Posted by: lindapemik | December 5, 2010

Student-centred technology rich-learning

I was reading Shelley Wright’s blog last night and I cried.  She is a member of our eci831 class and a high school science teacher who experimented with adopting a technology-rich, student-centred approach to her teaching. (See her blog post, “taking the plunge”). After a two week trial she shared the results on her post, “the jury is in”.  I cried for the girl in her class that experienced the joy of learning for possibly the first time in her school career; I cried for my son who dropped out of school after Grade 10 because he thought he couldn’t learn  and in the traditional class environment he was right);  I cried for my 11 year old granddaughter who is in Grade 6 and came home last week with a 90 average on her fall report card, including a 100 in computers, but she hates school so much that her mother has to argue with her everyday to get her out the door; and I cried for all the kids and adult learners like them who are being sidelined by a traditional approach to teaching and all their parents and grandparents who don’t know how to help their kids to be successful in school and their teachers who for one reason or another are afraid to try and change the way they teach.

Shelley’s experiment illustrates the kind of change in approaches to teaching that many of us would like to see more of–classrooms rich in the use of technology and students at the centre of the teaching and learning. The need for school reform and the role that the use of technology can play in supporting a more student-centred kind of teaching have been some of the ongoing themes of the dialogue in our eci831 class, so this is not new to most of you reading this.  There are differences of opinion about the benefits of using Web 2.0 and other technology tools in teaching and we all agree that the use of technology isn’t a magic bullet for school reform but it certainly has the potential to positively change teaching and learning at all levels.  Shelley Wright’s story has powerful lessons for all of us who are in the business of education.

There appears to be countless research findings that parallel Shelley’s experiences.  I came across an older study that’s been around for more than 10 years, the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) study. The research examined how instruction changed over time in technology-rich classrooms and outlined a number of significant outcome for students. It showed that:

  • Students’ absentee rate was 50% less, and the study groups had no dropouts compared with schools’ 30% overall rate.
  • Although half of the students who joined ACOT as freshmen had not planned to go to college. Ninety per cent of them graduated and went on to college compared with 15% of the non-ACOT graduates.
  • The ACOT graduating class in one school amassed 27 academic awards in addition to recognition for outstanding accomplishments in history, calculus, foreign language and writing.

The researchers also noted that a shift in instructional style occurred, from traditional to constructivist. The authors of the study believe that the shift takes place as teachers become expert technology users leading to new levels of confidence and willingness to experiment with instruction, however suggest that these changes will occur only if there is a concomitant change in teachers’ beliefs about their practice.
A more recent pilot in Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology demonstrated noticeable improvements in attendance and grades among marginalized college students studying Maths and Science at Seneca when new technology was adopted.  The 30 year veteran teacher said that she had never seen such significant improvements in students’ understanding of math concepts. Check out this short video made by one of the students.

Given a longer and more detailed search I am sure that I could discover many more research projects, pilots, experiments and testimonies about the benefits of technology-rich, student-centred classrooms.  I have heard the stories from my eci831 classmates about the positive effects resulting from the changes that they are implementing in their class rooms and the benefits of using technology.  My exposure to some of the literature and experts in technology and education that we have heard from this fall lead me to think that the findings of the ACOT experiment were not an anomaly. I am convinced that solid evidence exists for why our school systems from  K-12 to post-secondary need to shift to more learner-centred models of education and why schools need to be generously supported for the creation of technology-rich learning environments.   So why after so many years are we still debating the effectiveness of student-centred, technology-rich class rooms?  Why are so many children and adult learners being left behind or pushed to the sidelines when we have evidence about how we can be more effective educators.
I don’t have an answer to that but I know that many individual educators are taking steps towards school and professional improvement and changing their beliefs about education; however there is a WE factor that needs to be considered. As another eci831 blogger, Shawna Stangel, wrote this week: “So the question I keep coming back to is . . . “What are WE going to do about it?”  Yes, WE as a collective.  It can begin with an individual but  must end with us all, as we are all in this together”

WE as parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, professors, researchers, politicians, policy makers, professional educators and trainers, are in this together and must talk to others, encourage and support the changes that WE want to see, our children, old and young deserve nothing less.



  1. What a powerful reflection, Linda. WOW! You are making me cry!

  2. I was really affected by Shelly’s post too. In fact, for the past few days I’ve been wondering if that’s even possible in the NTEP classes. Are my student’s ready for it? I think they did quite well with the self-directed activities we’ve done so far, but I know most of them are INCREDIBLY frustrated when they don’t have the traditional evaluation format as a framework for the class.

    …but it’s something to think about…


    • Hi Tara, good to hear from you. I am looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on what we can do in NTEP to model learner-centred teaching and encourage our graduate teachers to apply with their students.

  3. So refreshing to find someone else from the north who shares the excitement of using the web to open up learning for students.

    • great to connect with you Jim. I would like to learn more about your work and how you are using the web to open up learning for your students. We have a community blog at the college, I’d love your you to be a guest auther sometime and share your ideas with all of us .


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