In today’s world, the workplace has been transformed. Computer technology is present to one degree or another in virtually every job or profession. To prepare students adequately for the workplace we must recognize that integrating computer technology into the classroom is essential. To execute this integration properly, careful planning must precede implementation. We must be prepared to explore different means of implementation inasmuch as there is no perfect system or a “one size fits all” software program. Each institution must decide to what degree they will implement technology and how quickly they will do so. It is also important to appeal to educational leaders for support as well as gathering preferences from both teachers and students.
In his article, “Investing in Digital Resources” David McArthur explored the notion that the decision regarding whether or not to use technology as an educational medium has already been made. What must be done is plan carefully to ensure that the long-range goals of technology integration are properly served.
The leaders in higher education must “plan for and invest in e-learning.” (McArthur, 2004, p3) E-learning has become an accepted method of education just as the “Web” has been accepted in business and at home. Integrating the newer technologies to supplement existing learning has become imperative. When planning is performed correctly, the educational environment should be able to use technologies to increase teacher/student communication, enhance faculty morale by use of an “on-line resource center,” (McArthur, 2004, p2) use web-based programs to enhance recruitment, and better prepare students for the workplace.
There are potential problems that must be overcome when planning for technological integration. First, the technological options are myriad and only a few will be appropriate for a given school or college. Second, while many institutions become accustomed to the idea of augmenting their educational system via e-learning, it can be troublesome and radical.
Some key issues in the potential success in the adoption of e-learning can include (but is not limited to) the school or college’s present computer network capacity, the willingness of the school’s leaders to support change, current or probable resources, the potential accessibility of the e-learning services by the students.
In looking at a comprehensive long-range plan, there are a number of options available. One is “Staged Implementation.” (McArthur, 2004, p4) While the critical planning should be virtually complete, not all components of the final plan need be in place at the outset. A planned multi-year plan of implementation can be used. Not only does this allow for the development of resources, it is possible to troubleshoot elements as each stage progresses. Another is “Appropriate Outsourcing.” (McArthur, 2004, p4) Not every educational institution has the in-house resources (personnel, tools, equipment) to implement even a staged plan. Outsourcing can be both cost and time saving. While it may be difficult to convince some leaders of the potential advantage in outsourcing, especially since this type of expertise “is regarded as an educational core asset” (McArthur, 2004, p6), drawing comparisons to the business world may help to demonstrate the benefits.
In his article, “Herding Elephants: Coping with the Technological Revolution in our Schools” Scott Tunison addressed the issues of: 1. the extents to which schools need to visit computer technology and 2. The tactics used to make the most of the potential advantages and diminish the potential pitfalls in the integration of the technology.
His reference regarding “Herding Elephants” is allegorical to managing the coming technology and learning to “integrate it into the educational framework” or moving aside and letting the “technological revolution” pass by. (Tunison, 2004, p7) Either way, educational technology is not to be ignored and it cannot be allowed to manage itself.
Fundamentally speaking, much of education is unchanged from long past. The methods that have been used were for the most part appropriate for the subject at hand. A perception might be that, if the concepts to be learned have not changed then a change in teaching method is not necessary. However, even if some of the concepts have not changed, the application context as well as the learners’ context has. While computers have entered the educational environment they often have been simple substitutes for other tools that already exist and are in place; tools such as blackboards, books, etc. What this means is that the process of learning remains unchanged when new uses for the available technology are not fully utilized.
Educational reform is necessary if we are going to meet the needs of our students. If our culture has developed electronic media, animation, etc. then that is the context through which we must reach our students.
The changes that must be made can make some educators uneasy. The learning paradigm must shift from the teacher as dispenser of knowledge to the student as active learner. Tunison cites Fullan (2001) in an identification of “three broad phases to the change process.” The phases are identified as “initiation, implementation, and institutionalization”
Initiation involves some entity proposing directional change. Sometimes students ask for change and sometimes groups of teachers, administrators, and parents form committees to begin a planning process for technological integration.
Institutionalization includes the perception of importance. One might say this is the stage of “damage control.” Clear policies, well trained teachers and administrators, and a supportive school board are crucial in this stage. It is important in this stage to record relevant data regarding the program for analysis. What was well planned and conceived may still have “bugs” to work out. The analysis of the data can assist in the “tweaking” of the program.
Educators must be aware of the importance of technology in the educational environment and be prepared to integrate it. Technology is extensive in our contemporary culture and reaching our students must involve meeting their needs in the world they know. We may, in fact, reach more students and perhaps stem the tide of dropouts.
In her article, “What Students Want to Learn About Computers” Judith O’Donnell Dooling, has informed the reader that students, parents, and administrators have specific preferences with regard to computer technology.
Over time, the importance of computers and related technology has been realized. However, while spending for computers has risen, some schools have not been as successful in identifying specific computer skills and its power as a tool of learning and teaching.
Student responses were varied. Many reported that they began learning about computers at an early age, usually from a more experienced person. Some students, especially in grades four through seven thought learning independently was the most enjoyable.
Interestingly, students of both genders reported that they had a reasonable confidence in their computer abilities, but some differences in perception were evident. To a degree girls, but primarily boys, thought that computers were too technical for girls.
The experience students had prior to school, the teacher, and computer access had a significant effect on student computer learning. Even if they, at home, had seen the computer more as a toy, they began to see them more as a tool in the school setting. They recognized the importance and power of the computer as their exposure increased.
Perhaps unlike other subjects students learn in school, students exchanged computer tips, recommended hardware and software, and generally discussed the subject of computers during their lunchtime and recess.
The students also saw the importance of computer knowledge as it related to its use in the workplace after their school experiences. They observed that, no matter where you work, you would be using computers to some degree.
The teachers expressed the concern that not all shared the same proficiency. Many mentioned that often the students knew more than the teacher did. Teachers also observed that, though the students had a great deal of computer knowledge, it was often limited to games and software. Another observation was that computer curriculums vary greatly school to school.
Teachers expressed that computer knowledge needs to be relevant. That is, it needs to be applied across the curriculum and used as an integral tool of learning. All agreed that the role of teacher needs redefinition and adequate professional development provided to facilitate the needed change.
In conclusion, we have seen that computer technology in the educational setting is essential for learning in contemporary society. Selecting, planning, and implementing must be done with great care to avoid waste and potential incompatibility with the goals of the educational institution. School leaders must be convinced that paradigm shift is not an option; that teachers and students must assume new roles, and their support for new ideas is essential.
We must also be able to meet students where they are. Our culture has created systems of technology to which students are accustomed. To continue teaching in an antiquated fashion does our students a disservice, especially if we are to prepare them for the workforce following their education. We must also be aware of teacher and student preferences if we are to expect them to fully utilize the new resources.