Technology In the Classroom



By: Jamshed N. Lam

The traditional definition of literacy is the ability to read and write. With the rapid development of new technologies, the nature of literacy is undergoing a rapid metamorphosis. Thus in addition to reading and writing, the current definition of literacy also includes the ability to learn, comprehend, and interact with technology in a meaningful way (Coiro, 2003).

Currently, there are at least twenty-five million illiterate people in this country and this number is increasing rapidly. By 2050 the African-American and Hispanic population will increase from 20 - 40%. Unfortunately, these are the cultures currently struggling in school. Students that come from poor homes grow up in families where adults can barely read well, where books are difficult to obtain and where an appreciation of education is lacking. In school, they fall behind at an early age and can never catch up and thus the cycle continues (Bennett, 2002).

Businesses and other organizations throughout the world have made gigantic strides as a result of better applications of technology. Schools, despite their acquisition of millions of computers, are still slow at using it. Today's technology could bring advances that would significantly improve literacy. It benefits the slow learner and reduces restraints on bright students.

On January 8th, 2002, President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The new law encompasses major changes in the education reform plan for Elementary and Secondary Education. It details four basic education reform principles, including an emphasis on proven teaching methods (Introduction: NCLB, 2002). The NCLB act will target education dollars to research-based programs that use scientifically proven ways of teaching children to read.

One of the programs targeted by NCLB is Title II-D-1&2 - Enhancing Education Through Technology (Ed Tech). The goal is to improve student academic achievement through the use of technology (The Facts About..., 2002). The plan is to teach children how to effectively integrate the technology available to them to improve student achievement and to become technologically literate by the 8th grade.

Technology should enhance learning. There is no value in just having access to it but more important how it is used. The ED Tech initiative plans to constantly develop new ways of applying technology into teaching and learning. In order to educate the public about the NCLB act, U.S. Secretary of State Rod Paige embarked on a 25-City No Child Left Behind Tour Across America. Paige (Denver, CO - Tour Stop 15, 2002) believes that "By harnessing technology, we can expand access to learning and close the achievement gap in America." One way is by e-learning which is a powerful option for parents and schools. With a click of a mouse button any student anywhere has the opportunity to learn. It increases flexibility for schools and promotes individual instruction to meet the needs of each student. Paige (New York, NY - Tour Stop 25, 2002) had a similar message in New York where he believed that "Technology is connecting parents to teachers, and, it is helping connect parents to assessments so we can measure the progress of every student".

The need for technology in the classrooms for improving literacy is also seen in the national and state standards. The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Project is an ongoing initiative of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and a consortium of distinguished partners and co-sponsors (ISTE - NETS Main, 2002). The main goal is to develop national standards for educational uses of technology to enhance educational and literacy improvements in schools. The NETS Project defines standards for students, integrating curriculum technology, technology support, and standards for student assessment and evaluation of technology use. The organization believes that in order to survive in today's competitive and information-rich culture, students must be able to use technology effectively. Technology in the classroom can help students become capable users, information seekers, problem solvers and decision-makers. Additionally, each subject has also incorporated technology into its standards. For example, Key Idea 1 for the commencement level of the NYS-ELA standard 1 (The University of the State of NY, 1996) indicates that "......and using knowledge from oral, written, and electronic sources". This aligns with Standard #3 of the technology standards for all students (NETS Technology Foundation Standards, 2002), which indicates that "Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity". The use of technology research tools (skill #5) suggests that "Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources" and "Students use technology tools to process data and report results". Similarly, there is a correlation between NYS-ELA-Std 4, National-ELA-Std 4 (NCTE/IRA Standards, 2002) and Technology-Std 4. The ELA standards expect students to read, write, listen and speak for social interaction while the Technology standard expects students to use telecommunications to interact and publish. If one looks carefully, one can similarly find associations between technology and the various subjects. For example, the New York State Math, Science and Technology Standard 2 deals with Information Systems which expects students to access, generate, process and transfer information using appropriate technologies. Standards 6 and 7 both involve the use of technology.

Thus in order to teach to the standards and enhance literacy in this multicultural environment, technology has to be integrated into the classroom in one way or another.


By: Jamshed N. Lam

The literature is rich with examples of technology in the classroom. It helps the emergent learner, students with disabilities, students with language disabilities and the gifted child. With the cultural and socioeconomic diversity in our schools today, teaching effectively to these different levels of ability, background, interests, learning styles and modalities is a major challenge. We usually teach to the majority since it is somewhat impractical to try to tailor teaching to each student. Too basic an instruction will help the struggling learner but bore the gifted and visa versa. Thus poorer students are left hanging in their confusion, and the brightest students miss exciting challenges. With computers as tutors, each student has the ability to work at their own pace.

Often, students are too confused or embarrassed to ask questions because they don't want to show their ignorance. With individualized computer instruction, students can always immediately request help if something is unclear. Computers help to make it more interactive. They are extremely effective with the struggling learners because they (unlike humans) have unlimited patience. Computers can teach via a multitude of modalities depending on the learning style of the student (Bennett, 2002).

The computer can also be used to educate the smarter students who easily get bored in a traditional classroom since they reach their goal faster. With computers, students that finish a unit can go to the next one immediately. For these bright students, the challenges that computers can offer encourage self-directed learning. Looking at the various national and state standards, this mode of technology aligns with National-ELA-5, 7 & 8, NYS-ELA-1 & 3, NETS-3, 4, 5 & 6, and NYS-MST-2 & 6.

Rushin (n.d.) used technology in a chemistry classroom in a variety of ways. Looking closer, he realized that they all dealt with information. Thus for a teacher, technology can be used as an information tool and can be separated into four categories:

  1. Research: finding and gathering new and old information
  2. Management: manipulating, organizing and storing information
  3. Publishing: manipulating, interpreting and organizing information for presentation
  4. Communication: presenting and sharing information.

Rushin feels that chemistry is a laboratory science and still prefers bench-top laboratory work to a computer because a computer cannot replace the experience of a student handling and manipulating atoms, seeing, hearing and smelling chemical changes. He strongly believes computers should be used to more efficiently collect, analyze and present data. The computer can also be used to simulate a reaction on a nano-scale to help understand what was done on a macro-scale. Technology can also be used for writing up the reports, using cameras to record images and e-mailing of reports. Research, management, publishing and communication can be associated with National-ELA-1, 5, 7 & 8, NYS-ELA-1, 2, 3 & 4, NYS-MST-1, 2 & 5.

Smolin and Lawless (2003) believe that becoming literate in the technological age leads to new responsibilities for teachers. An example is a bilingual classroom where students were given digital cameras and recorders and had to interview bilingual businesses in the community. This leads to the development of other essential literacies such as technological, visual and information literacy, all of which incorporate technology and are part of the state and national standards.

Due to the cultural diversity in America, English is not the primary language for an increasing percentage of our population. The number of ESL teachers in school is increasing in order to accommodate this diverse culture. In order for these ESL students to receive an appropriate education, technology is a valuable tool. Teachers use a variety of basic-skills language arts software for letter recognition, basic vocabulary, and spelling. This helps the students work at their own pace and a computer offers a nonthreatening way of interacting with each other. Native-speaker reading and writing programs are beneficial and especially programs that "read" stories aloud while showing the text highlighted on the screen. Writing programs allow students to compose and share their writing with others (Center on English Learning and Achievement, n.d.).

Technology helps connect multicultural education in a number of ways. Media and telecommunications are a vital part of today's youth culture. Individuals with weak or little technological skills will find it difficult to survive in the competitive and global environment of the future. Technological tools such as web-based instruction, computer-mediated communication, web quests CD-ROM, and audio and video streaming are used in multicultural education. It also helps learners with language differences (Sleeter and Tettegah, 2002).

Hypermedia is used as a learning tool for students with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) (Bermudez and Palumbo, 1994). It enables users to access information in a non-linear and self-tailored fashion by creating individualized learning environments. In today's cultural diversity and multitude of learning styles and intelligences, any technology that can individualize learning is beneficial. Contrary to a book where the content is structured, hypermedia allows the learner to determine the access order. Thus information can be linked together in a variety of ways. Since the learning medium is student-centered, it can proceed in his/her way and pace. Graphics, sound and other forms of information transfer that have associations with real-life are also possible with hypermedia. This is in line with National-ELA-3, 10 & 12, NYS-ELA-1 & 4 and NETS-3 & 4.

Assistive technologies are used to assist students in a variety of instruction modes. Various AT devices help students to organize their thoughts or work by using flow charts, graphic organizers or some high-tech word processing software. Note-taking devices include optical character recognition, microcassette recorders or videotapes. Various word processing devices are also available for writing assistance. These aid in spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, editing, revising and motivation. Telecommunications and multimedia transport students beyond their physical environment to access electronic information. Tools are also available to help students develop and improve cognitive and problem-solving skills. Various multimedia CD-ROM-based application programs for assisted reading and customizing instructional materials to meet the various disabilities of students also provide a learning tool for these students (Behrmann, 1995).

By using an interactive software literacy curriculum on children from 3 to 5 years old and with moderate disabilities, children can gain concepts related to stories, sequences, and story making. They learn to read words on a page from left to right, and from top to bottom. Social interaction skills and emergent writing are positively affected. If the information given to the child is meaningful, they retain it for long periods of time (Hutinger, n.d.). Assistive technologies can be associated with National-ELA-3 & 10, NYS-ELA-1 and NETS-2, 3 & 4.

The Internet is another technological tool that can be integrated into the classroom. This can be done in three ways - Internet Workshop, Internet Project, and Internet Inquiry (Leu and Leu, 1999). Internet Workshop is helpful in introducing students to sites for an upcoming unit and develops useful background knowledge. Internet Project involves collaborative learning between two or more classrooms that takes place over the Internet. Two basic types of Internet Projects exist and are used by teachers: web site Internet projects and projects created by teachers who find one another on the Internet. These projects can be used for primary, middle and high school grades. Internet Inquiry is a student-directed activity where individuals or groups identify an important question and then gather information as they seek answers to their question. Internet Inquiry includes five phases: question; search; analyze; compose; and publish. These modes align with National-ELA-7 & 8, NYS-ELA-1, NYS-MST-2 & 7 and NETS-3, 4, 5 & 6.

The Internet is also used to enrich science teaching and learning (Haury and Milbourne (2002). It helps students to pursue individual interests, take responsibility for gathering their own information and enable them to communicate with any peer or expert. Through the Internet, individuals can interact inexpensively and at any time. The teacher can interact individually with students or their parents and can also increase individual attention. Science experiments can be coordinated all over the world. As an example, a school coordinated an experiment with class groups as far as Australia. All groups measured the earth's magnetic field and compared results. This would not have been feasible without the Internet. Maintaining interest is key in science and through the Internet, one can always find someone with similar interests (association: National-ELA-7 & 8, NETS-4 & 5, NYS-MST-1, 2, 4 & 7).

Technology is also a very helpful tool in foreign language classes. With the use of e-mail, chat rooms, Web cam and a collaborative Web site, French students at USC were linked to native speakers in France (Wood, 2002). The online learning enhances the traditional textbook and gives students a personal connection to native French speakers. Their information comes from real people rather than textbooks and is also related to real-life. The fact that other people read what they write makes learning fun and exciting and also improves reading and writing skills. This reflects what students do in their daily lives: (e-mailing friends, chatting, etc.). It is the form of communication they use in real life, so there should be no reason that it cannot be incorporated into their language class. This aligns well with National-ELA-9, NYS-ELA-4 and NETS-4.

As discussed earlier, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige strongly promoted e-learning during his NCLB tour across America (Denver, CO - Tour Stop 15, 2002). He shared the notion believed by many that e-learning is a powerful tool for parents and schools and that students can use it to learn languages with native speakers.

In addition to using e-mails for foreign language classes, it is also an excellent medium for global communication and collaboration (Smolin and Lawless, 2003). ( is referred to as the world's largest online classroom community. Both students and teachers can communicate in a variety of languages, engage in specific group discussions and work on global collaborative projects. Technology enables them to share their work with a wider authentic audience. This helps influence their writing skills, their observation and reporting skills and develops effective communication abilities. This is in line with the National-ELA-4, 5, 7, 8 & 9, NYS-ELA-2 & 4 and the NETS-2, 4 & 5.

Feldman (n.d.) has appropriately summarized the ways technology supports early literacy. The teacher should facilitate the use of technology based on the instructional objective(s) being taught. Some of these are:

  • Developmentally appropriate (interactive) software that supports instructional outcomes helps develop higher-level reasoning and problem solving skills.
  • Electronic Books benefit young readers, ESOL and Special Education students.
  • Word processing helps students write more fluently.
  • CDs make accommodations for different languages and allow students to hear directions in their native language but require them to read the stories and do word work in English.
  • The World Wide Web makes different types of reading materials more accessible to students. Text size can be increased for students with visual impairments and vocabulary can be simplified for emerging readers.
  • Virtual Field Trips allow children to travel beyond the classroom without actually leaving.
  • Digital Images allow students to record and document their experiences.

Technology has also been used in interdisciplinary inquiry such as linking science and literature. Howes, Hamilton and Zaskoda (2003) show this by creating a web site to support middle school teachers and students in making this connection. The environment for this could include the community surrounding the school i.e. actual places, situations and issues around the neighborhood to help give real-life meaning that students could associate with.


By: Jamshed N. Lam

The NETS web site has eight lesson plans, which integrate technology into the ELA standards (NETS for student database, 2002). An example of this is a "Birthstone Project with a Multimedia Twist" (Curriculum Integration - ELA, Birthstone Project, n.d.). This lesson for grades 6-8 is more of an interdisciplinary project for an English language arts teacher, an earth science teacher, and a technology teacher. The students use English and language arts as the mode for expression. They learn about the material using technology such as online research, and an electronic presentation. The NETS Performance Indicators are 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, while the corresponding ELA standards are 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12.

Similarly, grade 9-12 students read literature (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama) and view creations in other media and try to answer the thematic question: 'Who am I?' They compare the ways in which ideas are presented in different media and then create their own multimedia portfolios and personal Web pages that reflect who they are (Curriculum Integration - ELA, Discovering Ourselves, n.d.). The NETS Performance Indicators for this project are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10, and the ELA standards they relate to are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12. Although these are just two examples, the interdisciplinary theme is common in applications that use technology.

Multicultural diversity is a big issue in trying to develop an appropriate teaching protocol. The World Wide Web and Internet provide an alternative to the traditional methods of teaching. A specific application is a multi-user domain (MU) which allows multiple users to log on to a coexistent environment (Sleeter and Tettegah, 2002). The MU can be object-oriented (MOO), text based, descriptive environments which are virtual online environments created for problem solving, live interaction and collaboration. Multi-user dimensions (MUDs) are more game oriented and often provide a fantasy world virtual reality approach. MOOs provide networks for various cultural groups for discussions about social justice, diversity, race, sexuality and identity. Educational MOOs help engage the students in role-playing, critical thinking, and problem solving activities. Being object-based, users create rooms and subjects. It is different from a chat room and is more like virtual classrooms. MOOs can be created by teachers as well as students for a variety of online learning and multimedia projects. They excite children when they are able to play games that involve critical thinking, imagination and virtual reality. LambdaMOO is an example of a MUD. MOOseCrossing is an example of a MOO for children. Collective story telling is a common writing practice in MUDs and MOOs (Bitter and Pierson, 2002 as cited in Sleeter and Tettegah, 2002).

MOOs and MUDs require students to use text. This helps develop language, reading, vocabulary and writing skills. This is in association with National-ELA-3, 4, 5, 9, & 11, NYS-ELA-1, 2, 3, & 4, NETS-2, 4, & 6.

Another application of technology in the classroom is the use of Assistive Technologies and especially for students with mild disabilities (Behrmann, 1995). There are seven areas where ATs are used to assist students with mild disabilities. They are:

  1. ORGANIZATION: Low-tech solutions help teach students to organize their thoughts or work using flow charts and task analysis, and outlining using graphic organizers.
  2. NOTE TAKING: Optical character recognition is software that can transform typewritten material into computer-readable text using a scanner. Notes read by a voice synthesizer helps students with reading difficulties to review the notes. Videotaping class sessions are helpful for visual learners who pick up on images or body language. Laptop or notebook computers also provide note-taking assistance.
  3. WRITING ASSISTANCE: Word processing is one of the most important applications. Computers and word processing software help students with spelling, grammar, punctuation errors, organizing, editing, and revising, and interest in writing. Word prediction helps those that have difficulties with word recall or spelling.
  4. PRODUCTIVITY: Assistive productivity tools help students to work on math or other subjects that may require calculating, categorizing, grouping, and predicting events.
  5. ACCESS TO REFERENCE MATERIALS: A computer and a modem helps students access electronic information. Students establish "CompuPals" with other students, motivating them to generate more text and thus improve literacy. Multimedia-based use of text, pictures, audio, and video in reference-based software helps the learning needs of students with mild disabilities.
  6. COGNITIVE ASSISTANCE: Multimedia CD-ROM-based application programs assist in reading. These CD-based books include high-interest stories and use multimedia to motivate students to read. These books highlight words as they are read, or pronounce syllables and word definitions. Bilingual books help students read in their native language while being exposed to a second language.
  7. MATERIALS MODIFICATION: Powerful multimedia authoring and presentation tools are used to develop and modify computer-based instructional materials for students with mild disabilities by including video, animation, and text into hypermedia-based instruction.

Instruction with the use of these technologies make learning more efficient and more real for students who have difficulty with traditional methods of instruction.

Previously, we talked about the use of Internet in the classroom. More specifically, we discussed Internet Project which involves collaborative learning between two or more classrooms that takes place over the Internet (Leu and Leu, 1999). A specific application is the use of Internet as an effective science teaching tool (Hassard, n.d.). A group of teachers have created on-line science classes. The site also contains collaborative science projects, each with a specific focus that groups can access and work on. Examples are:

  1. Global Thinking Project: Here, an environmental science project links students and teachers around the world to investigate a series of projects, including the green classroom, Project Clean Air, Project Water Watch, Project Solid Waste, Project Soil and Project EarthMonth.
  2. Hands On Universe: An educational program that enables students to investigate the Universe while applying tools and concepts from science, math and technology.

Additionally, there are also Internet-based lessons in the science domain, which are web quest-like. Topics there include genetics and biomes and ecosystems in biology, the history of the earth and cloud formation in earth science, the atomic theory in chemistry and waves and gravitational forces in physics. In all these examples, students are expected to use technology to perform research, analyze, explore, become familiar with and find solutions. This is in line with National-ELA-1, 2, 4, 7, 8 and 12, NETS-3, 4, 5, and 6, NYS-MST-2, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Technology In the Classroom Article Continued