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Technology in education: "what?" or "how?".


Technology is being used to transform organizations and society but the change can be more profound when most individuals are technologically competent. Like the workplace, students in a classroom will possess varying levels of technological competence due to socio-economic and cultural factors that affect access, aptitude, motivation and need. Students learn at different rates and a peer tutor approach to technology instruction and integration can provide valuable instructional support for the teacher and emphasize how technology should be used in instruction rather than what it is.


The increased use of technology in the classroom since the 1980s involves both technology instruction and integration at all levels of education. Some educators have begun to question the effectiveness of technology instruction and integration. And what they have come to realize is that there seems to be more emphasis on the type of technology to be used in classrooms rather than how they should be integrated in instruction or taught as an individual subject.

This article advocates that once teachers identify the components of technology to be taught or the ones most appropriate to augment learning, as trained professionals they should also devise pedagogical strategies that they can use in their instruction to yield positive learning outcomes (Sandholtz, Ringstaff & Dyer, 1997). That is, they should focus on the "how" of technology instruction rather than the "what" (Valmont, 2000). Preoccupation with the "what" of technology may lead to anxiety regarding real or perceived technological deficiencies. This negative attitude may inhibit teachers' abilities to capitalize on the benefits of computer-enhanced instruction.

In this article peer tutoring is being promoted as a pedagogical strategy that teachers may use in technology instruction and integration to achieve a wider range of learning outcomes such as; subject content interest and mastery, improved technology skills, cooperation among students and raising self esteem. Specifically, this essay will examine: peer tutoring and technology learning, matching peer-tutoring models to technology goals, and the benefits and potential barriers of a peer tutoring approach to technology instruction/integration. Peer tutoring is a form of mentoring that is usually conducted in the classroom. It involves a one-to-one relationship and takes place over a short period of a few weeks (Fresko & Kowalsky, 1998; Whitman, 1998). However, its meaning in this article has been altered to reflect the diverse outcomes; skill building, cooperation and tolerance that a peer-tutoring approach to technology instruction and integration can yield.

Peer Tutoring Models & Technology Goals

Teachers should select a peer tutoring model that is suitable for their classroom. Models range from peer tutor as surrogate teacher, peer tutor and tutee from similar social grouping, average student paired with weak student, students with behavior difficulties serving as tutors and pairing by different gender and ethnicity. These models are supported by constructivist, classroom management and multicultural theories (Shapiro, 2000; Glaser, 1986 & Banks, 1995).

For technology activities such as introducing new software, one or two students can learn it and then discreetly instruct peers over a period of time (Potter, 2000). To avoid sending a negative message that some students are "technology experts" and must be consulted, every student in the class should be allowed to become an expert and teach their peers an aspect of technology for which he or she has developed competence (Potter, 2000). By taking this approach, students will view this exercise as a planned activity, mentally prepare for their role and over time develop positive self-esteem from participating in meaningful knowledge-sharing. Fresko & Kowalsky (1998) explain that the meta-cognitive skills of planning and reorganizing previous knowledge can boost tutors' cognitive skills. Teachers may motivate students to value peer tutoring partnerships by allocating a portion of their quarterly grade to this exercise. Each member of the peer group should evaluate each other. This formative evaluation can be used to refine subsequent peer tutoring exercises. Likewise, teachers can assign students to write and share reflections on their roles as tutors or tutees for inclusion in their portfolios.

Peer tutoring benefits

Indeed knowledge of technology is more lasting when it is constructed. And it is done most effectively with peers (Leask & Meadows, 2000; Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999). Generally the pedagogical challenges that teachers face are linked to classes becoming more diverse, creating instructional dilemmas for teachers. In activities that require use of technology, the differing levels of competence combined with the specific time allotment for instruction can often be frustrating for both teachers and students. This is more so for teachers and students who possess anxieties about computers (Stanley, 2003).

The technology competence of teachers and students is influenced externally by the pace of technology change and accessibility. Also it is shaped internally by aptitude, motivation, and interest. Today's students were born in the technological age. Therefore many of them are more "technologically perceptive" than their teachers (Valmont, 2000 p.7). Teachers can capitalize on the differing computer competence of their students by applying peer-tutoring strategies in technology integration and instruction. By doing so, teachers can sharpen their own technology skills and build personal confidence in planning and delivering effective computer-mediated instruction.

There are several characteristics of technology that make peer tutoring an appropriate pedagogical strategy for instruction. The most apparent aspect of appropriateness being the students' differing levels of technology competence. In a grade six elementary classroom, there may be students who do not know how to log on to a computer, are unable to launch an Internet site, or save a document to the desktop or on a floppy disk. In that same class, there may be students who have mastered all of these skills plus the ability to perform, after observation or instruction, relatively complex computer functions such as creating presentations, building a website with interactive features, producing, downloading and editing digital images from cameras. Similarly in college settings students' completion of e-portfolios vary because of difference in web authoring, troubleshooting and other technology skills. Likewise college students' abilities to gain electronic access to research and academic articles from a wide network of data bases including partner university libraries; Academic Search Premier and the Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) will influence their scholarship.

Technology is dynamic and learning is ongoing. Once one aspect is learned, you can be sure that another dimension will emerge. But given the social nature of learning (Vygotsky, 1997) and the tendency of humans to rely on peers for feedback, especially on complex and new domains (Jonassen, Hernandez-Serrana & Choi, 2002), teachers need not feel obliged to be sole transmitters and problem solvers. In fact, teachers can leverage students' affinity for peer support by incorporating peer instruction into their teaching repertoire.

Fostering Cooperation and Tolerance

Additionally, the United States classroom, which is a microcosm of the society, is becoming more diverse. Topping & Ehly (1998) point out that a peer tutoring instructional approach to computer technology can also be used to engineer positive contact between groups of varying gender, ethnic origin, and social class, who would otherwise remain alienated (Topping & Ehly, 1998; Sapon-Shevin, Ayers & Duncan, 2002). Sapon et. al encourage us to think critically about what we want children to learn in school. Besides learning academic subjects, shouldn't children be taught to be accepting of individual differences? Don't we want our children to develop advanced interpersonal skills that equip them to tolerate people who they perceive as "different" or "difficult?" Or, isn't the classroom a suitable place to model inclusion and community as part of preparing students for "becoming productive citizens in a diverse world" (Sapon-Shevin, Ayers & Duncan, 2002 p. 210)?

Indeed, cooperation rather than competition should be the motto for peer-tutoring. Students are being prepared to enter a world whose competitiveness is greatly influenced by technology. They need to be able to compete and computer competence does give them the edge to do so. It is equally important for them to possess the ability to cooperate because "time would be spent unproductively on competition in a society that is full of individualists" (Topping & Ehly, 1998 p. 11).

Above all, a peer tutoring approach to technology instruction will produce students who can operate in the increasingly technological American workforce. The US Department of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2000 and 2010, there will be 2.5 million new technology jobs resulting from expansion and the need to replace the 331,000 persons who have left the profession. Information technology employees who were asked in a survey to identify the characteristics and training they found effective, showed a strong preference for on-the-job training, especially under the tutelage of an experienced mentor (US Department of Commerce, 2003). Employees who had been educated to teach themselves to teach others or receive one-on-one coaching will benefit from this type of peer assisted training on-the-job. Furthermore, budding technology experts usually view the computer as their world therefore a deliberate effort should be made to balance this tendency with developing interpersonal skills. This type of response from on-the job tutors and tutees in the workforce has implications for technology in education. Students who are accustomed to collaboration on computer assignments will become indispensable to organizations which will value their human resource building capability.

Potential barriers

The responsibilities that are expected of teachers make many of them "control freaks." Despite the promotion of constructivism as a basis for pedagogical reform, adapting a teaching strategy that diminishes control is alien to many teachers' teaching style and philosophy. The transition may be similar to Japanese children switching from eating with chop sticks to knives and forks or an Aborigine in Australia being introduced to wearing shoes! Teachers enter the profession with entrenched beliefs of how schools should be conducted. Many of them have inherited the transmissive model of instruction, where it is assumed that they are subject matter experts, who having studied ideas longer, understand them better and are more capable of transmitting them (Jonassen, Hernandez-Serrano & Choi, 2000).

Admittedly, some of us teach how we were taught and favor the profession over others because of the autonomy that it allows us. To embrace a methodology such as peer tutoring, that may be counter to teachers' philosophy and teaching style takes time. Even teachers who are non-computer specialists can redesign their instruction and adapt their teaching style to capitalize on the benefits of technology-enhanced instruction.

However, doing so requires teachers to change from seeing themselves as sole repositories of all information and skills, to pooling the combined technological abilities and competencies of students in a class for improving learning and promoting individual growth.

At a glance, the idea might seem remote to some. But constructivist theories (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2004; Shapiro, 2000; Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999) support this approach, so teachers need not feel guilty of technology-incompetence or apologetic about engaging students in class activities that are more suited for professionals. However, this approach does not absolve teachers from their professional responsibility to learn and update their computer technology skills. Sandholtz (1997) describes change as a process that evolves through the stages of entry, adoption, adaptation, appropriation and invention (Sandholtz et al; 1997, p. 37). For example in making the transition from lecturer to teacher, the traditional text-based curriculum delivered in a lecture-recitation-seated format, was first improved by the use of technology and then replaced by more interactive use of technology that creates enriching learning experiences for students in traditional school and college classrooms. Likewise the use of slides and overhead projector to deliver a lecture-type instruction being substituted by PowerPoint presentations by teachers and students is another type of instructional evolution.

For teachers who are constructivist in their orientation but new to technology integration, the transition to applying a peer tutoring approach might be less challenging than those who are traditionalists and recent users of technology in instruction. Certainly, an authoritative teacher can adapt student-centered models in settings where being in control does not result in individual learning. Similarly, teachers are capable of varying their teaching styles depending on the context. For example a teacher in a class where the computer to pupil ratio is one to two will not use the same teaching strategy in a classroom where there are two computers for 24 students.

Teachers' angst, anxiety, or ambivalence regarding technology integration are related to having to learn and teach technology simultaneously, revealing their incompetence to students, compromising their control, respectability and authority by students knowing that they are not proficient in the use of a computer function. But the quicker they embrace the notion that the most competent person in technology in the classroom does not always have to be the teacher (Topping & Ehly, 1998), and plan their instruction around this tenet, the greater will be their chances of experiencing more positive learning outcomes. Leask & Meadows (2000) advise teachers to create a learning ethos for technology instruction and integration. They state "it is wrong to give children the impression that you or anyone else knows all they need to know about computers; the truth is we are all learning about ICT: Once one thing is learned you can be sure another parameter will enter the equation" (Leask & Meadows 2000, p. 128). More importantly, technology and pedagogy trouble shooting offer prime opportunity for collaborative problem solving and critical thinking.


Given the increasing role of computers in education, teachers who teach computer technology, or integrate it into their instruction should concentrate less on the nature of technology and more on how it can be used resourcefully to achieve a wider range of learning outcomes. A peer tutoring approach to technology instruction and integration is being recommended for its potential to facilitate the accomplishment of both the development of cognitive as well as the more discreet but equally important affective skills such as cooperation, tolerance and self esteem. In applying this approach to technology instruction and integration, teachers ought to select the appropriate peer tutoring model that matches their teaching styles, instructional settings and goals. Amidst the push for technology in education, teachers should not allow themselves to deviate from their primary pedagogical function. Since the 1980's it has become necessary for teachers at all levels to incorporate technology into their instructional planning to fulfill the national goal of producing students who are equipped for the changing society. However, in doing so teachers must always be cognizant that technology is merely a tool to be utilized in the process of achieving this educational goal.


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Sapon-Shevin, M., Ayers, B.J. & Duncan, J. (2002). Cooperative Learning and Inclusion in Creativity & collaborative learning. In J.S. Thousand, R. A., Villa, & A.I. Nevin. Creativity & collaborative learning: The practical guide to empowering students, teachers and families (pp. 209-233). Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes.

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Claudette Thompson, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

George Bieger, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Thompson is a Teaching Associate and Bieger, Ph.D. is Research Professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania
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Author:Bieger, George
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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