Assessing Technology Integration

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In case you haven’t noticed, the assessment market is big business - about $1.81 billion in 2003, according to an Eduventures report titled “Testing in Flux: Future Directions in the Pre-K-12 Assessment Market.” This market includes state exams, formative assessments, college entrance exam prep, college entrance exams and catalog exams, as well as an estimated $334 million in outsourced assessment services. Both the direct and outsourced markets are growing rapidly. Evidence of this growth was everywhere at the Florida Educational Technology Conference and the Texas Computer Education Association Conference earlier this year. It seemed as though every other booth was touting some form of assessment - formative assessment in particular. The reason formative assessment is such a hot topic - and a teacher’s best friend - is that it can have a positive impact on student achievement. It works because states have standards that are clear, as well as technology that can take input from many students and turn it into information for teachers and administrators to use. It also works because there are vendors out there that are informing educators and providing additional services, such as professional development, to help educators use data effectively. This is an example of true technology integration.

The SETDA Solution

The question of what integration of technology is remains pertinent because NCLB requires schools to integrate technology throughout curriculum and instruction by Dec. 31, 2006 (although, according to our President, we are supposed to do this without federal money). While the U.S. Department of Education has not yet defined technology integration, let me offer a possible and simple definition by asking the question: D'es the use of technology substantially change the activity for the better, or can the activity be done without technology? What I am positing here is that we need a significant overall change in education - especially in curriculum and instruction - and technology can be the catalyst for this change.

Let’s try my question out. While I was working on an evaluation project for a state, I asked a principal during a visitation how well he thought teachers were integrating technology into their classrooms. He responded, “Very well. For example, the parents really like those clear, crisp worksheets that come off the laser printer.” I don’t think that qualifies as integration. Similarly, many teachers now use PowerPoint and a projector hooked up to a computer to support and illustrate their lectures. Is the activity substantially different? I don’t think so. Notes are displayed and there may be some sound or video, but it is still a lecture. And whether the teacher has notes on the board, on ditto paper or wherever, it isn’t making substantial changes to teaching and learning.

Let’s look at another example. As an English teacher, I assigned a paper that students were to research in the library, use a set of 3 x 5 note cards with key points and quotes, and turn in a final typed paper. Today’s tech-savvy English teacher also assigns a research paper, but both the process of research and the final result are very different. The process is different because the Internet provides students with easy access to an enormous array of resources, in multiple formats and media, wherever and whenever they want to access them. Students are also learning and applying new skills such as searching techniques, and sorting through and judging the veracity and appropriateness of the different sources. The final product may be a paper, or it may be a multimedia depiction of the topic that can be an evolving source of content for future classes. Is the activity substantially different because of technology? I would say that it is.

A much more studied look at technology integration and how to assess it is the primary focus of the feature articles in this month’s issue as we examine a number of different uses and permutations of a tool developed by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). The tool, Profiling Educational Technology Integration (PETI), grew out of an effort to identify key questions, indicators and data elements necessary to assess the integration of technology. This is a case where solid research and thoughtful applications of technology work together to help states and districts assess the extent to which they are integrating technology throughout all of curriculum and instruction.

A Civics Lesson

We have been urging you to write your senators and representatives regarding the President’s proposed elimination of funding for Title II D of NCLB (Enhancing Education Through Technology), his proposals for the guaranteed student loan program and Pell grants, as well as the possible reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. In talking with congressional and state legislative staffers, it is clear that letters from constituents have a huge impact on the decisions our representatives make. They will listen to representatives from professional organizations, but a few letters from their own constituents will have a greater impact. (Please notice that I have left campaign contributions out of the civics lesson this time.) It has also come to my attention that some readers do not know how easy it is to communicate with members of Congress. One way is to visit CongressMerge.com, which has tips on communicating with Congress and finding additional related information. In addition, don’t forget to include U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on your list. You can e-mail her at Margaret.Spellings@ed.gov or fax her at (202) 401-0689.

Don’t you want your students to know how to influence Congress? Have them go to their senators’ and representatives’ Web sites and send a message. It would be a great example of using technology in a real-world application.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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