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Observations on the Integration of Instructional Technology


The author shares her technology evaluation experiences in writing. 

Abstract 

Countries where people graduate from high school and colleges with tangible 21st century skills have higher rates of productivity and are more competitive.  A learner steps into a classroom and anticipates his or her feet to be on the platform of high expectations and high performance.  The contemporary classroom constitutes best demonstration practices and very few can rival the potential that is offered by the Smart Board. In this article, the author explores the use of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), ISTE Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT) as an observational tool to measure integrated technology in classroom instruction where the Smart Board was used.  Entrenched in engagement theory, the ICOT extends beyond the classroom to determine how effective technology can be incorporated into building better communities.  The article describes the observation of the class and the author’s experience using the ICOT instrument.  The article also indicates which standards were addressed in the observed classroom that exemplified the best practices of technology integration.  Outstanding learners, beneficiaries of instructional technology, await the opportunity to translate their academic experience into tangible skills in the workplace and hence the wider community.                                                                       

Introduction

            The article is an account of the writer’s evaluation of the extent of use of technology in a typical instructional setting.  The writer’s observations, recordings, and analysis are premised in the engagement theory, a theory that emerged from teaching in electronic and distance education, and is consistent with constructivists’ approaches.

The International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) is appraised as a society whose purpose is to ensure that technology empowers educators to help more students achieve their highest potentials (icot.iste.org/icot).  The ISTE Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT) is an online tool that provides a set of questions to guide classroom observations of a number of key components of technology integration (icot.iste.org/icot/).  The writer aligns engagement theory, ISTE, and the ICOT instrument to evaluate her colleague as he utilizes SMART Board technology in his learning domain.

            The writer entitles her article ‘Build a better community with SMART Board Instructional Technology’ and elaborates on the significance of the following: engagement theory and technological communities, ICOT and community building, classroom observation using ICOT, and ICOT and National Educational Technology Standard (NET).  The article also indicates which standards were addressed in the observed classroom that exemplified the best practices of technology integration.

Engagement Theory and Technological Communities

            The fundamental idea underlying engagement theory is that students must be meaningfully engaged in learning activities through interaction with others and worthwhile tasks. Proponents of the theory like Kearsley and Schneiderman (1998) believe that technology can facilitate engagement in ways which are difficult to achieve otherwise. Hence engagement theory is intended to be a conceptual framework for technology-based learning and teaching.

            The author explicates three components of the engagement theory as a framework for technology-based teaching and learning, relate, create, and donate.  The first principle, the relate component, emphasizes team efforts that involve communication, planning, management, and social skills such as collaboration.  The modern workplace demands proficiency in these skills, although historically students were taught to work and learn on their own.  Research on collaborative learning suggests that in the process of collaboration, students are compelled to clarify and verbalize their problems, thereby facilitating solutions.  Collaboration also increases the motivation of students to learn, a significant consideration in settings with high drop-out rates.   Furthermore, when students work in teams, they often have the opportunity to work with others from quite different backgrounds and this facilitates an understanding of diversity and multiple perspectives.  

       The second principle, the create component, makes learning a creative, purposeful activity whereby students define the project and focus their efforts on application of ideas to a particular context.  Because students conduct their own project and define their problem they gain a sense of ownership and control of their learning. Such ownership and control is absent in traditional classroom instruction and lays the foundation for project orientation.   Project orientation is the essence of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) an approach which is often used in medical professional education (Kearsley & Schneiderman, 1999).

            The third principle, the donate component, stresses the value of making a useful contribution while learning. Each project has an external customer.  The customer could be a business, campus group, church, community organization, government agency, a needy individual, or a school. In many instances the projects are work-related, i.e., an activity that fits into a team's occupational or career interests.  The authentic learning context of the project increases students’ satisfaction and motivation.  This principle is consistent with the emphasis on school-to-work programs in many school systems and colleges (Kearsley & Schneiderman, 1999).  This principle is also consistent with the service philosophy of contemporary corporate training efforts, much like the writer’s institution’s.

ICOT Assessment and Community-Building

            International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed an observation tool whereby technology practitioners can evaluate and improve their technology-enriched lesson plans through evaluation and observation.  The observation tool is called The Integrated Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT), and it has been available since the late 1990s.   Although simple in design, ICOT delivers results that could positively affect the quality of teaching and integration of technology in any school or district and thus build better communities.   Several stakeholders stand poised to benefit from such an evaluative tool.   Teachers can use ICOT to learn from colleagues, and administrators can use the tool to document the effective use of technology in their schools.   If classrooms and teachers were evaluated on a regular basis then researchers can collect observations to study school programs or curriculum interventions.

The ICOT begins with asking the observer to note the description of the room, student characteristics, and the teacher’s role in the classroom.  Did the teacher lead a discussion or did the teacher act as a facilitator?   Another aspect that ICOT emphasizes is the type of activities afforded learners and ensures that students participate in activities not limited to creating presentations, researching related topics, writing observations, and participating in drills.  Other areas that ICOT observers identify are technology usage by the teacher and the student and National Educational Technological Standards (NETS) teacher standards.  These items are included in a checklist thus the observer can ascertain the results expediently.  Every segment provides an area for the observer to make additional comments that the checklists may not cover.  In the final section of ICOT, the observer quantifies the time devoted to utilizing technology by the teacher and by the student.

Classroom Observation Using ICOT

            The author observed ICOT utilization in a tertiary institution.  The institution has been challenged with relocating to a brand-new physical facility, as well as having a mandate to upgrade to university status.  Notwithstanding the aforementioned challenges, the professor was determined to build a better community with SMART Board instructional technology.  Smart Board an interactive whiteboard attached to the classroom computer, and a projector, provides students with opportunities to investigate various topics in a unique manner.  During the 60-minute observation, the chemistry professor integrated the SMART Board functionalities with the use of the chalkboard as learners reviewed Group 1 alkaline metals.  Students’ imaginations expanded as they tried to capture the concept that Group1 is the most reactive of all alkaline metals. Facilitators utilized videos on SMART Board in lessons to demonstrate an activity too dangerous to perform in the classroom, like the reaction of alkaline metals with water. The author observed the amazement on the students’ faces.  Students’ countenances glowed with excitement as they visualized, heard, and felt the effects of Rubidium (Rb) and Cesium (Cs).  The metals reacted with water to release rapid generation of hydrogen gas like a hand grenade.  Such an instructional technology is predicted to satisfy the needs of the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners.  Not naïve to the destructive nature of Francium (Fr), the professor controlled the safety of the environment by withholding further experimentation of the most volatile alkaline metal.

The SMART Board instructional technology promoted an interactive learning environment in which students gained knowledge through experimentation and discovery.  The observer noted students’ engagement from the beginning of the period to the end.  Advanced learners as well as reluctant learners readily expressed their excitement and enthusiasm as they worked through the experiment.  Overall, educators consider SMART Boards to be a stepping stone for better results and happier classrooms (Brunetti, 2010).  Stakeholders on the other hand, view the instructional technology as a community building block.  According to Avant (2011), high education standards have long been a characteristic of rising nations with strong economies, and countries like China and India would have excelled in this regard because of significant investments in their young people (Avant, 2011).   Changes in the global economy will continue to affect the way teaching and learning take place in the 21st century.  The pre-configured content of the SMART Board would save the instructor valuable preparation time at home and shorten the class time invested in writing notes and figures on traditional boards.  Many teachers can also make additional configurations to the movies, helping to add a personal touch to meet specific learning styles of students.  A Smart Board-based lecture could entirely redefine the way students look at their books in the future (Brenetti, 2010).  The author observed the teacher and students utilizing technology throughout the class session and concluded that additional suggestions or lesson revisions would not be indicated.

ICOT and NET Standards

The NETS for Teachers was originally released in 2000, following the acclaimed NETS for Students in 1998.  The NETS set the bar for integration of technology in education and defined the fundamental concepts, knowledge, skills, and attitudes for applying technology in educational settings.  The observed professor addressed NET standards through the effective use of interactive technology, incorporation of technology-enhanced strategies, and the use of technology to address higher order skills and learning of subject matter.  The professor facilitated the learning process by providing opportunities for students to explore, analyze, and draw conclusions. Through carefully planned, individualized, and differentiated instruction, the needs of learners were met. It was evident that the teacher cautiously addressed the NETS standards in varied aspects of the interactive and engaging lesson.

Each activity the professor used centered on a technology productivity tool. Students worked individually, in small groups, and as a cohesive class to revise a communal learning experience after they completed the revision exercises.  All students seemed engaged as the professor coached his learners to project completion.  Several NETS teacher standards were addressed in the lesson with most of the lesson centered on the effective usage of technology.  The ICOT tool proved that the teacher utilized technology adequately.  This observer did not identify any areas in the lesson needing improvement.  Without the ICOT as a guide, the observation would not have been as thorough.

Conclusion

 The ICOT assists observers to determine how effective technology is incorporated to promote an interactive learning environment in which all students are engaged, enthusiastic learners.  The role of technology is to facilitate all aspects of engagement.  The vast array of software tools available for analysis, design, planning, problem-solving and making presentations enable students to do sophisticated and complex tasks.  Technology provides an electronic learning milieu that fosters the kind of creativity and communication needed to nourish engagement.  The writer believes that engagement theory represents a new paradigm for learning and teaching in the information age which emphasizes the positive role that technology can play in human interaction.  The author challenges stakeholders to test this theory and the ICOT as blocks in building better communities.

 

References

Avant, N. (2011). The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce Installation Banquet. Guest Speaker: February 2011.

 

ISTE Classroom Observation Tool. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from http://icot.iste.org/icot/index.php?q=scenarios.

 

Brunetti, E. (2010). Smart board based classes to build better concepts Retrieved February 10, 2011, from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Smartboard+Based+Classes+to+Build+Better+Concepts-a01074192879.

 

Kearsley, G. & Schneiderman, B. (1999). Engagement theory: A framework for        technology-based teaching and learning. Retrieved February 12, 2011, from

            http://home.sprynet.com/%7Egkearsley/engage.htm.

 

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