Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The Internet's Impact on Teacher Practice and Classroom Culture

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The Internet's Impact on Teacher Practice and Classroom Culture

Article excerpt

Internet access and more constructivist teaching practices are commonly called for by national- and state-level commissions and plans. This raises two questions that were the focus of a study we recently completed. First, does Internet use result in an increase in constructivist teacher practices? Second, what other features of classroom life are impacted when the Internet is used as a source of information for student research projects? This article offers answers to these questions based on our findings, along with what we hope to be some practical advice.

While there are many definitions of "constructivism," most educators would agree that constructivist practices involve teachers facilitating students who engage in activities that garner their interest and build on their experiences. These practices also offer opportunities for higher-order thinking that routinely take students beyond finding and reporting facts to forming and defending opinions and solving open-ended problems. Our study examined these questions in five fifth-grade classrooms in two schools in a district in upstate New York to see if well-supported Internet access changes practice in constructivist directions. Each school had a level of Internet access, technical support and staff development opportunities commonly called for in the literature. Thus, the impact of classroom Internet access could be examined in an environment where the typical excuses related to the lack of some key ingredient were absent.

The Environment

The classrooms we studied were in two schools in a district that has been at the leading edge of instructional technology since the first director of computer services was hired in 1983. As a result of his leadership, as well as his support from the superintendent and the board of education, each elementary classroom has four to six Internet workstations with bandwidth equal to T1 or higher. Teachers have support from an elementary computer specialist and access to abundant staff development courses after school, which they are paid to attend. Each school also has a computer lab with 28 workstations that classes use for about an hour a week. All five teachers were veterans with more than 20 years of teaching experience and more than 10 years of experience using computers in their classrooms. The Internet workstations had been in place for at least two years, and four of the five teachers had used them previously as sources of information for student projects.

Our data includes interviews with teachers, administrators, students and technology staff; direct observations of classrooms, computer labs and other school locations; and assessments of student work. Observations were especially focused on student Internet projects. We were interested to see if these projects and any other Internet use resulted in an increase in constructivist practice by any of the five teachers. We also were looking to see if there were any other ways that Internet use impacted the classroom culture. We looked at five different projects in detail. Two involved students investigating a state of the union. A third project had students study a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and track its stock price and volume for a month. A fourth project had students write a report on a disease of their choice. The final project had groups of students study people who played important roles in the American Revolution. This project featured an innovative aspect in that an equal number of men and women were studied.

Constructivist Teaching Practices

At first glance, the activity associated with the Internet projects had a constructivist look. Teachers spent very little time giving direction and students were very active. Students were eager to help each other, and teachers spent most of their time facilitating student work. Students had many opportunities to tell teachers what they had found, and it was common to hear teachers respond with comments such as "I didn't know that. …

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