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Technology – Roadblock to reform?

April 30, 2010

I know the title of this post will ruffle some feathers, but the research here reviewed raises some important issues based on observation of a tech-enthusiast teacher.  While the study classifies as a case-study so is not widely generalizable, the findings that technology hindered student-student discourse and caused more focus on completion of tasks rather than deep processing draw out important implications for how we use technology in our classes.  Those of us who enjoy technology must use caution so that our desire to integrate technology does not hinder our other goals for students.

Research Summary:

This study problematized the effect of technology integration on the enactment of inquiry in a science classroom.  Inquiry-based science instruction has been promoted in some form for over a century, but still teachers struggle to implement inquiry-based teaching.  The teacher studied was identified because of their reputation as both an inquiry-based instructor and a technology enthusiast.  Data collection methods included non-participant observation, videotaping, semi-structured interviews and critical incident interviews.  Data was analyzed by developing descriptive codes of participant views of inquiry and technology, profiles of how inquiry was enacted and how technology was used, and comparison between inquiry divorced from computer technology and inquiry using computer technology.

When technology was used during inquiry activities, the students were more concerned with sharing responsibilities than learning new things.  The computer work became a collection of individually sequenced tasks rather than a collaborative effort.  “Actually, using technology often meant less student discourse” (p. 172).  “There was substantially more talk among group members when technology was not present (49 vs. 28% of the time)” (p. 174).  While this teacher clearly sought to engage students in inquiry learning and worked to have students socially constructing their learning, the classroom turned to more individualized work representing traditional school when computers were introduced.

Classroom Implications:

While there are many great uses to technology in education, we must realize that technology use does not equate to better teaching or better learning.  In this case, the teacher seems to become more traditional when using technology.  While, many things might explain this (teacher beliefs, tech savvy, etc), the implications cannot be ignored or swept under the rug as many edutechnocrats would have us do.  We must wake up and critically examine the way technology is being forced into classrooms.  If introduction of technology takes us steps backward, I would prefer a low tech school.

That said, a more reasoned approach would be to maintain pressure on our thinking about the fundamentals of education.  Rather than adopt technology for technology sake, we must critically examine our decisions to use technology.  Oftentimes our own blinders of “interest in technology” and “21st century” rhetoric keep hidden the way in which technology use might actually hinder authentic education reform.  I will take the substance of deep learning and cultivation of reflective thought in a classroom far before I fall for the flashing lights and whistles.  That is not to say technology cannot be leveraged to aid in achieving authentic education reform – we just need to proceed with caution.  To many of the edtech elitists want us to march blindly forward toward a Huxley/Postman predicted “end of education”.

Waight, N; Abd-El-Khalick, F. (2007). The Impact of Technology on the Enactment of “Inquiry” in a Technology Enthusiast’s Sixth Grade Science Classroom. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(1), 154-182.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Hailey Rascoe permalink
    December 3, 2010 10:39 am

    I think that technology could be a great thing in the classroom. However, I can see where there would be implications. In my opinion, I believe that it is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure the child is getting a feel for the lesson being taught with technology. I think this is a great post and a lot of people can learn from this!

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