Employing Technology to Create Authentic Learning Environments

Employing Technology to Create Authentic Learning Environments

Drew Polly (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-672-8.ch006
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The increased access to technologies in schools has opened avenues to explore non-traditional styles of teaching and learning. Educational theorists and researchers have long been calling for learnercentered instruction that situates learners in activities that allow them to explore concepts and construct understanding. However, as constructivist theorists and researchers continue to show the benefits of situating learning in meaningful tasks, many barriers still prevent the use of technology-enhanced authentic activities in classrooms (Ertmer, 2005; Shaw, 2003). This chapter aims to analyze the underlying theories of authentic learning and propose methods to support classroom teachers with the design, implementation and assessment of authentic activities.
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Technology In Schools

Access to technologies in K-12 schools continues to increase. Each year, more money is spent on hardware, software programs and technology-related infrastructure. These vast amounts of money are being invested on educational technologies with the expectation that both teaching and student learning will change for the better. While research indicates that access to technology helps teachers reconsider how their instruction can be more student-centered (Ringstaff, Yokam, & Marsh, 1995), most technology is integrated in teacher-centered, didactic ways (Ertmer, 2005; Wenglinsky, 1999; Mann, 1999). Becker and Ravitz (2001) surveyed secondary teachers and found that less than 25 percent of them were using computers on a weekly basis to enhance instruction. In most cases the technology is used in drill and practice settings, rather than promoting process or higher-order thinking skills (Becker, 2001; Shaw, 2003).

Simultaneous with the increased access to educational technologies, education reforms have called for a paradigm shift towards more learner-centered, constructivist-oriented learning environments (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; McCombs & Whisler, 1997; Polly, 2008). According to McCombs & Whisler (1997; McCombs, 2003) in learner-centered environments, students:

  • learn concepts by completing relevant tasks

  • have some ownership of how they learn or how they demonstrate their understanding

  • use appropriate resources, including technology, to support learning

  • are facilitated by teachers who model and scaffold students’ work

  • make connections between concepts and authentic situations

In this chapter I use the idea of anchored instruction (Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer, & Williams, 1990) to explicate the idea of using technology to connect concepts to authentic situations. An explanation of anchored instruction and authentic learning environments is followed with examples from K-12 schools. Lastly, implications for anchored instruction are discussed.

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