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Using Technology as an Educational Tool: Cognitive Changes in the Classroom Fiona Fogarty SUNY Plattsburgh
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 2 Like any institution in our society, schools are unable to hide from the ever‐changing
winds of technological advancement. Computers and the Internet seem to be on the minds and occupying the time of even today’s youngest students. Many classroom teachers use computers as a means of convenience, but do not form their lessons around how technology in the classroom can improve student learning. School districts jump to allocate funds to technology in hopes that test scores will improve and learning will be enhanced. Questions are always being asked about how technology is affecting our children. Research and experience tell us that technology is best used as a tool in the classroom, and not as a replacement traditional lesson planning strategies and pedagogies. However, many educators believe strongly that computers have shifted our culture in such a way that the students of the twenty‐first century are having a hard time learning in an environment that is socially driven. Some also believe that in our world of fast‐paced competition, students need as much computer‐aided education as possible to stay on top in the business world. Like most issues in education, the controversies surrounding the uses of technology in the classroom are best mediated by remembering that the goal of education is student learning, and that in our classrooms, technology should be used as tool to help students learn. McClintock postulates, “What pedagogical resources will best enable students to explore, select, and appropriate the skills and ideas that the culture proffers to them?” (McClintock, 1992). Technology answers this question with its many opportunities for appropriating the skills and ideas that culture extends to our students. When discussing technology as an educational tool, many topics come to mind. At the
forefront of how technology has changed education in the twenty‐first century is distance learning or online learning. In order to understand how classroom teachers might be able
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 3 to harness the potential in today’s new technologies, it is useful to look at how universities use distance education to expand learning opportunities and methods for students seeking degrees in higher education. While research is still being performed on all fronts regarding technology and student learning, distance learning has proven its successes in terms of student accessibility. Beller (2008) states, “Distance learning provides answers to the problems of availability (accessibility and cost) and the demand for flexibility (time, place and pace) of learning.” While this may seem like a convenience that only affects students in higher education, distance learning is also applicable to students in secondary school. Many middle school and high school students who are looking for a challenging academic experience turn to online coursework through local universities in addition to their physical classrooms at school. Like all of the many ways to obtain information and to learn, online learning may be for some types of learners, but not for others, “distance learning is essentially self‐learning, and requires great will power and self‐discipline on the part of the student as well as suitable learning skills” (Beller, 1998). In this regard, online learning can be used as a supplement to traditional classroom learning in secondary schools. Teachers can model parts of their classes after an online class in order to prepare students for collegiate course experiences. Students can also engage in coursework via the Internet if they are absent from class or miss a lesson. Another convenience of using online coursework in addition to classroom teaching is that students are able to work at their own pace and can often interact with other students in ways that differ from in‐class participation. For example, a student who is shy and reluctant to contribute to a class discussion might be able to earn his participation points and make his voice heard by interacting with peers on the class blog, wiki, or other methods of online discussion.
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 4 In addition, online discussions in the form of online classes, collaborative wikis, or
blogs have the ability to change the social culture of the classroom. Swan (2003) explains the culture and atmosphere that online discussion can facilitate, showing that student‐ centered learning is often the result of distance learning and online collaboration: The asynchronous nature of the discussion makes it impossible for even an instructor to control. Whereas discussion in traditional classrooms is, for the most part, transacted through and mediated by the instructor, online discussion evolves among participants. Accordingly, many researchers have found that students perceive online discussion as more equitable and more democratic than traditional classroom discourse. In addition, because it is asynchronous, online discussion affords participants the opportunity to reflect on their classmates’ contributions while creating their own, and on their own writing before posting it. This tends to create a certain mindfulness and a culture of reflection in online courses. (Swan, 2003). In this way, using online tools as provided by the school’s network can aide in a student’s overall social and academic performance in class as well as outside of class. A teacher might even set up a message board for students to interact with each other as they prepare for tests or work on a writing project. Peer editing takes on a new form with wikis and ongoing discussion boards, and students can exchange ideas, offer support, and ask questions of their fellow students and of the teacher in a safe and accessible learning environment outside of the classroom. This method makes it possible for classroom discussions and collaborations to continue at home for any homework assignment or formative assessment. Furthermore, distance learning continues to provide broader opportunities for students across the country in their educational goals, “The State of California, with its
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 5 Virtual University (CVU), provides students with a choice of 1,600 courses offered by 95 schools, all of which are available entirely online” (Beller, 2008). In all, distance learning as it has been implemented at universities around the world can provide an example to secondary schools as an effective means of utilizing technology for learning. The debate over whether or not distance learning and classroom learning provide the
same academic outcomes is contestable. Many critics of distance education state that without social interaction, outcomes of education can be of lesser quality with distance learning than with classroom learning: “The goal, the raison d’etre, the stuff of education is learning. Thus learning effectiveness must be the first measure by which online education is judged. If we can’t learn as well online as we can in traditional classrooms, then online education itself is suspect” (Swan, 2003). Researchers who have delved into the real similarities and differences between learning online and learning in the classroom have concluded that based on grades, online learning yields similar or better results than grades taken from classroom learning in terms of overall student learning, “it is clear that when compared using gross measures of learning effectiveness, students learn as much if not more from online courses as they do in traditional higher education courses” (Swan, 2003). But do grades tell the truth about the effects of online learning? Barnum (2003) argues, “The use of grades to operationalize learning may not always provide the best results… Students may already know the material when they enroll or their grade may be more related to class participation, work turned in late, or attendance than to learning.” Therefore, educators must base the successes or failures of online learning and the integration of technology into the classroom by paying close attention to how students interact with each other when provided with new tools: "Learning effectiveness means that
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 6 learners who complete an online program receive educations that represent the distinctive quality of the institution. The goal is that online learning is at least equivalent to learning through the institution’s other delivery modes, in particular through its traditional face‐to‐ face, classroom‐based instruction . . . Interaction is key” (Sloan, 2002). Interaction means synthesizing ideas from other students and from high‐quality sources, making meaning based on collaborative efforts and original opinions through online discussions. It is arguable that students cannot receive the same type of interaction online as they can face‐ to‐face, which is true – the modes of interaction are inherently different due to the technology involved in online collaboration. However, the outcomes of these different forms of interaction can be made similar. Students can engage in discussion, validate one another’s opinions or findings, disagree with one’s stance on a particular issue, synthesize information from the web with experiential knowledge and observations, and learn to respect the opinions and ideals of his or her peers. Willingham (2010) also agrees that the effectiveness of technology cannot be measured through mere grades: “Teachers should carefully monitor students to see if new technology in a lesson is enhancing comprehension or becoming overwhelming.” Whether teachers observe students as they respond to a class wide lesson, work in small groups, or individually, paying close attention to how students react to new educational tools is the only way in which to assess the effectiveness of those tools. Teachers should be making educated observations, and recording changes that they see in the learning patterns of their students. Students may become confused with new technologies, or they may simply become distracted from the academic task at hand. Assessing the effects of technology on student learning is an ongoing process that will yield new results as new technologies continue to be invented and integrated into schools.
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 7 It is also important to remember that comparing classroom teaching and learning
with online teaching and learning can be challenging based on the fact that these two methods are very different. According to Swan (2003), “Trying to make online education "the same" most likely will lead to less than optimal learning, when, in fact, online education has the potential to support significant paradigm changes in teaching and learning.” Instead, teachers should think about what goals they have for their classroom, and then ask what tools technology can provide to help them reach those goals (Willingham, 2010). Throughout the debates over the integration of technology into schools, researchers and educators have held that no technological advance should replace what already works. “Media…[are] like trucks, they [are] delivery vehicles and no more” (Swan 2003). Educators and parents may fear that computers will replace traditional classrooms, when their purpose is really to enhance the classroom environment in ways that make learning more versatile, flexible, and accessible. Computers can individualize learning more efficiently than a teacher can because the teacher may have thirty students who he or she is trying to focus on in the course of the school day. Littleton (2010, pp. 362) states, “…technology is significant in shaping knowledge…knowledge is shaped through the range of modes and resources a technology makes available,” while Swan says, “online environments can take advantage of the unique ability of the computing medium to respond to users and so individualize their learning according to their particular learning needs and styles” (Swan, 2003). Thus, online environments and the very nature of computers can provide learning environments to students that are multifaceted and personalized, but these resources are only as effective as the thinker behind the lesson plan. Teachers must remember to use the computer as a tool, not as a crutch. To support
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 8 the need for the re‐thinking of lessons and of the positive integration of technology in education, McClintock (1992) says, “in order to have a substantial effect improving education, the digitization of our culture will need to elicit a full systemic innovation in education, one that changes not only the medium of cultural exchange, substituting digital code for print, but the entire educational context for working with that medium.” While McClintock’s postulation may seem extreme, educators should keep their fingers on the pulse of technological change, specifically change that will effect classrooms so that this change may be harnessed and discussed in the context if improving education through improving student learning, which is best done through cognitive studies on technology and thinking. Educators also fear that the way in which students process information has changed
due to the prevalence of fast‐paced technologies in students’ lives. Some teachers believe that they must change how they deliver information in order to appeal to their students who seem “engaged” in technology more than they are engaged in the academic content of school. Willingham (2010) argues that a change in student learning is not a question of engagement, but merely the fact that modern technologies are new. We become engaged in anything that is new, because we seek information – we want to learn. Educators may attempt to integrate technology into their lessons in order to hold the attention of their students, which is ineffective without thinking about how the technology will impact student learning. He states, In order for technology (or any instructional tool) to increase student engagement in academic content, it has to aide in presenting problems as both challenging and solvable… For example, students in a physics class may grasp the idea of sensitivity to
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 9 initial conditions more easily with graphing software that allows them to make small changes in input data and then immediately see large changes in the resulting graph. (Willingham, 2010) The key is to use technology so that it can display problems as solvable and challenging, and can therefore engage students to learn new things. Showing a bulleted list on a projection screen from a PowerPoint slide show will not engage students, as they have seen hundreds of slide shows in their lifetime. Rather, using technology as a tool for creating new means of engagement will create new meaning through student learning, therefore allowing students to propel their own engagement while using technology as an endless tool for learning. Examples of positive ways to integrate technology into the classroom beyond the Smart Board and PowerPoint are constantly being shared by teachers. New ways of using collaborative Internet tools are proving themselves effective in secondary classrooms. Readwritethink.org provides English Language Arts lesson plans that integrate technology into reading and writing, valuing student voice and interaction while using technology as an educational tool. Freeman (2010), in her lesson plan titled “Twenty‐first century informational
literacy: Integrating research techniques and technology,” creates a research unit based on the graphic novel genre. An emerging genre, graphic novels are great for integrating technology with literature in a way that lets students create their own story or perform research in a more personalized way. For Freeman’s lesson, students “research a self‐ selected topic using web‐based resources… follow the research process and synthesize the information they obtained to create their graphic novel using the Comic Life software or other comic software.” Instead of writing a traditional research paper, students integrate
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 10 their experiential knowledge of graphic novels with research skills to create a research‐ based graphic novel of their own. The student objectives for this lesson state that students will “employ and practice a wide variety of research techniques by navigating websites, synthesizing and citing information, and creating questions and theses statements” (Freeman, 2010). Rather than just using the Internet as a tool for citing information, students must keep their audience in mind and also think about how they will convey the information that they have found through their research in the format of an original graphic novel. Through this unit, students actively use technology as a way to create new meaning for themselves while honing in on research skills to complete a task. While this lesson does not provide opportunity for students to interact with each other, it takes the task of researching and writing a research paper and makes it more creative and innovative. With a research assignment, computers and the Internet in class can provide students with much‐needed workshop time to work on their researching and writing skills. Probably the biggest theme of technology today is its effect on communication. The
way in which we are able to communicate through modern technologies is changing every day, and many adolescents are intrigued by their ability to be involved in texting and the many other uses of the cell phone. Filkins’ lesson titled “If a body texts a body: Texting in The Catcher in the Rye” integrates texting as a mode of communication with the theme of communication in the novel: “Students imagine the possibilities afforded by text messaging technology in The Catcher in the Rye in this lesson that serves as a review of the novel, an exploration of Holden Caulfield's character and narrative voice, and a study of a now everyday form of communication” (Filkins, 2010). In addition to using technology as a cognitive tool (students are thinking about technology and relating it to classic literature),
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 11 students are making text‐to‐world connections through thinking about and discussing the importance of communication today and in the past. Through writing their own text messages, students will “determine audience, purpose, voice, and rationale for text messages written in selected situations” (Filkins, 2010). This activity will certainly engage students in a creative and productive way. For students who love to text their friends, they can now relate to Holden Caulfield through writing text messages for him. Filkins integrates the technology of text messaging into a creative writing unit that supports the inter‐textualities between classic literature and present‐day communications. Wikis are a key online collaborative tool when they are used in a progressive and
productive way. In Chin and Luce‐Kapler’s lesson “Collaborating, writing, linking: Using wikis to tell stories online,” students use the unique medium of the wiki to develop their reading and writing skills while interacting with their classmates. Chin and Luce‐ Kapler state, “when students read online, they engage with text differently. Clicking on links and images for more information easily takes them down unexpected paths, links to e‐ mail addresses allow them to interact with authors, and wikis allow them to make changes to published text.” In this way, technology actually changes student learning for the better. Chin and Luce‐Kapler keep student cognition in mind when constructing this online lesson: “Students begin by reading untraditional books that use fragmented storylines, multiple perspectives, and unresolved plots. They apply these same types of strategies to their own writing, which they then publish using wiki technology. In doing so, students practice important literacy skills including searching for information, integrating images into text, and creating storylines that are reflective of the new types of reading found on the Internet.” Another unique aspect of this lesson is that students can share their work with
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 12 their classmates and with the world. Students will “Explore the possibilities of online text, including the use of links and images, by writing stories online and then editing them” and “Work collaboratively to brainstorm and write their own stories and link them to the work of their peers” (Chin, 2010). They can be proud of their finished product, while also expanding their reading and writing skills and learning how to write informally and for a collaborative, peer audience. These lessons provide examples of how educators have enhanced student learning
through computers and the Internet. They show the shift from teacher‐centered learning to student‐centered learning by using technology as a forum for collaborative and interactive learning. They also prove that technology can be used to affect cognition, not just as another tool for convenience in the classroom. Littleton (2010, pp. 177) says, The traditional individualistic conceptions of learning that pre‐dominated psychological and educational research over many decades have gradually been yielding to community centered approaches to learning… from teacher‐centered to more student‐centered approaches that highlight learners’ active constructive efforts, [and] from individually‐oriented towards socially‐oriented notions of constructive processes. This is the way in which teachers must think about technology and education; as a tool for making students’ lives better through helping them learn more effectively alongside their peers. Teachers must also keep in mind that technology should not replace their own critical thinking and lesson planning legwork, as the lesson is only as good as he or she who delivers it. Changing one’s methods and pedagogical outlooks in order to better serve one’s
USING TECHNOLOGY AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL: COGNITIVE CHANGES IN THE CLASSROOM 13 students is the sign of an effective teacher. Swan (2003) says, “Well designed instruction… was well designed instruction, regardless of how it was delivered. Thus, they maintained, as long as the quality of instruction delivered over distance was as good as the quality of traditional education, there would be no significant differences in learning between them. Indeed, as we have seen, the research supports such a view.” In the same way that distance learning relies so heavily on collaborative reading, writing, and discussion, integrating technology into the classroom in any discipline should focus on technology’s ability to expand the interactive interface of the classroom. The need for new research in the field of educational technology is constant, end educators of all ages should keep their fingers on the pulse of what is new in the world of technology and cognition. “Teachers need professional development to create lessons that exploit the potential advantages of technology; crafting such lessons is not straightforward” (Willingham, 2010). By always remember this fact – that technology will not enhance student learning by its mere presence in the classroom‐ teachers can effectively integrate the Internet, computers, interactive white boards, and other tools of technology into their lessons in a way that will affect cognition and improve student learning opportunities.
Barnum, Kirk T., and Rovai, Alfred P. (2003). On‐line course effectiveness: An analysis of student interactions and perceptions of learning. Journal of Distance Education, 18. Retrieved from http://topshare.che.nl/downloadattachment/177224/Artikel%20over %20eff%20van%20online%20studeren.pdf Beller, Michal., and Or, Ehud. (1998). The crossroads between lifelong learning and information technology: A challenge facing leading universities. Allenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, 4. Retrieved from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol4/issue2/beller.html Chin, Jane Ann., and Luce‐Kapler, Rebecca Jean. (2010). Collaborating, writing, linking: Using wikis to tell stories online. International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved from http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom‐ resources/lesson‐plans/collaborating‐writing‐linking‐using‐1087.html Sloan Consortium. (2002). Elements of quality: The Sloan‐C framework. Needham, MA: Sloan Center for OnLine Education.
Filkins, Scott. (2010). If a body texts a body: Texting in The Catcher in the Rye. International Reading Association/National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved from: http://www.readwritethink.org/classroom‐resources/lesson‐plans/body‐ texts‐body‐texting‐1170.html Freeman, Jennifer. (2010). Twenty‐first century informational literacy: Integrating research techniques and technology. International Reading Association/ National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved from
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McClintock, Robbie. (1992). Power and pedagogy: Transforming education through information technology. Cumulative Curriculum Project Publication, 2. Retrieved from http://schoolnetafrica.org/fileadmin/resources/Power_and_Pedagogy.pdf
Swan, Karen. (2003). Learning effectiveness: What the research tells us. J. Bourne & J. C. Willingham, Daniel T. (2010). Have technology and multitasking rewired how students learn? American Educator. Retrieved from https://220.127.116.11/pdfs/americaneducator/summer2010/Willingham.pdf