Linking Technology with Promising Practices
to Improve Teaching and Learning

Lorraine Sherry
October 1997

ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education ED 414 277.

School technology spending is on the rise. According to a national survey (White, 1997), the nation's schools are predicted to spend an estimated $5.2 billion on educational technology during the 1997-98 school year, up 21 percent from 1996-97 spending. Schools have focused their technology plans on putting the infrastructure in place for networking and Internet access. Teachers have been honing their technology skills at inservice training sessions (Sherry, 1997) and statewide conferences such as Colorado's Technology in Education in Snowmass this past June. They are also participating in professional development workshops for state, school district, and school personnel to provide support for programs authorized by the IASA, such as the recent technology planning sessions conducted in Edinburgh and San Antonio, Texas this September by STAR Center technology team members.

Putting computers and Internet hookups into classrooms and laboratories and training teachers in surfing the Web with browsers such as Netscape and Internet Explorer, using search engines such as Yahoo and Alta Vista to locate lesson plans and educational resources, troubleshooting printing and network problems, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. As William Reid aptly points out,

Training teachers to use technology is a very different process from giving them a vision and plan for technology that reinforces new conceptual models of teaching and learning, and from identifying and making available exemplary practices of technology use in the 21st Century (NCATE, 1997).

Some colleges and universities are making thoughtful and productive use of technology in their preservice education programs. For example, at Valley City State University in Valley City, ND, teachers create electronic portfolios. At the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, teacher education services can view live broadcasts from a lab school on campus and converse with the teacher using push-to-talk microphones. At the University of Colorado at Denver, the Initial Teacher Education program stresses the integration of technology across the entire curriculum - math, science, language arts, foundations - not just in the technology courses. Other colleges and universities are still making the same mistake that was made at the school level, namely, they still

Using technology to improve teaching and learning

The STAR Center, as one of the Comprehensive Centers created under the IASA, is mandated with improving the integration and effectiveness of technical assistance programs to schools and districts under its jurisdiction. In particular, the STAR Center provides professional development for state, district, and school personnel to increase their capacities to provide high-quality support of programs authorized by the IASA. One of the ten priority areas of the STAR Center is to adopt, adapt, and implement promising and proven practices for improving teaching and learning. Another priority area is to implement educational applications of technology within schools and districts. Thus, the emphasis here is on curriculum integration of technology, on helping teachers use technology wisely, not simply building teachers' expertise in using and troubleshooting equipment.

Since there is a great emphasis on both national and statewide testing, a good place to begin the technology integration process is at the instructional design level, with a focus on student performance assessments and the alignment of school curricula with state standards. The Teachers' Internet Use Guide (, developed by RMC Research Corporation, one of the STAR Center partners, emphasizes the alignment of standards and lessons. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards, with which the Use Guide is aligned, focus on authentic student performance rather than rote memorization of facts and figures. Similarly, Kansas has phased in a new set of tests with performance components that require students to write about or otherwise demonstrate their knowledge.

Setting the types of performance goals that are found in "America 2000" may specify the end result that teachers hope their students will be able to achieve, but "it has nothing to say about what kind of curriculum making could produce such results" (Reid, 1992, p. 144), nor does it specify the instructional strategies that teachers might use to achieve such expert performance. Here is where technology does offer a promise to transform teaching and learning, and where promising practices with technology ought to be identified.

Promising practices for student projects

The principals at Cattell Elementary School in Des Moines and Harrison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, do not believe that children are all at the same place at one time, nor should they proceed from one grade to the next in lockstep. Neither does the technology coordinator of Nederland Middle/High School in Nederland, Colorado. These schools use multi-age classrooms where students from higher grades work together with younger students in small groups, moving about the room, focusing on authentic projects. Harrison's "Reading Buddies" program uses students from higher grades to help tutor younger pupils. Nederland's 4th through 8th grade students learned about astronomy and oceanography by conversing with astronauts and Jason Project scientists, by doing research on the Web under the guidance of their teacher, and by creating their own Web page with information and guidance from the Jason Project oceanographers.

Such innovative practices, however, require visionary principals, highly skilled teachers who have radically altered their teaching practices, and cutting-edge technology. How can we apply such practices to ordinary schools that are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between resisting even the most sensible reforms and buying into the latest fad? David Ruanzel notes that, according to education scholars David Tyack and Larry Cuban, schools change reforms as much as reforms change schools, modifying them to fit the needs of the school's own unique learning environment. As a result, they will try new things only if they can be brought into alignment with "the basic grammar of schooling"what the public considers to be true and tested (Ruanzel, 1997).

One strategy that is currently being tested, and that is becoming more widespread in practice, is a reconceptualization of the traditional student writing project or term paper. In the past, teachers assigned a topic, students did their research in the library and then handed in their work as a paper product to be graded as an essay. Plegarism was indeed possible, but experienced teachers were aware of the potential for student abuse and were quick to spot the pilfered pieces.

Now, with access to the Internet, students can do their research from home, in the lab, or on the classroom's computer, copy excerpts from Web pages without evaluating the veracity of the information they contain, string the excerpts together without citing the original source, and hand in a paper as their own. Teachers are hard pressed to track down the students' information sources, especially if they are not cited properly or if the information is highly volatile. Nor is it always possible to ascertain whether a particular section of a student's essay is original work or copied verbatim from a Web site. Clearly, the tried and true practice of assigning and grading essays does not port well to technology-savvy students today.

An alternative that has met with success at both the elementary and the high school level is a combination of student products and performances, to be assessed as a portfolio item. Once the topic has been assigned, students may work collaboratively on a writing product, but they are expected to hand in drafts of their work-in-progress, with sources cited in the manner that the teacher specifies. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has posted their guidelines on their Web site, located at the following URL:

With feedback from the teacher, the students progressively revise and refine their own products until they are ready to hand in. Products can be prepared with a word processor, using screen captures of photographs, graphics, and quotations from Web sites that are then inserted into a written document. Thus, students not only learn to access information from sources all over the globe; they also work through the process of creating and editing a polished, professional article.

Once the product is complete, the students move to the next phase of the activity--communicating their findings to their teacher and fellow students. Many students use presentation software such as PowerPoint or HyperStudio to enhance their presentations, especially if they wish to use graphics or sound files. Moreover, the dialogue that takes place between student, teacher, and classmates during or after the presentation offers an excellent means for the teacher to assess the depth, breadth, and veracity of the student's work.

The infrastructure that can support such authentic writing activities can be as simple as a Macintosh with HyperStudio, a word processor, and an Internet connection. The important point is that the students do not do their work in isolation; they learn with their peers in a global context. Moreover, they produce products and performances that are original, that are of real value to themselves and their classmates, and that lend themselves to authentic assessment by their teachers.

Practices of this nature provide opportunities for all students, regardless of their learning style, to reach challenging state content and performance standards. Such strategies also help teachers to improve teaching and learning for all students by not only concentrating on basic skills such as vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, but also on improving classroom practice and student learning in a substantial and meaningful way that fosters higher-level thinking, real-world skills, and lifelong learning--the overarching aim of the IASA.


American Psychological Association. (1997). How to Cite Information From the World Wide Web. Retrieved September 23, 1997 from the World Wide Web:

Bradley, A. (1997, September 17). NCATE told to emphasize technology. Education Week, 1, 13.

National Association for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). (1997). Technology and the new professional teacher: Preparing for the 21st Century classroom. Available: call NCATE at (202) 466-7496 or send e-mail to

Reid, W.A. (1992). The pursuit of curriculum. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Ruanzel, D. (1997, September 17). State of contentment. Education Week, 27-34.

Sherry, L. (1997, September). The Boulder Valley Internet Project: Lessons learned. Technological Horizons in Education (T.H.E.) Journal, 68-72.

White, K.A. (1997, September 3). School technology spending on the rise, survey predicts. Education Week, 21.