How Can Technology Benefit Our Students?

 

 

As we move into the 21st century, technology has become more and more important to our society. Computers are becoming more affordable and are depended upon by many people to aid them in their daily lives. Since computers are becoming more affordable to purchase, schools have been able to purchase more computers for their students. As more and more computers are purchased, a growing need for technology education emerges. What is the importance of integrating technology into a student's curriculum? What benefits do our students receive from technology? There are many ways that technology can benefit students.

In an article published by Technology and Learning magazine, interviews were conducted with some leading research experts on how they felt about technology's impact on education. The interviews were all conducted by Judy Salpeter, who is the Editor of the magazine. One of Salpeter's interviews was with Cheryl Lemke, who is the executive director of the Milken Exchange on Education Technology. The Milken Exchange is accelerating a national agenda for technology in schools through increasing public awareness, supporting new designs for teaching and learning, and reflecting on research and practice. Lemke has identified six ways that technology can positively impact schools. She has stated that,

 

"The question is not if technology will impact the nation's public schools, but rather if that impact will accelerate the educational progress of children and youth, positively or negatively" (Salpeter, 1999).

 

Lemke says that the first way that technology can benefit students is that it can accelerate, enrich and deepen basic skills. Under the right conditions, students learn faster with more depth of understanding using technology (Salpeter, 1999). David Dwyer is vice president of advanced learning technologies for Computer Curriculum Corporation. He leads the company's Educational Enterprise Group and develops next-generation solutions for the learning, management and communication needs of schools. In an interview with Judy Salpeter (1999), he says that in one study conducted by the University of Michigan, the study compared the use of computers for basic skill instruction with paper and pencil approaches and found increases of 10 to 15 percent in the computer-using group. Another finding that studies showed was an increase in efficiency. It took students 30 percent less time to learn the same things with help from the computer.

Saul Rockman is a consultant on education and technology for corporations, state and federal agencies, and educational organizations. He founded Rockman ET AL in 1990. Rockman ET AL is an independent research and consulting firm specializing in technology and learning. In an interview with Judy Salpeter (1999), he said that,

"students who use the technology for real communication with a real audience are much more capable of talking to adults because they are getting used to it...technology facilitates cooperative learning, encourages new roles for learners and the ability to work independently."

Lemke's second way that technology can positively impact education is that,

 

"Technology can be a great tool for motivating and engaging students. Brain research shows that if students are engaged, they learn more. If we're able to connect them to real life situations, they're much more interested...what a powerful motivation technology is and what a broad range of skills- scientific analysis, communication skills, problem-solving- are involved." (Salpeter, 1999).

 

Dwyer agrees. He said that research has shown, "a remarkable improvement in writing fluency when students were able to compose at the computer- they were more engaged and wrote more per minute" (Salpeter, 1999). Dwyer notes that teachers also reported that students wrote more because it was easier for students to write. He said that, "word processing didn't automatically make them write better but they became more engaged in their writing" (Salpeter, 1999). Dwyer also noted that research has found that as students became more fluent at writing, over time, their vocabulary became more descriptive in the types and numbers of different words that they used (Salpeter, 1999).

An important aim in technology education is to "develop positive attitudes towards their peers and understanding the value of working with others" (Stables, 1999). Technology activities have the potential to allow all children to succeed. Children develop respect for each other because they realize that everyone can engage in technological activities. This fosters a nurturing learning environment. Children need opportunities to work on activities that they can succeed at, but still have room to offer them challenges, where they have the safety for risk taking and failure (Stables, 1999).

Lemke's third positive way is that, "Technology in schools can also be a wonderful link to between academics and emerging practices in professional fields" (Salpeter, 1999). Lemke notes that for example, math and science courses are conducted in different ways today than it used to be. She says that,

 

"Today practicing mathematicians and scientists in many cases are not looking for single answers buy rather a host of answers through the design of models and simulations...Let's prepare our students for their futures by exposing them to the latest field practices" (Salpeter, 1999).

Kay Stables (1999) comments that,

"Once primary teachers become involved in a technology activity, they realize how much they can draw both on their general teaching skills and also on work from other areas such as science, mathematics, and art".

Lemke's fourth positive way that technology can positively impact schools is that it can,

"dramatically increase the viability of students in the work force...workers fluent in technology will make the workplace more effective, increase productivity and help ensure America's competitiveness in a global economy. The time to begin preparing our children for the realities of the new American workplace is now" (Salpeter, 1999).

 

Preparing children for the future use of technology needs to begin when they're young. It was believed that teaching children skills at a young age was deemed appropriate. Kay Stables (1999), believes differently. She says that,

"There is increasing acceptance that general technological competencies are more appropriate for young children in a rapidly changing technological society than are specific skills. By developing a more generic potential from a young age, this next generation may be more comfortable, confident, and secure in their own capability".

Lemke's fifth way that technology has a positive impact on education is that technology can strengthen teaching. She says that technology is, "a powerful learning tool to add to a teacher's repertoire. It allows teachers to adjust and adapt the system to meet diverse student needs by focusing on student-centered learning" (Salpeter, 1999).

Technology can be a powerful tool for teachers to use, if they know how to use it. Kay Stables (1999), commented that when computer technology first came out, many teachers were confused. They weren't sure if technology meant computers, applied science, or craft work. She says that very few teachers are trained in technology education and recommends four key areas to address to help teachers move forward.

1) Developing an understanding of what technology education is.

2) Helping teachers see how the work they currently do and the experience they have can be adapted to allow technology activities to grow and be added on.

3) Providing teachers with hands-on experience with technology activities and giving teachers a broad range of manageable teaching activities to start from.

4) Providing opportunities for teachers to share their practices and good ideas with each other to build a repertoire of successful activities.

 

Once teachers have found that they have a competent background in technology education, another concern pops up. How can a teacher fit what he or she has learned into the curriculum? Al Rogers (1999), from the Global School Net Foundation, believes that for teachers to effectively teach students using technology, they have to change their teaching practices and beliefs. The educational system requires teachers to teach a prescribed sequence of information. Today Rogers believes that as we enter the 21st century, he says,

" We need teachers who are able and willing to become side-by-side learners with their students. Teachers who are not afraid to acknowledge, "I don't know", and then can turn around and say, "Let's find out together". These teachers need to know how to use various technologies which can not only answer questions, but create questions as well. We need teachers who understand that learning in today's world is not just a matter of mastering a static body of knowledge, but also being able to discover the rapidly changing ideas about that knowledge itself".

Once teachers are able to accept becoming side-by-side learners alongside their students, technology will become a powerful tool to aid their students' learning.

Finally, Lemke's last point was that, "technology can also be a catalyst for change in schools" (Salpeter, 1999). Lemke goes on to say that,

 

"The decline in public confidence in America's public schools is due in part to the incompatibility of an educational model developed during the industrial age with the educational requirements of today's information-based society" (Salpeter, 1999).

In an article by James Lerman (1998), he says that "many students drop out of school, mentally or physically because they don't see the connection between real life and schoolwork". Technology can provide that connection between real life and schoolwork. Lemke states that,

 

"Teachers are realizing that there's more information that they can possibly provide students. Instead they need to put tools into the hands of kids so they know how to ask questions, evaluate sources, hypothesize and communicate effectively" (Salpeter, 1999).

 

I have always believed that technology can have a positive impact on students if used properly. As a technology coordinator at my school, I have seen how motivated students are when they come up to the computer lab to work on their projects. There are hardly any discipline problems and all of the children are engaged and focused on their work. If only our teachers had more computers available to them in their classrooms, what an impact that would have on the students learning. I truly think that teachers need more technology resources and aids to help them use technology the way it is meant to be used with their students. Many teachers still use the computer only for word processing and for their students to play games on it. There are some teachers however, at my school, who brilliantly use technology to enhance their teaching and further makes learning exciting for their students.

I recently interviewed Wendy Okamoto, a former T3-er and the Computer Teacher/Tech Coordinator at Stevenson Middle School in Oahu. I asked her what the technology program at their school was like. She said that she was responsible for teaching the 6th grade exploratory wheel and the 8th grade Introduction to Computer classes. She also said that each teacher at her school is responsible for developing their own curriculum for their classes. She said that each teacher at her school is responsible for developing their own curriculum for their classes based on the National Educational Technology Standards, which was the foundation for the new Hawaii Educational Technology Content Standards. Stevenson Middle School is scheduled to be networked this school year and each teacher has at least one computer that will be accessible to the Internet.

When I asked her how she felt technology benefits her students, she replied that in the classroom, technology is used as an educational tool to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity. Examples of projects that they have done in the past include, letter writing, personalized cookbooks, newsletter, and designing T-shirts. Students also use technology to communicate and interact with their peers. Last year, students communicated with a private school on the Windward side via email and chat rooms. Students also use technology to locate, evaluate and collect information to publish web pages.

In conclusion, there are many ways that technology can benefit our students. All it takes is a teacher's desire to learn how technology can be used to enhance their teaching and be open to new ideas. As a first year technology coordinator, I am discovering the wealth of information out there on the Internet- something that as a regular classroom teacher, I've never had the time to sit down and search the web for ideas. I think more classroom teachers need to know the kinds of technology that are available to them. Last year, our school finally put together a school web page. This was the first time that many teachers learned how a web page was put together and discovered the many opportunities that can arise from having a school web page. Therefore I believe that technology has a positive impact on everyone- students as well as teachers- and creates an exciting and challenging atmosphere in any school environment.