Spotlight on Technology in Education
reviewed by Sedef Uzuner Smith - December 22, 2011
Spotlight on Technology in Education is a compilation of 12 essays that appeared in the Harvard Education Letter during the years 2005 to 2011. The articles are organized into three parts: Technology in the Classroom, Technology and Assessment, and Technology and School Improvement.
The variety of approaches to using technology in schools, as compiled uniquely in this book, provide a needed resource by presenting methodological insights for approaching the challenges of 21st century teaching and learning: What are the ways we can integrate technology into our classroom teaching to promote the habits of mind that are required for todays definition of learning? How do we change our assessment practices so that they allow students to demonstrate the skills of this age? And finally, how can we use innovations in computer technology to change the face of schooling and education?
Part I, Technology in the Classroom, offers teachers tools and resources useful in any elementary, middle, and high school classroom. The first chapter in Part I, Internet Research 101, exemplifies activities directed at developing or enhancing students Web research skills. These activities can be used as presented in the book or modified as necessary. The second chapter, Better Teaching with Web Tools, includes an extensive list of websites where teachers can find examples of blogs, wikis, and podcasts used as tools to develop students critical thinking and collaborative learning skills. It also provides teachers with online resources where they can get information about setting up blogs, wikis, and other Web tools free of charge for educational purposes. The third chapter, Dumb Phones, Smart Lessons, focuses on integrating cell phones into instruction to enhance student engagement. It details some examples of cell phone-enriched lessons in subject areas such as science, history, geography, foreign languages, and literature.
Chapter Four, Teaching 21st Century Skills, in Part I starts off with the question, What are 21st century skills, whos pushing them, and what does 21st century teaching look like in practice? (p. 37). A critical insight is offered as Nancy Walser points out that Teaching 21st century skills doesnt necessarily mean using a lot of technology [ ] Sometimes its simply a matter of approaching an assignment differently to allow students to demonstrate skills like teamwork, collaboration, and self-directed learning (p. 39). The suggested classroom activities and curricular adaptations allow the reader to discover how technology integration can support and nurture the specific skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, written and oral communication, creativity, self-direction, leadership, adaptability, responsibility, and global awareness) students will need to succeed in work and life in the 21st century while delivering student learning.
Chapter Five of Part I, The Classroom of Popular Culture is specifically concerned with how the principles behind the process of video-game design can be translated into classroom practice that integrates, reflects, and appreciates student agency, ownership, and control while simultaneously providing students with the skills and knowledge to become lifelong learners. In this chapter, James Paul Gee makes this noteworthy observation: Why is it that many children cant sit still long enough to finish their homework and yet will spend hours playing games on the computer? (p. 47). He then does a commendable job of reviewing the principles of learning that video games operate on. The chapter concludes with the following thought-provoking statement:
Lets ask ourselves how we can make learning in or out of school more game-like not in the sense of playing games in class, but by making the experience of learning as motivating, stimulating, collaborative, and rewarding as the experience of playing a well-designed video game (p. 54).
Part II of the book is about Technology and Assessment. The first chapter in this part, titled Online Testing, Version 1.0 (Chapter Six), focuses on computer-based assessments and the second chapter, titled Video Games Take Testing to the Next Level (Chapter Seven), focuses on game-based assessments. Each chapter presents illustrative examples of these new models of assessment as powerful ways to measure students problem solving and scientific inquiry skills. Central to the message of these chapters is the premise that investing in adaptive, technology-enhanced assessments rather than conventional, paper-and-pencil tests would reduce the potential for teaching to the test, enhance student engagement and motivation, and offer complete and reliable estimates of student ability in more efficient and less costly ways. Chapter Seven ends with a prediction from James P. Gee: This [virtual assessment] is undoubtedly where well go in the future. This is indeed a daring prediction, but what gives it credibility is that we already witness some states currently developing or administering some component of their State assessment program online a case in point is the State of Oregon mentioned in Chapter Six of the book.
The last chapter in Part II, titled The Promise of New State Tests (Chapter Eight), describes current plans and proposals for making Web-based tests more widespread across states, and moves on from there to advise assessment developers on the challenges associated with the construction and administration of such tests.
Part III of the book is about Technology and School Improvement. The first chapter of this section, Equity, Access, and Opportunity (Chapter Nine), explores the opportunities and challenges posed by the implementation of one-to-one laptop programs. The discussion on the challenges of going digital shows that the issues and dilemmas faced with laptop initiatives have less to do with technology and more to do with curriculum and teaching (p. 85). The chapter ends with a call for leadership and teacher training for the achievement of better academic results with technology and laptops in schools. Next comes a chapter on the benefits and drawbacks of virtual learning (Learning Across Distance, Chapter Ten). One important take-away message from this chapter is that teaching online is not simply a matter of moving instruction onto the Web. The real key is to customize instruction for different students with different learning needs, motivations, intelligences, aptitudes, and learning styles (p. 99).
Chapter Eleven, Hybrid Schools for the iGeneration, presents illustrations of bricks-and-clicks schools (also known as hybrid schools where a good portion of instruction occurs at the computer online in addition to some face-to-face seat time). The benefits of the hybrid model are presented throughout the chapter, yet the reader is cautioned against making simplistic inferences about its relative effectiveness compared to conventional and online schools. The question posed to the reader is not so much which model is better? but which model works best in which circumstances and which students?
Finally, the last chapter, Like Teacher, Like Student, focuses on online professional development (OPD) for teachers. The first part of the chapter addresses the benefits and capabilities of OPD, and the latter part addresses its potential obstacles. The chapter also provides a list of OPD websites. The list will come in handy for teachers who are looking to connect with other colleagues for networking, information sharing, and collaboration.
Overall, this book is a guidebook for teachers, administrators, and policy makers interested in integrating technology in K-12 education. Although it is targeted primarily to the American audience, its content would not be out of place as a text for readers in other parts of the world. One important feature of this book is that its chapters are full of practical suggestions. However, those interested in the research and/or theory base of those suggestions will not find a discussion of those topics in its pages. Another discussion missing in the book is the issue of how technology integration fit in the current standards movement that is concerned with student academic achievement. Notwithstanding these limitations, this book, with its overview of how technology is changing education, is insightful and worth reading.