Integration of Technology in the Classroom:
An Instructional Perspective
by Ron Richmond
SSTA Research Centre Report #97-02: 36 pages, $11.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY This resource was developed by the Saskatchewan Instructional Development and Research Unit (SIDRU) for the Saskatchewan School Trustees Association. 

This report explores issues and concerns relating to the pedagogical uses of the new technologies for learning across the curriculum. There exists appropriate pedagogical uses and potential misuses of technology in the classroom. Within the broader definition of technology, there is a need to move beyond acquisition of tools and ensure the development of technique if teachers and students are to profit from greater access to technology. This report calls for greater support for teachers in learning to use technology effectively in the classroom. 




The New Technologies in Education  
Prospects for Change  
Debate Over Standardization  
A Saskatchewan Approach to Quality Change  
The Need for Strategic Planning  
The Need for a 'Systemic' Perspective 


Reflecting on the Nature of Technology  
The Transformational Effects of Technology  
The Effective Management of Technology in Classrooms  
Technology and Empowerment 
Centralized Vs Distributed Control of Learning Systems 
Questions of Structure 
Technology as a Social Symbol 
Demand for Maintenance and Replacement  
Advantages of Systemic Integration of Technology 


Reasons for Acquiring Technology 
Computer-Mediated Learning: Practices and Issues 
Curriculum-Free versus Curriculum-Specific Resources 


A Systemic Approach  
The Emergence of Standardized Approaches  
The Role of the Teacher—The Shanker Perspective 
The Critical Need for Technical Support 

  Back to: Technology

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The opinions and recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author and may not be in agreement with SSTA officers or trustees, but are offered as being worthy of consideration by those responsible for making decisions.


This review of technological change in education focuses primarily on educational practices in K-12 classrooms and the expected effects of new forms of electronic communications and computer-based technologies in these settings.

We have the opportunity and challenge to explore the potential benefits of one of the most significant developments in communications since the invention of moveable type. However, planning must ensure that priority is given to the quality of teaching and learning and that educators at all levels understand the pedagogical relevance of new technologies.

Although technology has been acquired by schools primarily to support learning about technology, it is now possible to consider technology for its potential in supporting learning with technology. The latter applications may be categorized according to various types of available software. Each type has different potential benefits and limitations when applied to classroom situations. In preparation for the effective use in classrooms, teachers will need to have a critical understanding of these different types of applications, and be given guidance in integrating the new technologies into their repertoire of teaching skills and strategies. Basic to this analysis is the idea that tool-type technologies are only as effective as the techniques employed in their use. Too often, the emphasis on technology acquisition is to acquire the tools without adequate priority to technique.

Effective use of technology to support teaching and learning across the curriculum has the potential to transform the learning environment. While there are calls to use technology to restructure, there are reasons to view these calls with a critical stance, and to recognize that few blueprints for this type of massive change exist. Rather, there is much experimental use of technology in classroom learning. Many attempts to implement change are locally conceived and are often dependent upon the leadership of certain key educational leaders. While this may be perceived as meeting immediate needs there are reasons to believe that, as a strategy, it is inadequate to bring about the significant and effective change that is possible with the new technologies.

A major weakness of current change strategies for achieving greater learning with technology is the optional 'add-on' nature of most attempts at local change. Typically, teachers and students engage in classroom learning within an existing system of teaching/learning resources and relevant methods. Adding new technologies to an existing system does not achieve a transformation so much as the addition of more responsibilities for technical creative approaches by teachers. Some teachers will feel comfortable adding technology in their teaching. However, other teachers may perceive technology as demanding too much time and effort for the limited benefits that they perceive will accrue them or their students. If new technology is to achieve an appropriate supportive role for both teachers and students, a plan for systemic change is needed to use technology in a highly integrative way so that both teachers and learners can realize practical benefits of having technology available.

Since local attempts to enhance learning is currently the primary mode of bringing about change, it is important for teachers to understand the pedagogical functions of various types of technology and software. At a basic level, it is possible to distinguish between objectives and activities that focus on technology as an 'end' of instruction, and those that focus on technology as a 'medium' for enhancing learning across the curriculum. In the latter case, there is a need to recognize that certain software applications promote forms of 'direct' instruction. Often these applications (including educational games, simulations, practice activities and tutorials) are easiest for teachers to use and have the potential to provide significant assistance to teachers. In the past, however, many of the products in this category were misused in the classroom and, at times, earned the criticism of more discerning educators. Effective use of software intended for direct instruction has been beneficial in many settings and for many specific uses when implemented by teachers who have a clear understanding of potential benefits and limitations of such learning resources.

Other learning software includes the common basic applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, which serve quite different purposes in the learning environment and make different demands on the creative ability of teachers. Too often, the reliance upon tool-type software in the classroom creates significant demands on the teacher without adequate provision for training and the continuing support necessary for teachers to implement these methods successfully.

Providing adequate support for teachers, both in terms of professional development and on-site technical support, is critical for the effective encouragement of teachers to become active technology-using teachers. A number of issues relate to this process need to be taken into account when developing plans for technology implementation. Planning and implementation strategies that place a high value on a systemic perspective considered essential when addressing the full range of needs and inherent relationships that together create and sustain an effective learning approach.

Finally, it is important to recognize that certain cooperative and commercial approaches to achieving change in the classroom are on the horizon. Such options provide means to develop an instructional model for adoption at the local level. While the options are limited, the trends in the use of technology indicate that standardization and mass utilization of products will affect both cost reduction and quality enhancement. The prospect for use of these approaches seems to be currently in conflict with the strong desire for local control. However, there are examples of approaches to reading instruction, for instance the Reading Recovery program, where development of strategies, resources, and provision of professional training is considered to be highly successful in achieving desired change at the classroom level. Instructional leaders should critically monitor the development of such products at the IBM TLC program. While costs may yet be too high and curriculum content issues continue to exist, it is likely that major solutions to the effective integration of technology throughout the curriculum will be achieved more quickly through collaborative and even certain commercial approaches than through relying upon local initiatives to bring about the desired change.

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Many educators believe that the new computer- and communication-based technologies have much to offer K-12 education and that infusion of technology into school settings will bring profound changes. While significant change is already underway, and more change can be expected, the trends are in need of critical analysis.

In this paper the nature of technology is analyzed, together with the nature of teaching and learning, to identify the potential application of technology to classroom learning. Different types of applications to learning are identified together with an analysis of the benefits and limitations of each. The paper identifies and analyzes different perspectives on how change should be approached and implemented.





Tin K-12 classrooms and the his review of technological change in education focuses primarily on educational practices expected effects of new forms of electronic communications and computer-based these settings. The report technologies in does not address such specialized interests as distance learning applications, recognized to be of critical although these are interest to parents and educators in remote communities. Rather, the focus is on nature of teaching and the more generic learning with technology and the strategies for approaching technological change in typical classrooms.

The 'new technologies' referred to throughout this report include the educational applications of computers and communications technologies which commonly come in the form of stand-alone computers, local area networks (LANs), and connections to the Internet and other forms of wide area networks (WANs). It is also assumed that schools will have a mix of older and newer equipment: Some that have full multimedia capability (color, graphics, sound, animation, and display of short audio and movie clips), and some that can be used in a more limited way for word processing and a variety of less sophisticated, but effective, interactive learning activities.


The Promise of Change

Just as the industrial revolution created tools that served to off-load the physical labour previously carried by both 'man and beast,' the information revolution is creating tools that promise assistance in the intellectual dimensions of our lives. While the technologies of the industrial revolution were at times misused and misapplied, so, too, the technologies of the computer-generation must find their appropriate place within our communities and our schools. Some would rather wait until the experimentation is completed and guidelines for effective use are made clear. For others, participation in formulating appropriate practices is a professional experience they would hate to miss.

We have the opportunity and challenge to explore the potential educational benefits of one of the most significant developments of our generation. Many of the issues confronting us are complex. We live in a changing context of new products and capabilities. Indeed the rapidity of change in the field creates high expectations for new and fascinating applications to learning, but the lack of stability created by constant change counts as one of the significant stumbling blocks to implementing widespread change in classrooms.

Consideration of technology in the educational context must be approached with some clear priorities. It is essential to give priority to the nature of teaching and learning and to question the pedagogical relevance of the new technologies. Without a constant reminder of how humans learn, a preoccupation with technology may well introduce distortions of value and purpose that the critics of technology in the classroom most fear.

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For most people following the current trends in information technology, it seems only a matter of time before the power of these new technologies will be harnessed for significant learning advantage in the schools throughout our country. Many educators believe that a revolutionary change in K-12 educational practice is about to occur. The roles of both teachers and learners are expected to significantly change. Indeed, some believe that the institution of schooling will be massively restructured.


Adopting a Critical Stance

While prophets of a 'new millennium' abound, critics are attacking the perceived trends and superficiality of educational analysis which accompanies the head-long rush to promote the use of high technology in schools. Maclean's gave space to this debate in it's 1996 back-to-school issue (August 26, 1996), as did the CBC in a recent showing of its News Magazine (July 9, 1997). Are educators moving too quickly to embrace the new technologies? Educational decision-makers must have a clear understanding of the purposes for which the technology is being acquired and a workable plan for ensuring that the intended goals are likely to be achieved. With tight budgets and competing needs, debates will continue.


Popular Expectations for Change

In contrast to the historical pattern for introducing change into schools, the current acceptance of technological change is often characterized by a bottom-up rather than top-down approach. If teachers and local administrators are not clamoring for the latest technology, it is often parents who have initiated or given strong support to the changes they perceive to be critical to the education of their children. Too often in these scenarios, there is too little debate about the educational value of the technology being acquired, and too much confidence that hardware is a cure-all for whatever educational short-comings are perceived to exist.


The Forces for Educational Change

Some of the primary forces for change in schools include:


Perceptions of Needed Change

Strategies for achieving change in schooling practices may be categorized according to the extent and depth of required change. Easiest to implement, perhaps, are the minor adjustments to the existing ways of doing things. By making a series of small corrections, significant change will evolve over time. In recent years this approach is increasingly viewed as 'tinkering with the system.' Some educational planners view it as an inadequate response to the real needs which call for more substantive change. Needed changes, it is argued, are more basic and 'systemic'—changes that are likely to be only achieved through "restructuring with technology." (Knapp & Glenn, 1996)

Educational leaders continue to debate the prospects for classroom reforms. Even among those who call for major infusion of technology into the classroom call for radically different roles for technology. Although change in K-12 schooling practices permeates the educational scene throughout the continent, many of the architects of change have only the briefest of sketches to guide them. It is well known that educational practice is frequently guided by traditions, by philosophical perspectives, and by the charismatic leadership offered by key individuals. (Sarason, 1995; Shanker, 1995)

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Technology—at least in some of its most powerful forms—thrives on standardization and wide-spread acceptance. Costs are lowered as standardized items are mass-produced and distributed. To date, many of the technical tools have been developed for markets other than the classroom—often the office and the home. The educational market is highly specialized. Standardization applied longitudinally, along the learning path of a given student, suggests limitation of experience and potential boredom rather than enrichment of the learning enterprise. Standardization, if needed to bring costs down and achieve continuing commitment to quality enhancement, must be achieved latitudinally—across increasing numbers of schools, school districts, and beyond. For example, an excellent math or science lesson will be most useful only once in the typical learning path of an individual student. It becomes an economically viable product only if its use is distributed across thousands of students in hundreds of schools.

Use of computers and the wide-area communications capabilities provided by e-mail and the Internet create a plethora of uses of technology in the classroom. In contrast to the concern for standardization and mass production, many advocates promote a view of technology use that is highly idiosyncratic and dependent upon the teacher's creativity and technical competence. Herein lies part of the complexity of addressing the issues relating to technology in the classroom. There are significantly different uses for technology in the classroom. Some educational applications involve only the common software applications that have been primarily designed for the work place. Other applications, however, require the programming of interactive lessons which can lead students step-by-step through the development of key curriculum ideas.

Within this context, educators debate whether technology should be viewed primarily as generic tools, subject to the creative uses of teachers, or whether a technology can realistically support the development of new systems where learning might be facilitated with a radically different, technology-rich, learning environment.

Because of the variety of perspectives on technology and its uses, there is concern in some quarters that technological change will occur in classrooms for the wrong reasons and that technology will redefine both the form and substance of learning activity without careful consideration to its inherent biases and limitations.

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In Saskatchewan, the thoroughness of recent curriculum reforms and the continuing commitment to renewal suggest that a good foundation has been laid for an in-depth examination of the role of technology in the classroom. While it now seems inevitable that technology will play a significant role in the transformation of classrooms in the future, other educational practices must be maintained and extended. These include curriculum reform, quality interpersonal relationships within the school, the use of peer- and cross-age tutoring and mentoring, and new ways of integrating parental involvement in schools. Approaches to technology change must support such developments. Technology, as important as it may be in the restructuring process, is not a panacea. Rather it only one significant part of a much larger integrated effort to recreate enhanced learning environments for children and youth in the province

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While educators are often aware of needed improvement in schools, the potential role of technology is not always clear. However, there is a growing recognition that the approach chosen for engaging in technological change has significant cost implications and needs to be approached with both technical and professional insight. Leaders who choose to promote technology need to be aware of the growing body of research findings—much of it currently summarized on the Internet—that is relevant to decision-making, while being sensitive at the same time to specific local needs and priorities for change. (Cradler, 1996).

Two major problems characterize technology implementation efforts: 1) lack of clarity about the purposes and processes of implementing technology, and 2) limited understanding about the systemic change necessary for successful implementation. Without effective planning to address such critical concerns, there is evidence that considerable waste in resources will continue to be associated with technology acquisition and use—a loss that schools can ill afford.

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The concept of 'systemic' change is central to technology implementation. The term emphasizes the complexity inherent in classroom learning environments, the importance of inter-relationships which exist among various components of an instructional/learning system, and the significant relationships that exist between the classroom and the larger organizational and community environment. The complexity and uniqueness of each community require that change facilitators adopt a process of planning and implementation that is open to collaboration with stakeholders. Without such participation, research findings suggest that change efforts have little hope of continuing success. (Carr, 1996)

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Technology as Tool and Technique

The idea of 'technology' encompasses both 'tools' and 'technique.' In general, a 'technical approach' may mean either an approach that is dependent upon specialized tools, or it may refer to an approach that is characterized by well-defined and systematic procedures.

The integration of the new media technologies into learning environments can be analyzed in terms of both tools and appropriate techniques. Acquiring a tool may be desirable, but learning to use it effectively is of critical importance—a matter that is frequently overlooked in our current preoccupation with acquiring physical hardware.


The Importance of Technique

Learning to use certain computer-based technologies effectively is not always a simple process. A computer, by itself, is of little educational value in the classroom. A computer acquires value only with the addition of software—a program that effectively reconfigures the machine into a highly specialized tool. We can expect that teachers will need dozens, if not hundreds, of programs. Furthermore, each reconfiguration or application is associated with appropriate techniques for its effective use.

Realistic expectations for effective use of computers in the classroom are important. First, some forms of technology will make heavy demands for the professional development of teachers. For example, word processing by secretaries may be only one part of the expertise possessed by individuals, but expertise in using this one software application is often considered critical to their productivity. In the future, teachers will be expected to have skills with word processing comparable to many secretaries while, in addition, will be expected to guide up to 30 youngsters in learning its use, develop the technological literacy to converse meaningfully about the technology, and be able to trouble-shoot the variety of problems created by novice users who are struggling to achieve skill and competence. Likewise, effective teachers may be expected to be proficient with dozens of other specialized software packages in addition to word processing—and be skilled in teaching others to use these techniques as well.


Conventional Technology

While technology, from slates to VCRs, has always been a part of schooling, it is also true that technologies used in stable conditions are largely taken-for-granted. It is difficult for educators to imagine an approach to teaching and learning that differs significantly from what we have been conditioned to expect in schools. Teaching skill in using the existing technologies has been acquired through extended personal experience, the inculcation of teaching methods in teacher education programs with the conventional technologies, and the continuing use of these technologies, with only slight variation in schools today.


How Tools Define our Current System

What has evolved over the years are patterns of professional functioning, dependent upon certain physical technology elements (chalkboards, textbooks, worksheets, writing instruments, and even different types and arrangement of classroom furniture), that define the instruction and learning of teachers and students.

There have been some changes. We have witnessed the introduction of resource centres in schools that have supported some significant changes in learning methods. Many teachers also attempt to implement cooperative learning methods. Long since forgotten, but no less significant, were the ill-fated attempts to use the concept of open-area classrooms. Some of these techniques have been introduced with relatively little demand for new and different hardware-type technologies. But change of methodology—as in the case of resource-based learning—often creates demands for further change in the types and variety of both the tools (i.e., resource materials) and facilities (i.e., resource centres).

Our concept of learning resources now includes a vast range of on-line, immediately accessible electronic resources that will create a new framework for expanding resource-based learning methods. New techniques will need to be acquired by teachers and new facilities will be required to effectively integrate these new resources into classrooms.


Sophisticated Tools May Simplify the Teacher's Role

The type of new technologies now being considered for adoption, are often qualitatively different from many of the older-style, more primitive technologies. While it is true that using word processors, spreadsheets or the new multimedia tools in the classroom will place certain new demands on teachers, there are other computer applications that are sufficiently well designed that first-time users can find the products of immediate advantage in both teaching and learning.

The level of sophistication in newer educational software products has largely reduced barriers to effective use. Well-designed software products using the newer graphical user interfaces (GUIs), popularized by the Macintosh and Windows operating systems, create user environments that are highly intuitive, increasingly natural, and potentially 'transparent' to the user. The goal in the design of such tools is for learning to take place in ways that allows users to focus directly on the curriculum ideas being developed with few distractions by the hardware/software tools that mediate the learning.

This review suggests that there are categories of hardware/software applications (for example, many curriculum-specific products) that make relatively few demands upon the technological sophistication of teacher and students. However, teachers need to use their pedagogical knowledge to decide when and how to use these tools for effective learning.


Transformation of Teaching

From a systemic perspective, the introduction of computer-based technologies into schools will have a transforming effect on the roles of teachers and the administrative and physical structures of schools. From a professional perspective, teachers will be expected to add to their repertoire of teaching strategies and methodologies. This is not likely to come easily, since there is seldom much time available for practicing teachers to acquire new skills and strategies. But new tools, without appropriate techniques to use them effectively, render the tools largely ineffective.

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Technologies always have a 'transforming' impact on the environments into which they are integrated. The current models of schooling have evolved over time to maximize the functional possibilities of schools equipped as we have know them. Changing one major element of this environment can trigger a cascade of changes, which will 'transform' the nature of schooling itself. This systemic change will affect the interrelationships and interconnections in classrooms and schools.


Minimal Change Expected with 'Add-On' Technologies

Many school people are only starting to become aware of the potential of changes underway. In the early phases of such changes, technology will tend to be added in ways that makes few demands for substantive organizational change. For instance, we can expect that students will learn word processing to allow them to create their papers and reports in the crisp, attractive form which students themselves, find to be so attractive and motivational. From a curriculum perspective, however, not much may change immediately. Additions to the curriculum will have to be made to include the introduction of some basic computer knowledge and skills, the development of keyboarding skill, and ability to create and manipulate graphic images that may be used to dress up a report. All of these changes are generally regarded as marks of progress. However, research and writing skills likely will not have changed substantially. Technology in this case, may be viewed as peripheral to the basic curriculum processes involved. But the potential to bring substantive change to the educational scene through technology starts with activities of this type.

The 'intelligence' of computer- and communications-based technologies now promises to add significant value to the learning process. The new technologies can create a strong impact on the ways learners engage in the perceptual, communicative and intellectual domains of schooling activity. The potential of the computer as a 'mind machine' promises to do for the 'knowledge industries' what earlier forms of machines have done for industries that relied on physical labour.

Advancements can fashion a new and different environment for learning. Not only will advantages be gained through the connectivity possible between schools and across national borders, but the management of learning in the broadest sense can be assisted in the selection and implementation of emerging classroom systems.

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Technology is a phenomenon that can and must be shaped and controlled to meet real needs. Technological change may appear, at times, to take on a certain life of its own. There is a fear that 'technology rules' and that human needs at times are relegated to secondary status.


Who Designs and Controls the Systems?

It must be understood, however, that change is the product of collective personal and social decisions and actions. While technology may be blamed at various times for changes that threaten our quality of life, these criticisms are often misdirected. Any new system has been designed and implemented by human decision-makers. In education, as elsewhere, new systems will be put in place by people. It is critical to consider who will make the decisions, and the values that will guide the decision-making.

If technology seems to take on a life of its own, it is because heavy investments are frequently required to implement new systems and, once they are in place, there is no turning back—the new system must be used. Problems also arise due to the 'unintended consequences' which invariably become evident after new systems have been adopted. There are frequently many positive details about an existing system that are taken-for-granted—details that are not fully understood and appreciated, at least not until it is no longer available. The introduction of new systems, often perceived to be so glamourous and convenient when promoted, often have hidden flaws and short-comings that frequently lessen the enthusiasm of adoptees at later stages.


Importance of a Balanced Critical Stance

While there is an important role for critical analysis of trends involving the new applications of technology, it is also important to balance this stance with a critical assessment of prevailing instruction and learning practices. This balanced examination of both new and old systems is necessary to determine what needs to be preserved and what needs to be replaced. The current system is highly deficient in many ways; we have become conditioned to accept its limitations and too often rationalize its lack of success.

While change, for the sake of change, is clearly foolhardy, clinging to the familiar and the routine will jeopardize effective learning on the part of many students. While a conservative approach to change may be a pragmatic stance until the advantages of change are evident, there comes a time when a conservative response must be classified as reactionary and possibly even professionally irresponsible.

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While the increasing reliance upon sophisticated technology is creating profound changes in society, many of us still choose to use the latest technology for our personal benefit. Technology, especially in those cases where we personally have chosen to adopt and use it, is found to be 'empowering.'

Our common experience with technology is that we can do more—better and faster. Even a book is a far more efficient form of participating in story-telling than is the more 'natural' and intensely 'human' methods of past storytelling. While few would deny the beauty and appropriateness of traditional story-telling, we recognize the advantage of capturing stories in media form—experiences in an accessible and convenient form. The new technologies create a similar opportunity to break the conventional molds of teaching and learning practices. They are following the same trends that we learned to with books to new levels of sophistication, interaction, and accessibility.


Technology Frequently Increases Local Freedoms

With so many opportunities to use sophisticated technologies elsewhere in life, it is evident that today's students expect and even thrive on increased access to technology in the school environment. Many of the computer-based applications, from word processing and Internet browsers to graphics programs and other multimedia development software, represent powerful tools that provide learners with opportunities for creating something intensely personal. Other forms of technology, such as many of the interactive learning programs, are highly structured and designed to simulate the role of the tutor in one-on-one interactive learning contexts. But even within these highly prescribed forms, students have unique opportunities to enjoy a flexibility and quality of learning that exceeds what is available in traditionally structured, teacher-centred learning environments.


Can Teachers Achieve Freedom with Technology?

Teachers, too, need support in discovering the empowering benefits of technology. Too often novice users of the newer technologies are intimidated by the required discipline to use the new technology effectively. This phase of learning seems far removed from the feelings of empowerment that technology often promises. When technique has been mastered, however, through structured professional development experiences and adequate practice, the technology will become a commonplace extension of the teacher's personal capability—in a manner not unlike our use of telephones or the driving of our cars. Technology has the power to multiply the effectiveness of teacher time and energy directed at teaching and learning.

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One of the great fears of technology is the perceived lack of control that accompanies increased use of technology. In the same way that centralized publications and distribution of textbooks limits local control, so other forms of electronic media raise issues of participation and control. Centralization of production is a critical attribute of most technical products. If production did not occur, there might well be much greater local control, but local personnel would also be inundated with labour-intensive demands that would be overwhelming and counter-productive. With technology, compromises are sometimes necessary in balancing the advantages of centralized and standardized production in the interests of maximizing the effective use of limited resources.

Adoption of technology has usually broadened the range of options in people's lives. While centralization of book publishing continues, the variety of books from which individuals can select is more than adequate to meet the particular local standards for form and content. So, too, with the emerging new technology alternatives for schools. Although the range of choice is not yet adequate, the variety and quality of products are increasing rapidly.

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Structure in any environment creates an arrangement of freedoms and limitations that both enable and restrict. The new learning technologies are celebrated for their ability to convey information in multimedia formats, with little delay, and with greater access to vast stores of information. To achieve these 'freedoms,' however, an infrastructure of hardware and software technology must be in place, all configured according to high degrees of technical conformity to industry-wide standards and conventions. Indeed, many of the 'high-touch' benefits are found increasingly to be achievable through 'high-tech' environments.

The key to optimum technology integration is to provide the appropriate freedoms conducive to effective learning within technology structures that are ideally designed to support such teaching/learning activity. Unfortunately, the classroom market in the past has not been lucrative enough to entice the media industry to respond with quality products for classroom use. Even the production of educational software, especially those products identified as 'edutainment,' has been developed primarily for the home market. Educational versions of many software products have appeared to be 'afterthoughts' with only minimal efforts expended to truly create a product for effective use in classrooms.

The development of quality products for the school market is an expensive process that requires a huge potential market. That market is now under rapid development and expansion. Indeed catalogues of software products for schools are burgeoning with new titles. It seems that high-quality products will continue to be developed for use in schools in the future.

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A seductive aspect of technology needs to be recognized whenever plans are made to acquire it. Technology can exert an irrational influence on people. Potential users are frequently given to flights of fantasy, because technology frequently promises more than it delivers.

In adopting technology there are significant pitfalls to be avoided, and the motives of proponents for change need to be understood and frequently countered. As with automobiles and other technologies with which we are familiar, computer-based technologies are too often adopted as adornments and status symbols rather than acquired simply for their functional value. There is little reason, for instance, to equip labs with $3000 Pentiums for the purpose of providing practice in keyboarding or providing opportunity for text entry if a $300 notebook-type machine can perform essentially the same functions. With shrinking budgets and continuing needs for expansion of hardware to meet classroom needs, close attention needs to be given to the functional value of acquired equipment.

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During periods of improvement and change, technology becomes obsolete rapidly. IBM, for instance, has only been marketing personal computers for 15 years, but there has been a great deal of change in that brief period of time. It seems that the rate of change of computers appropriate for classroom use is leveling off and the periods for effective use of equipment can be extended before obsolescence sets in. While advances continue to move ahead on the networking fronts, currently PCs clearly have more than enough power and capability to meet most of the interactive needs of classroom learners for many years to come.

Technology, however, has a way of breaking down. The open-architecture system continues to have many areas that can and do go wrong. Although systems are improving rapidly in reliability, we are still reliant on a version of technology whose development is 'in progress.'

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As identified earlier, a 'systemic' perspective on change in the classroom represents some of the most effective approaches to planning for, and guiding the implementation of, new technologies in support of learning. For instance, asking teachers to simply 'add-on' additional technical enhancements to their existing classroom practices may provide an appropriate challenge for some teachers, but, 'add-ons' are frequently perceived to be 'options.' They may be tried for a time, then discarded. For lasting effect, appropriate ways and means must be found to integrate technology into the teaching and learning environment so that instructional and management demands on teachers can be reduced.

There is a tremendous need in many classrooms for teachers to have more time—not less—to interact at the personal level with individual students. Technology has provided labour-saving benefits in most environments where it has become established. We must be realistic in assessing the work-load effects of technology on teachers if we expect the new technologies to be accommodated by them.

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To clarify the instructional functions of technology in schools, a primary distinction can be made between:

Learning About Technology—A Focus on 'Ends'

Until recently, the primary reason for computers in schools has been to learn about and learn how to use the technology. Prior to specialized courses at the secondary level, the emphasis has been on integration of technology into general classroom learning as provided by the Technological Literacy aspect of the Common Essential Learnings (CELs). Many schools have gone beyond this more informal approach, however, to specify appropriate learning content and activities for various grade levels, K-12.

Many now argue that learning about technology represents a 'new basic' for schools, and deserves strong emphasis along with such traditional areas as reading, writing, and mathematical competencies.

The focus on learning about technology commonly includes the following:


Learning With Technology—A Focus on 'Means'

In contrast, the interest in technology as a means by which learning of objectives across the curriculum can be facilitated is commonly described as learning with technology. This category of use differs significantly from the first. Teachers use both 'curriculum-free' and 'curriculum-specific' software that conforms in difficulty level and content to the established curriculum.

The focus on learning with technology includes at least the following:

~ educational games

~ practice activities

~ simulation

~ tutorials.


Learning Both With and About—Attempts to Integrate Purposes

The two different emphases on technology may be integrated to a degree in the classroom. This integration is achieved in different ways at different grade levels.


For example, children at primary levels can benefit from the interactivity of using the computer as a kind of teaching machine. In a game-like activity, children can practice identifying shapes and attributes of figures, recognizing numbers and letters, and performing simple mathematical operations—sometimes through simulated manipulation of objects. The language arts program, for instance, can often be enriched through activities such as spelling practice, identifying and using appropriate words, and writing short stories. As children engage in these activities, they learn to feel comfortable with technology and are generally predisposed to further learning with computers.

At this level, activities may be implemented in various curriculum areas through the writing and printing of short paragraphs or longer reports. Programs such as Kid Pix allow very young children the freedom to create their own graphics and to type in some brief comments about their pictures. The results may be printed out in a size suitable for posting in the classroom or at home.

In later years, the integration of technology as both ends and means occurs with the use of the common tool-type programs (word processing, etc.).


A Summary of Instructional Uses of Technology

A summary of the types of activities that characterize learning about computers and learning with computers and those that attempt to integrate both, is summarized in Table 1.

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The Nature of 'Mediated Learning'

The use of computer-based media for instruction and learning is sometimes referred to as 'mediated learning.' This describes situations where the primary learning stimulus for engaging students is not provided by the teacher, but is provided at least to some degree by the computer software.


Curriculum-Specific Learning Software—Direct Instruction

In the case of computer-based practice and tutorial programs, the software is designed in most cases to provide a linear sequencing of information, questions, feedback, answers, and so on, much as the teacher would do one-on-one with the learner. Sometimes the term 'direct instruction' is used to classify this type of teaching whether structured by the teacher in a conventional classroom setting, or whether structured in the form of a computer program.

In this type of learning software, there may be varying freedoms for the student to select and terminate lessons at will, but their role is typically that of a reader, possibly a listener, and definitely a responder. If student responses are consistent with those deemed acceptable by the teacher/author of the program, students will be judged positively on their responses and often receive some type of feedback or grading on their performance.

These are the types of programs that are increasingly integrated with a database of performance objectives. As students proceed through the curriculum, their progress can be recorded and tracked. Students can proceed at their own rate. Where these approaches are appropriate, research findings indicate that learning may not necessarily be better than that achieved by conventional classroom approaches, but learning is often achieved in less time. (Geisert & Futrell, 1995)

A number of the more popular types of curriculum-specific learning software are analyzed for their perceived benefits and limitations in Table 2.


Curriculum-Specific Learning Software—Indirect Learning

Another form of curriculum-specific software includes simulations and programs like Logo. In these cases, students operate in an environment with freedom and choice. Using simulations, learners may choose to make good or bad decisions from time to time, and the program will respond with consequences that simulate reality. In this way students may learn from their mistakes, but in quite a different manner than most linear practice programs that respond immediately with an evaluation of user input.
Table 1 

Types of Computer Uses in Schools 

Levels Learning about computers Learning with computers Integrated activities
  • develop positive attitudes/confidence through fun-type activities
  • develop awareness of keyboard/mouse operations
  • start some formal instruction in keyboarding
  • game-type learning activities to reinforce verbal, mathematical, and general skills such as making visual discriminations
  • use of a variety of curriculum-based software and simple creative tools designed especially for this level 
  • Intermediate
    • extend understanding of basic operations and develop basic vocabulary to communicate about computer-based activities
    • develop proficiency in basic operations of simplified word processors, and graphics programs
    • develop proficiency in word processing to 20 wpm
    • develop skill in navigating multimedia environments
  • use a variety of recommended computer-based interactive learning programs that are appropriately matched with curriculum learnings; use a mix of computer-based activities together with other activities to develop and consolidate learning
  • use well-defined learning objectives appropriately structured in progressive steps to identify suitable learning goals for students as a group and individually; monitor individual progress with computer-based records of mastery objectives.
  • use programs such as LogoWriter to develop some basic concepts of number and geometry while developing a sense of computer programming
  • extend graphics capabilities, file management and creative expression through the development of HyperStudio stacks
  • explore topics of curriculum and personal interest through use of CD-ROM and Internet access; create reports by accessing and documenting sources of information located in these media 
  • Secondary
    • establish basic expectations for all students in the practical uses of technology
    • ensure that all students develop the vocabulary of technology use—both concepts and correct terminology—as appropriate for technology in use
    • provide opportunities for specialized courses in technology
  • acquire a range of recommended curriculum software as resource materials in support of curriculum areas
  • consider acquisition of complete media-based course materials in cases where conventional instructional support may be lacking or over-committed
  • encourage use of spreadsheets and database programs in addition to word processing and graphics programs for exploring relationships among data elements
  • use the Internet to critically assess various points of view and assess validity and biases of different sources of information 
  • A program of this type is generally considered an example of an 'indirect learning' approach. It is often favoured by teachers because such approaches tend to provide a larger and more realistic context for learning. It also places the learner in a more active role, with greater freedom for the learner to make decisions.

    Logo is a kind of interactive environment in which a student learns to control a simulated turtle that can be directed to different positions on the screen, creating a track as it proceeds. Learners can be asked to create a geometric figure of certain size or shape. They may respond by doing this in any number of ways. The task is generally presented as a problem, and learners develop certain problem-solving skills in coming up with a solution that works.
    Table 2 

    Curriculum-Specific Learning--Examples of Direct Instruction 

    Types Benefits Limitations Concerns
    Educational games
    • usually enjoyable by students; may support positive attitudes 
    • some are well-designed and potentially very effective
  • entertainment value often detracts from learning value
  • often sound, animation and competitive nature render learning value questionable 
  • evaluate usefulness on knowledge and skills involved
  • be sure learner is ready for this type of practice and is within appropriate range of challenge. 
  • Practice activities
    • useful when massed and distributed practice is beneficial
    • valuable for consolidating skills and some verbal learning
  • too often used to teach rather to practice
  • program are often low-cost, poor quality and are used inappropriately or over-used
  • use where level can be adjusted to match child
  • choose where record of individual performance can be recorded 
  • Tutorial lessons
    • generally of value to more mature students
    • may provide an alternative means of learning/review
    • supports individualized progress approach
  • often found to be boring if not used in a mix of approaches
  • content often differs significantly from textbooks and other in-class approaches
  • may have value where individualized approach is required
  • short tutorials are often integrated into practice programs
  • select with care; quality is often an issue 
  • This, too, is an example of indirect learning. The task to be achieved does not depend on any one particular procedure that might be memorized. Rather, different procedures can be attempted with a variety of potential learnings to be achieved along the way.

    In both of these settings, there is an active role for the teacher, but in terms of direct interaction with learners, it is significantly reduced. Most of the learning that takes place is dependent upon feedback provided by the program. In both types of programs summarized here, the computer assumes many of the interactive functions that teachers would provide if they were available one-on-one with the learner. The use of these programs can have a significant role in improving the amount and quality of engaged learning time for students while actually freeing up the teacher to engage in other teaching functions within the classroom.

    A summary of the benefits and limitations of the more popular types of curriculum-specific learning software that exemplify indirect instructional methods is analyzed in Table 3.


    Allocating Resources for Mediated Learning

    In the past, extensive use of technology as a means of instruction and learning has suffered from a lack of adequate computer facilities. With continuing cost reductions, this situation is changing.
    Table 3 

    Curriculum-Specific Learning Software--Examples of More Indirect Instruction 

    Types Benefits Limitations Concerns
    • can be used for discovery-type learning
    • often used as a culminating activity after basic learning has been achieved
  • there are not a lot of good simulations out there; difficult to design
  • too much reliance on discovery will be counter-productive
    • important to be realistic about the need for advanced teaching in the basic concepts and relationships
    • be sure the model used adequately reflects reality
    Logo (math, geometry, programming)
    • strong on problem-solving and 'learning by doing'
    • can be used effectively to explore many geometric concepts and relationships
  • range of challenge issues; too often task is too difficult
  • promise of developing generic problem-solving skills has not been realized; some advocates are now questioning it value
  • limited and periodic use is probably most beneficial when learning goals are well defined
  • can be a used well with some students who are more self-directed and need some challenge and enrichment 
  • While resources have been in short supply, it is common for these learning resources to be allocated to special education needs in schools. Specialist teachers in this area are frequently committed to checking for mastery of basic knowledge and skill components that are prerequisite to higher-level learning. Through 'direct teaching' methods and the provision of a variety of practice activities, these fundamental building blocks are developed and established through intensive one-on-one interaction with learners.

    While mediated learning provided by computer interaction is only one of a number of methods used in such settings, the novelty of using a computer, and the immediacy of feedback to learners, can provide a series of effective learning activities for many students.


    Learning Centres and Equitable Use

    When one or two machines are located in elementary classrooms, the machines are often used as 'learning centres.' Consistent with the idea of most learning centres is the situation where children may choose to engage in certain activities as an alternative and extension of learning in the classroom. When computer resources are made available to students in this way, there is a risk that the computer is simply defined as a novelty or as an 'extra.' Learning centres help to create a rich and varied learning environment in the classroom, and, from a learning management perspective, can provide a 'convenient' means to use a computer in the classroom. From a learning perspective, however, it risks misuse of computers in that the informality of learning centre use often results in varying opportunities for learners to access the resources. Students who are already performing well academically often have greater opportunity to access the centres, with less opportunity accorded to students who might profit most from the interactive learning capabilities of the machines.

    To optimize the learning potential for this form of learning, teachers need to structure activities so that an appropriate match is made between activities and student needs, and routines and schedules are developed appropriately to ensure that students who can profit from this type of activity are able to gain regular access to the workstations.


    Mainstream Use of Mediated Learning

    The significant potential for technology in the classroom can only be realized as adequate equipment becomes available for broad-based simultaneous use for classroom groups of students. A number of strategies exist to maximize the effectiveness of five, ten or more machines that might be available to a class of students. Effective use is dependent upon the convenient availability of suitable software products and sources of information.

    The management of software resources is a major organizational responsibility for teachers unless the machines are networked to provide a centralized store of accessed resource materials. When a variety of resources are available 'on-line,' it is possible for teachers to break away from the 'lock-step' instructional models that characterizes teacher-centred group-based instructional practices, and put in place strategies to allow for various types of individualized learning activities and progress. The need for access to resources may not be a major problem when only a few computer programs are in use. As the number of such lessons increases, the time and care required to manage resources escalates dramatically. Local area networks are needed to support broad-based mediated learning in the classroom.

    Publishers are responding to this need through the marketing of series of computer-based learning resources that match the scope and sequence of courses, often from first to eighth grades. With continuing reductions in costs, acquiring quality on-line resource materials to enrich classroom learning opportunities is a possibility for teachers in all classrooms.

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    Computer-based technology has value in a learning context only to the degree that appropriate software is available and teachers and students have appropriate techniques at their disposal to use the technology effectively. The provision of software is critical and represents a significant portion of the cost of equipping a school and classroom appropriately for learning. There is a specific role for curriculum-specific courseware, as there is for reference materials that may be available in CD-ROM format or browsers for accessing learning resources on the Internet. Basic computer applications fulfil yet another role.

    Consider the case where a spreadsheet program is used to develop some understanding of exponents in mathematics. By exploring sequences of numbers involving exponents, it is possible to graph the changing magnitude of such sequences and gain an appreciation for 'exponential growth.'

    When applied to real life applications such as the cost of compound interest in purchasing a car or a home, technical tools can provide a highly-interactive learning environment within which students can 'plug-in' their own real-life applications and immediately obtain results for analysis. These creative approaches to the use of technology demand a level of technical sophistication on teachers.

    In contrast to the tool-type software, some commercial courseware anticipates student interests, and provide highly structured activities that lead students to specific understanding of how, for example, compounding interest works. The pre-existing structure and programmed sequence of tutorial interactions will be designed to lead a 'typical' learner step-by-step toward intended understandings.

    While the first approach has been structured creatively by teachers skilled in the basic operations of spreadsheet technology, the second approach is much less dependent upon teacher mastery. Further, while the first approach would be implemented with a group of students having simultaneous access to computers (possibly on a 2:1 basis) and being able to follow instructions and activities as a group, the second approach is designed for students operating independently at their own pace, or in small groups.


    Assessing the Potential of Curriculum-Free Programs

    Tool-type programs that do not directly teach or practice specific curriculum learnings are often called 'curriculum free' programs. The programs have no inherent relationship with any part of the curriculum. Rather, as tools, their value and usefulness derives from the creative ideas and instructional abilities of the teacher.


    Reasons to Use Curriculum-Free Programs

    Word processing software is so important that schools buy this software if it is not already bundled with the computer systems when purchased. Programs such as Microsoft Works include not only word processing, but the other common tool-type software often considered to be the 'basic applications.' Often draw- or paint-type programs are also acquired, if not bundled with new systems. This provides the first argument in favour of use of these products: the software is normally available.

    A second argument is that this type of software can be used to integrate technology both as means and ends. There are many ways in which the broad range of applications can be used in a variety of curriculum areas, especially from upper elementary levels and above.


    Barriers to Using Curriculum-Free Programs

    While the arguments for use are sound, there are some realities that inhibit the efficient and effective use of curriculum-free programs.

    First, these programs are basically tools. For word processing and some graphics programs, the applications are relatively clear and obvious. Still, teachers need to create a context for their use—a writing assignment or a project of some type. The program itself does not structure the learning activity. That structure must be provided by the teacher. This structuring of appropriate learning activities is more complex if the intent is to use spreadsheets and data base programs.

    Second, as tools, there is a learning curve for any new user. While most teachers will give high priority to mastering the fundamentals of a word processor, they need time and effort to gain confidence in its use and master the majority of needed operations. Unless some formal training is provided, many teachers will have a limited, and often inadequate, understanding of the capabilities of the program and the standards for appropriate use in creating documents. If this is an issue for word processing, it is an even bigger issue for spreadsheets and data base programs.

    Third, there is the need for students to develop functional use of the programs before they can be used efficiently in many exploration activities.

    All of this means that a heavy responsibility is placed on teachers (especially at the upper elementary and secondary levels) to provide effective instruction. Most of these applications depend upon teachers' creative energy to devise projects and activities. In most cases, the training and implementation that teachers receive to assist in this implementation is inadequate. In contrast to most information-specific programs, the use of curriculum-free software does not reduce the work-load of teachers. Indeed, the work is significantly increased for those who have the professional commitment and personal interest to pursue these applications in the classroom.

    The situation for lower-elementary teachers is not so critical in that the skill levels are not as advanced and, if software has been appropriately selected, programs should be simpler for students to use. In schools where teachers at the lower-elementary level do a good job in this area, expectations will be even higher at the upper-year levels for teachers to exhibit advanced skills.


    Summary of Benefits and Limitations of Curriculum-Free Software Use

    A summary of the potential uses of curriculum-free software products is summarized in Table 4.


    Assessing the Potential of Curriculum-Specific Courseware

    Curriculum-specific courseware represents quite a different category of software products from those examined immediately above. In the earlier analysis of various forms of mediated learning, a range of software designed to teach and reinforce concepts and skills was described.
    Table 4 

    Instructional Software Type--Curriculum Free Software in Curriculum Areas 

    Subtypes Benefits Limitations Concerns
    Word processing
    • clearly, a basic skill in many ways
    • neatness of product can be motivational and provide an affective boost
    • creative applications exist throughout all content area
  • too often used without adequate initial instruction; learners stumble about with word processing when they should be focusing on content area
  • learners often fuss with how it looks rather than what it says
  • select software suitable for age-level—normally, the simpler the better— below secondary levels 
  • Spreadsheets
    • a great tool for exploring practical math applications in life
    • all secondary students should have basic skills
  • as above, there is a need for basic instruction in how it functions before attempting to use it in science, math, social studies, etc.
  • watch for highly simplified versions for use at elementary levels
  • graphing capabilities often important for teaching 
  • Data base programs
    • sometimes useful in intermediate science and social studies
    • all secondary-level students should have an understanding of this information management tool
  • as above, attempts to implement it in content areas should be preceded by some development of skill
  • programs such as Microsoft Works have databases that are easier to learn if other 'works' components have already been learned 
  • Graphics programs
    • a variety of tools of many different levels of complexity exist
    • great tools for conveying information visually
    • increasingly useful in the use of the Internet and multimedia programs
  • many students will have these programs at home; reports can look great even if content is mediocre
  • risk here that students without all the 'techie tools' at home can lose out if projects don't look so great
  • balance in activities and use of time will become more of a problem; some of these tools are a lot of fun, but teachers need to be cautious about the priorities in use of time 
  • Multimedia development tools
    • various programs now exist from Kid Pix to HyperStudio
    • a powerful and fascinating expression tool
    • great potential for technological literacy along with curriculum learning
  • too great an emphasis in school may detract from other basic instructional objectives
  • projects can be quite time consuming and often make excessive demands on teacher's time and technical skills 
  • There is a history of some early forms of these products that may negatively skew the perceptions of many teachers and educational leaders today. In the early years of microcomputers, an assortment of low-cost and low-quality 'educational' software was often provided to schools at minimal cost. Often the software was developed by students with minimal programming capability and the development of such products was seldom under the direction of professional designers. The easiest types of software to create were drill-and-practice programs that were highly repetitive and lacking in a significant aesthetic appeal. It was common to refer to this software as computer-assisted instruction—or, later, computer-assisted learning. While this era of software development is long-since behind us, a legacy remains. Too often teachers and administrators recall this type of software as representative of the curriculum-specific lessons that were developed to assist in classroom learning.

    In contrast, new products coming on the market show marked increases in quality. Many products now have multimedia capabilities; many have greater flexibility in matching difficulty level with needs of learners. Some have increased capability to leave records of student activity and performance levels, and many programs are now available as an integrated series of lessons that better support the range and scope of the classroom curriculum.


    Implications for Teachers

    New applications promise teachers instructional support and have the potential to off-load the increasingly heavy classroom burden. Their judicious use in the classroom provides for a range of electronic learning resources that can be increasingly seen as alternatives to teacher-directed lessons and common seat work. Use of these programs does not signal the automation of teaching and learning within the classroom as feared by some, but rather represent possibilities for various degrees of sharing of the instructional role.

    To use curriculum-specific technology to best advantage, teachers need a renewed professional understanding of the potential role of technology as a medium for learning and a renewed understanding of the teaching methodologies and strategies that must now accommodate various types of technology integration across curriculum areas.

    Teachers may be inclined to approach these new applications with skepticism. While a critical stance is to be encouraged, we must avoid the assumption that a given product must provide 'all things to all children.' In contrast, teachers who find value in many of the new products are critically aware of the potential benefits and short-comings of a particular product. Some of the pros and cons of different software types were outlined in Tables 2 and 3.


    Indirect Instructional Applications

    Indirect teaching methods are increasingly popular in the classroom. Imbedded in these methods are activities that address specific learning needs. However, rather than separating out the knowledge and skill components into discrete activities that are disconnected from larger, meaningful contexts, indirect methods attempt to create larger, meaningful contexts within which the learnings are found to be practical and useful.

    Contextualized learning involves projects of some type and provides freedom for students to pursue their own interests within acceptable bounds. As much as possible, projects and activities are suggestive of real-life activities, if not directly connected themselves to real-life. Structuring activities and orchestrating them to optimize learning for students remains one of the great challenges that occupy the planning time of creative teachers. These methods provide opportunity to engage learners in ways that are highly interesting, practical, and personally meaningful to students. When motivation can be sparked through creative activities of this type, learning is thought to be more natural and the learnings acquired to be of greater personal relevance leading to better understanding and retention.


    Balance of Approaches

    As much as current pedagogical methods have championed the more indirect methods of learning, most teachers find exclusive use of these methods limiting. When the methods are balanced with other more direct teaching methods, they have considerable benefits for learners. A mix of methods is considered appropriate so that methods match the learning needs of students and the characteristics of the learning objectives prescribed by the curriculum.

    Indirect learning resources available in computer-based format include use of both the curriculum-free applications, and programs that are focused to a degree in a particular curriculum area.

    Choosing the most effective method may have a lot to do with how well students are motivated to focus attention on an activity. In this example, the group-learning environment may create a social environment that can capture student interest and engagement more effectively than would be the case when students are expected to work independently. On the other hand, two students might be encouraged to view a learning program of this type together in an environment where a teacher/mentor circulates among learners, talking with them while they engage in a variety of interactive learning activities. The methods of ensuring learner engagement would certainly be different, but it is not immediately evident that one approach would be better than the other.


    The Spectrum of Resource Types

    If creative teaching methods using such computer applications as word processors, spreadsheets and graphics programs provide one range of technology use in the classrooms, at the other end of the spectrum lie a range of highly-structured and thoroughly programmed alternatives that are known as integrated learning systems (ILSs). Such commercial systems typically come with a full suite of software that spans an entire curriculum and includes tutorial, practice, testing and record-keeping activities. Between these extremes, however, lie a variety of software products and teaching strategies for infusing the learning environment with technology.

    The potential introduction of technology into the classroom can take a variety of forms. Some may be perceived to be labour-saving, others may actually demand more time and effort on the part of teachers than conventional methods. Some may facilitate very creative activities under the control of the teacher or students, others may be much more structured and prescriptive. In every case, teachers will want to be involved in choosing the type of electronic resources that suit their particular situations.


    Teacher Adaptation to Technology

    Teachers need to adapt to the presence of technology in the classroom if they intend to enjoy the benefits. This will often require basic changes to the teacher's role and an upgrading of technical competencies to enable teachers to appropriately select, adapt, and structure suitable experiences for learners. Without an enhanced understanding of how technology can and should be used in the classroom, the addition of technology of itself is not likely to achieve anything like the desired results.

    The largest unmet need for professional development to date is the need to address the instructional strategies required to integrate technology across the curriculum. It is precisely this need that must be met if the rapidly increasing expenditures on technology are to be effectively translated into effective learning environments for students.

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    A systemic approach to planning and implementation of change is quite different than supplying a teacher with a few computers and closing the door. It attends, rather, to the whole picture or environment for change. The following questions are intended to stimulate systemic planning:

    Physical needs. Are the physical facilities conveniently available? Are they configured appropriately for the age/size of the learner?

    Technical needs. Has the equipment and software been appropriately installed, tested, and maintained? What help is available if the system fails? Are there levels of backup assistance available, so that if the first attempts to correct problems fail, there is another level of assistance to which the teacher can turn? Has the teacher and related support personnel been given appropriate training in the functioning of the system?

    Pedagogical needs. Has the teacher been given adequate support in identifying the generic uses of various types of curriculum-based software? Have specific learning objectives been clarified for various uses of a specific software product? Also, for a given software product, have expectations been defined to guide teacher activity prior to the hands-on student use, during use, and following student use of the technology? What resources are suitable to complement the computer activity? To what extent is it necessary to monitor individual achievement of intended learnings?

    Instructional resource support. Have efforts been made to provide supporting print materials or other reference materials to teachers to facilitate the implementation of technology-based activity? Is there a need for printed reminders for students on correct procedures? Is there a need for detailing tasks to be performed by students and criteria for acceptable performance?

    Monitoring/Evaluation resource support. Are there suggestions or other means supplied that will provide convenient monitoring of student time on the tasks, performance achieved, need for further time/practice/mastery? Are procedures in place so students can engage in the activity independently, or with a working partner, until learning expectations are achieved?


    The Essence of the Systemic Approach

    The difference between good planning on the part of a teacher, and the implementation of a systemic approach to program delivery, is the degree to which the organization attends to implementation details, utilizes proven practices and provides effective support to teachers. The need for effective support is increasingly viewed as critical to the emergence of quality schooling practices.

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    The existence of learning models that are developed with a strong theoretical and research base are often in short supply in our classrooms. This is changing on a number of fronts. In the area of reading, a program called Reading Recovery is receiving considerable attention. (Wilson & Davis, 1994) Methods used in this program are highly prescriptive as it systematically integrates the best that is known of reading methodology into a well-defined approach. Teachers are given extensive training and support in implementing the model. The research results on student achievement in this case appear to be impressive.

    In attempts to infuse the curriculum with technology, a program marketed by IBM, Teaching and Learning with Computers (TLC), provides an example of an overall strategy for structuring teaching and learning activities. One of its goals is to provide a flexible balance between technology and human interaction and a workable structure for realizing the potential benefits of technology in the classroom.

    As part of the TLC approach, a three-group organizational structure becomes a basic pattern in the classroom. One group is lead by a teacher in an ideal 10:1 pupil-teacher ratio. Another group works on independent or small group activities, while a third group is actively engaged on computers. Meanwhile, a computer-based management system operates in the background to providing a range of functions for both teacher and students.

    While commercial systems may be expensive alternatives, at least until a critical mass of adopters makes possible significant cost reductions, the concept of broadly shared development and enhanced support systems for teaching and learning is a growing phenomenon in education.

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    There is much philosophical debate on methods of teaching and learning, and the relative value of learning intents/objectives associated with various areas of study across the curriculum. People have quite different points of view and advocate quite different perspectives on the improvements that should be pursued on behalf of children and schooling within society. This report attempts to maintain an open posture concerning the values associated with those who advocate both 'direct' instruction, where learning intents are quite easily identified and judged to be 'basic,' and those who advocate more 'indirect' approaches to learning where content is frequently viewed as 'means' to global ends such as critical thinking and knowledge integration. While many teachers may have a strong commitment to one perspective on this type of continuum, it is assumed that most teachers are open to an eclectic approach that selects the most appropriate approach for the instruction and learning.

    In reflecting on the American preoccupation with educational reform and the effects of some of these issues on the lives of teachers, Albert Shanker (1995), President of the American Federation of Teachers, sides with the U.S. National Commission on Excellence in Education which articulated with "absolute clarity" why educational reform was needed. The reason: "mediocre student achievement." (p 81)

    In discussing the controversy of the Commission's report, A Nation at Risk (1983), Shanker claims that the report was delivered at a time when the content of education, the capacity to teach it, incentives for students to learn it, and leadership and fiscal support were basic, touchy issues, long out of vogue with nearly everyone but ordinary citizens, parents, and teachers. (p 81)

    Twelve years later, Shanker claims educational researchers are still largely ignoring 'the problem' even though there is much talk about educational reform. 'Educational reform,' he claims, has come to mean: "making curriculum interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary/cross-disciplinary, integrated, thematic, and, of course, relevant to 'real life.' (p. 81) He questions the tendency to philosophical polarization on the issue when he comments, "Is 'traditional' curriculum or 'noncontructivist' pedagogy always bad or irrelevant? For whom and under what circumstance? Are we trading one rigidity for another in the name of reform?" (p. 81)

    Shanker brings into sharp relief certain issues inherent in much of the current preoccupation with reform. He notes that "the new kind of curriculum reform involves major changes in attitudes, values, and beliefs; managing difficult dilemmas and conflicts; and lots of time." Shanker further laments on reviewing current research that "every study calls attention to the time issue—teachers, especially, don't have enough of it for any one of these reforms, let alone for all of them." (p 82)

    Speaking as head of the American Federation of Teachers, Shanker's interest seems to lie with the problems teachers face in attempting to achieve the many new expectations being placed upon them. In commenting on reform attempts he suggests that the 'system' is becoming more 'personalized,' claiming that

  • it sounds like we're going to be doing reform one school or partnership or network at a time and trusting that a sufficient number of visionary leaders, creative and tireless teachers, and outside sources of help…will emerge and that all the diverse things they do will add up to a system. (p 82)
  • Shanker cites research that
  • offer[s] a useful antidote to this romance with the non-systemic, nonstandard, and uncommon…. [Researchers] don't find this non-system congenial for young children…. [Further, researchers] show us that letting a thousand flowers bloom also means tolerating an even greater number of weeds and that creativity alone cannot overcome the effects of not having a coherent system. (p 82)
  • While the Canadian educational scene shares the culture of American curriculum change in part, the issues addressed in this case by Shanker resonate with the Canadian experience. Shanker does not declare opposition to the reforms that are being attempted, but insists that the methods commonly used to implement such reforms are largely unrealistic in terms of the demands being placed upon teachers. He notes on the one hand that there is an understandable rejection of "standardization and bureaucratization associated with systems [that] strangle the creativity, collaboration, and application of intelligence necessary for school reform … to work." However, he continues: "Unless these qualities are in effect systematized and backed up by districts, states, and other key actors in the educational system these reforms won't go anyplace." (p 82)

    Shanker also affirms the view that there is a "tension that exists between the structure or framework that is necessary to keep a system coherent and accountable and the people and energy necessary to make the framework effective in real-life situations." (p. 82) He continues:


  • Standardizing operating procedures, 'as far as extant knowledge allows… is not at all a celebration of bureaucracy for its own sake. Rather, it is an effort to standardize best proven practice in some areas so as to focus human attention on performing nonstandard tasks well.' (p. 82-83)
  • While Shanker is exploring school reform on a broader basis than simply infusing the classroom with technology, there are some fundamental planning and design issues being addressed here:

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    Widespread use of technology in schools will create a critical need for a range of technical support functions. For technology to be taken seriously by teachers and for it to make a sustained impact on learning, technical support must be there when needed, it must function as intended, and people must know how to use it productively.

    The old technologies in the classroom were typically 'optional.' If printed text was not available, a chalkboard could be substituted. If an overhead projector was not available, the diagram could be sketched on a chalkboard. The add-on strategy for implementing technology may still view
    e-mail, the Internet, and even various computer applications such as word processing in the same way. Once a commitment is made, however, to implement technology-based methods, down-time may have highly significant implications and create significant disruption in the learning environment. For this reason, attention to technical support is very important under all scenarios, but becomes critical once teachers start depending upon it on a day-by-day basis.

    In a fascinating article, "System 2000: If you build it, can you manage it?", Weiss (1996) outlines critical issues in the support of technical systems in education. He draws on years of experience in the information technology field and, more recently, as a 'technology plan manager' for a New York school district, as he outlines four different levels of planning, administrative oversight, and functional support for the technical side of implementing and maintaining computer-based systems. He suggests that school systems will be forced to address the needs that have already been experienced by business and industry as they have moved to greater reliance upon information technology systems.

    School systems can contemplate the possibility of hundreds of workstations that need to be put in place and maintained. His System 2000 model uses one computer for every five students. In this scenario, he suggests that equipment needs to be purchased as much as possible for 'functional identity,' in other words, the time and support implications for dealing with machine-types and multiple configurations would drain away far too much of the scare resources that can be reasonably be assigned to technical support. Weiss claims that in standardized settings, it is possible to achieve a ratio of one support person for every 500 or more computers, while it may be necessary to have a ratio of one support person for every 50 or so machines in a mixed environment. (p 414) For the same reasons, Weiss suggests the need for a single hardware platform and tight control on the total number of software products for implementation.

    Standardization, as suggested by Weiss, makes possible the careful testing of equipment and software before purchase, the efficient set-up of systems following purchase, and greatly facilitates the efficient maintenance of systems. Standardization also makes possible more efficient approaches to both training and provision of help-desk support.

    While Weiss makes his case for high standardization, he also recognizes the many compelling reasons for 'flexibility' and claims that these two 'needs' will always continue to be held in 'tension.'

    Table of Contents






    ERIC Digests

  • ERIC/IT Digests provide a brief overview of many topics of current interest in the fields of library science and educational technology. Digests are written by subject experts in conformity to common criteria and guidelines.

    Far West Laboratory
  • Also known as WestEd. It describes itself as "a catalyst and mentor for improving schools. Working with the entire education community, WestEd offers the knowledge and support needed to equip all students, especially those most underserved, with the skills and capabilities to lead satisfying, productive lives."

  • Includes many on-line resources and links of interest to those involved in school improvement.
    National Center for Technology Planning (NCTP) North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL)
  • An excellent source of educational resources and research summaries to aid professional leadership.


    Supports the following more specialized services:

    Pathways to School Improvement.
    "Internet Server offers easy to find, concise, research-based information on school improvement. The Pathways server provides the best information on a variety of categories including: Assessment, At-Risk Children and Youth, Goals and Standards, Governance/Management, leadership, Learning, Literacy, Mathematics, Parent and
    Family Involvement, Professional Development, Safe and Drug-Free Schools, School-to-Work Transition, Science, and Technology."

    Learning Through Technology: A Planning and Implementation Guide
    "Helps educators and community members develop a comprehensive learning and technology plan. Learning Through Technology is divided into six sections (1) Planning to Plan (2) Building a Knowledge Base (3) Establishing General Directions (4) Implementation Priorities and Strategies (5) Evaluation (6) Revising for Improvement."

    The North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium
    "Helps schools integrate technology into their classrooms through technical assistance, professional development and innovative tools. Their web site includes technology planning information, information about getting connected to the Internet, and The Amazing Picture Machine web site to help educators find graphic resources on the Internet."

    Systemic Mathematics and Science (site under construction)
    "Provides information to educators and community members working to create systemic improvement in mathematics and science education. It is divided into five areas: Vision, Curriculum, Learning and Instruction, Assessment, and Changing Perspectives.


    Office of Educational Technology, Mississippi Department of Education

    Excellent set of links to Web sites. Strong emphasis on integrating technology in the classroom.
    Includes following links to publishers of Web filtering software:
  • SurfWatch  
  • NetNanny  
  • Web*Track  
  • CyberPatrol  
  • CYBERsitter  
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
    Net Shepherd Inc.



    Reading Recovery

  • A site that describes the collaborative approach to developing and implementing the highly successful approach for achieving change in schools.

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