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What Does "Technology Integration" Mean?

Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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One reason why I love blogging is the chance to get a variety of responses to my ideas and thoughts. A reader of my last post commented:

"This article describes how to help children learn to use an unfamiliar computer program. Is that what 'integrating technology' means?"

This got me thinking: 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. As I stated in my previous post, 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.

I see various levels of integration, with the ultimate goal being seamless integration.

  • Sparse: Technology is rarely used or available. Students rarely use technology to complete assignments or projects.
  • Basic: Technology is used or available occasionally?often in a lab rather than the classroom. Students are comfortable with one or two tools and sometimes use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.
  • Comfortable: Technology is used in the classroom on a fairly regular basis. Students are comfortable with a variety of tools and often use these tools to create projects that show understanding of content.
  • Seamless: Students employ technology daily in the classroom using a variety of tools to complete assignments and create projects that show a deep understanding of content.

This is by no means perfect, but is a starting point to think about how technology integration looks in your own classroom. In addition, your classroom may move through these levels over the course of the year.

To get to "seamless," you must ask yourself:

  • What skills are applied to nearly all tools? (i.e. saving a file, naming a file, finding a file)
  • How many different tools will you introduce this year? (How many is too many?)
  • How will technology help your students better understanding content--will it push them to deeper understanding?
  • What level of integration do you want in your classroom by the end of the school year?

Of course, you often do not have a choice about how integrated our classrooms are due to lack of availability. You many never move past the 'basic' level if this is the case, though grants, Donors Choose projects and grabbing lab time whenever you can will help your class move toward a higher level of integration. Remember, even a simple tool like Flip Cams can give your students a chance to connect more deeply with content through technology.

At what level of integration is your classroom? How would you define levels of technology integration?

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Mary Beth Hertz

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

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Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Thanks Monika for sharing that resource (I'm just a *little* late in responding to my comments on this post!)

[quote]great post Mary Beth.

as you say.. seamless is key.

and to get there - seems it has to be per choice/need, not a sell or push.

we're working on this: top left to bottom right, similar to your chart, top to bottom.

we're thinking add one local and one virtual name to each square as a resource person as well.[/quote]

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

I agree, CarolArc that "digital native" is a misnomer. We need to teach students how to create, collaborate and make sense of all of the information that is at their fingertips. They don't inherently know how.

[quote]Great post! I have to laugh at people who say that digital natives know more about "technology" than non-natives. It's not what they know, but how they use it. Maybe the statement should be, (most) "digital natives" know how to use a cell phone, text, download music and play games better...[/quote]

Nancy White's picture
Nancy White
21st Century Learning & Innovation Specialist

Great post, Mary Beth. I would add one more element to your description of "seamless." That would be that at the point of information need, when a question comes up that neither the teacher or the students can answer, they hop on their digital device or any available computer in the classroom to search for the answer. I do many classroom observations in my job, and am frustrated when questions come up in a classroom conversation and no one makes an effort (except maybe me and my iPhone) to search for answers or clues to an answer. It isn't just about using the right technology to show your learning, but using technology at the point of need to find answers.

Renee Scott's picture
Renee Scott
Fifth grade teacher, Tennessee

I would consider myself "basic". I had a computer and a projector in my classroom. I would use the projector to present material, but the students did not use it frequently. I teach "computer" to the 4th grade class. They are learning basic, but not necessarily using it to show understanding of subject...just the tool.
This year I have a Smartboard in my classroom. Do you have a suggestion on the best ways to use it?

Ira Socol's picture
Ira Socol
Public School Educational Technology and Innovation Director, Researcher, UDL, SpEd, History, Motivations

You know I totally believe that students must go, "beyond familiarity with tools and into being able to choose the correct tool for the job," it is what "TEST" and "Toolbelt Theory" are about, but I think there's a vital fifth level we all must be aspiring to - Tool Adaptation and Tool Creation - or, in other words - "Consciousness and Creation."

It's really important that we move students beyond the "appification" consumer culture of Steve Jobs into a place where they take control of technology and begin to build their own solutions. This, of course, gets messy and messier, but in my mind, nothing is more important.

"Technology" - in Heidegger's words - "is the art of manipulating the world," and our goal for every student should be to become a master at that manipulation.

Ira Socol's picture
Ira Socol
Public School Educational Technology and Innovation Director, Researcher, UDL, SpEd, History, Motivations

I'll look forward to that Mary Beth. Been to Hackasaurus, and Hackathons, but not Hackjams, though we worked today to import CoderDojo from Ireland to Virginia. CoderDojoCville should be up and running in March.

Tryggvi Thayer's picture

I'm a bit late to this conversation but wanted to make a point or two anyway. I hope people are still reading this because I think this is very relevant to this discussion.

This is a very helpful elaboration on levels of a specific type of technology integration in education. However, in a lot of the data and literature available it is by no means clear that what is meant by "technology integration" actually has anything to do with learners' use of technology as one might be led to assume from this article. In response to some of my students' questions on technology integration last year, I wrote an article ( describing at least 3 types of integration suggested in research and policy literature: Technology integration in learning (TiL), technology integration in the classroom (TiC), and technology integration in instructors' duties (TiI).

It seems to me that the levels of technology integration described here crossover between TiC and TiL. I wonder whether this is really a question of levels of integration (i.e. going from TiC to TiL) or whether it is more helpful to think of these as distinct types of integration.

I find it helpful to make the distinction between TiC and TiL because TiL allows us to consider a range of important types of activities that depend on technology that occur outside of formal educational environments, ex. video games, online social interactions, etc. This prompts us to consider not only how technology can be used in formal educational environments but also how we can get learners to view their everyday use of technology as potentially meaningful learning activities. This can help create concrete connections between what learners' learn about technology in the classroom and how they use it outside of the classroom.

ashlyspencer's picture

Mary Beth,
You provided four levels of integration ... did you come up with these on your own or are the supported by empirical research? I completely agree with you, however I have a hard time fining any significant research discussing level of technology integration this way. Everything I find is connect with the SAMR model, TPACK model or TIM matrix, which are all great resources. However, none of these models leave room for those "sparse" individuals. These models all provide the context that technology is being used, and here's how to use it. I am more interested in the different levels in which teachers integrate, if they integrate at all. I think your four levels hits exactly what I am interested in researching.

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