Infusing Technology and Literacy into the Undergraduate

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One of the most pressingdilemmas facing educators today is how to meaningfully infusetechnology into the curriculum, a problem that exists at all levelsof instruction from kindergarten through college.[1] Tocompound this dilemma, education departments are often saddled withlimited resources and a large number of students. Recentlyinstructors at Winthrop University were asked to develop aninnovative activity for student interns that would make the best useof limited resources and provide a meaningful, technology-basedactivity appropriate for over 100 education students. In addition,instructors were responsible for ensuring that the literacy goalswere simultaneously being addressed.

To respond to this charge,six core faculty members designed a three-week instructional unit forstudents prior to their internship. The aim of the unit was forstudents to construct meaning around some education-related,literacy-based dilemma and use technology as a tool for recording andsharing their responses. The instructors incorporated aconstructivist perspective by insisting that the activities: exhibita relevant context for learning; focus on cooperative andcollaborative skills through grouping; and provide opportunities tocritically examine the "bigger" ideas.

Tired of the traditionaltextbook approach, the instructors first required students to readsome relevant primary source material as the content for the project.To incorporate technology, the responses to the reading would beplaced in an electronic work-sampling portfolio and shared with othereducation students and future employers.

To establish a meaningfulcontext for learning, students were asked to read SavageInequalities, a book by Jonathan Kozol that details the plight ofAmerican public education in six school districts across thenation.[2] This book provides real-life scenarios thatstimulate future teachers to organize and reorganize their thinkingaround issues related to poverty, privilege and inequities. To setthe stage for the reading, students were asked to attend twopreparatory seminars in which the instructional plan for thethree-week activity was unveiled and the overarching goals for thetechnology experience were discussed.

An effort was made tocorrelate the goals with the new conceptual framework, a paradigmadopted by College of Education faculty that establishes the corelearnings necessary for all education students (see Table 1). Inaddition, the plan for scheduling the activities was presented tostudents (see Table 2). After the two preparatory sessions, studentswere randomly assigned to work in groups of five to complete thesegoals.

Table 1. Goals for Technology Project that Incorporate Conceptual Framework Principles

Goal

Technology-Related Activity

To collaborate and cooperate in a group setting to enhance cognitive and social learning

Work in groups of five with one individual designated as technology coordinator

To engage in problem solving around literacy-related issues that explore the bigger ideas

Develop an electronic work sampling portfolio around a literacy-related topic

Construct potential solutions to societal dilemmas presented through the reading and literacy activities

Incorporate data, reflections and critical responses into electronic portfolio

To communicate to others the deeper processing of content and the critical development of literacy skills and strategies

Share with peers and other educators the electronic portfolio and its contents

Table 2. Schedule for Technology and Literacy Project

Week One

a) attend two overview sessions
b) form groups
c) assign group roles
d) read Savage Inequalities

Week Two

a) meet with groups for four sessions
b) draft ideas and information for electronic group portfolio
c) work with technology coordinator to prepare information

Week Three

a) technology coordinator places information into portfolio
b) groups view and critique portfolios in computer lab
c) larger groups view selected portfolios from other chapters
d) groups of five convene for post-activity processing

CollaborativeGrouping

Grouping the students wasnecessary due to the limited technological resources. To make thebest use of time, each student was asked to read SavageInequalities in its entirety, but for the grouping activitiesstudents would be responsible for the in-depth exploration of onlyone of the chapters. The decision to group the students was more thanjust a response to limited resources. It was felt that thecooperative and collaborative grouping would be beneficial forseveral reasons, including the fostering of positive interdependenceand the development of group and individual learning. For example, topromote positive interdependence, clear tasks were assigned thatlinked group members with one another.

In addition, technology wasinfused with other activities to avoid isolating it as a separateentity. Distinct roles were then designed to combine the literacy andtechnology-related experiences in a manner that promoted discussion,reflection, strategic instruction and technology. Individual roleswithin the groups were selected by the students themselves, thusallowing them to contribute in areas they felt most confident andcomfortable.

With the large number ofstudents involved in the activities, it would be necessary to workwith 20 groups comprised of five students in each group in order toutilize the 20-station Macintosh computer lab. Each student in thegroup would have a specific role defining his/her contribution to theelectronic portfolio. Each role is summarized in Table 3.

Table 3. Roles and Responsibilities for Group Members .

Role

Group Responsibility

Technology Role

Discussion leader

The discussion leader maintains the pace and directs the others in their assigned roles. All group members are expected to participate in the discussions regardless of the role assignment.

Oversees the input of the responses from dilemma discussion into the portfolio.

Strategy leader

The strategy leader oversees the use of a literacy-related strategy that is being used for the assigned chapter. All members of the group will be using the literacy strategy to reflect on the reading.

Develops a strategy to be added to the portfolio with the tech coordinator.

Recorder

The recorder documents the "history" of the groupas they work together, noting particular comments, interactions and contributions on a prepared observational grid.

Puts the observation data into the survey form in the electronic portfolio.

Technology

The technology coordinator is the person responsible for Coordinator coordinating all data and digital photos into the electronic work sampling folder that documents the groups' responses and work relevant to their assigned chapter. The technology coordinators meet with the instructor prior to the submission of information into the sampling folder.

Coordinates the data entered into the portfolio and offers technical support and advice to other group members

Evaluator

The evaluator is responsible for assessing the work submitted into the electronic work sampling folder using predetermined criteria.

Serves on the assessment team that reviews the portfolio.

Exploringthe Big Ideas

Considering the largenumber of students involved in the activities, it was important tofocus the literacy activities around the three specific goals, yetstill provide room for creativity and individuality to flourish. Theconceptual framework provided the scaffold for the bigger ideas thatwould arise through the activities, such as the role of teacher as aneducational leader and the role of schools in society . Concurrently,technology served as a vehicle for expression and archiving of ideasthrough the development of the electronic work-sampling portfoliothat would document information generated through theliteracy-related activities.

The exploration of the bigideas began with the discussion of the dilemmas that were presentedin Savage Inequalities. As students listened to a series ofsearching questions, their responses were being recorded in theelectronic work-sampling portfolio in scrolling fields that wouldpermit the entry of lengthy text. These responses promoted criticalthinking and critical, responsive reading. The education studentswere asked to:

  1. identify the dilemma;
  2. identify "leaders" who emerged during the reading who addressed the dilemma;
  3. illustrate how these dilemmas are similar to real-world problems in our geographic region;
  4. develop a series of additional questions that will promote continued dialogue and increasingly complex patterns of thought; and
  5. problem-solve potential solutions to the dilemma(s).

In addition, studentsperused the Internet to search for up-to-date information about thesix school districts. Students were delighted to find, for example,that one of the high schools, DuSable High School, had a homepage onthe World Wide Web.

Componentsof the Portfolio

Actual entries into theelectronic portfolio were made by the technology coordinator of eachgroup, although each group member contributed ideas, suggestions forthe portfolio design, and additional data to be included. The basicstack design, including the home card, was developed by the course.The technology coordinators attended a two-hour workshop where theprocedures for developing the electronic portfolio were taught. Thesoftware used to construct the stacks was HyperStudio 3.1, with moreclip art made available. Each member of the group received a copy ofthe portfolio on a disk and made changes as needed forpersonalization.

Each electronic portfoliocontained the following information:

Group Profile. Aprofile of the group that included each member's name and major alongwith a digital photograph of the group.

Topic Notes. Thepop-up text fields that included a brief summary of each chapter inthe book as provided by the group members.

Reading ResponseActivities. This component contained the responses to the focusedreading of the one chapter targeted at an in-depth level. Thisincluded the dilemma questions with responses, a reading responsestrategy that could be used to teach some idea presented in thechapter, the group observations and reflections of their work duringthe discussions and activities, and a graphic visualization of thecontent designed by the group.

The Peer ReviewCard. This final card incorporates the reactions of others to theportfolio and contains peer review comments. In groups of 20 thestudents rotated -- in "round robin" fashion -- through the 20computers, each loaded with a different portfolio. Students then madecomments directly into the portfolio in areas related to thefollowing criteria: stack design and development; ease of operationof links; clip art and background additions; and content-technologyconnection.

In addition to assessingthe portfolio and its components through a peer review, theportfolios were shared in a format known as the Jigsawapproach.[3] Using this format, each group representing aspecific chapter in the book regroups in a manner that allows onegroup from each chapter to form a new, larger group so that theentire book is ultimately discussed and shared. As a result, throughthe new grouping an electronic work-sampling portfolio from each ofthe six school districts would be shared with groups of 30 studentsgathered in regular classrooms. The portfolios were shared viacomputers and LCD projectors and/or scan converters. Sample portfoliocards can be seen in Figures 1 and 2.


StudentPerceptions

Students were formativelyand summatively assessed to determine their perceptions of thetechnology/literacy project. The students' reactions were bothinformative and insightful. First, when asked in the summativeassessment if the assignment engaged all students in social issuesrelated to education, 100% of the students either agreed or stronglyagreed. When asked if cooperation and collaboration in a groupsetting was accomplished, 97% of the students either agreed orstrongly agreed. One problem area was with the use of time: 77% ofthe students either agreed or strongly agreed that they had beengiven enough time to fully understand and complete the project.Perhaps the three weeks of concentrated experience would have beenbetter spread over the entire semester.

Additionally, only 79% ofthe students agreed or strongly agreed that this entire activity wasrelevant and important to their future roles as teachers inany school setting. Perhaps more time should have been spentconnecting the reading to our local educational environment. Finally,the technology coordinators were asked to evaluate the technologycomponent of the project. Surprisingly, 92% of the coordinators feltthe activity went smoothly and was worthwhile. This was unexpectedbecause some of the coordinators had to wait for free time in thecomputer lab to complete their groups' portfolios. Apparently thisdid not adversely affect their opinion of the activityitself.

When asked what value theyfound in this activity, students' open-ended comments were varied.After data were compiled and analyzed, however, the following fourcomments were the most prominent. Students felt theylearned:

  1. how to develop an electronic portfolio to display their work, including some elements of design for constructing a portfolio;
  2. how to share their work with others in a new way;
  3. how to synthesize information to place in the portfolio; and
  4. how to work with others in a manner that involved the sharing of resources.

It was interesting thatstudents commented on the limited resources and how this limitationcan become less of an impediment with a well-developed instructionalplan. The course instructors again felt that, from the students'perspectives, the basic goals of the technology and literacy activitywere achieved and that most students had learned something new as aresult of this experience.

RecommendedRefinements

The project proved to besuccessful with this large group of education students. Theinstructors felt that each of the three goals had been accomplishedand that students on the whole responded positively to theexperience. Nevertheless, changes and adjustments will be necessaryin the future. The following recommendations aresuggested:

  1. always begin the technology project with a worthwhile book that relates to education issues;
  2. assign students to heterogeneous groups of no more than five with specific roles designated for each group member;
  3. infuse technology in a subtle, yet purposeful manner that allows the information to be collaborative, constructed and communicated in a meaningful way;
  4. do not expect each student to use each aspect of the technology and allow students to make choices;
  5. allow students to view one another's work and review it using predetermined criteria;
  6. incorporate more connections to the World Wide Web and develop a mechanism for interested students to share their work electronically using this medium; and
  7. allow students more time to process the activity. It is strongly suggested that the experience span an entire semester using a seminar-type setting.

In conclusion, thetechnology experience proved beneficial to both students and faculty.Students were proud of their work and enjoyed sharing theirgroup-constructed portfolios. While the primary beneficiaries wereeducation students, the rewards for faculty cannot be overlooked. Thesix faculty involved in this project had to retool to fullyunderstand the potential of technology. In addition, they supportedone another in the effort to ensure that all students were provided ameaningful experience with technology, an added bonus that willpositively affect future education students.

 

Rhonda Taylor Richardsis director of the Instructional Technology Center at WinthropUniversity in Rock Hill, S.C. E-mail:richardsr@winthrop.edu

References:
1. The Holmes Group (1995), Tomorrow's Schools of Education: AReport of the Holmes Group, East Lansing, MI: The HolmesGroup.
2. Kozol, J. (1990), Savage Inequalities, New York, NY: BantamPublishers.
3. Slavin, R.E. (1991), Student Team Learning: A Practical Guideto Cooperative Learning, 3rd ed., Washington, DC: NEA.

Productsmentioned:
HyperStudio; Roger Wagner Publishing, El Cajon, CA, (800)HYPERSTUDIO, www.hyperstudio.com.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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