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Technology has become a part of most human activities in everyday life and is now an essential part in the educational field as well as in other fields (Almeqdadi, 2009). The term "technology" can be used to mean a very wide variety of things, from computers to pencils (Ringstaff & Kelley 2002). In this paper the term technology refers to computer-related tools, computer-based tools, the Internet, and computer-based multimedia. Teachers today are finding themselves in a position where the advantages are clearer than in the past as to the many uses and benefits of integrating computer and computer related tools in their classrooms. Students were born in an era where technology can be found everywhere and varied in shape, size, and function. These students have grown up with the knowledge of using computers, cell phones, iPods, and a host of other such technology. They are surrounded daily and in many cases bombarded by the availability and influence to be able to manipulate these modern tools. Students therefore attract to these tools and in turn embrace the information being delivered by teachers who care to use technology in their methodology. Research although few have however that two of the strongest reasons supporting the use of technology in the classrooms are to equip students with the skills necessary for future work and or higher education and to improve student learning in academic areas (McQueen, 2001).
Educational Technology in the Classroom
Bitner (2002) states that there are many issues relating to the successful use of technology in the classroom including necessary funding, hardware, software and other salient issues; he however, makes it clear that perhaps the biggest drawback are teachers. Teachers are an important determinant as to whether technology is used in the classroom and whether its use achieves success or failure in the classroom. Teachers who are not trained to be literate and fully functional with the available technology also determine the use and effectiveness when technology is integrated not the subjects. Howery (2001) and Shegog (1997) supports Bitner and continues further by stating that it is important also to examine factors that have in the past influenced teachers' attitudes towards technology. Research conducted by (Howery, 2001; Rosen &Weil, 1995; Shegog, 1997), confirms that teachers' attitudes towards technology in general will greatly affect the use of technology in instruction. Thus when any integration of technology in the classroom is considered policy makers, curriculum officers and administrators must take into serious consideration the teachers' willingness to change their attitude towards adapting and integrating technology in their classrooms.
A renowned expert in change theory (Fullan, 1982, p. 107) states that educational change depends ultimately on what teachers do and think. Teachers are an integral part of technology in the classroom; however, in many cases they are overlooked and in some case non-existent in the discussion of integrating technology in the curriculum and ultimately in the classroom. Teachers are an integral part of the process as they may need to be trained in such a manner that positively affect and eliminate their fear, anxiety and concerns about making the necessary changes to their present teaching methodology. Ball (1990) reminds us that teachers normally teach in the manner they were themselves taught; therefore, a majority of these teachers will not use technology in partnership with classroom instructions (Becker, 2000). In addition to training teachers will also need to be equipped with proper teaching model so to be able to emulate for a successful integration process.
Becker (2000) states that in a national American survey a majority of the teachers that used technology in the form of the Internet with their students did so using a teacher-directed approach rather than a more constructivist approach such as a self-directed approach. Knowles (1975) defines a teacher-directed approach as an assumption on the part of the teacher that the learner is essentially a dependent personality and that the teacher has the responsibility of deciding what and how the learner should be taught. Knowles continues by identifying on the other of the spectrum the self-directed approach; which he defines as an assumption that the learner grows in capacity and need to be self-directing as an essential component of maturing, and that this capacity should be nurtured to develop as rapidly as possible. The use of more constructivist approach such as the self-directed approach allows for a learning environment where the student's has a deeper and more permanent learning due greatly because of increased initiative in what is being learnt. The constructivist approach to teaching also entails the creation of a learning environment where students take it upon themselves to develop their own understanding and have the opportunity of learning to apply their knowledge in many different ways (Becker, 2000).
Benefits of Technology in the Classroom
Technology in general and especially areas such as internet access has been changing our world and has become not only popular but quite essential in order for us to be a part of the political, economic, educational and of course social life in our countries. This is especially true for life in the United States and other developed nations. It is fair to conclude that technologies such as the television, cellphone, internet and computers have aided and perhaps hijacked the way we acquire knowledge from day to day, communicate with each other regardless of the distance and make a daily living. With this in mind many believe and support the fact that technology is very beneficial in all areas of our lives. One specific area is in the field of education and more specifically in our classrooms where our children are sent to acquire formal education for their person and professional development.
Indeed technology is a part of our lives and it has its fair share of advantages to the education of students. Research conducted by (Monk. 1989) revealed that programmed learning packages that are stand-alone benefit students greatly in that they are completely self-contained, meaning they do need the physical presence of an on-site instructor. This means that curricular offerings can be increased as well as individualized interaction with students while students work independently on the computer.
Yet another advantage of technology in the classroom is in the area of telecommunications i.e. Internet, class talks, phone lines etc. According to Monk (1989) technologies makes it possible for students to connect and communicate with other students and teachers who are geographically separated. Such advances in telecommunication technology afford teachers and most importantly students the opportunity to gain meaningful insights, information and resources that may not have been readily available in their school. Other forms of technology like the internet benefit not only the students but also allows for the electronic connection of teachers so as to foster collaboration, mentoring, and sharing (Web-Based Education Commission, 2000).
Technology allows for students to be actively engaged in the using the computer for example and this in turn motivates and increases the students' enthusiasm to want to solve problems through critical thinking methods. The use of technology also engages the students in developing their own problems and finding solutions for those problems. Technology takes students' learning to a higher level where they the students feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own learning. A study was done by (Christmann, Badgett,& Lucking, 1997) on the achievement of students from 6th to 12th grades in subject areas such as mathematics, science, reading, music and special education, social studies and English who received either traditional instructions or computer-assisted instructions. The results proved that those students who were given computer-assisted instructions showed better achievement than those who were taught using only traditional instruction. Other studies in specific subject areas such as in Mathematics have proven successful as well. A study was done by Asiguzel & Alpinar (2004) using a problem-solving software called LaborScale to improve seventh-grade students' word-problem solving skills using multiple representations such as graphics, symbols and audio proved to be successful in achieving the desired improvement.
Impact of Education Technology on Student Achievement
Ringstaff & Kelley (2002) states that to understand the impact of technology one must consider the purposes to which technology is applied. They continue by stating that one distinction that they have found particularly helpful is to describe firstly learning "from" technology as being different than learning "with" technology. Students who learn "from" computers for example use the computers as helpers or tutors that help them to increase their basic skills and knowledge as stated Ringstaff & Kelley. Whereas, Ringstaff & Kelley states that students who learn "with" technology such as computers use them as tools that can be applied to a variety of goals in the learning process instead of just representing an instructional delivery system. Learning "with" such technological resources allows students to think on higher level, be creative and develop research skills. Of note is that these technological resources are most often more advanced technology.
A study was conducted by Dale Mann in 1999 of the state of West Virginia's Basic Skills/Computer Education (BS/CE). This study used a sample of 950 fifth-grade students from 18 elementary schools across the state and was completed to assess the students' achievement on the State's basic skill goals in reading, language arts and mathematics. The research started during the school year 1990-1991 with a group of kindergarten students enrolled in the 18 schools across the state. The schools were provided with enough technological tools to be used by the teachers and students. As the students progresses from grade to grade their teachers received technological training and additional software, computers and other technological tools were provided to the school. By grade three when Mann and his colleagues analyses their data they found that the students receiving instructions using technology increased their scores remarkably over the past years on the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS). At the end of the fifth year Mann found out that the more students participated in BS/CE, the more their scores rose on the Stanford 9 Test. He also noted that the experimental students and teachers who had consistent access to technology had a positive attitude towards technology and the teachers reported that BS/CE accounted for a significant part the students' achievement. Other studies done confirm that the use of computer-based instruction in the classroom by students improves the performance and achievement of those students. James Kulik in 1994 designed and tested a technique calles meta-analysis, which produced findings of increased scores on tests of achievement; students learning more in less time when they received computer-based instructions and students enjoying and developing a positive attitude towards their classes that were taught using computer-based instruction. Sivin-Kachala (1998) completed a research also involving the use of computer-based instruction and concluding in his findings that technology rich environments created positive effects on achievement in all the subject areas.
Oral Communication in English
According to Zehr (2009), many educators and researchers who specialize in the education of English- language learners (ELLs) are placing greater emphasis on the teaching of oral English. Zehr notes that not only ELLs need special and additional attention in learning and practicing English but all academically at risk students as well. She notes that both ELLs and native English speakers require additional opportunities in the classroom to speak English in order to find and identity their personal voice in their new language or native language. Shafer (2009) contributes to the topic by stating that the problem we face today with fluency in speaking is not solely because teachers don't allow for sufficient practicing time in the classrooms, but also due to students' lack of appropriate skills which are essential for their success. Teachers are allowing students to practice speaking my means of presentations, drama, etc; however, they are not equipped with the necessary speaking skills.
Morgenthaler (2005) explains that children's early language development is a marvel and a delight to most adults and to the teachers they meet in school. Much of the information that is collected by young kids is processed through hearing and is later mimicked through spoken words. It is thus very important that the information received by young children is comprehensible and of quality in an effort to ensure fluency in the give-and-take process involved in speaking. Morgenthaler and Shafer (2009) both support the notion that the best experience for anyone learning to communicate in a language is through peer support, cooperative learning and as many planned opportunities for practice. Morgenthaler goes further in his writings to state that in order for early language to develop through practice, children will need to be with other children without the control or even influence of the adults in the classroom. Those activities that children find enjoyable and fun and involve many collaborative and cooperative engagement with their peers will encourage children to normalize oral communication as a functional part of their work or play.
Academic language proficiency is not just essential but critical for academic success (Coleman, 2009). The definition given by Coleman for academic language is that it is a way of orally communicating the vocabulary, syntax and other language forms necessary to participate in classroom lessons and other types of academic interactions. He says that academic language is generally abstract and cognitively demanding, and that it makes more assumptions about what speakers and listeners already know. In gaining a holistic understanding and proficiency in speaking a language one needs however to gain proficiency in not only the academic language but also in conversational language, which is the ability to use language for basic communicative tasks. The conversational language skills per se are known as Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) and the oral as well as written language skills are known as Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).
Issues Relating to Oral Communication
Smith (2009) completed a research paper in the United Kingdom that report of school systems only being concerned with students passing exams and meeting targets in order to be considered educated. School systems across the planet and not only in the U.K. have for many years viewed academic education as an end to all the problems and issues to be faced in the real world; without and consideration for the absence or scarcity of basic skills like oral communication. Smith argues that viewing academic education in this light is far from being true and that in truth a sound academic education is only a portion of what is required in gaining a well-rounded education and in preparation to live a fulfilling life. An Oxford professor by the name Richard Pring researched and found that students today have been limited by a rather impoverish academic notion of learning, which places too much emphasis on written exams and results rather than equipping our students with personal qualities such as; social skills and effective oral communication skills. He warns that if our students are not equipped with such personal qualities then they will be at a big disadvantage especially in the future when they will need it the most. General education should have safeguards that ensure that practical learning is present and the link between the hands and the brain is made within the classroom. This will prepare young people not only for the work force but also for adulthood and living and working in the community (Smith, 2009).
In a research study conducted by Zwiers and Crawford (2009) they speak of several problematic issues encountered in students who lacked the skills needed to focus, deepen, and extend conversations about academic topics. Some of the problems they encountered included: (a) feeling of fear and/or intimidation while speaking to an audience of other students, (b) teachers that are not trained or equipped with the tools/modules needed to teach such conversational skills on academic topics, and (c) the limitations for students to be active and engaged in extended meaningful talk. Paxton-Buursama and Walker (2008) both agree that in many classrooms communicative skills are not taught to the extent that the other language skills are such as development skills in phonics and reading fluency. The teachings of such skills are placed on the back burner and in many cases there are limited and even rare opportunities for students to participate in activities that develop communicative speaking skills.
Possible Answers to Effective Oral Communication Using Technology
Shafer (2009) says that with speeches and presentations there is always room for improvement and practice makes the speaker more confident. Shafer through her research found that besides just allowing students practice before oral presentations the teacher must ensure that all practices are organized in a fun manner and within and environment where there is little pressure and/or anxiety placed on the students. Her suggestion as it relates to impromptus speeches is that it is a good strategy to use in getting your students to the front of the class and practicing to speak. These types of speech work best however, when they are light-hearted and perhaps funny in nature. The use of technology is a helpful tool in helping the teacher select topics as well as allowing the students to use feel relaxed as a microphone connected to live speakers could be used for example. Such integration allows students to feel important, decreases the affective filter of speaking and allows students to be creative beyond the normal non-technological classroom (Hill, 2000). Shafer continues by informing us that such silly and yet fun speeches will allow students to bond through laughter in a respectful manner and appreciation, thus, equipping students with the necessary confidence they require for speaking openly and publicly. Off course it is important to note that the class environment must have been set prior to the presentations, in that students understand the importance of being respectful of each other and the consequence should they behave inappropriately. On a different yet similar note, Hill (2000) states that students are intrinsically more interested in the task at hand when they have control over their learning; therefore, when students can use technology to prepare as well as using them as a part of their presentation they feel a better sense of ownership and tend to exhibit less fear and anxiety in presenting their research and/or ideas.
As a strategy Paxton-Buursama and Walker (2008) speak about increasing students' engagement in oral discussion in the classroom through the use of intentional implementation of tools. They used as a tool in their research the implementation of a Book Club literacy curriculum, which was implemented and tested over one semester. Pedagogical strategies and tools that would effectively scaffold students into a broad range of literacy experiences where included as the foundation of the Book Club literacy curriculum project. Those literacy experiences made it possible for students to develop multiple skills in reading, writing, thinking, and speaking. According to Paxton-Buursama and Walker the composition of the Book Club included: (a) opening and closing community share for literacy and discussion skill instruction, (b) reading, (c) writing, (d) book discussion, and (e) closing community share for literacy and discussion skill instruction. Paxton-Buursama and Walker at the end of the semester did find that indeed the use of intentionally designed simple strategies and tools such as the Book Club initiative can safely scaffold students into engaging and experimenting with text and literary concepts while developing greater communicative competence. The literacy experiences made possible through the Book Club initiative could have been aided through the use of technology in the form of videos and electronic books. The use of technology would not necessarily retard the objective of communicative competence among other objectives but help the teachers to reach more students. Hill (2000) confirms that watching a documentary on a character from a book for example Shakespare or perhaps viewing a multimedia presentation allows for the students to recall the information with greater accessibility and greater depth of knowledge.
According to Boyd (2008) one of the most important skills a person can develop for a successful career is the ability to speak well publicly. Boyd continues by informing teachers that regardless of their subject area or expertise, there are a variety of ways of teaching this essential skill. Among other ways, being a good role model as a speaker in class and showing excitement in your delivery style, avoid distracting mannerism and being well prepared are good ways to start. Teachers should invite guest speakers who speak well to give talks to students and assign students regular assignments that will allow them to practice speaking in front of their peers in class. Assignments such as essays or research papers that are returned to students can be used as an opportunity for students to read aloud excerpts from their writing and briefly speak about them. Boyd recommends that the teacher uses as many methods in the classroom that will reinforce public speaking principles, for example role-playing, which would allow for talking aloud and emphasizing vocal variety and facial expression to illustrate various feelings and emotions.
Cox-Petersen and Olson (2007) speaks of using "Draw Talk" Interviews to encourage and have students practice the skills of speaking. They explained this strategy as form of interview, which allows students to further express their ideas in English as it relates to their drawing(s). Students are instructed to firstly draw their picture, after which they hold a short discussion with other students in their group about their drawing(s), followed by an oral discussion about their drawing(s) with the teacher(s) and other classmates. Cox-Petersen and Olson states that the order or student then teacher discussions allows the students to try out or practice their explanation in a comfortable and low anxiety environment before discussing it openly with the teacher and entire class. Hill (2000) advocates that for such activities that involve drawing, painting etc, there are many technological tools available that would allow students to step beyond their limitations and reach outside the boxes we believe we are trapped in. She continues by stating that allowing the use of technology in the classroom by the students and creating a technology-rich environment our students will find it less restrictive in expressing themselves. This she states is simply because students are able to take their creative abilities beyond the normal pen and pencil approach.
1. Can the support of technology-based tools used by both teacher and students improve sixth-graders' fluency in the English Language?