Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review of some literature on 1:1 computing and teacher PD

In order for a one-to-one computer initiative or almost any use of technology in the classroom to be effective, teachers need more than the just the equipment. Any professional development related to technology has been shown to be better than none. While reporting on an Educational Testing Service (ETS) study that looked at the mathematics scores of fourth- and eighth-graders on the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Archer (1998) writes that the students of teachers who had experienced any technology training scored better than those of teachers with no technology training. However, exclusively skills-based training for teachers provides a limited benefit that may not justify the expense of ubiquitous educational technology. In a two-year, ethnographic perspective study of three middle school teachers at a school with a one-to-one laptop program, Windschitl and Sahl (2002) conclude that:
Professional development opportunities should not focus exclusively on skills with computers. Rather, technology use should be more thoughtfully considered within the context of teachers' beliefs about what constitutes effective teaching and how technology and information access can alter the traditional roles of teachers and students in the classroom. (p. 202)

In addition, Knowlton and Weiss state "when faculty attempt to enhance their courses with technology but do not consider pedagogy, they are usually disappointed with the results" (Knowlton & Weiss, 2000 in Murphy et al., 2007, p. 71).
With regard to the classroom roles of teachers and students, Windschitl and Sahl (2002, p. 169) also report that current research indicates some teachers increase the use of student-centered classroom pedagogies over time in conjunction with the use of technology.1 However, Moersch (2002) points out that while studies such as Becker and Ravitz (1999) found that teachers' pedagogical beliefs and actions were very much affected by substantial use of technology in the classroom, "the question remains, were those teachers most affected by technology use already inclined toward a constructivist approach in the classroom or were the technology and the teachers' abilities to use different applications the causal variables that changed their pedagogical style from a nonconstructivist approach to a learner-centered, experiential paradigm?" (p. 30).
The issue of technology access for all teachers and students can be addressed by a one-to-one computing program. However, Windschitl and Sahl found that the mere existence of a one-to-one program did not initiate an increase in the use of constructivist pedagogy among the teachers studied. In fact, "the availability of technology was neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to affect pedagogy" (Windschitl & Sahl, 2002, pp. 201-202). Yet, in both the Windschitl and Sahl study and in the Becker and Ravitz study, the researchers found that pervasive technology was a catalyst that enabled teachers already dissatisfied with teacher-centered methods or who were already constructivist-oriented to implement more practices consistent with their teaching philosophy than were possible before the existence of pervasive technology (Windschitl & Sahl, 2002; Becker & Ravitz, 1999). Data collected shows that teachers whose instructional practice has moved in a constructivist-oriented direction are the same teaches who have thoroughly employed computers in instruction among schools where other arguably necessary factors exist: frequent discussion about reform, a social network that informs and encourages the implementation of instructional change, and a relatively technologically rich environment (Becker & Ravitz, 1999, pp. 380-381).
Even though research shows a clear connection between instructional technology use and constructivist or student-centered teaching methods, why are student-centered pedagogies that require students to use higher-order thinking and practice solving problems in a practical context important? To make room for more student-centered teaching is this pedagogical change worth a reduction in the time allocated to knowledge-transmission oriented methods and teacher-centered methods? The skills required by future workers in the 21st century work force are "the need to analyze information, make decisions, and solve problems" according to The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report conducted by the U. S. Department of Commerce in 1991 (Moersch, 2002, pp. 22-23). Moersch also writes that several commissioned reports during the 1990s recommend that curriculum focus on the skills typically associated with constructivist pedagogies to meet those requirements.
The value of constructivist pedagogy is not a new idea even though it has gained new attention in the context of 21st century skills and teaching with technology. A prominent constructivist, Ernst von Glasersfeld has traced the cognitive construction theory back to a Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico who discusses the idea in a 1710 treatise, where he states that one knows a thing only when one can explain it (Yager, 1991). That idea resonates with any teacher who remembers the level of understanding he or she attained after teaching a particular subject. This understanding often surpasses what that teacher learned while studying the subject as a pre-service student. More recently, Moersch reports that Ryan in 1990, Hopson in 1998, and Lin Hsiao in 1998 found significant improvement in student academic achievement "in classrooms where self-regulated learning was encouraged, higher-order thinking strategies were promoted, and guided discovery learning was nurtured" (Moersch, 2002, p. 53).
Even through the lens of test scores, there is evidence of the benefit of good instructional computer use such as when it promotes higher-order thinking. In reporting the findings of the ETS report by Harold Wenglinsky, which examined math scores from the 1996 NAEP, Archer (1998) states that eighth-graders whose teachers used computers in ways associated with higher-order thinking such as "simulations and applications" scored higher than students whose teachers did not use computers for instruction. Conversely, eighth-graders whose instructional computer use was primarily for "drill and practice" actually scored lower. "What we do know for certain," [Wenglinsky] says, "is that when teachers use the computer to teach higher-order thinking skills, students benefit" (Archer, 1998, Despite his findings section, para. 9).
Back in the context of one-to-one computing, Wambach (2006) quotes Gary Stager, a one-to-one computing advocate: "The success of a one-to-one computing program is in its application" (p. 59).

1On page 166 of Tracing Teachers' Use of Technology in a Laptop Computer School: The Interplay of Teacher Beliefs, Social Dynamics, and Institutional Culture (2002), Windschitl and Sahl cite the following research reports as suggesting a correlation between technology use and the move of teachers toward constructivist pedagogy: Becker and Ravitz (1999), Means (1994), and Mehlinger (1996).


Archer, J. (1998, October 1). The link to higher scores (Technology counts '98: Putting school technology to the test). Technology in Schools Supplement to Education Week, 18(5), 10. Retrieved 12 January 2008, from Professional Development Collection database.

Becker, H. J., & Ravitz, J. (1999, Summer). The influence of computer and Internet use on teacher's pedagogical practices and perceptions. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 31(4), 356-384.

Moersch, C. (2002). Beyond hardware: Using existing technology to promote higher-level thinking. Eugene, OR: International Society of Technology in Education.

Murphy, D. M., King, F. B., & Brown, S. W. (2007). Laptop Initiative Impact: Assessed Using Student, Parent, and Teacher Data. Computers in the Schools, 24(1/2), 57-73.

Wambach, C. (2006, September). From Revolutionary to Evolutionary: 10 years of 1-to-1 Computing. T.H.E. Journal, 33(14), 58-59.

Windschitl, M., & Sahl, K. (2002, Spring). Tracing Teachers' Use of Technology in a Laptop Computer School: The Interplay of Teacher Beliefs, Social Dynamics, and Institutional Culture. American Educational Research Journal, 39(1), 165-205.

Yager, R. E. (1991, September). The constructivist learning model. The Science Teacher, 58(6), 52-57.

I wrote this in January as part of a research proposal focusing on teacher profesional development in a one-to-one program.