Eating the Technology Elephant One Bite at a Time
Technology evolves and expands every day. As classroom teachers, it can be challenging to decide where to begin to integrate technology, let alone how to best use it to support and challenge our learners. The manner in which the teacher structures the classroom, builds relationships with students, creates high-interest tasks, and sets the classroom tone determines the degree of student engagement. Given the attributes that compose an engaged classroom, the digital generation is calling on us to add technology to this list. In Charting the Path from Engagement to Achievement: A Report on the 2009 High School Survey of Student Engagement (Yazzie-Mintz, 2010), 55 percent of the students surveyed cited projects and lessons involving technology "as an instructional method that was exciting/engaging either to some degree or very much." As educators of preservice teachers, we focus on the importance of integrating technology into teaching and learning.
We find, however, that we often miss our target because we are aiming at something as vast as the sky. In an attempt to narrow our aim, we decided to approach technology much like this old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
To help our teaching candidates take that first bite and begin to understand how to integrate technology into their lessons to increase student engagement, we used the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM), which was developed by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology at the University of South Florida. (Click on the link to get started using this tool.)
We established structures to use the TIM within our own classes that would allow our candidates to experiment with using technology to support and challenge the K–12 students in their classes. Here is what we learned.
Finding and Using a Structure
The TIM consists of five levels of technology integration combined with five characteristics of meaningful learning environments, resulting in a matrix of 25 cells that contain sample lessons and videos of what technology integration might look and sound like in an actual classroom. The examples provided on the TIM cut across several content areas at different grade levels.
We introduced three groups of preservice teachers—elementary majors and two different programs serving initial preparation secondary graduate candidates—to the TIM through different class activities. To help the groups become more familiar with technology integration and using the TIM as a framework, we prompted them to design and use technology in their field experience and classify their use of technology on the matrix. Then the candidates reflected on the effectiveness of the technology in relation to their teaching and shared some examples as they correspond to where columns on the matrix intersect their integrations.
Undergraduate elementary candidates in their mathematics field experience incorporated iCreate to Educate‘s SAM animation software, which uses stop-motion video to capture students’ understanding by having them create visual models.
The candidates worked with 5th grade students on understanding specific math concepts, such as fractions, area, and perimeter, and multistep problem solving. The preservice teachers began by showing their students project examples from the iCreate to Educate website and then challenged the students to create visual representations to demonstrate their knowledge of the target math concept.
For the concept of perimeter, for example, elementary mathematics teaching candidate Kaleb had students create storyboards to demonstrate their understanding. He describes the project: "They took out a figurine and cleverly ‘walked’ it around a square they had made out of blocks. As they did this, we videotaped each frame; then the software blended it together into a slow-motion video."
Kaleb notes that students were engaged throughout the lesson because "they had to move the figure, build each scene with blocks, work the computer and the camera, and most of all collaborate. They really enjoyed the finished product, which showed that they understood the concept of perimeter."
As part of their reflection, the candidates determined where this tool would fall on the TIM and why. In this case, the SAM software would represent constructive adoption because "the students are conducting meaning from prior knowledge and new learning, but the teacher is making the technology choice."
During a 4th grade science field experience, preservice teacher Alicia put students into groups and assigned each one an ecosystem. She asked students to conduct an Internet search of the ecosystem and tell others about by compiling pictures, videos, and narration that they would then upload to the classroom Tumblr account.
The students used their digitized archive to make a class presentation. To review for the test on ecosystems, students shared their Tumblr sites with one another.
As an introductory activity to prompt students’ background knowledge on the theme of "justice," teacher candidate Luis asked his 8th grade English language arts students to watch a trailer for the movie The Hurricane.
After the initial viewing, the students watched the trailer again, this time making brief comments (a single word or short phrase) on Post-it notes related to the topic of justice. They could write about items they saw, heard, or that were implied within the trailer. Then students worked in groups to sort all of the notes into categories or themes.
This provided an opportunity for students to justify their choice of words and phrases in relation to justice.
Deondra, a middle school business candidate, embedded literacy skills by having students create an advertisement to appeal to a target audience.
After reading excerpts from the young adult novel Feed by M.T. Anderson, students used Publisher or Word to take an advertisement that was originally targeted toward one of the teenage characters in the book and recreated it to appeal to the parent of that teenage character.
High school Spanish candidate Gretchen registered for a free account on ESLvideo.com, a site that allows instructors to post videos or import them from another site for use by their students and create multiple-choice quizzes.
To help build comprehension skills in her Spanish I class, Gretchen selected a video matching the objectives of her lesson. After watching the video, students had to answer comprehension questions. They were given Spanish subtitles as a song played, so if spoken language was incomprehensible, they could follow along with the subtitles.
Rather than ask chemistry students to write a traditional lab report, preservice teacher Jazmin designed a VoiceThread activity through which the students reported their results and conclusions. VoiceThread is a web-based activity that allows users to have asynchronous audio, video, or text-based conversations around media like presentations, images, or other documents.
In their lab groups, students had to collaborate on the answers to several questions related to the lab. Then they posted their answers to each question to the class VoiceThread site. Students were able to see their classmates’ responses, which would initiate a class discussion of the results. Students were excited to post their group's answers to the questions and anxiously awaited reading other groups’ responses.
In the end, the outcome was the same—the sharing of students’ interpretation of what had occurred in the lab—but students were more engaged than when they wrote traditional lab reports.
What We Learned
Using the TIM as the vehicle for teachers to learn about the varied characteristics and levels of technology integration granted several benefits. The TIM is organized into a matrix that is developmentally sequenced, allowing teachers to begin at any level and explore different technology applications in the content area of their choice.
One of the most powerful aspects of the TIM is the use of video examples to show users what technology integration actually looks like at different levels and in four content areas. Our preservice teachers agreed that the videos increased their understanding of the matrix and brought implementation to life.
As one candidate said:
Before beginning this teacher education program, I would have considered the use of technology in the classroom a more or less binary affair. Either you use it or you don't. After being exposed to so many educational models, spending time in the classroom, and completing the Technology Integration Checkpoints, I now understand that technology integration takes many different forms, each with its own specific purpose and level of infusion. The TIM became an essential tool for me as I considered which technologies to use and in what capacity.
Our candidates discovered a strong positive link between student engagement and technology integration. When integrating technology into their classes, they found that students participated more in classroom activities, asked questions, interacted in group discussions, and completed work in a timely manner.
In the technology-integration assignment, we created opportunities for candidates to function as members of a professional learning community (PLC) in which they felt supported to take risks, explore different technologies, assess the effect on student learning, and share results with peers. Each of us involved in this assignment witnessed the candidates bond as members of a PLC and engage in extended and meaningful conversation about the affordances and constraints of technology in teaching and learning.
Our eyes opened wide as the climate evolved into one of active learning in which candidates questioned the value of particular technologies, the assumptions underlying their use, and ultimately their efficacy. By employing a PLC as a support to help teachers work through the integration of technology, you can ignite forums of crucial conversation, create opportunities for action research, and build a schoolwide culture of collegiality.
Sustaining Thoughtful Integration
Making pedagogical decisions such as which instructional strategies to use, which ones to discard and why, and how to use promising ones to motivate and engage students is often a formidable hurdle for first-year teachers (Somers & Plyley, 2010). These questions are also applicable to any instructional innovation and can be just as daunting to an experienced teacher.
Students who are now in elementary school are serious digital natives and will not only demand a rich media-based learning environment but also to exercise their autonomy to create their own blend of technology-infused education. K–12 students are now bringing their devices to school and expecting to use them in the classroom. We teachers must be ready for this "disruptive" change and stay one step ahead of our students!
With the ever-increasing onslaught of one-to-one initiatives, tablets, and online learning platforms, we need to engage in discussions about the purpose of technology and how it can best support our practice. We believe that the structure we used with our preservice teachers can promote these conversations in other teacher-education programs and K–12 buildings. We also believe that this one-bite approach—using the TIM as a framework to integrate technology—will result in educators making more deliberate choices about technology use.
One of our candidates summed it up well: "We live in a world where technology is such an important part of our human existence—why should curriculum and instruction be any different." Simply adding technology to a lesson, because we can, doesn't serve students to their fullest potential, she added. However, "technology that is thoughtfully integrated into lesson plans can add depth to every part of a lesson."
Somers, J., & Plyley, S. (2010). "Late-start Mondays": The catalyst for change in an urban high school. In S. Mundry and K. E. Stiles (Eds.), Professional learning communities for science teaching: Lessons from research and practice (pp. 17–34). Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.
Yazzie-Mintz, E. (2010). Charting the path from engagement to achievement: A report on the 2009 high school survey of student engagement. Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation & Education Policy.
Deborah D. Sachs is an instructor and associate director in the School of Education at the University of Indianapolis. She taught high school science for 21 years and is coauthor of 14,641 Lesson Plans: A Flip-Book for Designing Engaging Lessons. Colleen T. Sheehy, an assistant professor of teacher education and secondary student teaching coordinator at the University of Indianapolis, taught middle school and high school English language arts for 10 years. She currently holds National Board certification in adolescent and young adult English language arts. John W. Somers is an associate professor of teacher education and director of graduate programs at University of Indianapolis’ School of Education. He spent more than 25 years as a special education teacher, principal, and director of child psychiatric services and was recognized by Indiana Council for Exceptional Children as Special Education Professor of the Year in 2012.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 12. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.