As federal and state governments, school districts and
individual educators spend countless dollars and energy on technology, it is
important to consider why all this technology is beneficial in the first
place. A truly integrated technology
curriculum provides countless benefits to students and staff, especially in the school media center where students seek information from a variety of sources every day.
Why is integrating technology into the curriculum beneficial?
For students who rush to check out the latest gaming systems
or who stand in line for an iPad, technology is intrinsically interesting. The novelty of it serves to interest students
who may not be academically motivated.
The latest digital tools can therefore serve as a vehicle to help
students learn content knowledge as well as problem-solving and higher level thinking
skills. In a 2008 study, middle school
students ranked using "computers in general" and doing "research on the internet"
as the school activities they liked best.
They ranked "listening to teachers explain things" and "doing worksheets" as
activities they like least (Spires, 2008).
Positively ranked activities, such as using computers, can be
incorporated into nearly any content area and is especially conducive to the information
literacy skills taught in the library media center. Additionally, Spires found that this interest in digital tools
was universally motivating as using computers was the one endeavor that all
ethnicities chose as the activity they liked best in school. In other words, while technology serves its purpose best when it is aligned with curricular goals, its sheer presence in a school can motivate students.
Technology can also function as a way to engage at-risk students. Digital tools can serve as a “magic potion”
to motivate low socioeconomic students who lack access to technology at home
(Williams, Atkinson, Cate, & O'Hair, 2008).
Tasks that engage students are generally more demanding and require
considerable student involvement and decision making, but at-risk students are
rarely given tasks of this nature (Kozma & Groninger, 1992). Meaningful technology integration
necessitates significant student involvement and, as such, can serve to
motivate and engage at-risk students.
Technology can improve test scores, grades and overall student learning.
In an educational environment that places a strong emphasis on standardized testing, technology’s effect on test scores is of great consequence. Recent studies have demonstrated that technology can have a positive impact on test scores. In an eight-year longitudinal study of SAT I performance at a New Hampshire school, researchers found significant student achievement gains in test scores after computer technology was put into use and integrated with standards (Bain & Ross, 2000). It is important to note that test score gains in this study occurred after technology was coupled with standards rather than just thrust into classrooms. The state of West Virginia also achieved across the-board increases in statewide assessment scores in basic skill areas, eleven percent of which directly correlated to the Basic Skills and Computer Education technology implementation put into effect two decades ago (Mann, Shakeshaft, Becker & Kottkamp, 1999). Furthermore, a 2008 study revealed that collaboration between teachers, in concert with increased technology integration, improved students’ standardized test scores in addition to class performance, discipline, attendance and dropout rates (Williams et al., 2008). In an educational culture so focused on accountability and data, the effect of technology integration on test scores can be very persuasive.In a study in which students could choose whether or not to utilize digital tools such as an online discussion board, researchers found that the students’ use of technology clearly influenced actual student learning. Those that used the technology offered in the course benefited from that use through increased learning, as demonstrated by stronger course performance and improved grades (Krentler & Willis-Flurry, 2005). While this study may have limitations (for example, perhaps students who utilized the technological tools were intrinsically more interested in the course and, thus, likelier to receive better grades), it does demonstrate the positive impact technology can have on student learning. These implications extend to all grade levels as additional research has shown that students in technology-rich environments exhibit increased achievement at all educational levels (preschool through higher education) (Sivin-Kachala, 1998). In other words, when students are given meaningful interaction with computers, software and the internet, they are more motivated, engaged, and involved in their own learning.
Impact on creativity, problem-solving skills and self-image
In 2006, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce of the National Center on Education and the Economy made recommendations for massive educational reform that would refocus the United States educational system on learning for creative work (Spires, 2008). One way in which to meet this recommendation and include more creative learning is through the incorporation of technology into the curriculum. When used correctly, technology leads to improvements in students’ inventive thinking skills, including creativity, and enables them to express themselves in new and innovative ways (CEO Forum on Education and Technology, 2010 - see chart above). Additionally, it allows communication with individuals and organizations throughout the world, further inspiring creative thought and learning. The customizable and fluid nature of digital content and tools can also challenge students to develop more effective problem solving, higher order and sound reasoning skills (CEO Forum on Education and Technology, 2001 - see chart above). Rather than just receive information from a teacher or authority figure, students can utilize technology to perform their own research and evaluate resources on their own, resulting in superior problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Beyond skills and test scores, studies have also demonstrated the ways in which technology integration can improve students’ self-image and self-esteem. The use of digital tools has been found to have positive effects on student attitudes toward learning as well as student self-concept. Young people felt more successful in school, were more motivated to learn and had increased self-confidence and self-esteem when using computer-based instruction (Sivin-Kachala, & Bialo, 2000). Because technology can give students autonomy over their own education, it allows them to build confidence in their ability to learn. For example, a student researching a country for a report will feel more confident in her ability to find information as opposed to one who simply receives the information passively from a textbook. Positive impacts have been identified in many student developmental areas, including attitude towards learning and self-esteem, through use of technology (Lei, 2010), an implication that can be instrumental in young people’s cognitive and social development. Furthermore, educational technology has significant positive effects on student attitudes for special need populations (Sivin-Kachala, & Bialo, 2000), a group that, as discussed below, may particularly need positive self-image building. By aligning technology with a curriculum, educators can help students make significant improvements in self-esteem.
Students with Special Needs
For students with unique needs, technology can be
specifically tailored to suit individual requirements.
Several research studies provide evidence that technology integration
can provide significant benefits for students with special needs, including students
that are learning disabled, low achieving, in special education or gifted. In the 2000 study mentioned above, in which
students participated in an integrated technology-rich curriculum, students with
learning disabilities gained 89 points in combined verbal and math scores after
the technology integration (Bain & Ross, 2000). Additionally, students with learning
disabilities who used speech recognition software to write essays performed
significantly better than fellow students with learning disabilities that did
not use the software and approximately as well as their mainstream peers
(Higgins & Rasking, 2005). Finally,
by taking advantage of the latest developments in computer technology, readers
of different ability levels can better understand the various strategies they
do and do not engage in when reading in order to improve fluency and comprehension
(Freese, 1997). Technology therefore not
only gives students with special needs more confidence, but it allows them
customized opportunities to overcome their unique challenges. In an environment such as the library media center, where students with special needs frequently work alongside their mainstream peers, the benefits provided by meaningful interactions with technology can be particularly consequential.
Increased Knowledge and Opportunities
Through the use of various digital tools, teachers and librarians can also offer students increased access to knowledge and innovative opportunities. The use of computer-mediated communication tools, for example, can help students from various geographical locations ‘‘talk’’ to one another and experts from their own classrooms. The opportunity to communicate with experts enhances students’ learning process (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Likewise, technology offers students access to a host of experiences not available through traditional school formats. Tools such as virtual museum tours, 3-D topographic maps, virtual dissection or other technology-rich experiences allow students to extend learning beyond the classroom, without ever leaving the classroom. These digital experiences can lead to increased knowledge within content areas. For example, in one study, scholars compared seventh grade students whose teachers utilized digital tools with students whose teachers taught using a traditional format. They found that the use of technology tools such as websites and presentation software had a positive effect on students’ knowledge of basic mathematic skills (Tienken and Wilson, 2007). When students employ tools such as simulators, real-time live feeds, video blogs and other technical tools to help them connect curriculum to real-world problems, they can gain greater knowledge and outperform students who employ traditional instructional methods alone.
Students’ brains are wired differently.
Daily exposure to interactive technology, such as computers, smart phones, video games and the like stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in students’ brains and weakening others (Small & Vorgon, 2008). In other words, the influx of technology into students’ daily lives is changing their brains at unprecedented speeds. Some researchers have begun to question whether the changes within the brain have altered the ways in which children move through the cognitive developmental stages theorized by Jean Piaget and adhered to for over one hundred years (Jukes, McCain & Crockett, 2010). The eyes of the digital generation even move differently than previous generations (Byerly, Holmes, Robins, Zang & Salaba, 2006) (click here to see a video of how young people read a website). Students are increasingly becoming visual and/or kinesthetic learners, rather than auditory or text based (Jensen, 2008), which has serious implications for their education. For example, since most traditional classrooms follow a textbook or teacher-centered model, students who thrive on visual learning may be shortchanged. Technology such as computers, digital games, or Web 2.0 tools typically rely on visual information and "learning-through-doing" approaches. By incorporating these types of technology into the classroom, educators can engage students in ways that are responsive to their changing cognitive development. Today’s learners are not the same type of students that existed when the modern American school system was developed. By incorporating technology and aligning it with the curriculum, educators may be able to help the school system change commensurately.
Reflects our current lifestyle and the working world.
Not only are brains changing in modern society, but the business world is changing as well. Modern workers often collaborate with global workgroups, submitting work electronically in multiple time zones. The fast-paced, continually shifting working world also requires that new workers are prepared to change jobs and careers multiple times. The Department of Labor in the United States projects that students in school today will have 10 to 14 different careers in their lifetime (Harwood & Asal, 2007). Additionally, since machines and automation have forced many low-level thinking jobs out of the country, students must be capable of critical cognitive abilities in order to succeed. In other words, students must learn 21st century thinking skills such as creativity, collaboration and flexibility but the traditional classroom model does not support this. By incorporating meaningful technology use into a curriculum, educators ensure that students will begin to learn these critical skills.
In addition to being responsive to the modern world,
technology integration helps prepare all students to work in the 21st century. While 67 percent of white
respondents to one study reported usage of the internet, only 44 percent of
Hispanic respondents could claim the same (DeBell & Chapman, 2006). The digital divide extends beyond race and
internet use, however. It can include
the imbalance both in physical access to technology and in the resources and
skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In today’s society, access is increasingly
critical. In the information age,
possession of a computer does not come down to “have” and “have not.” Rather, it is “can” and “can not” (Harwood
& Asal, 2007). Technology is no
longer a luxury, but a true need, and schools may serve as the only point of
access to technology for some. Even in
schools, however, the divide is present.
“White, wealthy, suburban schools tend to use computers for
communication and collaborative learning projects – learning experiences that
will prepare them to take professional managerial roles in their working
futures – while poorer schools tend to focus on keyboarding and drilling on
CD-ROMS – learning experiences that will train them to take orders” (Monroe,
1998). In other words, the mere presence of technology in schools cannot overcome the digital divide - however, when used considerately to reflect 21st century skills for all students, it can have a positive impact. These early technological experiences have lifelong
digital consequences and it is critical to incorporate meaningful technology
integration in all schools as early as possible. With training and support, teachers and school media specialists can
integrate technology in ways that will make a significant difference in the
lives of students.
Next Page: The Ideal Tech World
This website was created by Laurie Conley, the media specialist at Whittier Elementary School in Oak Park, Illinois. The website is intended to fulfill the requirements for the Certificate of Advanced Study from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois and was created in 2010. Please feel free to email me at LaurieConley21@yahoo.com with comments or questions.