Computer technology is increasingly becoming a major tool in the learning process. According to Keengwe, Onchwari, and Wachira (2008), recent studies have shown that the use of computer technology is becoming common not only in the developed countries but also in the developing nations. Educationists, governments, and other stakeholders in the education sector have been trying to find ways of improving the learning experience. Just as in many other fields, education is becoming more reliant on technology. The need to make students more involved in their academics has made the stakeholders appreciate the need to embrace technology. For students in middle school, computer technology is very important because it is at this stage they start realizing they are always in charge of their learning process. Infusing computer technology in their learning process enables them to conduct their own independent research during their free time. It also allows them to interact with their teachers and fellow students even when they are at home. In the United States, computer technology is becoming a basic necessity among students learning in the middle school. Most schools are now equipping their classrooms to enable their students to use modern computer technologies as part of their learning materials. The researcher seeks to determine the impact of computer technology on students learning in middle school.
According to a study conducted by Anderson (2014), many schools in the United States of America are spending a lot of money investing in computer technology. Although there is no legal requirement that specifies the kind of computer infrastructure that schools should have, many learning institutions have taken the initiative of investing heavily on emerging educational technologies. In most cases, it is the parents who are forced to foot the huge bills of digitizing these schools (Martinez, 2011). As these schools continue to invest in computer technology, an important question that some stakeholders are asking is whether this investment is justified. These stakeholders are interested in determining the impact of computer technology on students. It is only reasonable for these schools to continue making investments in technology if it is determined that it has positive impact on students’ academic and social development. The justification of this study is, therefore, to determine if indeed such investments are worthwhile. Determining the impact of computer technology on students learning in the middle school will clearly show if it is relevant for learning institutions to continue making investment in this field.
When conducting a research, Martinez (2011) advises that it is necessary to come up with clear research questions that will guide the entire process of collecting data. The researcher had one primary question shown below.
How does computer technology impact students learning in middle school?
In order to respond effectively to this research question, the researcher came up with specific sub-questions. These sub-questions are meant to help in collecting specific information that would respond to the above primary question in an effective manner. The following are the sub-questions.
- What are the advantages of teachers’ use of computer technology in the classroom?
- How does computer technology change students learning?
The researcher will use questions above when gathering data for this research project. The study will rely on a detailed review of the existing literatures to respond to these research questions.
Review of the Literature
Scholars in the field of education have conducted extensive research to determine the relevance of technology in the modern learning environment. According to Blake, Winsor, and Allen (2012), one area of research that has remained interesting is determining the impact of computer technology among middle school learners. Emerging technologies are redefining modern classrooms as students become more involved in their academics. In traditional classroom setting, learning could not take place in absence of the teacher. Teachers were expected to deliver instructions to students and later give them tests to determine whether or not they understood the concepts taught. Learning was teacher-centered. However, this trend is changing and students are now taking the leading role in the learning process. Teachers are now becoming facilitators who help students to grasp concepts. This transition of learning environment from that which is teacher-centered to that which is student-centered has been made possible by the emerging technologies (Anderson, 2014). It is important to look at the specific benefits of computer technology among students learning in middle school.
Advantages of teachers’ use of computer technology in the classroom
According to Martinez (2011), there are a number of benefits of computer technology in the classroom. One of the greatest benefits of computer technology is that it facilitates learning among students with special needs. For a long time, students with special needs such as the deaf, dumb, or those with autism have been struggling to learn in a conventional classroom. Their physical and mental challenges make it difficult for them to learn within the same environment as their counterparts. Assistive technologies have emerged that make it possible for them to learn without being affected by their disability.
Through computer technologies, students with hearing problems are offered special hearing instruments which are computer-controlled to help them learn in the same environment as the ”normal” students. As such, it eliminates the need to have a special school for these students who have hearing impairment (Zucker, 2008). Those with poor or lost eye-sight also have special computer-enabled systems which makes it easy for them to learn. For those with autism and other mental problem, there are assistive technologies that have been developed to make the learning experience more enjoyable for them. As Anderson (2014) puts it, the days when physically or mentally impaired children were locked at homes without being taken to school are gone, thanks to the computer technology. These students can now learn, play, and socialize normally irrespective of their disabilities.
According to Martinez (2011), in middle school, students start to learn about conducting basic research based on the homework given to them by their teachers. Sometimes a teacher may decide to give questions on topics which are yet to be covered to make them have some clue and to come up with questions based on what they find to be intriguing or unclear (Anderson, 2014). Such students are expected to go to the library and do some research. The emergence of online libraries, facilitated by computer technology, makes it easy for these students to conduct such research. Once they have internet access and a personal computer or a tablet, they can easily conduct their research and find most of the answers they are looking for in the online platform. This technology has significantly simplified the process of conducting research because all that the researcher will do is to key in the question into the search engine. For a student in middle school who is just becoming aware of ways of conducting research, such simplicities are very important.
Martinez (2011) says that group discussions are very important among middle school learners. Sometimes a student may develop negative attitude towards a teacher because of personal reasons. Such cases are common and as Zucker (2008) states, will continue to exist. Negative attitude towards a teacher oftentimes result into the student having negative attitude towards the subject. As such, the student will simply switch off his mind the moment a teacher walks into the classroom. In other cases, it may be some unexplained fear that a student has towards the teacher.
These mental processes may be in response to events in the past that gives rise to unpleasant memories. In such cases, the student will not be in a position to grasp the concept taught in class. Through group discussions, these students are able to learn from their fellow students when they are in an environment they consider appropriate. In the past, such group discussions were only possible when the students met physically. However, students can now meet in online platforms and conduct their group discussions when they are in their respective homes (Zucker, 2008). It means that each of the group members will be comfortable during such discussions given that they will be at their respective homes. The time for discussions can also be extended because the students are already at home. As Anderson (2014) notes it, group discussions have become more effective, thanks to the emerging computer technology.
Asking questions is an integral part of learning process. Whenever a student is unable to understand a given concept, he or she is expected to ask the teacher to explain the concept a little further. However, it is important to understand that learners in the middle school are at very critical stage of their social development. According to Maslow’s Theory of Needs, students at this stage need a sense of belonging. They need to be loved and appreciated by their peers. They fear rejection and ridicule and would do everything within their powers to avoid being seen as less worthy among their peers (Cher, Yong, Ching, & Tsai, 2013).
With such mentalities, such learners will avoid asking questions for fear of appearing to be stupid. This is specifically so among average and below average learners. They may have the feeling that by asking questions, they may demonstrate their stupidity to their peers. Most students often do not ask questions in classroom not because they understand everything taught to them, but because at their age they are very sensitive about being ridiculed. Computer technology in the field of education makes it possible for these learners to get answers in the online platform. They no longer have to worry about what their peers will say about them.
Teachers also get to benefit a lot when using technology in a classroom. According to Lee and Winzenried (2009), teachers can now record their lectures and send them to the students through various online platforms well before the classes can begin. This has significantly reduced the burden that these teachers have, especially in cases where the classes are relatively large. When students go through the recorded lectures before the classes can begin, they get to understand the basics of the concepts that are to be taught. These students get to prepare effectively for classes.
In fact, Anderson (2014) says that when such lectures and accompanied by proper notes, the work of the teacher is lessened even further during the class sessions. All they have to do is to go through the lectures in a form of question-and-answer sessions. They can easily understand what was understood by the students and what needs further clarification. Anderson (2014) says that a teacher can organize students to work in groups where they are expected to discuss the questions and find answers as a unit using their computers. Handling such small groups instead of individual students further makes it simple to handle a class. Students in each group will be expected to discuss questions before arriving at a specific answer. Every group member will participate in one way or the other, either by being an active listener or contributing in giving answers. Weakness identified in each group can then be addressed by the teacher in each of the groups using the technological equipment.
Communication is very critical for teachers when attending to their students. The new technologies have changed the approach that teachers use to communicate with the students. In a traditional classroom setting, the only form of communication between a teacher and students is through physical interaction. However, the emerging technologies in the field of education have created an online platform where teachers can easily communicate with students without necessarily having to meet with them physically. They can send these students e-mails or communicate with them in other online platforms at any time whenever it is necessary. Assignments and notes can be sent and received in the online platforms, making the processes simple for both the students and teachers. According to Windschitl and Sahl (2002), teachers who use computer technology when facilitating their students have been confirmed by a number of studies to have a better experience than their counterparts who use traditional methods of teaching.
How technology changes students learning
Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, according to Zucker (2008), holds that “learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction.” Whatever students observe significantly influences what they learn. Sometimes when issuing instructions, students may fail to grasp the concept brought forth in classroom in its entirety. However, computer technology helps in addressing this weakness by supporting the instructions with observable factors. For example, when explaining the concept of Plate Tectonics in a Geography class, it is very likely that not all students will understand it when they hear about it for the first time. However, the learning can be enhanced using emerging technologies. Students can be allowed to watch short video clips demonstrating the theory.
Through such observations, the memory becomes clear in their minds. In fact, some teachers prefer allowing their students to first watch such movies before the classes can commence. This way, the memory of the complex processes involved in the tectonic movements will be clear in their minds during the classroom sessions. Such students are likely to understand the concept better. They will also come to class with very relevant questions about what they watched when they attend the classes. Dorfman (2008) says that technology is completely changing the learning process. Recorded materials are easily available in the online platform where learners can access as long as they have access to the internet. Computer technology has empowered students and significantly improved the process of giving direct instructions.
Ways of promoting responsible use of computer technology among students in middle school
Computer technology has very clear benefits to the teachers, students, and other stakeholders in the field of education. As discussed above, they help students a lot in understanding whatever is taught in the classrooms. However, Martinez (2011) warns that if not handled appropriately, computer technology may also have negative consequences on learners. Computers enable students to have access to the internet. The internet is a very good source of information to the learners. However, it also has a lot of materials that may be harmful to the students psychologically. They may be exposed to cyber bullying or access to materials which are not meant for them given their tender age. Sometimes the students may fail to do meaningful work when online, preferring to watch movies or access contents that may not be appropriate based on their age. As such, Mason (2007) advises that middle school students should be closely guided to ensure that they use the gadgets given to them responsibly. These gadgets may be set to ensure that certain websites are not accessible to these students. The gadgets may also be set to limit the games these students can play within a given period. Teachers and parents should closely monitor these students when they are online to detect and address any form of online aggression directed to them by strangers or fellow students.
Computer technology is very important for students’ learning in middle school. The discussion above has shown that when used responsibly, computer technology has positive impact both on teachers and students in the middle class. It empowers students and transforms the learning process. Learning changes from teacher-centered to student-centered. Interaction among students and between a student and a teacher is also improved.
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