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Assessing Classroom Technology Integration

Does your school district have a technology integration policy that requires all teachers to use technology appropriately in the classroom and in their professional lives? Many do. Does that school policy explain the meaning of appropriate technology use? Many do not. How, then, do teachers know whether they're integrating technology appropriately, successfully, beneficially both for their students and to meet their own professional goals? And how do administrators assess their teachers technology use and skills and the success of their efforts?

To find out, we asked members of the Education World Tech Team What kinds of activities, lessons, resources, and so on should an administrator, parent, or other observer expect to see in a classroom in which technology is being appropriately -- and seamlessly -- integrated? This is what they said.

What does seamless integration look like? In an 8th grade humanities classroom, said Wally Fuller, it might look like this: Students enter and retrieve wireless laptops from the mobile cart. The teacher has a notebook computer displayed through a ceiling mounted projector. A presentation lecture begins with a movie introducing students to the background information of a compare-and-contrast writing lesson. At the end of the movie, students open their Inspiration application to begin taking notes. Lecture points are highlighted in Keynote and discussed as students create their mind maps. At the end of the presentation, students save their Inspiration files to their server folders so they can pull them up later in the computer lab or the next day in class. The Inspiration file then is transferred to a word processor outline that students will use to guide their writing assignment.

Many teachers, students and school programs are not at this level of seamless technology integration, Fuller pointed out. "Resources, training, and support all have to be in place for that to happen. It has taken our school and several technology-dedicated teachers more than four years to reach that goal. We have assessed student progress and see improvement in writing skills, increased in-seat time, more classroom participation and a higher percentage of completed work, when technology is integrated into the curriculum."

To integrate technology well, teachers need technology in the classroom, agreed Vicky Romano. "Teachers need access to computers, the Internet, printers, overheads, digital video, and digital still cameras."

When the technology is in place, observers should find students who are word-processing stories and creating illustrations directly on the computer, and students who are organizing their own work on the computer. Each student might have a folder on the desktop or in a My documents folder. Computer-generated graphs and text representing each curricular area should be visible all around the room -- graphs of rainfall or of how many students selected a certain item for lunch, for example. The information might come from a variety of Web sites or from teacher-created sites that students can access online from the classroom or from home.

Administrators, Romano added, should hear from families that they are able to access teachers Web sites or find grades and other school information online. Students and teachers also should be able to capture images on digital cameras and camcorders, and create CDs and DVDs containing reports they are creating or responses to homework questions. Older students might record themselves reading to younger students and then show the video on classroom TVs.

Most principals don't know what to look for when assessing classroom technology use, Sith Nip told Education World. Questions they should answer during observations include:

  • What specifically is the teacher doing with technology within the classroom?
  • Is the teacher using technology with the current curriculum?
  • How are students using technology?
  • What standards are being used in relation to the technology?
  • If the technology is not available to all students at the same time, how are students sharing the technology?
  • What evidence of the results of technology use are displayed in the classroom? Do you see computer-generated charts, graphs, or tables? Reports containing photographs or other computer-generated images? Print-outs from slide shows? Printed blog entries? Technology should extend lessons in visible ways.

"Look past the bells and whistles of the program," said Fred Holmes, and look for the content. Does the use of technology have anything to do with what is being taught? Does it add or detract from the lesson? Can all students view what is being shown or, if students are using the technology individually, do they all have access to the technology and are they staying on task? How easily do the teacher and students switch back and forth between technology and content? Is the technology the whole lesson, or is it used in conjunction with other teaching methods? How comfortable with the technology are students and teachers? Is the teacher struggling? If a teacher is uncomfortable using technology, it will be reflected in student use. A newbie -- teacher who has not used technology in the classroom -- should be mentored or paired with a more experienced teacher.

"A wise ed tech professor once told me that you should look at a topic and decide the best form to deliver content, not start with technology and make it fit the subject," noted Suzanne Wargo. So, in a classroom where technology is appropriately integrated, sometimes print will be the best format for a particular lesson; sometimes a video will be; sometimes a podcast. Instead of starting with a form of technology and making it fit what you do, successful educators first determine whether or not that technology is the best way to deliver the instruction.

Another important consideration is whether the technology or the content is the focus of the lesson:

Bad Example: Students watch a lengthy video with no worksheet. There are no pauses; the video itself is the focus of the lesson.
Good Example: The teacher provides worksheets containing tips of what to watch for during the video. The teacher pauses frequently at important spots to interact with students about content. The focus of the lesson is content and the video is a subtle tool.

"Using computers can be a mixed bag," Wargo added. The question becomes: Is the technology being used creatively?

Bad Example: Students search Google and Wikipedia, cut and paste without documenting sources, and then drop bullets into a PowerPoint presentation.
Good Example: Students use a variety of sources chosen by the class as a whole, and assessed for content and relevance to the subject. The PowerPoint contains not just bullets, but also photos and written content that are relevant and focused. All downloaded content is student work and sources are documented with citations. The computer and publishing program are used as tools to cover the content; they are not the main focus of the lesson.

"Teachers and students should be using technology both for innovative new ideas and for the tried-and-true basics," said Cossondra George.

  • All the daily housekeeping chores of attendance, grades, and mass communication should be dealt with online.
  • Teachers should be exposing students to the latest available tools, whether or not they are completely competent using them personally.
  • Students should be figuring out how to use new tools, not just being taught how to use them.
  • Tools should not be used just because they are cool, but because they enhance the existing curriculum.
  • Students should be researching new Web 2.0 tools for their own personal use and suggesting ways those tools can be used in class.
  • Collaboration via IM, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and so on should be commonplace.
  • Student work should regularly be published online.

"In a classroom with seamless technology integration, I would expect to see every student with 24/7 access to a wireless laptop computer," Bernie Poole told Education World. "I fully expect that all students will have their own personal laptop, because they'll be extremely cheap, and educating students without ready access to such a powerful information-processing tool will be seen as just as odd as a student coming to school today without a pen, pencil, notepad or textbook. Until widespread one-to-one access to wireless, Internet-ready computing is a reality in schools, teachers will not be able to take full advantage of technology in the classroom."

It's not simply a matter of having the tools at hand, however. Both teachers and students (but especially teachers) have to know how to seamlessly integrate technology into teaching and learning. As Eleanor Doan put it so well: "Good tools do not make a good teacher, but a good teacher makes good use of tools." So the second prerequisite for seamless integration of technology in the PreK-12 classroom is well-trained teachers who are committed to taking advantage of the technology to improve the quality and effectiveness of education.

Who Are They?

The Education World Tech Team includes more than 30 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members contributed to this article:

* Wally Fuller, technology teacher, Upper Lake Middle School, Upper Lake, California
* Cossondra George, middle-level math and social studies instructor, Newberry Middle School, Newberry, Michigan
* Linda George, technology integration specialist, Dondero School, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
* Patrick J Greene, PhD, Florida Gulf Coast University, Educational Technology Department
* Fred Holmes, high school LanManager/Webmaster, Osceola Public Schools, Osceola, Nebraska
* Mary Kreul, 4th grade teacher, Richards Elementary School, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin
* Bernard John Poole, Associate Professor of Education and Instructional Technology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (Pennsylvania)
* Vicky Romano, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois
* Julia Timmons, instructional technology specialist, Lynchburg City Schools, Lynchburg, Virginia
* Jennifer Wagner, technology educator and integration specialist, Technospud

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Updated 10/08/2012