How Does Technology Facilitate Learning? (page 2)
Learning From Technology
Some of the first educational technologies were illustrations in 17th-century books and slate chalkboards in 18th-century classrooms. Educational technologies in the 20th century include lantern-slide and opaque projectors, later radio, and then motion pictures. During the 1950s, programmed instruction emerged as the first true educational technology, that is, the first technology developed specifically to meet educational needs. With every other technology, including computers, educators recognized its importance and debated how to apply each nascent commercial technology for educational purposes. Unfortunately, educators have almost always tried to use technologies to teach students in the same ways that teachers had always taught. So information was recorded in the technology (e.g., the content presented by films and television programs), and the technology presented that information to the students. The students’ role was to learn the information presented by the technology, just as they learned information presented by the teacher. The role of the technology was to deliver lessons to students, just as trucks deliver groceries to supermarkets (Clark, 1983). If you deliver groceries, people will eat. If you deliver instruction, students will learn. Not necessarily! We will tell you why later.
The introduction of modern computer technologies in classrooms has followed the same pattern of use. Before the advent of microcomputers in the 1980s, mainframe computers were used to deliver drill and practice and simple tutorials for teaching students lessons. When microcomputers began populating classrooms, the natural inclination was to use them in the same way. A 1983 national survey of computer uses showed that drill and practice was the most common use of microcomputers (Becker, 1985).
Later in the 1980s, educators began to perceive the importance of computers as productivity tools. The growing popularity of word processing, databases, spreadsheets, graphics programs, and desktop publishing was enabling businesses to become more productive. So students in classroom began word processing and using graphics packages and desktop publishing programs to write with. This tool conception pervaded computer use according to a 1993 study by Hadley and Sheingold that showed that well-informed teachers were extensively using text processing tools (word processors), analytic and information tools (especially databases and some spreadsheet use), and graphics tools (paint programs and desktop publishing) along with instructional software (including problem-solving programs along with drill and practice and tutorials).
The development of inexpensive multimedia computers and the eruption of the Internet in the mid-1990s quickly changed the nature of educational computing. Communications tools (e.g., e-mail and computer conferences) and multimedia, little used according to Hadley and Sheingold, have dominated the role of technologies in the classroom ever since. But what are the students producing? Too often, they are using the technology to reproduce what the teacher or textbook told them or what they copy from the Internet.
Our conception of educational computing and technology use, described next, does not conceive of technologies as teachers or repositories of information. Rather, we believe that, in order to learn, students should teach the computer or use the technology to represent what they know rather than memorizing what teachers and textbooks tell them. Technologies provide rich and flexible media for representing what students know and what they are learning. A great deal of research on computers and other technologies has shown that they are no more effective at teaching students than teachers, but if we begin to think about technologies as learning tools that students learn with, not from, then the nature of student learning will change.
Learning With Technology
If schools are to foster meaningful learning, then the ways that we use technologies in schools must change from technology-as-teacher to technology-as-partner in the learning process. Before, we argued that students do not learn from technology but that technologies can support productive thinking and meaning making by students. That will happen when students learn with the technology. But how do students learn with technologies? How can technologies become intellectual partners with students? We assume the following:
- Technology is more than hardware. Technology consists also of the designs and the environments that engage learners. Technology can also consist of any reliable technique or method for engaging learning, such as cognitive learning strategies and critical thinking skills.
- Learning technologies can be any environment or definable set of activities that engage learners in active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative learning.
- Technologies are not conveyors or communicators of meaning. Nor should they prescribe and control all of the learner interactions.
- Technologies support meaningful learning when they fulfill a learning need—when interactions with technologies are learner initiated and learner controlled and when interactions with the technologies are conceptually and intellectually engaging.
- Technologies should function as intellectual tool kits that enable learners to build more meaningful personal interpretations and representations of the world. These tool kits must support the intellectual functions that are required by a course of study.
- Learners and technologies should be intellectual partners, where the cognitive responsibility for performance is distributed by the part of the partnership that performs it better.
How Technologies Foster Learning
If technologies are used to foster meaningful learning, then they will not be used as delivery vehicles. Rather, technologies should be used as engagers and facilitators of thinking. Based on our conception of meaningful learning, we suggest the following roles for technologies in supporting meaningful learning:
- Technology as tools to support knowledge construction:
- for representing learners’ ideas, understandings, and beliefs
- for producing organized, multimedia knowledge bases by learners
- Technology as information vehicle for exploring knowledge to support learning by constructing:
- for accessing needed information
- for comparing perspectives, beliefs, and worldviews
- Technology as authentic context to support learning by doing:
- for representing and simulating meaningful real-world problems, situations, and contexts
- for representing beliefs, perspectives, arguments, and stories of others
- for defining a safe, controllable problem space for student thinking
- Technology as social medium to support learning by conversing:
- for collaborating with others
- for discussing, arguing, and building consensus among members of a community
- for supporting discourse among knowledge-building communities
- Technology as intellectual partner (Jonassen, 2000) to support learning by reflecting:
- for helping learners to articulate and represent what they know
- for reflecting on what they have learned and how they came to know it
- for supporting learners’ internal negotiations and meaning making
- for constructing personal representations of meaning
- for supporting mindful thinking
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