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Impact of technology on all spheres of life and on learning in particular is considered. Section 1 discusses the influence of new technologies on learning achievement. Here educational initiatives aimed at introducing new technologies into education, including EETT, are discussed; risk groups of students with respect to technology and ways to overcome risk factors are mentioned, and conditions necessary for learning improvement through technological advance are analyzed.
Section 2 describes the concept and benefits of formative assessments with proper examples. In section 3 perspectives of using formative assessments in technologically developed learning environments are considered and factors necessary for introducing formative assessments are studied. Finally, section 4 contains recommendations for administration and teachers on efficient use of technology for improving learning achievement, and discusses limitations of using technology in schools.
1. Computer technologies and learning achievements 3
1.1. Impact of technology on education 3
1.2. EETT initiative 5
1.3. Risk factors and possible solutions 6
1.4. Necessary conditions for learning improvement 7
2. Concept and benefits of formative assessment 8
2.1. The concept of formative assessment 8
2.2. Examples of formative assessment 9
2.3. Benefits of formative assessment 9
3. Formative assessment and new technologies 10
3.1. Technological background for implementing formative assessment 10
3.2. New perspectives of formative assessment approach 11
4. Recommendations on learning improvement 12
4.1. Guidelines for enhancing learning achievements 12
4.2. Limitations caused by new technologies 14
The changes in all spheres of human life caused by rapid technological development urge to adjust learning system in order to enable students to become successful in future and to maintain the nation's well-being. Alarming symptoms of inefficiency of current educational system have already been witnessed, such as poor results of US students on international assessments and contests (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez, & Chrostowski, 2004) and decreasing ability of US workforce to compete internationally (Kagan & Stewart, 2004). Moreover, Prensky (2001) states that modern students, being greatly accustomed to technological novelties since childhood, "are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach" (Prensky, 2001). All these symptoms show that there exists a growing gap between skills required by current environment and skills cultivated by educational system (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2005).
The aim of this essay is discussing the perspectives of improving learning achievements and changing educational paradigm by the use of computer technologies in education and by applying the concept of formative assessment for the purpose of enhancing learning process.
1. Computer technologies and learning achievements
1.1. Impact of technology on education
In the context of the proclaimed need for using new technologies for learning and the importance of ICT skills for children, it is reasonable to determine whether integrating computer technologies into learning does show positive results, which activities are enhanced by computerized learning, and what changes might follow as a result of technological progress.
Positive correlation between the use of educational software and achievements in reading and mathematics was found, especially for students at early grades (Murphy et al, 2001); according to O'Dwyer, Russell, Bebell, and Tucker-Seeley (2005), fourth grade students more exposed to computer technologies are likely to have better results in language studies and writing. The suggestion to enable middle school students with wireless laptops resulted in reading proficiency increase (eSchool News, 2005). Distance educational programs lead to better results due to individualized approach compared to traditional classroom learning.
Nevertheless, using new technologies does not always lead to improved skills: Wenglinsky (1998) found out that computerized learning provided negative results for low order thinking skills, but enhanced problem solving and comprehension. Some researchers suggest that new approach to measuring student achievements has to be accepted, with focus on the abilities to find, interpret and synthesize information. Interactive learning environments and collaborative methods of learning create a diversified learning space, and provide additional educational stimuli.
Finally, Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means (2000) have determined four key characteristics in learning environments shaped by technology: active individual engagement, collaborative and group learning, constant feedback and interactions, and connections to real practical contexts. Also, it has been found that technological improvements are more efficient when they represent an integral part of global educational reform. Moreover, it is impossible to implement new technologies without changing the whole system: the functions of teachers shift from lecturing to coaching, teachers' perception of students and level of individual approach also changes. Thus, measuring educational achievements only is a complicated task, since technological changes affect the whole system.
1.2. EETT initiative
As an attempt to foster integration of learning environment and technological advance, the program called Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), mostly known as NCLB, title II, D, was signed in 2002 (Bramble & Panda, 2008). Its main goals are to improve student achievement via introducing new technologies, assist students in crossing the "digital divide" and stimulate technological integration in education. Under this program, grants may be given to those individuals who introduce programs complying with 12 criteria of EETT. However, its funding decreased every year; this decision was explained by the fact that schools were already equipped with necessary technological innovations, and it was necessary to focus on achievements. Critically reviewing this statement, it is possible to conclude that the approach to integrating technology without changing other fundamentals of educational system will not lead to significant results. Moreover, several researchers state that the whole NCLB program is damaging the quality of education (Meier & Wood, 2004). Thus, a more complex and systematic approach is needed.
1.3. Risk factors and possible solutions
Implementing new technologies does not only offer educational benefits, but also creates a number of challenges. There are certain groups of students who appear to be at risk if technologies are extensively used for learning purposes. First of all, minority students and students from families with low socioeconomic situation are at risk (Becker & Ravitz, 1997). More than half of the teachers use computer and Internet; however, there are 13% (3 million of young people) without Internet access (Lenhart, Rainie & Lewis, 2001). Meanwhile, better IT-skills provided at school for students at risk increase their marketable skills (Lau & Lazarus, 2002) and economic perspectives. Thus, these risk groups should be specifically addressed, e.g. by providing additional time in computer classrooms, Internet access at their free time at school etc.
Language learners can also be at risk since new technologies pose extra challenges into learning process, in addition to language difficulties. However, their academic advance may be fostered by using online translation means and other educational software aimed at eliminating language gap.
Disabled learners also are a group of risk, since they may not have access to common technologies, or may be unable to use it. However, according to (Rose & Meyer, 2002), technologies provide more solutions for disabled learners than challenges: new means of communication, flexible methods of teaching and multiple methods of presenting learning material create new environment and better perspectives for disabled learners. Also, technological advance makes it easier for disabled students to gain access to testing (Nagle, 2005).
1.4. Necessary conditions for learning improvement
Researchers (ISTE, 2002; Byrom & Bingham, 2001) have outlined several important conditions necessary to reach effective use of technology. First of all, proper educational goals and a consistent vision of learning using technology have to be developed, and the technology should not be used just for its own sake. Secondly, ongoing professional development for teachers needs to be maintained; it has been shown (Wenglinsky, 1998) that for teachers, the main reason for not using new technologies is the lack of experience. Also, conditions for collaboration of teachers have to be created (Kanaya & Light, 2005). There is third condition of successful use of technologies related to previous one: structural changes in school planning (Becker, 2000) and more time devoted to research activities, both for teachers and students. Furthermore, adequate technical infrastructure and support have to be provided at schools. Finally, various qualitative and quantitative evaluations of student outcomes have to take place, with previously set educational goals in vision, and timely adjustment of learning changes should be done.
2. Concept and benefits of formative assessment
2.1. The concept of formative assessment
Under formative assessment, the form of assessment is meant which represents an interactive process of measuring the level of students' progress and understanding; ideologically, formative assessments may be used for identifying issues that need improvement and for creating a culture of evaluation in the whole educational system (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2005). Thus, the purpose of formative assessment is mostly to evaluate quality and efficiency of instruction rather than students' results. In general, the distinctive feature of formative assessment is its focus on adapting instruction and learning to students needs.
After analyzing the effect of formative assessments, Black and Wiliam (1998) have found out that using this type of assessments increases academic standards and results in significant learning gains. In the context of the need for reforming educational system, use of formative assessments in combination with technological advance can be very efficient.
2.2. Examples of formative assessment
There is a variety of activities that might be used as formative assessments. First of all, these are activities aimed at identifying efficiency of instruction such as teacher observations, classroom discussions, analysis of homework and tests etc. In order to promote discussion and reflective answers of students, such methods as discussion in pairs with further presentation to the public, voting for different opinions, and brainstorming may be used.
Addressing students' understanding of vocabulary or level of understanding the problem also belongs to formative assessment. Such activities as interviewing students about their ideas, asking them to summarize learning material, writing short assignments on selected problems in class represent a formative approach to learning as well. Feedback on tests and homework as well as discussion of student portfolios or sets of work with analysis of the dynamics and growth offer benefits both for instructors and for students.
2.3. Benefits of formative assessment
Comparison of learning achievements of students receiving a lot of formative assessments and traditionally instructed showed (Black & Wiliam, 1998) that significant improvement of learning gains was the result of integrating formative assessments. Also, such approach gave better results for low-achieving students and for those with disabilities than for other groups of students. Bangerdt-Drowns, Kulick, and Morgan (1991) found out that use of formative assessments such as feedback on tests and homework allowed students to concentrate on the problem thoughtfully.
Another benefit of formative assessments is its perspectives for learners' self-evaluation, which has been proved to enhance learning achievements (Fontana & Fernandes, 1994; Frederikson & White, 1997). Moreover, formative assessment allows to form the skills of "learning to learn" (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2005), which are far more important that precise areas of knowledge in modern rapidly changing information environment.
3. Formative assessment and new technologies
3.1. Technological background for implementing formative assessment
There are various types of technology that can be used in learning environment. For teachers, it is necessary to distinguish between these technologies and realize what types of them are being used and for what purposes (Becker, 2000). While there are many ways of learning "from computer", i.e. via the use of various software as a replacement of textbooks and tutors, this paper will mainly focus on learning "with computer", when technology is used to increase creativity, problem solving skills and self-improvement (Reeves, 1998).
Bruce and Levin (1997) explored the methods and applications of technology which can help to engage students in exploring, researching and experiencing the world. They developed the idea of four focuses: media for inquiry, media for communication, media for construction and media for expression.
In general, virtually all new technologies provide favorable conditions for introducing formative assessments. Even the integrated learning systems and computer-aided instruction software gives opportunities for self-studying and creates a learning medium (Murphy et al, 2001). Given that access to technologies taken place almost everywhere, learning activities are no longer bounded by classroom tasks.
3.2. New perspectives of formative assessment approach
Systems of computer-based learning most often use a learner-centered model, with individual learning goals and individual pace of learning (Bramble & Panda, 2008). This approach creates new perspectives for integrating formative approach into the whole learning system. In the context of formative assessment, open learner models which can be easily accessed by the student are of great use. However, these models require educating all users of such systems: teachers, students, employers, parents etc.
A new trend in computer-based learning is the creation of personal learning environment (PLE) (Wheeler, 2009). In such environments, formative assessments are the basis of learning, and serve also as the means of generating feedback and increasing motivation. Greater flexibility on conceptual levels as well as flexible technologies are used for PLEs, such as Web services, flexible data models etc. Also, it should be taken into account that these environments will be reshaped towards collaboration and sharing by "digital natives", who possess a different perception of information. It is likely that Internet services will be integrated into PLEs in the near future (Lee, 2008); impact of the Web will finally shift the focus of education towards the learners; learner networks, multimedia sharing and variety of means for producing new thoughts and ideas will be available for learners.
4. Recommendations on learning improvement
4.1. Guidelines for enhancing learning achievements
As a result of literature analysis and discussion of major issues of using new technologies and formative assessment in particular for learning, it is possible to develop recommendations for key stakeholders in learning process, i.e. administration and teachers. These recommendations are aimed at improving student achievement by using technology. For administration, it is will be efficient to:
Review and reconsider educational standards and set specific student-centered goals;
Create interdisciplinary groups for exploring new applications of technology to learning
Develop technology plans for schools
Outline specific issues that require improvement at school level, and select proper technologies
Gather information about best practices of using technologies for learning, and create a publicly available database describing or giving access to these achievements
Take control over compliance of the school's development with state an district technology plans
Consider factors that might undermine efficient use of technology for teaching
Provide equal access to new technologies for all students
Create opportunities for teachers' development and constant professional growth
Adjust school day and timetable to the changing conditions
Use effective techniques of evaluating the achievements and learning goals
For teachers, it is recommended to:
Clearly identify the purpose of using a particular technology in learning process
Keep in vision learning goals, and adjust implementation of technology with these goals
Develop curricula which contains various learning activities, including use of technology
Cooperate and collaborate with colleagues for the purpose of developing new curricula
Support learning circles on various topics
Encouraging students to gain experience with technology via various research and explorative activities
Create conditions for collaborative work of students and discussions of work
Integrate various kinds of formative assessments into learning process
Give chances for public demonstration of students' works, getting parents to this process
Show real-world value of technology and its applications to students
Maintain professional development and learn new methods of using technology to improve student achievement
4.2. Limitations caused by new technologies
The overall focus on technological advance may lead to pressure on administration to integrate new facilities, and may result in hasty financial or implementation decisions (Whitehead & Jensen & Boschee, 2003). In order to overcome this risk, thorough planning with the help of technical professionals is needed. Also, educational goals should be first of all taken into account when planning technological spending. Thus, prior to purchasing, these goals also have to be carefully and reasonably defined.
During first years, enough time has to be devoted to mastering the technology itself; otherwise, first projects with use of new technologies provide little content learning (Goldman, Cole, & Syer, 1999). Also, evaluating the impact of technology might be difficult due to absence of proper techniques and approaches. Thus, new assessment strategies have to be invented to overcome this limitation. It is hard to overestimate the role of formative assessments in evaluating the effect of new technologies on learning.
Approximately 10 years ago, students had very limited access to technology, and granting access to it was considered one of the main objectives (Hitlin & Rainie, 2005). Nowadays, almost every school has Internet access, not speaking about availability of computers at schools. Pervasiveness of technology in the society has also increased: according to Hitlin and Rainie (2005), 87% of young people aged from 12 to 17 use Internet, and 86% of all young people state that Internet increases their educational achievements. Changed environment also has created new skills requirements for successful students and workers (Kay and Honey, 2005): effective communication using modern technologies, data interpretation and analysis, ability to prioritize and manage tasks, better problem-solving skills, use of computational modeling and ability to maintain digital security.
With implementing technology into learning environment, the whole educational systems changes and becomes more learner-focused. The use and integration of formative assessments becomes natural in computer-aided environment. The great advantage of formative assessments is that they provide a variety of problem-solving situations to monitor and influence learning performance in the course of time. Use of formative assessments promotes the goals of lifelong learning (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2005) and allows to achieve greater quality of students' learning achievements as well as improve the skills of "learning to learn".
Technology also may be used to enhance teachers' professional development (Love, 2002), improve their skills of framing questions, formulating hypotheses, making conclusions and estimating the results of their work. However, it should not be expected that simply adding new technologies to learning process will solve all the problems; in order to be effective, technology-enriched learning has to comply with educational goals, and should be accompanied with proper teaching strategies implemented by qualified professionals.