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). 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...