The term “technology integration” is on a lot of lips these days, but what does it really mean? Is it as simple as having a bunch of computers in a school or is it more than that?
If you head over to Wikipedia and type in Technology Integration, it will tell you that the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) offers this definition of technology integration:
Curriculum integration with the use of technology involves the infusion of technology as a tool to enhance the learnign in a content area of multidisciplinary setting….. Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions – as accessible as all other classroom tools. The focus in each lesson or unit is the curriculum outcome, not the technology.
The two words that most stand out to me in the above quote are “infusion” and “select”. I work in affluent private international school. We have quite a bit of technology in the building – there are SMART boards, and iPads, MAC laptop carts and computer labs. Because of this, many would say that our school is doing just fine when it comes to technology. We are current. But, is the technology we have in “infused” into the curriculum? Are students often given the opportunity to “select” the technology tool they want to help them obtain information?
My school probably needs to take a lesson from Harrison Central High School. If you want to see technology integration in practice, you should watch this video about their school. In the accompanying article: Why Integrate Technology into the Classroom: The Reasons are Many, you’ll find this quote:
“Integrating technology into classroom instruction means more than teaching basic computer skills and software programs in a separate computer class…. Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and when technology supports curricular goals.”
I think this quote hits the nail on the head. Effective technology integration is when the use of technology in the classroom is seamlessly integrated with real-life learning. When technology devices exist as just one of the many tools in the classroom to enhance learning, I believe you have achieved technological integration. The technology does not drive the curriculum, but enhances it to provide an improved learning environment. Strong curriculum is key. Each teacher in the video at Harrison Central High School had clear learning objectives and was utilizing technology to achieve them.
It is important for schools and teachers to realize what integrating technology is NOT. Stratford Board of Education also offers an explanation. It is “NOT the use of managed instructional software, where a computer delivers content and tracks students’ progress” OR “having students go to a computer lab to learn technical skills while the classroom teacher stays behind to plan or grade papers” OR “using specialty software for drill and practice day after day”. And it most certainly “does NOT replace a teacher with a computer.”
What technology integration is is “when classroom teachers use technology to introduce, reinforce, extend, enrich, assess, and remediate student mastery of curricular targets.” It is:
…an instructional choice that generally includes collaboration and deliberate planning—and always requires a classroom teacher’s participation. It cannot be legislated through curriculum guides nor will it happen spontaneously. Someone with vision—an administrator, a teacher, or a specialist—needs to model, encourage, and enable integration, but only a classroom teacher can integrate technology with content-area teaching.
I recently had a look something called the Technology Integration Matrix. This matrix “illustrates how teachers can use technology to enhance learning for K-12 students. The TIM incorporates five characteristics of “meaningful learning environments” with five “levels of technology integration”.
The design of the matrix seems to suggest that it is best to be in the transformation stage of technology integration most of the time, but I have some problems with this. For example, if you look at the “Active” characteristic of a “meaningful learning environment” and then find the Transformation column, you will find this:
Students have options on how and why to use different technology tools, and often extend the use of tools in unconventional ways. Students are focused on what they are able to do with the technology. The technology tools become an invisible part of the learning.
The teacher serves as a guide, mentor, and model in the use of technology. The teacher encourages and supports the active engagement of students with technology resources. The teacher facilitates lessons in which students are engaged in higher order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of technology tools. The teacher helps students locate appropriate resources to support student choices.
The arrangement of the setting is flexible and varied, allowing different kinds of self-directed learning activities supported by various technologies, including robust access to online resources for all students simultaneously.
Sure, it sounds wonderful, but I do not believe that my 10 and 11 year old students know enough of the technology tools available in order to make informed decisions about which technology tool to use. I would love to teach them all the different tools out there, but the reality is that I still have a curriculum that I must cover. All that said, I suppose if a student did come to me with a new way of doing an assignment and the objectives were still being met, I would allow it. It is true that I currently have some students working on their narrative pieces in Microsoft Word, and some in Google docs, and some in Pages. Another thing, besides students’ familiarity with technology tools, that gets in the way of achieving the transformation stage, is the access you have to technology at school. Last year, I did have students using a variety of programs to complete a major project. I allowed two groups of students to bring in their own devices to work on these projects as they had specialty programs that they wanted to you. Then I was told that I had to stop allowing this as our school did not yet have a policy to govern the use of students using their own devices. Thus, when in school, my students are limited only to the tools that the school can provide.
I feel like this incident would not have happened if my school had a clear vision and strategy for technology integration. Perhaps I should share this TIM site with the media department and administration. The site’s Table of Teacher Indicators could provide a starting place for discussion about what teachers need in order to effectively integrate technology in the classroom.
After evaluating myself on the Table of Teachers Indicators, I was pretty relieved to find that, when it comes to technology integration, I have surpassed “entry level” in each of the characteristics of learning environments. That said, in a lot of areas, I feel like I could do a better job of integrating technology into the classroom. In some cases, I am being held back by the amount of technology that is available to me. We are not yet a 1:1 school, so simply not having regular access to a class set of computers prevents me from achieving the transformation stage in some of the learning environments. I am, however, looking forward to January. I will be meeting with the grade 5 Social Studies teacher and the principal to begin work on a collaborative project where we will hope to focus more on the some elements of infusion. The Social Studies teacher and I will have to give up some instructional time introducing some technology tools to our students, but we hope that teaching these skills will benefit them in other subjects in the future. We also plan to communicate to the other grade 5 teachers the skills that our students now have, so that they will be able to benefit from the students’ new knowledge.
I also feel like I am moving to the transformation stage in terms of collaboration. In this box, the teacher “seeks partnerships outside of the setting to allow students to access experts and peers in other locations, and encourages students to extend the use of collaborative technology tools in higher order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of technology tools.” I have been doing a pen pal project with students around the world for many years, and though I intended to have my students communicate with each other online last year, it never happened. This year, I think it will. I have designed a new and improved wiki, and have shared it with the other teachers involved. The paper letters have been mailed and once we receive the reply, my students will post a reply online. Then, my students will share the book trailer video they have created for my English class with their pen pals and ask for some feedback. Then, as a class, we will discuss the differences between the pen and paper communication we did and the online communication we are doing.
I think I am moving in the right direction when it comes to technology integration, but I still have a long way to go. I plan to keep the TIM Table of Teacher Indicators close by to encourage me to continue to move to the right farther away from entry level towards the transformation stage. I also plan to continue to have discussions with my administration and the media department about how our school can move to an environment of deeper technology integration. I have said this before, but I feel like it is appropriate to say again – It’s a Long Road Ahead!