Using Technology to Achieve Educational Goals

Posted: June 30, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

The assistive technology lab supports both students who are pursuing degrees in the area of assistive technology and students and employees at Mason with disabilites. Photo by Nicolas Tan

By Jennifer Edgerly

Instructional technology is not a new field, but many may be surprised to learn that it predates World War II.

Kevin Clark
Kevin Clark
Photo by Nicolas Tan

Kevin Clark, coordinator of the instructional technology program in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), explains that instructional technology deals with more than digital technology. It is a broad field that deals with teaching and learning through technology. Films, videos and black or white boards are also part of instructional technology.

“During the early part of the 20th century, people needed to be trained quickly on similar tasks, so instructional films were created to make sure everybody had the same knowledge,” says Clark. “Whether it was teaching soldiers how to drive a tank or training women about their new jobs in factories, instructional films replaced face-to-face teaching and learning at the time.”

Mason’s foray into instructional technology began in 1986 when Mike Behrmann, director of the Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities (KIHd), and Mark Spikell, now a retired math professor, designed and implemented two master’s degree programs.

Today Mason’s instructional technology program is home to more than 300 students and offers three distinct tracks: instructional design and development, integrating technology in schools and assistive technology.

Going Beyond the Classroom

Although educational videos and games for children such as Baby Einstein® and LeapFrog® are examples of the kinds of tools created by instructional designers, the instructional design and development track at Mason goes beyond just learning how to create educational software for children and the classroom.

“Many of our graduates become consultants, helping firms such as consulting companies acquire knowledge or develop ways of acquiring knowledge and then disseminating that knowledge to its workforce,” says Clark, who is also responsible for the instructional design and development track.

Recently Clark’s doctoral students have had the opportunity to use what they learn in the classroom by assisting with the Institute for Urban Game Design (IUGD) at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. IUGD teaches high school students video game design and provides mentoring opportunities for middle school students.

Funded with a National Science Foundation grant, Clark and CEHD assistant professor Kimberly Sheridan saw the institute as a way to increase students’ motivation, achievement and exposure to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) content at an urban public school where the vast majority of students are African American and Latino.

The Mason graduate students assist Clark and Sheridan with the data collection and are on hand during the institute’s sessions to observe the students interactions with each other and the software.

Technology in the Classroom

The integrating technology in schools track focuses on the K-12 learning environment and provides graduate students with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively integrate technology with the teaching and learning process. Graduates of this track frequently become the local expert and change agent for technology in schools.

“From a very early age children today are exposed to different technology including video games and iPods,” says Debra Sprague, associate professor of instructional technology. “Instead of outlawing these items in our classrooms, we need to find a way to integrate them so that we don’t lose an entire generation of students.”

Students in this program also learn the methods and strategies that facilitate integration, such as using databases, desktop publishing and the web. In addition, students have the option of pursuing a certificate that prepares teachers to work with students in virtual environments.

Previously, online education was primarily offered at the college level, but as online learning has become more popular, it has trickled down to the secondary and high school levels. Priscilla Norton, education professor and faculty advisor for integrating technology program, even created a virtual high school called the Online Academy, which offers classes to high school students around the state and country.

“Students examine the history and current trends of online learning and the characteristics and learning needs of virtual learners,” says Norton. “Since they are not face to face with the students they are teaching, they learn how to build relationships and moderate student learning in virtual environments to include discussion boards, bulletin boards, chat rooms and virtual classrooms.”

Applying Technology to Help Individuals with Disabilities

The assistive technology (AT) track, supported within KIHd, provides a tiered approach for individuals interested in applying AT to help individuals with various disabilities and across all ages find ways to adapt to or accommodate the functional limitations that the disability imposes upon them.

“We focus on teaching our students to understand the needs of individuals with disabilities through specific applications of AT,” says Behrmann. “Fundamental to the program is the belief that all individuals have the capability to learn and use technology to increase, maintain or improve their functional skills and empower their lives.”

One way in which the students from the various instructional technology programs collaborate is through the Immersion Program, which enables students, particularly those focusing on instructional design, to participate in an authentic project-based design experience.

One project students are currently working on is a Virginia Department of Education initiative called T/TAC Online. This project is designed to improve educational opportunities and contribute to the success of children and youth with disabilities in Virginia.

For more information about the instructional technology program at Mason, visit the web site.

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