Technology in the Classroom
Ever since the late 1970s, computers have had a place in Education (Fan & Orey, 2001). Many teachers and others in the educational field have been working on how to best use these tools to help grow student achievement since then. Until the last 10 to 15 years, computers have been used for “drill and practice, educational games, and for teaching students about computers themselves” (Fan & Orey, 2001 p. 1). Computers and other technologies have more recently completely changed into tools that can be used in the classroom to transform instruction and student interaction with the content, essentially becoming better intellectual tools (Fan & Orey, 2001). The more a teacher is using these tools in the classroom, the more their students will as well (Hakverdi-Can & Dana, 2012). Many teachers are using technologies now that allow them to retrieve information, create presentations, create video or audio, and to run simulations. According to Hakverdi-Can and
Dana (2012), there is a high correlation between teachers that use these tools in their classrooms and their students that use them. In order for students to get the best use of technology in the classroom, teachers have to be able to be confident enough to use it as well.
An online curriculum including electronic textbooks includes three main pieces: the use on an online textbook, the use of digital tools in a curriculum, and also multimedia. This study reviews all three, starting with multimedia in the classroom. Multimedia is the basis for an online curriculum and a review of best practices for its use is a first step in reviewing a more
complete curriculum infused with technology.
The Importance of Multimedia in the
Multimedia is often the jumping off point for bringing more technology into the classroom. Technology starts with video and audio supplemental materials for the curriculum, and usually branches from there to a teacher using the internet to find information, creating presentations using different software or web-based apps, digital cameras and simulations (Hakverdi-Can & Dana, 2012). These newer technologies require the skills learned by teachers first figuring out how to teach with different types of multimedia. Bringing in a video or an audio clip to enhance learning is the first step to teaching with multiple technological tools to supplement the concepts that are already presented by the textbook. Many of the teachers that are best reaching their students tend to have the capability to use multiple types of multimedia in their instruction and are doing so often (Hakverdi-Can & Dana, 2012). Even the most basic of technology skills can help a teacher to define concepts differently for different students, thus intensifying the chance that students will gain a complete understanding of the concept.
Using multimedia tools in the classroom can often lead to a better understanding of concepts. However, multimedia and technology by itself, without strong instruction, do not automatically translate into better understanding for students. It is up to the teacher how a teacher uses technology and multimedia in the classroom and why are very important factors as to how well the tools will impact the students (Thomas et al., 2012). If a teacher has the skills to use different types of multimedia in the classroom and chooses not to, the students will generally not use the skills they have learned either. Technology programs featuring multimedia that are implemented with clear direction and teachers that are taught the skills to implement the technology effectively can have significant impacts on scores (Thomas et al., 2012). Thomas et al. found that instruction that featured multimedia resulted in students being able to utilize higher-order thinking skills to frame and generate questions that were based on real-world scenarios, not generic situations often found in textbooks (Thomas et al., 2012). Also, when the teacher utilized multimedia tools to create a recording of a lecture, the learner could then control what they listened to and when and could apply the information learned to different situations. They were not limited to what they remembered from the lecture being spoken (Thomas et al.,2012). The study also concluded that multimedia can be a great way for teachers to differentiate what they are learning through their professional development. This differentiation can lead to teachers becoming more proficient with different multimedia tools that best suit their current skills. They would then apply these skills to their classes. Different teachers would use different styles to master the multimedia tools, so differentiation in professional development was a big benefit for the teachers as well (Thomas et al., 2012). Multimedia can be an avenue to greater concept mastery, but the teacher still needs to learn the tool and implement it effectively and enthusiastically for it to work. Multimedia can also be the basis for different types of learning that focus on higher-order learning skills. Project-based learning is a type of instruction that moves the focus of the curriculum from the teacher presenting the information to the students for them to absorb, to more of a student-centered, learning by doing approach (Liu & Hsiao, 2002). Multimedia, especially in a Social Studies classroom, can bring a whole new element to project-based learning (PBL), allowing for the curriculum to really reach new levels of higher-order thinking in the students. Students already have great access to multimedia in their lives, especially through the different technologies available today. Understanding that multimedia is also used as a learning tool is important for students. This can be done through PBL based in multimedia (Liu, Hsiao, 2002). Through their study working with middle school students creating a multimedia project, Liu and Hsiao have shown that by creating this multimedia project the students were encouraged to become “independent learners, good problem-solvers, and effective decision-makers” (Liu & Hsiao, 2002, p. 333). These are great skills for middle school students to have, and can be very difficult to achieve through a more traditional textbook-based curriculum. The students also saw gains in their ability to work with peers in a structured environment where they have to meet deadlines and solve conflicts (Liu & Hsiao, 2002). These are also great skills for students to acquire, for working with peers is an essential skill needed in higher education and many jobs. PBL in the Social Studies classroom is important, but PBL based in multimedia
helps to keep the students’ interest better than other non-multimedia-based curricula (Liu & Hsiao, 2002). Multimedia and PBL can come together very well in a history classroom in particular. PBL based on multimedia can help foster important skills in history, such as historical analysis and interpretation (Hernandez-Ramos & De La Paz, 2009). When used effectively, students are able to take the multimedia they consume in class, analyze and interpret it, then create their own type of multimedia presentation showing understanding of the concept (Hernandez-Ramos & De La Paz, 2009). This is absolutely what the goal of a history curriculum should be, and it can be much more difficult for students to show this type of analysis and interpretation through a traditional textbook curriculum. Hernandez-Ramos and De La Paz studied the skills middle school students in an eighth-grade history classroom developed as they completed a multimedia-based PBL unit on westward movement and compared that to a traditional textbook-centered curriculum teaching the same information. The authors reported, “greater knowledge gains after instruction (for the experiment group) than students in the contrasting group” (Hernandez-Ramos & De La Paz, 2009 p. 167). The authors also found that those in the experiment group had a more positive outlook on learning history and social studies, and on working with others (Hernandez-Ramos & De La Paz, 2009). Any type of curriculum that affects students’ buy-in to the subject and also raises attitudes about working with others is a worthwhile curriculum. PBL based in multimedia often does that. Multimedia can also be used more traditionally as supplemental support to the textbook, although with new technology this supplemental role can be much more interactive. When a supplemental program is multimedia-based, it becomes more interactive. The combination of text, pictures, animation, and sound all help to present a well-rounded understanding of concepts (Kingsley & Boone, 2006). Students are able to learn about a concept from many different viewpoints when multimedia is used. This is the main benefit of multimedia, and when that multimedia becomes interactive with the use of technology, the highest benefits to students can be seen (Kingsley & Boone, 2006). Kingsley and Boone pointed out that a supplemental multimedia program used in an American History class did boost scores on a posttest over a pretest more than a traditional textbook-centered curriculum, but that other factors were in play as well. Their results showed that a multimedia-based supplemental program can be useful, but it is also important to implement the technology effectively for the best results (Kingsley & Boone, 2006). That finding is essential to the whole purpose of this study, that technology can improve on scores, but only if it is done effectively and completely. After reviewing the best practices for multimedia in the classroom and its benefits, the study reviews best practices for the use of digital tools in a curriculum, also referred to as online curriculum. Multimedia is an important part of an online curriculum, and digital tools give students more access to it. A review of the best practices for online curriculum shows how students can benefit from the use of not only the tools themselves but also how they can be used to expand the number of instances that students can access multimedia and benefit from it. A review also shows how online curriculum tools allow for students to more readily use critical thinking skills.
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