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Session 7.1: Educational Technology (AM)

Today is devoted to discussions and presentations of using technology to enhance instruction. Before the panel on educational technology convenes, Allan Feldman leads participants in a discussion of their assessment of the summer workshop thus far. He offers the model of a "2 + 2" course evaluation, which asks respondents to offer two compliments about a course and two suggestions for improvement. While Allan invites compliments, he tells participants the organizers are more interested in suggestions this morning.

The suggestions: Allan then turns the session over to Terry Dun, who convenes the panel on educational technology. Panel members are Steve Brewer (Director of BCRC, UMASS), Bill Gerace (Physics, UMASS), Al Rudnitsky (Education and Child Study, Smith), and Sue Pac (Gifted/Talented, Powder Mill Middle School).

Terry asks each panel member to address the following question: "How are you presently using technology in the classroom and why are you using it?"

Steve Brewer talks about his interest in constructivist methods (how to help students construct their own knowledge). In his work (previously and now at the BCRC) he has attempted to develop and offer computer tools that enable students to collaborate in their education. He's especially interested in enhancing student-student interaction.

Bill Gerace talks about his use of ClassTalk in physics courses at UMASS, a technology that he will exhibit during this afternoon's session. ClassTalk enables students in large classes to communicate with each other and the instructor via hand-help computers. The purpose of class talk is not evaluative, to assess low-level comprehension; rather, the intent is to get students to practice reason and analysis in an environment where they can collaborate with one another and the instructor.

Al Rudnitsky talks about his work with students as authors. He has been working on the concept of a story as a method to construct and communicate understanding. Students must take charge of their own education and the story concept helps students and instructors break loose from rote memorization as the key to learning. Student authoring on the Internet and the use of multimedia is a perfect non-linear way to get students to "tell the story."

Sue Pac talks about how technology is being used in middle schools today. Because the middle school concept embraces the blending of students with different ability levels as a form of student empowerment, technology in the classroom must address different student abilities and talents. In her own classrooms, she uses LOGO (a computer language). Every curriculum in LOGO fits something in every grade level.

Terry Dun then poses a second question to each panel member: "How do you assess the value of technology in the classroom-whether it's working or not?"

Steve Brewer notes that technology is not a magic bullet and that each technology must be assessed individually for what it's contributing to student learning.

Bill Gerace says that faculty must first establish the features of a technology that make it superior to other pedagogies. To his mind, a technology serves its purpose when it a) enhances student motivation and satisfaction with the course, and b) enables the development of critical thinking skills.

Al Rudnitsky cites the lack of hard or empirical evidence on outcomes of technology use in the classroom. Most of the evidence of its utility is anecdotal. But in his experience with student authoring projects, students get very invested in what they're doing because the teacher is not the only audience for their work. Having a wider audience is important, and technology often makes that possible.

Sue Pac talks about spending her last year working with a group of other teachers talking precisely about this question. Her group has decided the importance of writing up goals and objectives for each technology being considered so that these will stay in the forefront of deliberations and prevent faculty from getting wrapped up in the technology itself. If the goals and objectives warrant the use of a technology, then it should be used , but the technology should not really drive the goals and objectives. Once goals and objectives are stated, the technology can be evaluated to determine whether they are really being met.

Some questions from the floor are then addressed to the panelists. One participant is concerned about the availability of computers to all students, especially at the K12 level. Terry Dun replies that to his knowledge, all public schools in Massachusetts are now being wired for computer technology.

Another participant is concerned that today's discussion of technology is too focused on computers and reminds the workshop that there are other forms of technology that should be considered-videos, etc.

Another participant notes that the July 1997 cover story of the Atlantic Monthly addresses the issue of the value of educational technology and might be worth looking at.

The panel concludes at 10:45 and participants take a 15 minute break. During the break, participants sign up to attend various presentations on educational technology in the afternoon.

At 11:00, the curriculum teams meet together to talk about the following question: "What are the issues and opportunities to use technology in your teaching?"

After 30 minutes of discussion, participants reconvene as a plenary and each team shares the products of its discussion.

The session closes for lunch at 12:00.

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