When we talk about the integration of technology into the classroom, we are often assessing the “value added.”
What is the value of all of these technologies? Does it make learning more accessible to all learners? Does it help us work closer toward a classroom based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
I think it depends. It depends on the classroom, the technology and support for that technology, how it is used, and each individual student.
My teaching philosophy is heavily influenced by the idea of multiple learning modalities, in particular, Gardiner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
Which fits nicely with the concept of UDL, the foundation of which is multiple means of representation (visually, auditorily, tactilely, etc.); multiple means of action and expression (different ways for students to express themselves and show what they know); and multiple means of engagement (different ways of motivating and challenging students). It is a way of meeting the needs of a diverse group of learners. I should add that while UDL was designed as a way of creating full access to students with special needs, I really believe that it applies to all learners with and without special needs – as well all learn and succeed differently. UDL uses individual students’ strengths to create a richer classroom experience.
Considering this, one of the greatest values added by technology is the ease with which teachers can now create such an environment. It is now easier than ever before to actually individualize the curriculum to each learner. The flexibility of digital media, and online applications allows both the teachers and the students to have a wide range of “means of representation and expression.”
However, I think the value of this has to be assessed on a classroom-by-classroom basis. The age and abilities of the students, the knowledge of the teacher – all variables in this complex equation.
Teddy Bears Go Blogging was a great way of integrating technology into the primary grades. It is simple and focused and allows students communication with the broader world. I could foresee some instances, however, where technology may even become a hindrance to education – the danger of which seems particularly high the younger the students. Many of the applications and technologies we’ve looked at seem better suited to the upper elementary grades. This is to be expected, as the majority of the curriculum becomes more complex as students go through school – technology isn’t different, in that sense.
But all of these technologies – blogging and other Web 2.0 websites, Photoshop, digital imagery, and Inspiration – can all add value to the primary grades if used in a simple, focused, and “small” manner. As the students mature through the grades, elementary teachers can continue giving more digital freedom to maintain the benefits of the technologies.
Bottom line – determining the benefits of technology requires teachers to be constantly reassessing, evaluating the technologies and students on a classroom-by-classroom basis, and for each technology use and curricular unit.