"Relative Advantage" and Technology Implementation

on Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Technology has the potential to make learning more engaging, hands-on, and accessible, but teachers are not likely to implement new technology unless they can clearly see the benefits (also known as "relative advantage"). Moreover, the relative advantage must be significant, especially for techno-phobic teachers. It's uncomfortable and scary to stand in front of 27 pairs of questioning, critical eyes when the technology fails to work as planned--a situation which seems inevitable. However, if teachers receive the necessary training and support, understand technology's ability to solve learning problems, and see immediate, measurable growth in student achievement, they are more willing to take the technology risk.

First, the average teacher needs training in order to implement technology into their daily instruction. Without the training, most teachers cannot see any relative advantage. In fact, a fellow teacher once said "It's pointless to teach technology. It's always changing and I can't keep up. By the time these kids graduate, there will be completely new devices and software, and we'll have wasted years teaching them out-dated technology." This teacher saw the use technology as the outcome, instead of viewing it as a process or tool to solve learning problems. Honestly, who can blame him, when software and standards are dropped into our laps, with little or no training or support? Rarely are we shown how to solve the problems the software might encounter (freezing screens, sound card troubles, etc). Only once in a while are the benefits of integrating technology into the classroom clearly explained to the entire faculty. If we are lucky, we receive a sporadic thirty-minute overview of the newest software subscription.

However, if training needs are accurately meet, then teachers still need time to systematically evaluate the relative advantage of technology integration. First, they must consider student learning problems, which may include struggles with motivation, complexity of concepts, or differing learning styles. For example, in my classroom the students need to write in response to literature. Unfortunately, the average 5th grader is not excited to write in a structured manner. Additionally, many students are battling OT issues, which make the idea of writing in response to reading overwhelming. When I identified this problem, I began to seek technology solutions.

Most teachers will not independently seek these solutions to learning problems; instead technology integrators must help teachers find them. With the wide variety of technology available, teachers need somebody to point them in the right direction. In my situation, I was lucky enough to be sent to a technology conference by my district. At the conference, I was introduced to discussion boards, blogs, and chat rooms for the elementary classroom. This fall, I implemented online book discussions for my students. To measure the success of the new strategy, I created a discussion board/thoughtful response rubric.

From the beginning, my students were excited to write online. They anxiously waited to read the comments posted by their classmates and were eager to respond. I noticed that quantity and quality of their literature-related writing drastically improved. With this evidence in hand, I approached my teammates. They were able to immediately see the relative advantage of online discussion boards (by looking at student authentic examples and student scores) and quickly embraced the concept in their classrooms.

This example is just a small portion of the problems technology can solve. From simulations to web videos (
www.brainpop.com or www.unitedstreaming.com), from online teacher-created assessments to creative desktop publishing, and from "drill" math practice to assistive technology (writers, recorders, SmartBoards, etc), the possibilities are endless! Still, the key to practical integration lies in helping teachers see the relative advantage.


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