Integrating Technology into Instruction
by Bill Robertson
Los Alamos National Laboratory • Los Alamos, New Mexico
MultiMedia Schools • March/April 2000
As an information media specialist, you may have encountered teachers who ask, “How am I going to teach this unit using technology?” or, “How can I use the Internet in order to keep my students interested and showing up for class?” As teachers, we often search for new methods of instruction, new skills to implement in the classroom to better meet the needs of our students. Most of us also possess a commitment to lifelong learning, constantly striving to improve our abilities in subject matter, pedagogy, and educational technology. Terrell Jones, a high school science teacher in Clayton, New Mexico, with 15 years classroom experience, puts it best: “I was struggling as a teacher. Not with discipline or classroom management. Not in personal interactions with the students or administration. Not with the content of science. No one in fact, except those I told, knew that I was searching for a better pedagogy—a better art or science of teaching.” In the area of integrating computer technology and the resources of the Internet into the curriculum, the information media specialist can be a valuable ally to the classroom teacher.

As a former science teacher in middle and high school, I was always interested in helping students make real-world connections in project-based curriculum. With the increased availability of computer technology and Internet resources, I saw an even greater avenue for instruction. For the past 5 years, I have worked with hundreds of teachers and students in science education programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The method described in this article is a synthesis of a personal process of discovery, teaching, and learning that has come from practical experience with teachers and students. The following framework may be useful in helping media specialists and other educators facilitate this process of integrating computer technology and the Internet into classroom instruction and curriculum design.

In working with teachers to develop curriculum for the World Wide Web, I have organized my instructional approach into five basic phases: planning, research, development, refinement, and implementation. These five areas work as organizational frameworks for instruction and learning, curriculum development and implementation, student progress and presentation. It also frames the use of computer technology tools with a specific purpose. The goal is not solely to learn how to make a concept map with great pictures or to develop an attractive Web site, but to imbed the use of educational technology within a task. In this way, the tools enhance and facilitate the learning process. This gives the learner a reason to use the application, and along the way, the learner understands how the application works.

To effectively utilize this five-phased approach, the instructor must first identify the final goal, whether it is a curriculum product, Web site, oral presentation, or some other form of demonstration of learning. Also, the basic concepts that are to be covered must be identified first and matched to the lesson plan framework by aligning  the concepts from the most simple to the most complex. The identified phases are not a linear formula, but a set of guiding principles that at any time may be revisited depending on the progress of the teaching and learning.
 

Planning
Objective: To define the current knowledge base and to develop the foundation for the organization of learning
Tools: Inspiration Concept Mapping Software
The planning stage is the first stage, and is often the most critical. Clayton High School teacher Terrell Jones commented, “The most helpful part may be the backward planning. I believe that developing what you want to be the everlasting knowledge first is going to help me tremendously. Formalizing the steps people go through in creating a project has already helped me and has started me thinking on implementing this model in other classes. Actually giving names to the steps will enable me to create evaluations for not only the product but for the process also.”

This is the point where the instructor has to provide a “hook” that will create interest in the learner to continue with the process over the months to come. The theme may be to develop a structure to colonize Mars with inhabitants of Earth. Often, the instructor can set the hook by posing an open-ended question that frames the context of the subject matter to be studied. An example might be, “What would we need to do in order to live and function on a distant planet, let’s say Mars?”

The instructor can begin the lesson by brainstorming what students already know about sustaining life and the needs within a community. These items can be put onto a white board, chalkboard, or butcher paper. Yet, this is a moment where the technology can be integrated with great ease and efficiency. Inspiration is a concept mapping software that permits the user to define the relationships that exist in their knowledge structure. It also allows the user the flexibility to shape, move, link, draw, connect, arrange, and rearrange the individual concepts and ideas. The library media specialist can instruct educators using concept mapping strategies and software, and in turn, the teachers can model this to the students. Students are then set on a task, such as planning the elements they would need to have in place in order to colonize Mars.

As learners complete a concept map, there will be terms that they know and many that they don’t know. Questions can now be formulated to frame the research, and learners can use the tools of the Internet in order to further their knowledge base and understanding of the topic. The instructor can then gather the groups back together at a later date, pose the same question that began the lesson, and then revise the concept map with ease and flexibility. This modeling process will help frame the use of the technology tool in a given context. As Del Cates, a history teacher at San Andres High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, wrote, “I became better at all the tools in general, but the most useful thing I learned was the importance, difficulties, and techniques of planning.”
 

Research
Objective: To allow the learner to explore the content area and to deepen their knowledge base
Tools: Browsers for the Internet (Netscape, Internet Explorer), e-mail
Again, Terrell Jones commented on using the Internet in the classroom: “When my principal would ask me about installing an Internet line into my classroom, I would ask him how I was supposed to teach and be online at the same time. Now I know that I can do both.”

The research stage follows the planning stage so that learners can explore the knowledge base and deepen it through independent or cooperative research activities. This includes searching on the Internet for useful sources of information, but also for sharing these resources in discussion formats. The skills of the library media specialist are critical to this phase, as strategies for information acquisition and evaluation are vital to research. To follow the previous example, the ideas in the concept maps and the questions that the learners generate can now be explored in greater depth by looking at sources on the Internet. Research activities give the students the ability to retain these facts by affording them the opportunity to think critically, to work through problems logically, and to make connections with the real world.

As the primary tools of the Internet, browsers (such as Netscape and Internet Explorer) and e-mail can be very useful at this point for research. With the browsers, many features can be shown and taught as a precursor to each individual research session, such as making bookmarks, clearing the cache, and setting the colors for fonts and links. The use of e-mail is vital in today’s research and is a nice complement to using Web sites for information, since it personalizes the exchange of information gathering.

This may lead the learner back to the planning stage to deepen and broaden the knowledge base, since the research will allow for greater content to be added to the concept maps and research-driving questions. Often when learners have little practical understanding of a subject area, their research will only drive them to understand how little they actually know about the topic. It may also reinforce the fact that they know a lot about the area of study. At this point, the instructor can facilitate sharing using concept maps and information gathered from Web sites and e-mail. The learners can share this information and drive to a deeper collective understanding.
 
 
SOURCES AND SUGGESTIONS

Internet Sites

Critical Issues Forum (http://set.lanl.gov/programs/cif) — The Critical Issues Forum offers high school teachers and students the opportunity to learn about current, global issues. Through critical thinking, problem solving and ongoing research, students and teachers begin to build a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.

Inspiration Software (http://www.inspiration.com) — INSPIRATION K-12 Edition is a visual learning tool that inspires students to develop and organize their ideas. It supports visual thinking techniques, enabling students to easily create and update graphic organizers, concept maps, idea maps, and other visual diagrams.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators (http://www.capecod.net/schrockguide) — Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators is a categorized list of sites on the Internet found to be useful for enhancing curriculum and teacher professional growth. It is updated daily to keep up with the tremendous number of new World Wide Web sites.

Searchopolis (http://www.searchopolis.com) — Searchopolis is the world’s first search engine that delivers the Internet to students, teachers, and families exactly the way you want it. Using Searchopolis is incredibly easy. If you want to search the Web, just mouse on over to the Search box, type a word or phrase, click Go, and you’re on your way.

Yahooligans! (http://www.yahooligans.com) — As a search engine for kids, Yahooligans! does not require any personal information in order to access its site. All of the news, sports, games, homework help, and fun links are available for free, without students having to tell anything about themselves.

Books

Brooks, Jacqueline Grennon and Brooks, Martin G. (1993). In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, Virginia, Association for the Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Press. ISBN: 0-87120-211-5.

Bruner, Jerome (1962). The Process of Education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN: 0-674-71001-0.

Graham, Ian S. (1997). HTML 4.0 Sourcebook. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, ISBN: 0-471-25724-9.

Gralla, Preston (1996). How the Internet Works. Ziff Davis Press, Emeryville, California, ISBN: 1-56276-404-7.

Serim, Ferdi and Melissa Koch (1996). NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet. New York: Songline Studios. ISBN: 1-56592-201-8.

Development
Objective: To provide the learner with the opportunity to construct their knowledge following the curriculum materials and scope and sequence of the instruction
Tools: Inspiration, word processors
Now the learner is ready to drive toward putting their ideas into a format that can lead to a demonstration of the learning. Remember, the original scenario was to develop a structure to colonize Mars with inhabitants of Earth. How will the students go about doing this? What will they do to make sense of the work they have done so far? How will this result in a viable presentation? These are important questions that the students need to discover and strive to answer. Again, students begin this phase by revisiting the planning stage and identifying the areas they are to work on to complete the task. This is coupled with reviewing the research phase in order to discover ways to put their ideas into reality.

Inspiration will be a valuable tool to revisit in this stage, as learners can map their ideas, rearrange them, and create an outline from the concept map that can be used to write up their plan. The word-processing software can be introduced at this time, yet this may be the one tool with which learners have the most experience. Now, the technology tools are framed in another context for learning and can be integrated for the development phase. Copying the Internet address (URLs) in the browser and pasting into the document is one example of this type of integration. Also, information from the Internet can be synthesized into a document that can become the research base for the final product. Of course, plagiarism should be discussed and avoided, and this is best accomplished by requiring a unique student task that will frame the research. In the example of the Mars project, students should have a set of guidelines, including references of sources, yet the basic task should in no way be considered rote. To foster critical thinking is to put forth unique situations for students to study and to reinforce their ideas with citations of factual information found in research. It should foster analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of information, all higher-order thinking skills.
 

Refinement
Objective: To further the development and to lead the learner to the implementation phase
Tools: Inspiration, word processors, WYSIWYG editors, HTML instruction
At this time, the learner (or teams of learners) should proceed to refine their work and make it ready for public dissemination. It is at this point that the Internet is most powerful and when the motivation to do good work becomes intrinsic and not driven by the pursuit of a grade. It is one thing to do a project and turn it into a teacher in your school, it is quite another to publish your work on the Internet for anyone around the world with access to read and consult. At this phase, the need for refinement becomes clear and the instruction can center on the tools of Web building, primarily the use of WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editors and the use of HTML coding. This couples well with the use of the word-processing software in the development phase where much of the crafted text can now be pasted into Web-based documents. The research now may center on finding images to enhance the presentation or the planning of links within the Web site.

Up to this point, all the Web site project development has been done locally on a classroom system. All files (text and images) must be in the folder also, and one should be able to move between all the pages on a site within a given folder. Linking pages together in this way is using “relative links” as opposed to “Internet links,” which are URLs that reside outside the folder.

The planning aspect also finds itself here at the end. The design of the final Web site, its hierarchy and organization, must be well thought out and put together. Students with multiple files may want to categorize the elements of the Web site and create multiple folders for different types of files or information. All images must be in the folder. One approach is to have a separate folder called “images” if there are a lot of pictures and icons. Extra folders are useful when building a complex site, but remember that all the links will change if this decision is made after the construction of the site has begun. This is where the planning is important from the start, so that a site doesn’t have to be redesigned while it is being built. San Andres High school teacher Del Cates summed it up best: “I was dragged into the computer age kicking and screaming—starting 10 years ago. Now I don’t know how I could work without it. As a tool, the computer is very versatile in the classroom.”
 

Implementation
Objective: To demonstrate the learning that has taken place through the phases
Tools: Inspiration, word processors, WYSIWYG editors, HTML instruction, FTP, Fetch
Now is the time to put it all together and see what learning has taken place. This is the final exam, the implementation of an end product that will be the focus for pulling all the material, ideas, and applications together. This should be done in a public forum to develop skills in communication and presentation. The learners should have some presentation options, and these choices should be given at the beginning of the assignment. However, the development of a Web site with specific criteria (number of links, images, content sources, etc.) can be a highly effective framework for this program of study.

By defining the final product expectations from the beginning, the instructor provides a context for students to utilize the computer technology and Internet resources into a cohesive project. From an instructional sense, the tools are overlapping and fluid. One new tool will be needed at this time, and that is the file transfer protocol (FTP [PC] or Fetch [Mac]). This allows the user to put their files (text, images, video, and sound) into a folder on a Web server for access by the outside world.

For the instructor, this new knowledge can be added incrementally at the beginning of each lesson within this phase. It is also a time to use peer instruction and cooperative groupings, as the knowledge students gained in applied software skills can be valuable to the progress and learning in the classroom. Regular times to share and collaborate should be woven into the classroom time, along with extended periods to plan, research, develop, and refine the work. This is also the point where the classroom appears most constructivist, in that learners are constantly putting their new knowledge to use and building on their previous premises. The classroom should be active, filled with discussion and group interaction, far from your basic drill-and-kill approach.
 

Conclusion: Make IT Work for You!
Utilizing this format is one way to build a curriculum, lesson plans, instructional units, or presentations that integrate the tools of computer technology with classroom content. In this way, the tools are not the focus of the instruction, but are imbedded in the facilitation of the learning process. Although instruction will surely center at times on a given application (such as making the links within a Web site), the learner is ready for the new information, has experience with the application, and is learning it in a context that has meaning and purpose. The resources of the media center along with the skills of the professional who staffs this area provide the classroom teacher with the expertise needed to integrate computer technology into instruction. For the educator, the computer should be used within daily classroom activities. Lessons should be made relevant to the student and designed to match their needs and interests within the classroom activities. With the use of the Internet, students can use the computer to research specific topics and prepare presentations, while the instructor can implement specific assignments requiring students to use the computer as a research and reporting tool. These lessons should take students beyond mere assimilation of content and superficial levels of understanding to areas of synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.
 
 

Bill Robertson currently works on the University of California Coordination Team at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is finishing his Ph.D. in Education at the University of New Mexico. Communications to the author may be addressed to him by e-mail: robertson@lanl.gov.
 

[Information Today Inc.]
Information Today Home Page
[MultiMedia Schools]
Home Page
[Current Issue]
Current Issue
[Current Issue]
Top

Copyright © 2000, Information Today Inc. All rights reserved.
Feedback