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Are You a Techno-Constructivist?

Staff development experts have been tracking teacher adaptation as technology has moved into classrooms. Technology is transforming education unlike any trend that has preceded it -- but how do educators take such revolutionary tools and use them to optimize learning? Included: A real-world model for teachers adapting technology to the classroom

Technology is transforming education. Teachers have access to more information, more ways to interact and collaborate, and more approaches to instruction than ever before. Technology can enable teachers to accommodate a variety of orientations to learning, track student progress, remediate struggling students, and challenge advanced learners. Traditional barriers no longer restrain educators from meeting the needs of every child.

And children are reaping the benefits of the digital explosion!

Combine the boom in instructional technology and the trend of constructivism and you have a potent mixture. Through this alchemy we are witnessing professionals who use technology in constructivist ways -- techno-constructivists!

A FOUR-STAGE MODEL

Connected University's Scott Noon offers a framework for considering the stages of teacher assimilation to new technologies. His model is based on his active participation in teacher technology training. That model identifies four stages of teacher technology efficacy:

  • Stage 1: Preliterate end users -- These teachers have no experience with computers and other technologies. Either they have never had the chance to be trained or they simply are not interested in becoming literate. The challenge is to help such teachers see the benefits technology can offer them: more efficient use of time, more easily managed tasks, less bulky paperwork, differentiation of instruction, ease of record keeping.
  • Stage 2: Software technicians -- These teachers have begun to use common applications for their own personal use. They may search and surf the Web, keep in touch with family and friends using e-mail, use a word processing application for letters and forms, and chat online. Teachers at this level are ready to be introduced to the notion that computers can serve useful purposes in the classroom setting when technology is integrated into the curriculum.
  • Stage 3: Electronic traditionalists -- These teachers are proficient in using technology in the classroom. The implementation, however, is an extension of traditional classroom functions: digital lesson plans, electronic grade books, drill and practice software, tests, quizzes, and tutorials. The emphasis is to assist such teachers in seeing new possibilities in the classroom: online projects, virtual field trips, distance learning, Webquests, and much more.
  • Stage 4: Techno-constructivists --These are the teachers who integrate technology into the curriculum so that it not only complements instruction but redefines it. The true techno-constructivists have come through the previous three stages and have realized the full potential of technology to help children build on their own experiences, construct their own meanings, create products, and solve problems successfully.

QUESTION YOUR ASSUMPTIONS

"Technology does not necessarily improve education. It could become a valuable education tool, but only if we use it to capitalize on our new understanding of how the human mind works." -- Shirley Veenema and Howard Gardner, Multimedia and Multiple Intelligences

In order to begin this journey, teachers must first question their assumptions about children and learning. What was true 50 years ago at the height of the industrial age may no longer be viable today.

Here are some questions to reflect upon:

  • Do all children learn the same way?
  • What do we know about the way the brain processes information?
  • How have the physical limitations of the traditional classroom impacted our instructional choices in the past?
  • How does technology remove the barriers of time, space, and cost that traditionally existed for teachers and students?
  • What workforce skills will children need in the 21st century?
  • Which skills are holdovers from the industrial age and are not pertinent today?
  • What are you willing to rethink?
  • What beliefs do you hold onto with fearless conviction?

There has been a groundswell of brain research over the last 30 years. The medical and educational communities, once disparate professions, now have common ground in addressing the physiological evidence for human cognition. Experts once made assumptions based on observable overt human behavior; now experts base their conclusions on specific centers of the brain and the neurological paths information takes to arrive there. The Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences documents these newfound discoveries for us. With that information, we can reconsider many long held assumptions about instruction, learning, and assessment.

A large proportion of the jobs available in the workforce are related to the acquisition and manipulation of digital knowledge. Workers need to be able to access information, evaluate it for its worth, use it in creative ways, and be flexible enough to change their work product as the information changes. These jobs will go unfilled if this need is not addressed today in the schools. The time is now.

Once a teacher immerses himself or herself in technology and accepts the knowledge of human cognition and the needs of the future information economy, the remaining questions are the most vital: What are you willing to rethink and what do you need to hold onto with fierce conviction? The answers will vary for each teacher based on his or her own experiences, for teachers -- like everyone else -- need to build their own meanings and create a framework that will work for them.

Once they have answers to those questions, though, teachers are ready to meet the information age on their own terms.

THE TECHNO-CONSTRUCTIVIST IN ACTION

Should all teachers aspire to becoming techno-constructivists? Yes, most definitely. In the ongoing dialogue on public education, teachers have no greater tool of empowerment and efficacy than technology used constructively with students.

But what does the techno-constructivist teacher look like?

There is no one concise answer. Techno-constructivists are as many and as varied as the assortment of whole language teachers or effective school models we have seen over the last 20 years. But here are wonderful examples of the kinds of activities techno-constructivists undertake in their classrooms:

  • They create collaborative online projects that involve students in long-term problem-solving and product-generating tasks that utilize Internet resources and a variety of digital communications. (See Creating Internet Projects and Students and Class Projects Using the Internet for ideas.)

  • They implement lesson formats that are conducive to the utilization of both technology and constructivist methodologies, such as the Webquest, which has taken off in popularity among teachers. (See The Webquest Page or WebQuest.org for endless materials.)
  • They take students on virtual field trips around the universe, through human body systems, within animal colonies, back in time -- all by simply using their Internet connection and a projector.
  • They provide virtual simulations of real-life experiences that can be easily integrated across the curriculum. (See The Exploratorium for great examples of what is possible.)
  • They promote information literacy through online activities that require research and evaluation of digital information. (See From the Creative Minds of 21st Century Librarians for lesson plan ideas.)

More than anything else, techno-constructivists willing allow their students to completely immerse themselves in the affordances of technology. They allow their students to see the connections they can make using electronic mail, Web sites, multi-user environments, databases, spreadsheets, publishers, word processors, and more, and they support them and help them successfully complete their tasks.

BEGIN THE JOURNEY

"Childhood is a journey, not a race." -- Society for Developmental Education

More than anything else, becoming a techno-constructivist is an attitude. It is the ability to open up to the new possibilities presented in this age of wonder. No matter what stage of life we are in, let us begin the journey. We will not all start at the same point, nor will we all finish at the same place. But together we can embrace the technological revolution to truly benefit all members of our society.

Recall the educational pioneers of the past. How would they react to the advances in this day and age? Would they question the worth of technology and shun its potential or take the challenge and try to harness what it has to offer for the benefit of everyone concerned? Question your long-held assumptions. Slowly work your way through the four stages identified by Scott Noon, and be patient with yourself! Evolve as an educator by transforming your experiences with children from the mundane to the magnificent! Let the journey begin.

"Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these." -- Ovid

ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES

  • Tammy's Tech Tips for Teachers At this site, you'll find lots of practical tips for classroom management, online projects, electronic portfolios, Internet navigation, technology workshops, and much more.

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Article by Walter McKenzie
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

Updated 05/07/2012

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