GSE Faculty Explore the Challenges and Opportunities for Technology Integration in Education

November 17, 2017

Today, technology is a ubiquitous part of most children’s lives, with youth ages 5 to 16 spending an average of 6 ½ hours per day in front of a screen. It has also become a fundamental feature in the workplace. From video conferencing to telecommuting, the influence technology has had on organizational communication and collaboration is irrefutable. When it comes to education however, technology is often a topic of tension and debate. What is the role of technology in education? How should it be integrated and to what extent? What benefits do digital tools offer students and educators, and how can they be problematic? 

In an interview with GSE Associate Professor, Erica Boling, she offered a number of insights into these hard-hitting questions. “One reason teachers are often reluctant to integrate technology into their own classroom” she explained, “is that it requires them to invest their own time to learn about new digital tools and how to use them. They also need to take the time to learn how to then incorporate them into their lessons in a way that is most effective and supportive of student learning.” This is time many educators simply don’t have to spare. 

Teachers are often limited by their available resources as well. Beyond the actual digital technology needed, many times educators require professional development to learn how to successfully integrate new technologies into their teaching, explained Boling. Even when there are professional development workshops available, it is not uncommon that they only focus on teaching educators how to use the tools, rather than how to effectively integrate them into classroom instruction. At the same time, these tools can potentially challenge the long-held beliefs some educators hold about what education should “look like.” For some literacy teachers, for example, “they may view literacy education through the lens of text-based learning, which includes traditional reading and writing,” says Boling. “They don’t necessarily see digital literacy as something that’s equally important for students today.” 

Brent Horbatt, both an instructor and IT Systems Specialist at the GSE, cited that there are also a number of social, legal, and ethical concerns that may deter teachers from readily incorporating new technologies into their lesson plans. Instances of cyber stalking, cyber bullying, and copyright infringement were among them. But Horbatt also explained how the recent phenomenon of “fake news” has proved to be a salient issue in regard to technology and education: “Today children read something on the Internet and they reference it as fact, despite that not always being the case.” Horbatt cautioned that this problem may only be exacerbated by schools that block students’ access to websites that they don’t find reputable. “Not only does this limit students in terms of available information, but it gives teachers ‘an out’ to avoid discussing some of the more controversial issues presented by online sources as fact.  These are things that students regularly encounter with their personal technology use, and I believe today's students desperately need guidance and instruction surrounding these issues," Horbatt explained. 

While the concerns about technology integration in education are vast, both Boling and Horbatt argue that it has proved to be a powerful tool for learning. “Technology gives you instant access to a much larger audience,” says Boling. “It’s almost limitless in terms of the people you can reach out to and the information you can access.” Technology allows both instructors and students to get in contact with experts, collaborate with people from across the globe, and take advantage of resources that have traditionally been far beyond reach. 

Boling also pointed out that software tools and programs make collaborative learning much more feasible. These tools allow for multiple people to work on a project or document and see the edits being made by others in real-time. These programs and software can track contributions, conversations, and edits made by each collaborator.  By allowing users to go back and see the revision history, they also offer students the opportunity to see the development and discussion surrounding a project or assignment as it unfolds. The ability to transcend geographical and time barriers, host face-to-face online interactions, and link resources together are just some of the many other reasons offered by Boling that illustrate how technology can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of collaborative learning. 

In his course, “Education and Computers,” Horbatt teaches his students how to use the digital tools described by Boling, as well as many others, in a variety of educational settings and across all subject areas.  He does so by leading discussions of theory, practice, and social and philosophical issues related to the use of computers in education. His lessons, which highlight a new digital tool each week, also shed light on peripheral influences like the New Jersey Core Content Curriculum Standards for Technology, and the “digital divide” between students and school systems with varying available social and economic resources. Additionally, Horbatt explained that the “current events project” he assigns each semester encourages students to explore the most relevant public and academic dialogue on technology integration in education. This provides the class with an innovative and holistic perspective on the most recent advancements, issues, and concerns in the field.

At the end of the course, students enrolled in Education and Computers can expect to have developed a number of skills, including being able to understand how teachers plan effective learning activities with computers and computer-enhanced lessons, employ basic principles of multimedia design for education activities, and examine and reconsider knowledge and beliefs about the role of technology in classroom. Horbatt will be teaching the class this spring on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Who to contact:
Elizabeth Boyle