Anytime Anywhere Learning
More information »

2002 Tracing Teachers' Use of Technology in a Laptop Computer School: The Interplay of Teacher Beliefs, Social Dynamics, and Institutional Culture

Date: 2002
Author: Mark Windschitl and Kurt Sahl
Affiliation: University of Washington
Keywords: constructivist, sociocultural perspectives, educational technology, teacher training.


This two year study examines how three middle school teachers, Carol, Stephan, and Julia, learned how to use technology in the context of a laptop computer program. The ways in which those teachers eventually integrated computers into classroom instruction were powerfully mediated by their interrelated belief systems about learners in their school, about what constituted "good teaching" in the context of the institutional culture, and about the role of technology in students' lives. In one instance, the laptops were a catalyst to transform the classroom through collaborative student-work and project based learning.

Key Findings:

For Carol:

* Carol's reconsideration of her pedagogy was coincident with the introduction of the laptops at Woodvale.

* She associated the laptop's appeal with the students' hunger for using and manipulating "adult level information."

* Despite the decision to incorporate laptops into her teaching, Carol felt she had little institutional support for learning how to do so.

* Carol's first chore when she developed laptop lessons was to inspect the software itself and learn about its features before she attempted to have her students use it: "I was not ready to have them do PowerPoint presentations until I understood how to make it work myself. And once I learned how to make it work, then I understood the possibilities of how I could apply it in different places."

* After Carol began implementing projects and group work, she recognized significant modifications in her practice that were associated with student laptop use. She noted changes in her instructional relationships with students, changes in how she dealt with a more active classroom, and changes in her mental model of productive classroom activity.

* Overall, by the end of Year 2, Carol was using the laptop almost daily in language arts and social studies. Moreover, elements of constructivist teaching were thoroughly integrated with her various uses of technology.

For Stephan:

* Stephan immediately confronted an unaddressed issue regarding assessment. He was accustomed to employing objective means to measure his students' performance, but when he discovered some of the challenges associated with assessing students' technology-based projects, he realized the complexities associated with new ways of teaching: "It's just more difficult. It's more subjective, and it [assessment] becomes very ongoing."

* In Year 2, Stephan began to take a more constructivist approach to teaching by allowing his students to work collaboratively on complex problems in class; however, he rarely integrated laptops into this instruction.

* He observed that when the laptops were in use, students were less inclined to label their peers based on academic achievement. They began to think about each other in more inclusive ways: "They know who is the expert at doing different things, so they seek each other out for expertise. I think it changes sometimes who the resource people are."

* Over the two-year period of the study, Stephan made significant shifts toward constructivist instruction, many of which centered around his use of the new mathematics curriculum.

For Julia:

* Since arriving at Woodvale Julia had found that, for her, part of the new and challenging teaching context was the technology.

* As the year progressed, Julia began to question various aspects of the use of technology at Woodvale. For example, she was aware of students' projects in other classes and saw several examples of multimedia presentations that they had created, but she felt that the presentation software was ultimately a distraction from learning.

* Julia felt that the laptop interrupted the "flow of the day," and she thought that her room was too small to facilitate efficient laptop use because there were too few electrical outlets.

* Her instructional focus for the duration of the study was on basic skills and rote-level knowledge (element 3). Her students' use of technology exclusively for word processing indicates this instructional conservatism.


As the three participants made decisions about the use of technology in their classrooms, they appeared to assess the potential for the technology to create learning conditions that (a) were congruent with their beliefs about learners and their needs, (b) were consistent with images of "what counted" as learning activities in specific subject matter areas, and/or (c) allowed control over the learning environment to be placed in the hands of the students or the teacher (depending on the instructional philosophy). Although all of these were likely to have influenced participants' thinking about the use of technology, Carol appeared to frame her decisions primarily on the basis of her beliefs about learners' needs; Stephan, by the nature of the subject matter; and Julia, by a desire for classroom control.

Source Article: http://aalf.org/Resources/American%20Educational%20Research%20Journal%20Spring%202002,%20Vol.%2039,%20No.%201,%20pp.%20165%E2%80%93205