Technology integration. Successful technology integration. What’s the difference?
As teachers and administrators, we require a paradigm shift from using technology in the classroom to doing so successfully. Best practices for integrating technology are readily available, but nothing can replace experience — the more you do it, the better you’re able to empower your students with technology.
What exactly is “technology integration”?
To understand what successful technology integration looks like, we must agree on a definition. In its broadest sense, technology integration is the intentional, curriculum-driven embedding of technology tools and skills into practical uses to enhance student learning. Integration implies the use of technology to meet any given educational goal.
There are many types of technology integration, which can sometimes make discovering the best “fit” challenging. From blended classrooms to online learning and beyond, integrated digital technology methods and tools are an endless 21st-century commodity.
Technology, although intrinsically important, is best used as a delivery method — a means of providing educational content to students. This may entail using project-based activities, game-based assessments, or online collaborative apps like Google Docs or class wikis.
Integrated technology may also involve using social media to appeal to students’ interests, using mobile devices, or applying interactive instructional tools such as student response systems and digital whiteboards. Video assignments and web-based research are other common ways to use technology successfully in the classroom.
Modeling technology integration
There are also two formal models for integrating technology: SAMR and TPACK.
Substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition (SAMR) is a model of technology integration intended to help us redefine how we use technology. Developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, this model is a reflection process that allows us to monitor the effectiveness of how we are using technology to teach and learn.
Technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) is an educational construct intended to present a comprehensive body of knowledge that all educators need to integrate digital learning technology in their classrooms.
Author and educator Mary Beth Hertz accurately divides the spectrum of technology integration into four distinct levels.
- Sparse: Rare or no use of technology, with little or no access to it among students.
- Basic: Occasional use of technology, mostly in labs as opposed to classrooms, with limited comfort level among students and use of only some technology.
- Comfortable: Regular integration of technology in learning and teaching, with most students feeling confident in their understanding and use of the tools.
- Seamless: Daily use of technology, variety in methods and tools, and a comprehensive understanding of both the technology itself and how its educational use.
Requirements for successfully integrating technology
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a nonprofit educational association, outlines standards that are crucial to successfully integrating technology in the classroom. Let’s take a brief look at each one.
Students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, and the educational community at large must agree on a single vision that will drive the decisions they make with regard to technology integration. Everyone invested in the successful implementation of any new technology will have a unique perspective, as they should. For a collaborative initiative to be effective, each of these voices must have equal opportunity to be heard.
This is perhaps the most overlooked part of technology integration because it is often assumed that everyone shares the same desired outcome. The truth is that you won’t know if you have a “shared vision” until each person has had a chance to articulate their understanding of specific technologies. Will training be necessary? What assessments are in place to ensure success? How does each integration fit into the overall stated goals of the curriculum? Is there a plan for troubleshooting problems? Is the integration timeline reasonable?
All these questions (and more) must be thoughtfully addressed well in advance. Otherwise, it will handicap any notion of a shared vision from the start. All stakeholders have the potential to contribute to a united force of educated collaborators who give clear direction in how to implement a successful technology integration plan.
Within any given educational system, all stakeholders must have leaders who keep the shared vision at the forefront. One might say that the opposite of empowered leadership is bureaucracy.
Furthermore, you may need to rethink who makes decisions about the specifics of technology integration. A great leader will already know this and will probably have plenty of similar experiences under their belt.
It’s important to empower individual teachers to adjust technology integration in their own classroom. It is exactly this type of flexible independence with which technology empowers our students. Empowerment breeds ownership.
This model of leadership is not traditional but will compel stakeholders to invest in a social management shift. Because technology use is inherently situational, being able to make informed decisions cooperatively not only makes integration possible but also practical. Cooperative decision-making also exposes new ideas and identifies individual and departmental strengths. Leveraging that knowledge can help grow integration even more.
Every integration plan should include how technology will be used, the method of implementation, and how any given use of technology addresses the plan’s mission and goals. Equal in its importance, planning must also include staff development and training, an assessment of infrastructure needs, and a thorough, ongoing method of evaluation to ensure that technology is being used effectively.
Consistent and adequate funding
Classroom technology must include the support of proper funding. Underfunding any educational area affects both teachers and students. A solid and well-defined plan will include enough money for staff training, capital outlay costs, software and hardware, and infrastructure. Meeting the needs of each school system will be different.
Successful technology integration depends on equal access to reliable network and internet connections and fair opportunities to explore new resources. Equitable access is as much about bandwidth as it is about learning from trained staff who are up to date on the most promising technology trends. It also means that all students and staff understand how, where, and when they can receive help in accessing technology resources.
When it comes to content standards for technology integration, an aligned curriculum will meet all learning goals. Constructing the framework for any successful curriculum starts by identifying the key student outcomes that must be met then working backward to build a hierarchical outline.
Student outcomes make up the fabric of any individual technology-integrated unit. The design of units taught in the classroom should fit into the curriculum adopted by the school, and ultimately the school district as well. Validate any integration curriculum should easily by comparing it to how it fits into the district technology plan. A district technology plan should answer directly to state technology standards.
The most effective curriculum will be consistently delivered with clear outcomes and expectations. Digital-age curriculum should be intentional and introduced at developmentally appropriate levels, meet criteria and objectives that are well defined, and include the development of skills that students will be able to apply in the “real world.”
Student-centered learning requires accurate assessments and the active participation of the student. This means students should be comfortable to explore and discover technology on their own, guided by their individual skills and needs. Student-centric delivery methods shift the focus of instruction from teacher to student. In the context of technology integration, success is dependent on the teacher’s ability to match the proper technology to each individual student. Ideally, the integrated technology will target higher-level problem-solving skills. When it does, students are challenged, have the greatest freedom in their learning, and take ownership of their education.
Technology is uniquely capable of fostering independence among students. Personalized and self-paced exercises intrinsically motivate students and empower them to take charge of assessing themselves and making decisions about what steps to take to learn more. Integrating technology with a student-centered approach also provides a powerful pedagogy that teachers can use to differentiate other effective teaching methods using technology. In other words, when students have the opportunity to work toward the same goals using different technology (devices, software programs, apps, etc …), they drive their own learning in a way that works best for them.
Integrating technology at school is a catalyst for creating technology connections at home. As a teacher, you can ask yourself, “How does my student learn when they are at home?” More specifically, “Do the tools my students use in the classroom segue easily to continued study at home?” The gap between school and home can be filled with various tools that lead to more learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Schools would be wise to pursue partnerships with business owners, local government entities, post-secondary institutions, and other organizations when appropriate to give students more opportunities for success.
When the local community can offer input on technology integration, there’s likely to be greater support for such initiatives in schools. This type of engagement ensures that the investment in a student’s education is understood and valued in the “real world” and increases the possibility of expanding digital learning resources when the time comes. Parents and family members who witness technology-oriented community engagement are more likely to support this engagement in their own homes.
Consider your unique situation
Successful technology integration does not have a single blueprint. However, there are plenty of successful approaches that are worth a second and third look.
As we’ve seen, one major advantage of technology — regardless of how or where it’s used in the classroom — is that it gives students a greater sense of autonomy and allows them to take charge of their learning.
How that looks in your classroom will largely depend on your willingness to be a part of a shared vision that empowers students and staff alike. It will also depend greatly on your district’s ability to offer full access to students, to commit to a thoughtful technology integration plan, and to develop a curriculum that is student centered and engages the whole community.
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