Integrating technology in the classroom should be about exploiting the here and now of the available technology and this brings me to me second point. It is easy today to overlook and misuse much of the available technology as we use it as much as we all turn on the radio in our car or watch television. However, did you know that these one the best ICT tools and resources students can use to develop their ICT capability? Generic software or content-free software is ideal for this purpose because it allows students to use computers as tools. It can be used in many different ways and the ICT techniques students learn are transferrable throughout its use in the curriculum as content-free software is widely incorporated into student learning activities. They also allow you as a teacher to challenge students intellectually. In addition, students have full control along with the added bonus that the decision making is quite high thus promoting growth in higher order skills. These are the attributes and capabilities that are desirable in the 21st century. So whilst you are directing students to complete an ICT task, you as the teacher can capitalise on this opportunity and help them fully develop their ICT capability.
In relation to higher order skills, let me just add as well that along with learning new ICT techniques, students will also need to understand the process of deciding the appropriateness of using a computer for achieving a task or creating a solution. To achieve this, will simply require you to provide purpose activities in meaningful contexts.
Evaluating your choices of ICT Tools and Resources
Now that we have established that the best technology in the classroom to integrate is that of generic or content-free software, Bennett (1997, p.21 as cited in Kennewell, 2000, p. 105) points out four key questions to answer when determining the educational potential. These include:
- What features and facilities does the software provide which might be used to extend children’s learning?
- How easy are these features to use?
- Will the children need to be instructed in their use before or during their use of the software?
- What is the educational purpose underlying the child’s use of the software? (e.g. to develop ICT skills? To learn how to use the software? To use the software as a means to an end? To develop communication skills and knowledge?).
If your lesson is numeracy focused, Easingwood and Williams (2004) can help determine if the software will actually meet the objectives of the lesson. For example, does the software you want to use have the flexibility and is sufficiently interactive? Interaction, from my point of view, falls in alongside allowing students to have full control – a point I raised earlier. Although, there are software that is interactive but when the computer is in control like Integrated Learning Systems or subject-specific software. Then there is the question as to whether it will allow collaboration amongst students. He continues to raise questions which he believes are important for software that you intend to purchase. Coincidently, you may already be aware of generic forms of software that you can use and which is readily available. It is my view that these are the better options as not many teachers have the time for anything else.
Integrated Learning Systems – Do they work?
When the computer is in control of the student there is little to no development in their capability. Your aim may be to solely facilitate the learning of a subject such as literacy and numeracy and this is fine if that is your goal. However, don’t expect too much from them technology wise. Integrated learning systems requires minimal capability on the part of students and demands more attention from teachers in order to access and analyse students’ progress. So in fact, it will do more for teachers than it will for students in relation to developing their capability in ICT. No matter which subject you use them in the result will always be the same.
Are they worth investing in?
Whether or not an ILS is effective depends a lot on the quality of teacher intervention. Research also shows that if they are to have an impact on a student’s literacy and numeracy learning (as they are traditionally used for), teachers must first undergo training in the system. Training to be able to go through the system and analyse and diagnose the results of a student’s progress.
The widespread use of ILS across the curriculum also raises questions as to whether they beneficial for special education. Studies have indicated that a base line of ICT skills would need to be identified before students would even be able to interact with the system. For example, do they know how to use Delete or Backspace, are they able to transfer visual attention from keyboard to screen etc. Therefore, if ILS is to be effective then it must employ strategies that meets the needs of these students.