Technology as an Agent of Change in Teacher Practice

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->

R.D. Pea (1985) wrote that we can think of technology in two ways: as a set of tools that amplify or extend what we currently do (make it better, faster and stronger), or as something with the potential to radically change what we do and how we do it. For example, the technology of a better saddle allowed riders to travel further and longer, but the technology of a car completely revolutionized the way we even conceive of travel. Perhaps the argument is one of quality and not quantity. A similar argument exists in describing educational technology. Extending what we currently do as teachers only amplifies our current practices, while using technology qualitatively affords radical change in the work of teachers and the learning of students. The fact remains that many educators use technology to amplify what is currently done. Common amplifications, such as the ones that follow, are often described as excellent uses of instructional technology.

  • Using a laserdisc to supplement information and images from text.
  • Using the Web to find interesting facts to spice up existing curricula.
  • Using online or networked grading programs.
  • Using computer assisted instruction to supplement traditional instructional practices.
  • Using desktop publishing to make more aesthetically pleasing class materials and handouts.

Technology can act as an agent of significant, and perhaps radical, change in teacher practice - significantly altering the way teachers, pupils, and schools operate. We are not stating that amplification uses of technology are poor uses. We are simply stating that amplification uses do not capitalize on the full potential and power of most technology resources. Considering how technology can radically change what we do as teachers pushes our thinking to new levels and challenges us to reorganize, reinvent, and rebuild our pedagogical practices, routines, and thinking in ways that reflect the changing technological and sociological climate in which our children are learning.

Our discussion of technology as an agent of change in teacher practice is organized into three areas: changes in epistemology, changes in psychology as applied to learning, and social and relational change. Each section discusses these changes and provides examples from our own experiences, as well as others, which exemplify these new ways of thinking and acting.

 

Changes in Epistemology

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy associated with the nature of knowledge. This section discusses changes in the organization of subject matter and the kinds of knowledge that qualify as school-worthy.

Most teachers allow textbooks to frame their discipline as neat and clean, with boldfaced words, clear definitions, staged photographs, and overly obvious real-world examples. In science, Gerald Holton has referred to this "sterilization" of curriculum as only teaching "public science."

Technology-rich classrooms can free teachers from the bounds of textbooks - asking both teacher and student to venture out onto the Web to find the most current, cutting-edge content available. Students can often gain access to the same kinds of information available to practicing professionals. Moving outside a textbook to see subject matter in its more "private" form is liberating, but also dangerous. It puts a great deal of pressure on both teacher and student to make sense of data, to filter extraneous information, and to focus on important subject matter ideas. Further, this practice demands that both teacher and student become good "knowledge consumers." We return to this notion of learning to be "knowledge consumers" in the next section.

A great deal of information and opportunity exist on the Web, but teachers must learn how to access it, how to use it in effective and efficient ways, and how to frame it for their students so they will find it useful and productive in their learning. The teacher must change from one who relies on textbooks to one who pushes new boundaries of knowledge, resources and content. This is a daunting task for most teachers - one in which teachers must learn to be comfortable. We recently had a conversation with a teacher who worked in a charter school where teachers and students were not given texts and curricula was to be found in primary online sources. He argued that any attempts such as this were bound to fail.

Most teachers have come to similar conclusions as they consider ways to use the Web. Searching for worksheets and such only allows the Web to amplify current curriculum, thus not moving it beyond its "public" image. Teachers must begin to reconsider what course content is or should be. Couldn't one teach a great portion of a weather unit using real-time weather data from CNN.com? Raw weather data is knowledge of a very different sort in comparison to the information found in a weather chapter in a textbook. Teachers must learn to first recognize this insight as useful and then learn to utilize it and other alternative resources in their efforts to facilitate learning. They must shift their thinking from boldfaced words and questions at the end of the chapter to situated activities and subject matter ideas, real-world tasks, and authentic performance tests.

For example, using primary sources found at a site called Valley of the Shadow, http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vshadow2/, the second author has helped to guide student inquiry about notions of gender, social class, and ethnicity during the Civil War. Because these articles originated from actual Civil War era newspapers, the nuance of voice and political stance varies and the writing style of the articles may differ from what most students are accustomed to. However, the educative power of these sources is unmatched by textbook accounts of the same period. Primary sources offer a sense of the real world that can be used in pedagogically powerful ways. However, teachers must begin to view these sources as not quantitatively "lesser" than existing texts, but qualitatively different from existing texts, which require different methods of use, interpretation, and outcome.

 

Changes in Psychology

As alluded to in the previous section, we believe technology suggests a significant change in our thinking about student learning. In traditionally low-tech environments, students are often viewed as receivers of knowledge (in the worst case scenario) or constructors of knowledge (in the best case, constructivist fashion). We believe the unprecedented access to information that technology affords demands a shift to more forward-looking notions of students as consumers of knowledge (in addition to knowledge constructors). Teachers must model methods for judging the trustworthiness of information by checking it against other sources, executing mental experiments to investigate the logic of purported claims, and asking critical questions about the origins of claims. Students should be taught to scrutinize knowledge carefully and hold all information as suspect until a reasonable level of certainty can be established. This is difficult and time consuming for both teachers and students, as it demands skepticism first. However, becoming a good consumer of knowledge and information is a skill we'll all need as the Web continues to expand. We recognize that this is not necessarily an issue limited to technology as the sheer volume of media messages continues to increase. We do believe, though, that the Web, with its complete lack of standards for integrity, serves to magnify this problem.

Technology asks teachers to view not only learners, but also learning tasks in new ways. Rather than asking students to complete pre-determined and well-defined tasks such as worksheets, step-by-step lab experiments, and projects designed with a single goal in mind, teachers must embrace learning activities that are ill-structured, ill-defined, and open-ended. Useful here is the concept of design - teachers must design learning activities and students must design learning projects that make use of technology resources and subject matter ideas. For example, rather than completing a set of worksheets on moon phases, students may be asked to investigate online tide tables and real-time video, to make sense of data and observations, and to express what they have learned using different media.

Designing a project can help students bring together ideas about the subject matter, their own strengths and motivations and communicative principles. Design is inquisitive, as it challenges students to investigate phenomena in ways individually relevant and interesting. Design is expressive because it asks students to apply what they have learned to produce a product. Design is authentic because the intent of design-based activities is to communicate or persuade (Mishra and Girod 2000). It has been argued that design-based activities, afforded by expanded technology, have moved conversations about communications media and aesthetics to the foreground in many learning contexts (Ohler 2000). Teachers must come to embrace the act of design and design-based activities as important tasks to facilitate learning in technology-rich environments.

Through the use of technology, students can engage in activities and investigations that would otherwise be too difficult, dangerous, or expensive. Students can virtually mix volatile chemicals, melt pounds of gold, or split atoms all without the worry of cost and efficiency. Technology can also be used in ways that manipulate scale - to allow students the opportunity to see inside molecular structure and to speed up or slow down processes that may take generations or perhaps only nanoseconds. Technology affords very different opportunities that may spark a line of inquiry previously unimagined. Teachers must embrace these opportunities and realize the implications for student learning. Rather than having a class full of students locked into a series of activities, a technology-rich learning environment allows unlimited avenues for inquiry.

 

Social and Relational Changes

Related to the notion of facilitating learning rather than dispensing knowledge are issues of power and social politics. If, for instance, the teacher and text are displaced as the sole arbiters of subject matter knowledge, ramifications follow for power relationships in classrooms. Many students may feel empowered by the freedom to learn, explore, and critique knowledge as it comes to them (or is created) in new media. Students are often thrilled to realize that, perhaps for the first time, they know more about the topic at hand than their teacher. Whether true or not, topics defined by texts and teachers limit the potential for students to experience feelings of expertise beyond that of their peers and teachers. Arguably, students who feel empowered as learners are more highly motivated to learn and are generally more successful in their efforts to do so. A great example is the act of publishing written products to the Web. Upon realizing their work is now accessible to millions of people, students cannot help but feel a sense of pride, ownership, and expertise as their words and ideas are shared publicly. Teachers can capitalize on this power easily if goals are shifted to empowerment of the learner.

Another issue related to social and relational contexts is exemplified by the practice of the second author. In this case, she has used technology to expand notions of "community" in her classroom. Her elementary students have online pen pals in various countries, converse with NASA scientists about topics of interest, and contribute local wildlife data to a global database accessible by scientists and students around the world. Again, technology affords a shift in world-view to a more global notion of community and collaboration. Teachers must embrace this shift and capitalize on it pedagogically.

Finally, and also related to arguments made above, technology has the potential to dramatically alter learning contexts. It has been documented that most children do not view television as a media that demands much cognitive attention (Solomon 1997). As a result, when watching instructional television in school, children simply fail to engage their full cognitive capacities in efforts to learn. All technology has the potential to fail similarly. Teachers must first begin to define contexts for learning differently and then treat technology resources as serious contexts for stimulating learning. Using technology only for games, drill and practice activities and Web-browsing reinforces the notion that technology and alternative media are less valuable as sources for learning than textbooks, the teacher, and other more commonly used materials. Why do we place this argument in the category of social and relational change rather than psychological change? Because we believe that broadening contexts for learning undermines the power and authority of the teacher. We want students to view technology as being on an equal footing with the teacher and their textbooks.

 

Conclusions

If we have led readers to conclude that technology holds the key to fundamental change in teaching, learning, and schools, then we have failed in our goal. Technology is not the key to radical change - teachers are the key. As the technology boom continues, teachers will continue to be faced with increasing pressure to integrate technology into their pedagogical practices. However, little will change as long as the perceived pressure is unidirectional - meaning technology will not significantly transform the role of the teacher until teachers also begin to transform technology. Teachers are pragmatists. They seek means to desired ends and often find solutions in diverse and unlikely places. The average teacher, we argue, is a highly resourceful, intelligent, and creative person. Until teachers bring these powers to bear on technology - to re-tool and re-orient technology resources in ways that make sense for their own students, contexts, and subject matters - technology will only be used as a tool to amplify current practices. Teachers must be given the time, support, and creative space to use technology in new ways that will eventually significantly change their role in the classroom.

 

Mark Girod is a part-time science teacher at Lewton Elementary School in Lansing, MI. He is also a doctoral student in educational psychology at Michigan State University and works as a program evaluator for KLICK! - Kids Learning in Computer Klubhouses (http://www.klick.org).

E-mail: girodmar@msu.edu.

 

Shane Cavanaugh is a part-time computer teacher at Lansing Montessori Children's House in Lansing, MI. She is also a doctoral student in educational psychology at Michigan State University and works with edtech.connect and KLICK! - Kids Learning in Computer Klubhouses.

E-mail:cavanau2@msu.edu

 

The authors would like to thank Kristin White for her thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


References

Boice, J.E. 2000. "Technology Redefines Reading Diagnosis Instruction." Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 86-91.

Flannery, M. 1991. "Science and Aesthetics: A Partnership for Science Education." Science Education, 75(5), 577-593.

Girod, M. 1998. "Riding the Dinosaur Wave." Educational Leadership, 56(1), pp. 72-75.

Herr, Pat. 2000. "The Changing Role of the Teacher: How Management Systems Help Facilitate Teaching." Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 28-34.

Klopfenstein, Bruce C., Robert G. Berns and Patricia M. Erickson. 2000. "Hiring a Web Production Team: Moving Beyond 'Do It Yourself.'" Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 73-76.

Mishra, P. and M. Girod. 2000. "Designing Learning through Learning to Design." (under review)

Ohler, J. 2000. "Art Becomes the Fourth R." Educational Leadership, 58(2), 16-19.

Pea, R.D. 1985. "Beyond Amplification: Using the Computer to Reorganize Mental Functioning." Educational Psychologist, 20(4), 167-182.

Solomon, G. 1997. "Of Mind and Media: How Culture's Symbolic Forms Affect Learning and Thinking." Phi Delta Kappan, January, 375-380.

Zirkle, Chris. 2000. "Preparing Technical Instructors through Multiple Delivery Systems: A Working Model." Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 62-68.

R.D. Pea (1985) wrote that we can think of technology in two ways: as a set of tools that amplify or extend what we currently do (make it better, faster and stronger), or as something with the potential to radically change what we do and how we do it. For example, the technology of a better saddle allowed riders to travel further and longer, but the technology of a car completely revolutionized the way we even conceive of travel. Perhaps the argument is one of quality and not quantity. A similar argument exists in describing educational technology. Extending what we currently do as teachers only amplifies our current practices, while using technology qualitatively affords radical change in the work of teachers and the learning of students. The fact remains that many educators use technology to amplify what is currently done. Common amplifications, such as the ones that follow, are often described as excellent uses of instructional technology.

  • Using a laserdisc to supplement information and images from text.
  • Using the Web to find interesting facts to spice up existing curricula.
  • Using online or networked grading programs.
  • Using computer assisted instruction to supplement traditional instructional practices.
  • Using desktop publishing to make more aesthetically pleasing class materials and handouts.

Technology can act as an agent of significant, and perhaps radical, change in teacher practice - significantly altering the way teachers, pupils, and schools operate. We are not stating that amplification uses of technology are poor uses. We are simply stating that amplification uses do not capitalize on the full potential and power of most technology resources. Considering how technology can radically change what we do as teachers pushes our thinking to new levels and challenges us to reorganize, reinvent, and rebuild our pedagogical practices, routines, and thinking in ways that reflect the changing technological and sociological climate in which our children are learning.

Our discussion of technology as an agent of change in teacher practice is organized into three areas: changes in epistemology, changes in psychology as applied to learning, and social and relational change. Each section discusses these changes and provides examples from our own experiences, as well as others, which exemplify these new ways of thinking and acting.

 

X@XOpenTag000Changes in Epistemology

X@XCloseTag000Epistemology is a branch of philosophy associated with the nature of knowledge. This section discusses changes in the organization of subject matter and the kinds of knowledge that qualify as school-worthy.

Most teachers allow textbooks to frame their discipline as neat and clean, with boldfaced words, clear definitions, staged photographs, and overly obvious real-world examples. In science, Gerald Holton has referred to this "sterilization" of curriculum as only teaching "public science."

Technology-rich classrooms can free teachers from the bounds of textbooks - asking both teacher and student to venture out onto the Web to find the most current, cutting-edge content available. Students can often gain access to the same kinds of information available to practicing professionals. Moving outside a textbook to see subject matter in its more "private" form is liberating, but also dangerous. It puts a great deal of pressure on both teacher and student to make sense of data, to filter extraneous information, and to focus on important subject matter ideas. Further, this practice demands that both teacher and student become good "knowledge consumers." We return to this notion of learning to be "knowledge consumers" in the next section.

A great deal of information and opportunity exist on the Web, but teachers must learn how to access it, how to use it in effective and efficient ways, and how to frame it for their students so they will find it useful and productive in their learning. The teacher must change from one who relies on textbooks to one who pushes new boundaries of knowledge, resources and content. This is a daunting task for most teachers - one in which teachers must learn to be comfortable. We recently had a conversation with a teacher who worked in a charter school where teachers and students were not given texts and curricula was to be found in primary online sources. He argued that any attempts such as this were bound to fail.

Most teachers have come to similar conclusions as they consider ways to use the Web. Searching for worksheets and such only allows the Web to amplify current curriculum, thus not moving it beyond its "public" image. Teachers must begin to reconsider what course content is or should be. Couldn't one teach a great portion of a weather unit using real-time weather data from CNN.com? Raw weather data is knowledge of a very different sort in comparison to the information found in a weather chapter in a textbook. Teachers must learn to first recognize this insight as useful and then learn to utilize it and other alternative resources in their efforts to facilitate learning. They must shift their thinking from boldfaced words and questions at the end of the chapter to situated activities and subject matter ideas, real-world tasks, and authentic performance tests.

For example, using primary sources found at a site called Valley of the Shadow, http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vshadow2/, the second author has helped to guide student inquiry about notions of gender, social class, and ethnicity during the Civil War. Because these articles originated from actual Civil War era newspapers, the nuance of voice and political stance varies and the writing style of the articles may differ from what most students are accustomed to. However, the educative power of these sources is unmatched by textbook accounts of the same period. Primary sources offer a sense of the real world that can be used in pedagogically powerful ways. However, teachers must begin to view these sources as not quantitatively "lesser" than existing texts, but qualitatively different from existing texts, which require different methods of use, interpretation, and outcome.

 

X@XOpenTag001Changes in Psychology

X@XCloseTag001As alluded to in the previous section, we believe technology suggests a significant change in our thinking about student learning. In traditionally low-tech environments, students are often viewed as receivers of knowledge (in the worst case scenario) or constructors of knowledge (in the best case, constructivist fashion). We believe the unprecedented access to information that technology affords demands a shift to more forward-looking notions of students as consumers of knowledge (in addition to knowledge constructors). Teachers must model methods for judging the trustworthiness of information by checking it against other sources, executing mental experiments to investigate the logic of purported claims, and asking critical questions about the origins of claims. Students should be taught to scrutinize knowledge carefully and hold all information as suspect until a reasonable level of certainty can be established. This is difficult and time consuming for both teachers and students, as it demands skepticism first. However, becoming a good consumer of knowledge and information is a skill we'll all need as the Web continues to expand. We recognize that this is not necessarily an issue limited to technology as the sheer volume of media messages continues to increase. We do believe, though, that the Web, with its complete lack of standards for integrity, serves to magnify this problem.

Technology asks teachers to view not only learners, but also learning tasks in new ways. Rather than asking students to complete pre-determined and well-defined tasks such as worksheets, step-by-step lab experiments, and projects designed with a single goal in mind, teachers must embrace learning activities that are ill-structured, ill-defined, and open-ended. Useful here is the concept of design - teachers must design learning activities and students must design learning projects that make use of technology resources and subject matter ideas. For example, rather than completing a set of worksheets on moon phases, students may be asked to investigate online tide tables and real-time video, to make sense of data and observations, and to express what they have learned using different media.

Designing a project can help students bring together ideas about the subject matter, their own strengths and motivations and communicative principles. Design is inquisitive, as it challenges students to investigate phenomena in ways individually relevant and interesting. Design is expressive because it asks students to apply what they have learned to produce a product. Design is authentic because the intent of design-based activities is to communicate or persuade (Mishra and Girod 2000). It has been argued that design-based activities, afforded by expanded technology, have moved conversations about communications media and aesthetics to the foreground in many learning contexts (Ohler 2000). Teachers must come to embrace the act of design and design-based activities as important tasks to facilitate learning in technology-rich environments.

Through the use of technology, students can engage in activities and investigations that would otherwise be too difficult, dangerous, or expensive. Students can virtually mix volatile chemicals, melt pounds of gold, or split atoms all without the worry of cost and efficiency. Technology can also be used in ways that manipulate scale - to allow students the opportunity to see inside molecular structure and to speed up or slow down processes that may take generations or perhaps only nanoseconds. Technology affords very different opportunities that may spark a line of inquiry previously unimagined. Teachers must embrace these opportunities and realize the implications for student learning. Rather than having a class full of students locked into a series of activities, a technology-rich learning environment allows unlimited avenues for inquiry.

 

X@XOpenTag002Social and Relational Changes

X@XCloseTag002Related to the notion of facilitating learning rather than dispensing knowledge are issues of power and social politics. If, for instance, the teacher and text are displaced as the sole arbiters of subject matter knowledge, ramifications follow for power relationships in classrooms. Many students may feel empowered by the freedom to learn, explore, and critique knowledge as it comes to them (or is created) in new media. Students are often thrilled to realize that, perhaps for the first time, they know more about the topic at hand than their teacher. Whether true or not, topics defined by texts and teachers limit the potential for students to experience feelings of expertise beyond that of their peers and teachers. Arguably, students who feel empowered as learners are more highly motivated to learn and are generally more successful in their efforts to do so. A great example is the act of publishing written products to the Web. Upon realizing their work is now accessible to millions of people, students cannot help but feel a sense of pride, ownership, and expertise as their words and ideas are shared publicly. Teachers can capitalize on this power easily if goals are shifted to empowerment of the learner.

Another issue related to social and relational contexts is exemplified by the practice of the second author. In this case, she has used technology to expand notions of "community" in her classroom. Her elementary students have online pen pals in various countries, converse with NASA scientists about topics of interest, and contribute local wildlife data to a global database accessible by scientists and students around the world. Again, technology affords a shift in world-view to a more global notion of community and collaboration. Teachers must embrace this shift and capitalize on it pedagogically.

Finally, and also related to arguments made above, technology has the potential to dramatically alter learning contexts. It has been documented that most children do not view television as a media that demands much cognitive attention (Solomon 1997). As a result, when watching instructional television in school, children simply fail to engage their full cognitive capacities in efforts to learn. All technology has the potential to fail similarly. Teachers must first begin to define contexts for learning differently and then treat technology resources as serious contexts for stimulating learning. Using technology only for games, drill and practice activities and Web-browsing reinforces the notion that technology and alternative media are less valuable as sources for learning than textbooks, the teacher, and other more commonly used materials. Why do we place this argument in the category of social and relational change rather than psychological change? Because we believe that broadening contexts for learning undermines the power and authority of the teacher. We want students to view technology as being on an equal footing with the teacher and their textbooks.

 

X@XOpenTag003Conclusions

X@XCloseTag003If we have led readers to conclude that technology holds the key to fundamental change in teaching, learning, and schools, then we have failed in our goal. Technology is not the key to radical change - teachers are the key. As the technology boom continues, teachers will continue to be faced with increasing pressure to integrate technology into their pedagogical practices. However, little will change as long as the perceived pressure is unidirectional - meaning technology will not significantly transform the role of the teacher until teachers also begin to transform technology. Teachers are pragmatists. They seek means to desired ends and often find solutions in diverse and unlikely places. The average teacher, we argue, is a highly resourceful, intelligent, and creative person. Until teachers bring these powers to bear on technology - to re-tool and re-orient technology resources in ways that make sense for their own students, contexts, and subject matters - technology will only be used as a tool to amplify current practices. Teachers must be given the time, support, and creative space to use technology in new ways that will eventually significantly change their role in the classroom.

 

Mark Girod is a part-time science teacher at Lewton Elementary School in Lansing, MI. He is also a doctoral student in educational psychology at Michigan State University and works as a program evaluator for KLICK! - Kids Learning in Computer Klubhouses (http://www.klick.org).

E-mail: girodmar@msu.edu.

 

Shane Cavanaugh is a part-time computer teacher at Lansing Montessori Children's House in Lansing, MI. She is also a doctoral student in educational psychology at Michigan State University and works with edtech.connect and KLICK! - Kids Learning in Computer Klubhouses.

E-mail:cavanau2@msu.edu

 

The authors would like to thank Kristin White for her thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


X@XOpenTag004References

X@XCloseTag004Boice, J.E. 2000. "Technology Redefines Reading Diagnosis Instruction." Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 86-91.

Flannery, M. 1991. "Science and Aesthetics: A Partnership for Science Education." Science Education, 75(5), 577-593.

Girod, M. 1998. "Riding the Dinosaur Wave." Educational Leadership, 56(1), pp. 72-75.

Herr, Pat. 2000. "The Changing Role of the Teacher: How Management Systems Help Facilitate Teaching." Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 28-34.

Klopfenstein, Bruce C., Robert G. Berns and Patricia M. Erickson. 2000. "Hiring a Web Production Team: Moving Beyond 'Do It Yourself.'" Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 73-76.

Mishra, P. and M. Girod. 2000. "Designing Learning through Learning to Design." (under review)

Ohler, J. 2000. "Art Becomes the Fourth R." Educational Leadership, 58(2), 16-19.

Pea, R.D. 1985. "Beyond Amplification: Using the Computer to Reorganize Mental Functioning." Educational Psychologist, 20(4), 167-182.

Solomon, G. 1997. "Of Mind and Media: How Culture's Symbolic Forms Affect Learning and Thinking." Phi Delta Kappan, January, 375-380.

Zirkle, Chris. 2000. "Preparing Technical Instructors through Multiple Delivery Systems: A Working Model." Technological Horizons in Education. 28(4), 62-68.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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