is unable to remove themselves from the role as the sole provider of
learning due to personal and pedagogical conflicts of constructivist and Vygtoskian approaches

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

to learning then the class will slip back into a traditional objectivism type of instruction. Teachers
with a constructivist orientation consider the perspectives of their students when seeking to
facilitate learning, provoke the questioning of assumptions, and focus on the big ideas that are
relevant to students (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). Teachers that understand the different learning
styles of the students in their classroom and plan for the intentional use of higher order
questioning, student collaboration, and ways to facilitate learning through the integration of
technology adhere to what Brooks & Brooks stated in their research. Instead of providing a
platform for simple rote, drill, and skill-focused approaches, technology should serve as a set of
tools for knowledge construction through such means as simulations, hypermedia, and problem
based learning environments (Jonassen, Howland, More, & Marra, 2003: Mayer, 2003).
It is this that a constructivist classroom will use to allow students to find different
representations of their learning. They can do this through computer programing with code to
providing simulations to solve a problem. Students use different types of software programs such
as Pixie and Kidspiration to create, use, and edit graphics, audio, and video to showcase their
learning. The (PBL) project based learning environments have been a place where students solve
real world problems and challenges. This allows for deep understanding of the subjects they are
studying, increase collaboration and student engagement.
Cases
The following two cases aim to serve as examples of how a constructivist approach to
technology integration in elementary education is the most suitable methodology in doing so.
The two cases are similar in content as one relates to using one-to-one laptop environment in
teaching and learning and the other is related to the beliefs about learning, instruction and

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

technology in elementary schools. Each of these two cases is rooted in a constructivist approach
to the integration of technology in the elementary classroom.
Intertwining Digital Content and One-to-One Laptop Environment in Teaching and
Learning
The first case by (Beck-Hill, D. & Rosen, Y., 2012) discusses how a constructivist
approach to popular one-to-one laptop computer programs affects the teaching and learning
pedagogies. This case was chosen as it provides a glimpse into technology-rich learning
environments and the implications of introducing a one-to-one program as a way to increase
these practices related to constructivist approach to technology integration.
This case was part of research conducted in Texas in the Grand Prairie Independent
School District (GPISD). This study was designed to address four research questions related to
the impact of the program on math and reading performance, attendance and disciplinary
records, instructional and learning practices, and learning motivation and attitudes toward
learning with computers. The populations examined are fourth and fifth grade students and their
teachers within the (GPISD). The researchers used two control schools and two test schools. All
four of the schools have similar gender and race distribution. The study was conducted over the
course of a two year period during the same time frame during the spring of each year.
In this study, the researchers set to answer four guiding questions about the intertwining
of digital content and one-to-one laptop environments in teaching and learning. The results of
reading and math performance showed that the fourth and fifth grades test participants
outperformed the control groups significantly during the two years in both reading and math
while the test groups only showed a small increase during the same test period. The results of the

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

unexcused absences showed a decrease by the test groups by 29.2% where the control groups
increased by 56.6%. This fact is statically significant and saves the school district an average of
$32.83 per student that is charged for each students unexcused absences. The study also found
that students discipline issues by the control group did not change. However, the test groups
issues decreased by 62.5%. The study also found that teachers using this program increased
across the board independent learning, student collaboration, adjusted instructional methods,
feedback, and scaffolding strategies. The study showed that the program promoted differentiated
teaching and learning in the classrooms by effectively implementing a constructivist technologyenriched model (Beck-Hill, D. & Rosen, Y., 2012).
Beliefs about Learning, Instruction, and Technology
The second study by (Kurz-McDowell & Hannafin, 2004) discusses the beliefs about
learning, instruction, and technology of six teachers in the second, third and fourth grade level.
This study was chosen based on the importance of teacher attitude, educational philosophy and
technology background when integrating technology into a classroom.
This study was conducted in an average size public elementary school located in a
suburban town. It is a K-5 school with approximately 500 students. The participants were six
teaches from second and fourth grade classrooms. Five of the six teachers were female. This is
an important fact to know as it could alter the results based on the comfortability of technology
between male and females. There was a wide range of years of experience ranging from 3-21
years at the time of the study.
The study was conducted to research the various beliefs about teaching and learning in
elementary school and the integration of technology and technology use in their classrooms. The

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

10

teachers were given a survey as a way to collect their thoughts and beliefs about technology and
constructivism in a student centered classroom prior to a face-to-face interview. The
questionnaire had nine open-ended questions about what technology they used already, how they
felt about it, what type of barriers they have in integrating it and their definition of technology
integration to list a sampling of the survey. During the survey the teachers were asked another six
questions related to their own beliefs about learning and instruction only.
The results of the survey and interview questions were then grouped together based on
each of the teachers responses to the questions related to teaching and learning beliefs and
technology use. Then the results were broken down into two categories by either teachercentered or a student-centered constructivist approach. The second grade teachers wanted to meet
the needs of the students and adapt their teaching to do so. They fit a more constructivist
approach when examining the results of the questions. However, the fourth grade teacher felt that
due to state standardized testing that those were the things that needed to be taught, along with
independence, in the classroom and that there was little time to integrate technology and
continued in a teacher-centered environment. At the end of the study two patterns were identified
by the researchers. The first was that there was a correlation between teachers personal beliefs
and their philosophys on teaching and learning and integrating technology in to their
classrooms. The second pattern is how much difference there was between second and fourth
grade teachers philosophies and technology use.
Recommendations
The study of one-to-one technology integration was successful in in answering their
initial research questions related to technology integration using a constructivist approach.

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

11

However, the study faced challenges in whether or not the same study would be successful in
different contexts such as social studies and science classes as this one primarily focused on math
and reading. Another challenge was whether it had an effect on the other aspects of critical
thinking, reasoning and (ICT) literacy. A study would need to be conducted with a different
scope. Researchers would need to develop similar types of programs for the test teachers to
follow in the science and social studies classes while focusing more on problem solving,
reasoning skills, and ICT.
The primary challenge faced by the second study was barriers to the constructivist
approach to technology integration. Ertmer (1999) examined the barriers that prevent teachers
from integrating technology. Ertmer classified them into two distinct categories. The first are
related to teachers access to different technologies in the classroom and having a limited amount
of time set aside to plan constructivist based lessons. The second category is internal to the
teacher and relates directly to their beliefs about teaching and learning best practices. The study
related to teacher beliefs speaks to this as a primary challenge faced to the integration of
technology integration. Ertmer discussed that once a teacher had the first category of external
barriers removed that successful constructivist technology integration would ensue.
However, this study found that wasnt the case. The study identified that the primary
barrier was the second and internal teacher factor of teaching philosophy. One way to try to
overcome these challenges would be to develop a comprehensive staff development plan
designed specifically to target teachers attitudes and beliefs towards constructivist integration of
technology. The breadth of the development would cover everything from research based lesson
planning to research case studies in hopes of changing teachers philosophies. A tracking system
and an (ITP) individualized technology plan created for each teacher since we all learn at

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

12

different rates. These plans will assist an (ET) with gauging teachers movement towards the
target goals. Cochran, DeRuiter, and King (1993) examined pedagogical content knowledge of
beginning and experiences teacher. Teachers in training should be taught content knowledge
related to their field in such areas as interpreting, critically reflecting, representing information
in multiple formats, adapting, tailoring and flexible understanding (p264).
Conclusion/ Next Steps
The current research supports success in the constructivist approach to technology
integration in elementary education. However, there are still many obstacles faced by
instructional designers, ETs, classroom teachers and students when choosing what type of
technology to integrate and the philosophies of those implanting the theories in to the classroom.
The studies indicated that there had been significant statistical changes in the test group when
integrating technology into fourth and fifth grade classes with one-to-one laptop initiatives. It
also identified challenges with the research as it was limited to math and reading. It also
indicated that teachers beliefs of teaching and learning directly correlated to technology use or
the lack there of in the classroom. The next steps for these studies would be to extend further
investigation into the curriculums of science and social studies, as well as, explore its
effectiveness in other elementary grade levels. The studies should also take into consideration the
beliefs of teachers prior to the study being conducted. Technology-rich learning environments are
becoming more prevalent in the classroom and have been used as intellectual partners for active
participation in construction of knowledge (Jonassen, 2008). More information related to
constructivist approaches to technology integration can be found in David Jonassens book titled
Meaningful Learning with Technology (4th edition).

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

13

References
Beck-Hill, D., & Rosen, Y. (2012). Intertwining digital content and a one-to-one laptop
environment in teaching and learning: lessons from the time to know program: Journal of
Research on Technology in Education. 44.3 (Spring 2012): p225. From Student Resources in
Context.
Brooks, J.G., & Brooks, M.G. (1993). Insearch of understanding: The case for constructivist
classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Cochran, K.F., DeRuiter, J. A., & King, R. A. (1993). Pedagogical content knowing: An
integrative model for teacher preparation. Journal of Teacher Education. 44(4), 263-272.
Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of learning for instruction. Boston: Pearson.
Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for
technology integration. Educational Technology Research & Development, 47(4), 47-61.
Hamilton, B. (2007). It's elementary!: Integrating technology in the primary grades (First
edition.). Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.
Jonassen, D.H., Howland, J., Moore, J., & Marra, R.M. (2003). Learning to solve problems: A
constructivist perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Jonassen, D.H., Peck, K.L., & Wilson, B.G. (1999). Learning with technology: a constructivist
perspective. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION

14

Jonassen, D.H., & Rohrer-Murphy, L. (1999). Activity theory as a framework for designing
constructivist learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development,
47(1), 61-79.
Kurz-McDowell, N. J., & Hannafin, R. D. (2004). Beliefs about Learning, Instruction, and
Technology among Elementary School Teachers. Journal Of Computing In Teacher
Education, 20(3), 97-105.
Lucas, B., & Claxton, G. (2010). New kinds of smart: Teaching young people to be intelligent
for todays world. Maidenhead, GBR: Open University Press.
Overbay, A., Patterson, A. S., Vasu, E. S., & Grable, L. L. (2010). Constructivism and
Technology Use: Findings from the Impacting Leadership Project. Educational Media
International, 47(2), 103-120.
Ravitz, J.L., Becker, H.J., & Wong, Y. (2000). Teaching learning, and computing: 1998 national
survey. Irvine, CA: Research Institute on the Integration of Technology.
Rosen, Y. (2009). Effects of animation learning environment on knowledge transfer and learning
motivation. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 40(4), 439-455.
Rosen, Y., & Salomon, G. (2007). The differential learning achievements of constructivist
technology-intensive learning environments as compared with traditional ones: A meta
analysis. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(1), 1-14.
Tapscott, D. (1997). Growing up digital: The rise of the net generation. Blacklick, OH, USA:
McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press.