Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Factors Influencing Student Understanding of Computer-Supported Classroom Activities

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Factors Influencing Student Understanding of Computer-Supported Classroom Activities

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper reports on a qualitative study involving fourth grade students, and two teachers in an urban, technology-rich school. The study focused on students' experiences with computers and perceptions of computers, and the effects of those factors on the way students interpret computer-supported classroom activities. Findings of the study suggest that a child's experience with and perception of computers play an important role in the child's level of confidence using computers and, without mediation from the teacher, affect the child's understanding of computer-supported classroom activities.

Introduction

We live in a world of rapid change driven in large part by the continuous evolution of computer technology. The pervasiveness of the computer in society has resulted in a generation of young people who have grown up knowing only a world with computer technology. This has produced a world in which generational responses to technologies differ noticeably. The extent of differences in teachers' and students' experiences with and perception of computers has the potential to shape both the teacher's design of computer-supported activities and the student's understanding of those activities (Stephen, 1997). This paper reports results of a study focusing on ways students' perceptions of computers influence students' confidence and understanding of computer-supported classroom activities.

Review of the literature on factors influencing computer use in education led to the formulation of several assumptions related to this study.

1. Students have unique prior experiences with computers. An individual's experience draws on prior personal experiences and contributes to future personal experiences (Dewey, 1938; Hall, 1996). Children have grown up knowing only a world with computer technology, but there are major differences in experiences with computer technology among children, mirroring the gap between technological haves and have-nots.

2. Students form unique perceptions of computers. Turkle (1984) found that "[The computer] enters into children's process of becoming and into the development of their personalities and ways of looking at the world ... Children in a computer culture are touched by the technology in ways that set them apart from the generations that have come before" (p. 165).

3. A student's prior experience with computers and perception of computers influences the student's understanding of computer-supported activities in the learning environment. The ways an individual categorizes computers based on previous experiences, expectations, personal interests, and other social and psychological factors determine the individual's perception of computers, and this influences the individual's interpretation of new experiences (Bruner, 1973; Perret-Clermont, Perret, & Bell, 1991).

The assumptions led to several questions. What perceptions of computers do students hold? How do differences in perceptions of computers affect students' understanding of the nature and purpose of computer-supported classroom activities? These are two questions on which the qualitative study described in this paper focused.

Participants and Setting

Gem Elementary School is a magnet school located in a large Midwestern city. It is housed in a newly constructed facility. At the time of this study, Gem Elementary was beginning the second year of operation. The school had 574 students, with a 24:1 student to teacher ratio. While eighteen percent of the student body was selected from the surrounding area (an economically poor area), the remaining eighty-two percent of the students were drawn from throughout the city and county. Students were selected through a lottery system and represented a wide range of academic abilities. Fifty-five percent of the student body at Gem Elementary School was African-American, and the remaining forty-five percent was white. …

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