ICT in constructivist classrooms. Information and communication technology (ICT) is a tool that is used every day by many people, wether it is for word processing, communicating with others, accessing information via the internet or playing games. ICT promises a faster and more exciting future but what is its place in the classroom? Does the mere presence of a computer in a classroom automatically guarantee improved learning and teaching? This paper is going to explore the use of ICT in constructivist classrooms and look at both the strengths and the limitations to the use of ICT to promote learning. Many people believe that computers enhance learning because they support a constructivist approach to learning’ (Schrum,2005). The constructivist approach to teaching and learning ‘focuses on cognition as a collaborative process involving social processes, interactions with the environment and self-reflection’ (Rogoff, 1998). It is viewed as a self regulated process that builds on learners’ existing knowledge and in which learners are active participants. There are key principles of the constructivist approach to teaching.

These include; • Learners are active participants, ‘learning by doing’ • Learners are self-regulated. They construct and monitor their own ideas • Importance of social interaction in cognitive development • Encourages students to make sense of new information for themselves rather than being ‘spoon feed’ information. (Krause, Bochner and Duchesne, 2003) The use of ICT in the classroom contributes to all the above key principles for this style of teaching.

Interactivity occurs when ICT is introduced into the classroom, between both the machine and the student and between students. It promotes social interaction, problem solving and requires students to make meaning out of information. A study was done by Olson (1997) which investigated 17 constructivist environments where ICT was used to enhance student learning and to encourage social interaction/cooperation among peers. Students were involved in authentic projects using real world examples and issues that were found on the web. The teachers were interviewed after the exercise.

Improvements were found in the students ability accomplish more complex tasks (14 out of 17), students motivation had increased considerably (16/17), there was more collaboration with peers; peer teaching (13/17) and the students demonstrated better self-regulation of their own learning (11/17) (Krause, Bochner and Duchesne, 2003). The constructivist approach assisted with technology in classrooms can have many benefits for students. ‘Vygotsky argued that in order for cognitive development to take place, partners should work together to solve problems’ (Krause, Bochner and Duchesne, 2003).

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Computer based learning programs have the ability to facilitate individualized learning. In this case the computer acts as the students’ partner. Computers, with the correct programs and assistance, are a great scaffolding devise. Vygotsky developed the concept of the ‘Zone of Promimal Development’ which is ‘the distance between children’s current level of competence on a task and the level they can achieve with support or guidance’ (Krause, Bochner and Duchesne, 2003).

For example many computer programs used in schools test what the individual is capable of individually and also test what they can achieve with assistance from the computer. Every student has individual needs and levels of abilities; computers can address these individual needs and are very useful for extending students who are highly academic and also supporting the needs for those with special learning needs. Addressing individual needs can be very difficult in a more conventional classroom. I have experienced this on my teaching practical while teaching a year 7 Health lesson.

The exercise that was being completing as a class was the correct level for most but the highly academic students became bored quickly and got distracted, while the students with learning difficulties also did not stay on task as the material was to difficult. As there is only one teacher to 25 students it is difficult to address all their needs every time. Computers with assistive devices have the potential to support learners with physical disabilities including cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries and muscular dystrophy, providing them with learning opportunities that were previously unavailable (Krause, Bochner and Duchesne, 2003).

Turner primary school in Canberra has many students with special needs which may include physical disabilities and/or mental disabilities. Computer technology is used very day to support learning in the classroom. Smart boards are just one example of technology used at Turner primary to help accommodate to individual needs. ‘It is argued that it is this approach (constructivism) that makes the difference not the computers per se. Without a change in pedagogy, computers may achieve very little’ (Schrum,2005).

The key principles of the constructivist teaching approach can be implemented with out the use of computers. Computers are purely a tool in education, if they are not used in the correct manner they are of little use or benefit to the student. ICT based learning can impede learning, waste valuable learning time and become a distraction rather than an asset if not implemented properly (Preece, 1992). There are many limitations to using ICT in the classroom just as there are many positives if implemented correctly.

The success of ICT being used in the constructivist classroom depends largely on the teacher’s familiarity with technology and support available to them and that they have clear learning outcomes and aims. Teachers that have low confidence using computers will often determining factor on wether of not to use ICT in the classroom and how effectively it can be used as a tool to support learning (Pachler, 2001). To construct successful lessons using the constructivist principles as many limiting factors for the teacher.

Constructing lessons that allow students to construct their own learning takes a lot of time and can be complicated to set up. The teacher needs to provide lots of support the students who may have little experience with computers, teachers also need to provide broken down exercises; scaffolding exercises. Self-regulated work may be more suitable for some students than for others. Self-motivated students enjoy the freedom of discovery learning where as for students that lack motivation or confidence it can be very frustrating and may discourage them (Krause, Bochner and Duchesne, 2003).

They can become off task and waste valuable learning time, I have observed this very thing happening while on teaching practical in high schools. The use of ICT can also have implications for classroom management. Many schools are enable to provide a computer for each individual in a class, which means students are to work in groups which is great for social interaction but if groups are not arranged effectively students can be distracted or the computer competent student might dominate the group, leaving the less confident student out, leading to being off task and often disturbing others.

When using ICT in a lesson teachers have to be well prepared, when the lesson is not well structured this is when the use of Computers or other forms of technology can be a distraction for students and inhibit learning rather than help learning. Information and communication technology is an essential tool in the world today. Although on its own in the classroom it is of little value. It does not, by itself, improve teaching and learning unless it is implemented as a part of a well planned and integrated approach to advance learning which incorporates all the best teaching tools.

If this is achieved it can create many opportunities to enhance learning by allowing students to think critically, analyse, challenge and make meaning of information. Bibliography Howe,K. , & Berv, J. (2000), Constructivism in education:Opinions and second opinions on controversial issues, pp19-40, Chicago: The National Society for the Study of Education. Krause, K. , Bochner, S. , & Duchesne, S. (2003) Educational psychology for learning and teaching. Victoria: Thomson. Pachler, M. (2001).

Issues of ICT in school-based learning ; Issues in teaching using ICT (pp15-30), London: Routlegde Falmer. * Preece, J. & Davies, G. (1992), Multimedia: Some promises, some problems and some issues in human-systems interaction (pp259-266) Perth: Promaco Conventions Pty Ltd. Rogoff,B (1998), Cognition as a collaborative process, Handbook of child psychology, Vol 2, pp679, New York: John Wiley and Sons. * Schrum, L. (2005) Technology as a Tool to Support Instruction, Education World, http://www. educationworld. com/a_tech/tech/tech004. shtml sited 24th July 2006.


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