Technology Integration: What Experts Say

Educators and researchers share their views on why technology integration is an important strategy for 21st century classrooms.

Educators and researchers share their views on why technology integration is an important strategy for 21st century classrooms.
Boy reading and using post-its to break down concepts
Credit: Michael Warren

James Paul Gee

James Paul Gee is a Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University, and faculty affiliate of the Games, Learning, and Society group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

"One of the reasons people are interested in video games and related technologies is because they put you into worlds where you have to solve problems. One thing games don’t really do is separate learning and assessment. They don’t say learn some stuff and then later we’ll take a test. They’re giving you feedback all the time about the learning curve that you’re on. All you do is get assessed, every moment, as you try to solve a problem. If you don’t solve it, the game says, "You fail, try again," and then you solve it. Then you have a boss, which is a test, and you pass the test. (Games are) part of the solution of getting kids in school to learn not just knowledge as facts, but knowledge as something you produce. And in the modern world, you produce collaboratively."

"How are we really going to reform schools when the people going into teaching are not really digitally savvy -- even when they’re young -- not as savvy as the kids? The first thing the teacher needs to do is to understand what kids do and the range of it; she has to understand what her own children do. Let them teach you how they engage with games and other digital media. Let them talk about it, reflect on it, because this is very good for their learning. For them to become meta-aware about what they do, how they do it, why they do it, what more they could do with it -- that itself is a good teaching tool. So the first thing you’d need to do is be an ethnographer of your own kids, with respect for their knowledge and letting them teach it, and for the diversity of kids' interests. The second thing you can do is that you can find the resources and other people all over the web who are using a variety of digital tools in different settings and schools. Your setting might be very restrictive, or your setting might be very liberal, but you can go and find other people out there doing it."

Watch the full Edutopia.org interview with James Paul Gee.

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Mary Beth Hertz

Mary Beth Hertz is an elementary computer teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and a regular blogger on Edutopia. You can read more of her work on her own blog at Philly-teacher.

"What do we really mean when we talk about "technology integration?" To me, the term means that technology is not taught as a separate class, but integrated into the classroom. It also means that students use technology to learn content and show their understanding of content, not just their expertise with a tool."

"However, how do we get to that point? Despite the popularity of the term "digital native," we should not assume that our students know how to use technology to create quality projects that show deep understanding of content. Therefore, technology integration may not look the way we want it to until our students move beyond familiarity with tools and into being able to choose the correct tool for the job. It takes time for students to become familiar enough with a tool to really employ it for learning beyond the tool itself. However, if we take the time to let our students explore tools with guided practice, we can ensure that your classroom will move toward true integration."

"We cannot expect our students to jump in and create a meaningful piece of work that shows their applied understanding of a concept using a tech tool if we do not give them time to really explore not only the content, but the tool itself. While it does tack on some time to completing a project, it is worth it in the end to know that your students have had a chance to investigate questions they may have, for you to address any misconceptions and for a student to have a good grasp on content and/or a tool before they are asked to apply what they know. By taking the time at the beginning, you will save yourself time while students are creating. They will be able to focus more on the content and less on the tool."

Read Mary Beth Hertz's blog on Edutopia.org for practical advice on technology integration at the elementary school level.

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Donald G. Knezek

Donald G. Knezek is the chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and is recognized globally for his leadership in collaboration, planning, and standards development related to technology in schools.

"Learning in a connected, technology-rich environment enables young people to undertake meaningful experiences as they engage with peers, celebrities, relatives, and experts worldwide. They are able to connect with both formal and informal learning communities to communicate the results of their work -- be it new proposals, new knowledge or solutions, persuasive advocacy (in a variety of interactive media formats), or creative ideas and expression -- in ways that previous generations could only imagine. The educational opportunities that technology gives to students are not only amazing, they are transformative!"

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Angela Maiers

Angela Maiers is an award-winning educator, speaker, consultant, and social-media evangelist. She has helped to define new literacy and Web 2.0 technologies. She is coauthor of The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching & Learning.

"Learning in the 21st century is all about social learning -- working on a goal, idea, or project with a group of diverse learners. In a culture organized around learning through projects, we have a whole different way of organizing time, instruction, even the language in the classroom. Learners need to be able to cooperate, to manage tasks together, to accomplish goals, to contribute. Technology allows a community of learners to do those things together."

"Imagine trying to manage your own information stream today without your RSS, without Twitter. Imagine doing your research in isolation. What if you were unable to run an idea by your online community and ask, what do you think about this? How could you curate, manage, and connect without integrating technology? In the same way, how can we expect our students to reach standards at even a basic level without integrating technology into learning?"

"The key is to think about how technology improves the learning culture. How does it offer individuals the opportunity to take more responsibility for contributing? How does it make them be better consumers? How can technology increase their commitment by making audiences or experiences more real? Technology can help us increase the potential of all those things."

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Andrew Marcinek

Andrew Marcinek is an instructional technologist at Burlington High School in Burlington, MA. He is also a regular blogger at Edutopia.org. Follow him on Twitter @andycinek.

"Why are we concerned about using "new" tools before we have mastered the ones we already have? I don't want my students to move to the next skill set before they have mastered their current set. As teachers we model this daily, yet we are so anxious to find the next tech tool or create the next buzzword in education. At this pace we are spreading ourselves too thin and short-changing our students. It is not the way to integrate technology or 21st century learning skills."

"Educators should not pace education at the same pace at which technology moves. It is far too fast, and too sudden. Technology is old when you buy it, however, content and skill sets have been thriving, although evolving, for years. When we combine the two tracks we can create a dynamic classroom environment. If we focus on a few tech tools a year and evolve those tools each year or each semester we will be giving our students a rich, dynamic curriculum."

"Take this approach and pace in your own classroom this year. Allow your colleagues time to learn, evolve, and master before you start shouting WIKI! MOODLE! GOOGLE! DIIGO! TWITTER! in their face. As my uncle once wrote in my 21st Birthday card, 'Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint.'"

Read Andrew Marcinek's blog on Edutopia.org for practical advice on technology integration at the high school level.

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Marc Prensky

Marc Prensky is a speaker, writer, and designer in the critical areas of education and learning. He has written three books on digital game-based learning and is credited with coining the terms "digital native" and "digital immigrant". Prensky is also the founder of Spree Games, the founder and CEO of Games2train and creator of the site Social Impact Games.

"Today, even in many schools with computers, Luddite administrators (and even Luddite technology administrators) lock down the machines, refusing to allow students to access email. Many also block instant messaging, cell phones, cell phone cameras, unfiltered Internet access, Wikipedia, and other potentially highly effective educational tools and technologies, to our kids' tremendous frustration. Even where technology has not been blocked, much of the digitized educational materials and records are just examples of using computers to collect old stuff (such as data or lesson plans) in old ways (by filing). There are some educational benefits, though, including allowing teachers to access data more easily and parents to do so more extensively."

"The missing technological element is true one-to-one computing, in which each student has a device he or she can work on, keep, customize, and take home. For true technological advance to occur, the computers must be personal to each learner. When used properly and well for education, these computers become extensions of the students' personal self and brain. They must have each student's stuff and each student's style all over them (in case you haven't noticed, kids love to customize and make technology personal), and that is something sharing just doesn't allow. Any ratio that involves sharing computers -- even two kids to a computer -- will delay the technology revolution from happening."

"Some people will no doubt worry that, with all this experimentation, our children's education will be hurt. "When will we have time for the curriculum," they will ask, "and for all the standardized testing being mandated?" If we really offered our children some great future-oriented content (such as, for example, that they could learn about nanotechnology, bioethics, genetic medicine, and neuroscience in neat interactive ways from real experts), and they could develop their skills in programming, knowledge filtering, using their connectivity, and maximizing their hardware, and that they could do so with cutting-edge, powerful, miniaturized, customizable, and one-to-one technology, I bet they would complete the "standard" curriculum in half the time it now takes, with high test scores all around. To get everyone to the good stuff, the faster kids would work with and pull up the ones who were behind."

Read Prensky's Edutopia.org articles from 2008, Shaping Tech for the Classroom and Programming Is the New Literacy.

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Will Richardson

Will Richardson is a former teacher who speaks and consults nationally and internationally about the potential of Web 2.0 technologies to reshape learning. Learner in chief at Connective Learning and cofounder of Powerful Learning Practice, and he is the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.

"Real work for real purposes for real audiences -- that's the opportunity our children have today if they have technology in hand and access to the Internet. That's not to say my 11- and 13-year-old children can't do meaningful, important work without a device. But as lots of 11- and 13-year-olds are already showing, any child can now do world-changing work in ways that just weren't possible even 10 years ago. The key is the audience, the connections that they can make with others who want to share in that work. These are the action networks, learning networks that my kids will be swimming in online all of their lives. And we need to teach them how to flourish in these spaces."

Watch an Edutopia.org webinar with Will Richardson.

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Robert Simpson

Robert Simpson is the instructional technology specialist at Ferryway School in Malden, Massachusetts. He has the led the staff and students on a number of rigorous technology-infused projects, including the Saugus Ironworks Project profiled on Edutopia.org, and a Digital Media Class for middle school students through Adobe Youth Voices.

"These students are really digitally connected. We do pre-surveys with our students, where they fill out questionnaires on how they use technology in the home and here at school. And what we found is, even here at the Ferryway School with fifth graders, 90 percent of them are connected to the internet at home -- so these are digital kids. These are 21st century learners, and they demand 21st century learning in school and so that’s what we’re trying to do in these projects."

"All of our project-based units that are web-based. So the teachers have done all the really good research and constructed the different components. They’ve tapped into really rich resources that are on other people’s websites, but they constructed the structure of how the students are going to navigate through that unit. And ultimately what that does is it empowers the students to make decisions. So when they’re researching rocks and minerals they get to pick which website they want to go to, to select their rock or mineral because we give them four. On the simple machines (unit) there’s a really clever website that’s like a simulation game site. Some students have asked us, "Hey can I use this site at home?" And the teacher says, "Of course you can. That’s the idea behind the project is that we want to make this curriculum accessible to the students at home."

"The Ferryway School is where we pilot test all the new ideas. There are five K-8 schools here in Malden, and they are using the online unit. They’re getting some training but they don’t have the intensity. They don’t have all the resources. They don’t have me downstairs. But in 2004 we got a grant where we got to spend four and a half days trying to solve this problem, of how do we take this innovative thing here at the Ferryway School and share it with the whole district? So we came up with an action plan to do that and the grantors gave us $5,000 to implement it, and so we implemented the plan, so all the teachers in the district got the training. They got access to the unit. They got the strategies and they began to implement it and at different levels of competence. And the result was that when we looked at the data for the state science exam, all schools made progress, not at the same rate, but all of the sub-groups also made progress, and that kind of had light bulbs going off that this was really having an impact on student learning."

Read Simpson's Edutopia.org article about the Ferryway School's Ironworks Project.

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Kappy Cannon Steck

Kappy Cannon Steck was named South Carolina Principal of the Year in 2010. She is principal of Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina. Though most of her staff started as technology novices, they now use customizable software, interactive whiteboards, digital cameras, and more to tailor lessons to the individual needs of diverse students.

"Find those in your building that have a natural interest in technology, and invest in those folks. But you really have to be strategic with that -- you need to select teachers who are master teachers. That doesn’t mean veteran teacher. It means that a teacher who is well respected by their peers, who can ignite the fire of excitement with other teachers. And then once it begins to grow, your job as a principal is to provide what it is that they’re asking for, because before you know it, you have a school full of instructional leaders, and your instructional leaders have to be those folks that are in the classroom, knowing what kind of tools they need to do the job that they do everyday."

"It’s not about the technology. You have to start with looking at your school and the needs of your students. You know that technology is gonna be a tool, a component of what your students are going to need, and what your teachers are going to need in order to teach. You have to think of what kind of infrastructure you have. What is our district going to support? What happens when something breaks? The attitude can’t be we don‘t have it, or we can’t get it, or our building’s too old. It has to be the attitude of (not only) we can do it, but how do we do it?"

"Forest Lake is a wonderful example. Our building is fifty-three years old. We have a high number of children in poverty. We have a very high transient rate. We are extremely diverse. We have children from fifteen different countries, (speaking) thirteen different languages. It’s a wonderful place to be. It is a true microcosm of the world, and if your eye on the prize is always about your students and doing what’s in their best interests, you map out a way to make it happen. Anything is possible."

Check out Edutopia.org's Schools That Work package on technology integration and differentiated instruction at Forest Lake Elementary School.

This article originally published on 9/7/2011

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