ERIC Identifier: ED449118
Publication Date: 2000-10-00
Author: Reed, Diane S. - McNergney, Robert F.
Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Evaluating Technology-Based Curriculum Materials. ERIC Digest.
Technology alone will not improve the quality of education, but when
integrated with curriculum and instruction, it can be a powerful educational
tool. Technology that is fitted to curriculum and instruction can stimulate the
development of higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, and it can
support collaborative, globalized learning. This digest reviews how educators
can evaluate technology-based curriculum materials for use in the classroom at
all educational levels.
A key concept in evaluating technology-based
curriculum materials is authenticity. Is the technology used to bring real-world
examples into the classroom? Do such examples enhance conceptual understanding
of complex, naturally occurring phenomena by integrating technology and subject
matter? Are activities such as simulations, Web experiments, and Web field trips
used to enable students to understand the richness and variability of real life?
Particularly with young learners, technology should help students learn "by
doing, interacting, and exploring, rather than watching and/or listening"
(Wright & Shade, 1994).
To promote authenticity, learning assessment tools should pull students in
desirable directions. Student products take the forms of portfolios, WebQuests
(Dodge, 2000), and reports to classmates. Proponents of these methods argue that
they mirror what is expected of employees in the work world. When evaluation
attends not only to what students must know but also what they must be able to
do, assessments themselves can function as instructional devices.
Given the emphasis on authenticity, it is
not surprising that the language of constructivism permeates the technology
literature. Writers characterize technology as a tool that can help teachers and
students become co-learners who collaboratively construct knowledge. Technology
use that results in student engagement is characterized as successful. Engaged
learners are: responsible for their own learning, energized by learning,
strategic, and collaborative (Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski, Rasmussen, 1995).
Comer and Geissler (1998) offer a
framework for evaluating curriculum materials. They suggest that curriculum
evaluators prepare their own assessment criteria tailored to the instructional
context in which the curriculum materials will be used. Defining the
instructional context requires evaluators to determine: (a) who the learners
are; (b) who the instructor is and what constitutes the learning environment, of
which the instructor is a part; and (c) the nature of the technical limitations.
Once evaluators establish this context, they can begin to evaluate the following
aspects of the curriculum materials: content, required technology and
instructional tools, learning assessment, and teacher support (Bernhard,
Lernhardt, Miranda-Decker, 1999), keeping in mind the need for authenticity.
"One of the most important distinctions in
evaluating digital content is whether a product emphasizes open-ended
exploration or drill-and-practice. Many experts, particularly those who support
a constructivist approach to teaching, strongly prefer the former" (Zehr, 1999).
When integrated effectively into the curriculum by skilled teachers, digital
content enables students to seek and manipulate digital information in
collaborative, creative, and engaging ways, all of which foster learning (CEO
Forum, 2000). For example, the JASON Project enables teachers and their students
to participate in a year-round scientific expedition meant to encourage
engagement--even excitement--about one or more of the earth's dynamic systems.
Students share data and are able to chat with scientists about their own
experiments. On the Monterey Bay expedition, students did experiments in their
own classrooms on the feeding of abalone and sea urchins (The Jason Foundation
for Education, 2000). In another example, the Virginia Center for Digital
History enables students to examine newspapers, letters, diaries, and maps of
the historical period the students are studying (Thomas & Ayres, 1999). The
Valley of the Shadow project, a story of two cities' histories during the Civil
War, allows students to explore the lives of the families of soldiers and to
reconstruct true-life stories.
Effective content focuses on information literacy skills to assist students
in gathering, interpreting, and presenting information. "It turns out that
successful searching and efficient electronic investigations must rest upon a
carefully developed, structured foundation of information literacy skills that
would include solid questioning, prospecting, translating and inventive
abilities" (McKenzie, 1999). Student projects such as WebQuests guide students
through information gathering and make their searching more efficient (Dodge,
Students become content producers. Products may take a variety of forms:
video, software, CD-ROM's, web sites, e-mail, on-line learning management
systems, computer simulations, streamed discussions, data files, databases,
audio, and more. There are so many examples of student knowledge production that
numbers and types defy description. A tour of the ThinkQuest site
(http://www.thinkquest.org) provides a flavor of what kinds of work students can
do. The CEO Forum (2000) offers another example from students in Queens, New
York, who created "YO! It's Time For Braces." This multimedia web production
intends to inform and allay fears about orthodontic braces. The site includes
advice, information, and pictures from 20 orthodontists and other specialists
(CEO Forum, 2000).
TECHNOLOGY AND INSTRUCTIONAL TOOLS
Evaluators must consider
the hardware and software requirements of the curriculum and whether the teacher
has ready access to them. In addition, how much time will the teacher need to
invest in learning to use the technology? Hopefully, the technology
infrastructure of the school or school district will accommodate access for
students and staff both inside and outside classrooms.
Evaluators should consider whether the technology helps students "understand
the role and importance of technology in the real world" (Bernhard, Lernhardt
and Miranda-Decker, 1999). The technology skills required for success are taught
in the context of the curriculum as just-in-time modules and not as isolated
units. The technology should have the "ability to engage student interest . . .
and to make use of computer capabilities" (Bernhard, Lernhardt and
Miranda-Decker, 1999). Evaluators should examine software in the same reflective
way that they examine other instructional materials; that is, with children's
learning in mind (Hall & Martin,1999).
The primary goal of technology assessment should
be to measure student engagement as demonstrated by their observable
performances. Students are most likely to perform in desirable ways when they
engage in realistic and worthwhile tasks. Assessments in the JASON Project, for
example, are hands-on, real-world exercises in data collection. "Performance
assessments measure what is taught in the curriculum. There are two terms that
are core to depicting performance assessment: (1) Performance: A student's
active generation of a response that is observable either directly or indirectly
via a permanent product. (2) Authentic: The nature of the task and context in
which the assessment occurs is relevant and represents 'real-world' problems or
No curriculum can be effective without
high-quality, ongoing professional development. "The old approach of
after-school technology training sessions does not work. Such sessions
demonstrated the features of software applications but rarely showed how to use
them in the classroom" (McKenzie, 1999). Professional development should take
into account the diverse learning styles and stages of the development of
learners. Multiple teacher development options should be available--study
groups, classes that emphasize teaching and learning strategies, online classes,
and formation of teacher-support teams. Sufficient time should be allotted for
teachers to participate.
There is no way to escape the fact that today's
classrooms must provide technology-supported learning opportunities for
students. Teachers must be prepared to use technology in ways that encourage
student engagement * ultimately student learning * as measured in a variety of
ways. Technology, used appropriately, can help students become active,
independent learners with access to seemingly unlimited information. Only
through evaluation of technology-based curricula can educators make informed
decisions about the purchase and use of technology, and ultimately about the
wisdom of their investments.
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