2003 - 04 Fellow,
The Sudikoff Family Institute for Education & New Media
UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies
Since the emergence of the Internet and dramatic expansion of personal
computers in education, business and everyday life, there have been fierce debates over
whether and how to employ computers in K-12 education. At first, there was a
generational divide with younger teachers and some students putting computers to use in
the classroom and discovering along the way how information technology could
contribute to learning. For many educators comfortably conditioned by traditional
teaching methods, however, the advent of technology was not a welcomed change. Yet
with the enthusiastic embrace of the “information superhighway” by the Clinton
administration and explosive development of the Internet in the 1990s, many educators
eventually came to see that computers could play a critically important role in teaching.
As the classroom itself began to change with the integration of technology, the role of the
teacher has inevitably changed, as well. With technology delivering an ever-accelerating
learning curve that everyone must keep up with, teachers have begun to see that they
must learn to work differently with their students in order for education to remain
relevant and effective.
In the late 1990s, many in education, government, and among the media and
public recognized a “digital divide” in which some school districts and classrooms were
“wired” and had up-to-date computer technology, while others did not. Accordingly,
there were efforts undertaken by government, business, and educators to wire classrooms
and make computer technology available to ever-greater numbers.
Yet while many teachers and students are engaging in innovative forms of research
and novel projects, there are still many traditional teachers who resist learning new
computer skills and do not want to bring computer-based technologies into their classrooms.
Yet these technologies carry a transformative power, and many schools, recognizing this,
are now requiring that teachers make use of computer-mediated instruction. Students today
are exposed to a barrage of new technologies outside of the classroom, including home
computers, email, and text messaging, and many possess greater technological skill than
their teachers. This has shifted a dynamic between teachers and their students, forcing
teachers to engage in a learning process themselves.
Teachers have to develop the ability to demonstrate to their students how these
technologies can be used for academic purposes, and convey to their students the
educational advantages of computers and the Internet. This means acquiring and teaching
new literacies, involving teachers and students in innovative types of research projects, and
interacting in novel ways as everyone learns to use new technology and media.
Indeed, to meet the challenges of an always-evolving high-tech society, teachers
today need to develop multiple forms of computer and information literacy in order to
help improve education. This means using technology in the classroom to illustrate lesson
topics; teaching students how to use the Internet and information technology to research
topics; and using technology to enhance education outside the classroom, ideally in ways
that involve students in the learning process.
While computer literacy is usually interpreted in narrow, technical terms,
concerning how to use different computer programs, a broader conception would involve
learning how to access and evaluate information, using the technology for research and
discussion of issues, and even producing Web Sites, blogs, or other forms of Internet
culture. To achieve these goals, teachers need to involve students in hands-on projects
that make them active participants in the learning process, rather than passive receptacles
of information. Group projects can also spark curiosity, and make the learning experience
Merely putting computers in a lab or classroom will not necessarily have
beneficial effects; there are important preconditions that must be met before technology
can enhance learning. At the most basic, many schools lack adequate technical support
and the expertise that will enable teachers to make effective use of information
technology. Some teachers simply do not have a clear idea of how they can actually use
information technology to better teach their subject matter, and their students.
Yet many teachers are developing highly promising projects that make productive
use of information technology, and in some cases students themselves are taking the lead
and helping produce instructive educational material. Indeed, some students may be more
advanced in their use of computers than their teachers and are often willing and able to
share their skills with their teachers and classmates. The result is a changing classroom
and learning environment that promises to re-involve students in the learning process
while cultivating multiple literacies that will be of use in further education, future job
endeavors and everyday life.
To begin, it is useful for teachers to start with assignments that do not require
specialized computer knowledge and skills. Teachers can take a topic from current events
or an issue from an existing course, and assign students to use a search engine such as
www.google.com to search for three or four items on a specific topic. They can then ask
their students, how useful was the material for clarifying the topic or issue at hand? A
further exercise might explore what limitations students encountered while using Internet
materials, as opposed to books from the library or textbook materials.
Through this process, teachers must advance their own "information literacy" skills
and learn to discern the quality of material their students are accessing. Teachers, along with
students, will quickly learn that some Internet sites may contain misinformation and be
highly biased, while others will be educational and instructive. Just as students need to learn
how to use the library to access the most relevant and sound print material, both teachers
and students must also become Internet-literate and learn to critically evaluate the online
information they access.
With technology in the classroom, teachers must become open-minded themselves,
and recognize that learning new processes and skills is an ongoing necessity. Although this
involves added work, there are many imaginative ways of using technology to engage
students in the learning process.
High school students, for example, can learn a more advanced use of information
technology that would include developing a course Web Site. Here students could put in
hyperlinks to relevant course material from reputable Internet sources on the topic one is
teaching. Obviously, developing a Web Site involves some technical skill, although there is
often someone in the school computer lab who is able to undertake the project and in some
cases students themselves might be able to develop the Web Site. The teacher can then have
students do research to add to the site, which is an ideal way for everyone, teachers included,
to develop website construction skills, and learn to publish online. An additional plus this
exercise provides is that classes can expand upon the site from year to year, to provide
important teaching resources that can make material available to an Internet-wide audience
around the globe.
Another shift for teachers comes with adopting a more flexible mindset about how
the lesson plan should flow; teachers need to get comfortable with the idea of not teaching
all their students the same information at the same time. Since most classrooms do not have
enough computers to enable all students to use them simultaneously, teachers can rotate
students to different projects, so that while some work on computers, others will utilize
textbooks or other materials.
Next, if there is access to computer labs and technical support, teachers can also set
up a class bulletin board or discussion forum on a Web Site and have students log-in to
discuss a certain topic. Students can be assigned to make comments on topics studied in the
classroom, share information or ideas, and comment on other students’ postings. Students
could also be assigned to search for and post Internet addresses (i.e. urls) of interesting sites
on the topic discussed and to comment on what they learned from the site and why they
think it is reliable and educationally useful.
A more advanced use of the Internet for high school students, discussed in a recent
issue T.H.E. Journal (Ferdig and Trammell 2004), would be to have students develop
Weblogs, or blogs, that consist of student postings on specific topics. Blogs can range from
personal diaries discussing what students are reading, learning, and doing in relation to the
course to posting hyperlinks to useful Internet sites to debate over issues being discussed in
class or of current topical interests. There are several Weblog sites, like
www.schoolblogs.com or www.blogger.com) that provide free Weblog technology and
there have been recent articles on how students are taking to blogging and making it a highly
involving and interesting cultural forum (Nussbaum 2004).
Such participatory learning projects thus not only provide real life experience of
Internet research, production, or discussion, but help prepare students for later life
activities, ranging from preparation for jobs of various kinds to giving them the social
and communicative skills necessary to be a good citizen and active in politics and social
life. As we evolve into the future, Internet and other multimedia technologies will even
be more pervasive, thus preparing students to become active subjects and participants in
computer culture. Teachers face the challenge of transforming their classroom to make
learning more relevant for the contemporary era and preparing students to actively
engage and participate in the learning process and the society of tomorrow.
Ferdig, R. and Trammell, K. 2004. “Content Delivery in the ‘Blogsphere.’” T.H.E. Journal,
Nussbaum, E. “My So-Called Blog.” New York Times, January 11, 2004: D1.
Author’s note: illustrative material could include pictures of Web sites, bulletin boards, and