Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Importance of Organization with Technology and Teaching

Computers began to appear in classrooms almost 30 years ago. How best to integrate them into the learning process remains a popular topic. This guest post, written by Lindsey Wright, offers practical advice.

While the use of technology has been touted for awhile now as an essential part of the educational process, many teachers and administrators are baffled by how to integrate computers and other technological tools into the classroom environment and make them a meaningful part of learning. It’s not simply enough to say that you’ll designate time each week for students to work on computers or require them to type their papers. To truly integrate current technology with curriculum, you must be crafty, think outside of the box, and develop new organizational methods for classroom management.

Successful Models for Computer Integration

Science teacher Judi Heitz wrote an article way back in 1999 discussing the problems she encountered working with students. While some of her ideas are a bit dated, especially in an era in which the online school has become increasingly prevalent, her solutions for integrating computers into students’ academic lives still hold up. The first thing that is essential to successful classroom integration of technology is in making its use meaningful to goals of the lesson. Simply letting the computer be a means to an end is not enough.

As such, Heitz required students to communicate with each other via e-mail and use search engines to develop models for a genetically engineered product. While the computing requirements she set forth for the project might seem a bit lax for the current generation, the principles remain sound. Teaching students to work cooperatively across a digital medium is essential. So is teaching them to evaluate internet sources to broaden their knowledge base and develop original theory and thought. While genetically engineered products might not have been part of the basic science curriculum, by asking students to create their own genetically engineered products, Heitz introduced them to a new level of genetics and led them to explore it. Ultimately, as Heitz noted, the project taught the students to explore, to evaluate sources, and to work with one another to develop new levels of knowledge.

Another teacher, Kenneth Beare, who specializes in ESL, makes a number of excellent suggestions in his article “How to Use a Computer in Class” for successfully organizing a lesson that uses the computer. However, the primary thought to keep in mind when developing the lesson is to keep it simple. Having students dashing willy-nilly from the Internet to word processing to spreadsheets doesn’t help them or you. To create a meaningful lesson, the computer should be used as a facilitating tool. The goal should be to master a particular aspect of the curriculum while at the same time mastering a particular aspect of computing.

Beare also emphasizes that, as lessons are typically divided into warm-ups, introduction of materials, class work, and summary, it behooves the teacher to incorporate the computer aspect of the curriculum into at least two areas of the lesson. For an example, the teacher might begin class one day by introducing the topic and including a discussion of how the computer will be used during class work. During the introduction, the students will model the teacher’s use of the computer. Following this, the students will work to complete the class assignment, using the computer as a tool. The next day, a review of the previous day’s material might require them to complete a smaller-scale version of the assignment as a warm-up.

It is also essential that computers be integrated in such a way that students expect them to be part of the lesson. If it’s not possible for every student to have a computer at his or her desk, a computer work center is an excellent solution. As detailed on Scholastic.com, there are a number of solutions that will keep computer centers running smoothly and facilitate independent use and detailed investigation by students. For instance:
  • Index cards or posters that provide computer instructions can help to keep students oriented as to the basic goals and rules of computer use.
  • Developing activities or assigning students to research or work on a particular website that corresponds to the lesson keeps the computer center relevant and current.
  • Lessons completed in one session tend to work best at computer centers, unless the students can work on the same lesson for several weeks.

By maintaining center organization and encouraging relevant study, the teacher can organize the computer center to foster creative thinking. These centers, due to their somewhat informal nature, are also great for encouraging group work. Keeping extra chairs at the computer center further encourages this, reinforcing the collaborative nature that characterizes good research and digital learning.

Computers don’t belong just in the school computer lab, nor should they be used only as word processors. Rather, the careful organization and integration of computers into the classroom means that students, regardless of their technological capacities at the outset, will learn valuable skills while broadening their knowledge of different subjects. Ultimately with careful lesson planning, a creative mindset, and a willingness to experiment in their organizational styles to discover what works best for them, teachers can integrate computer-based learning seamlessly into their classrooms.

Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.
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