Guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit

With the objective in mind of making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies (see previous post), these guidelines emphasize the following general ways — from most important to least — that college faculty, teachers and/or students can use computers and other technologies as tools in education.

  (Links are given to 2001-2 case studies from science education)

1. To extend thinking of students

    • E.g., The unanticipated consequences in systems of feedback where there is time delay (see Case study 1a.i)
      E.g., Virtual plant and animal breeding (see Case study 1a.ii)
      Note that most existing websites are designed more to transmit information than to ensure learning.
      E.g., if you have ways to get students to read actively, try to incorporate them in assignments that involve accessing information from the WWW.
      E.g., Problem-based learning, which uses scenarios or cases to engage students in investigation and learning, building on their prior knowledge and particular interests (see Case study 1c.i).
      E.g., if you have ways to maintain the interest of girls in traditionally male-identified areas of science and technology, then use them in maintaining the interest of girls in computers (see Case study 1c.ii).
      Included in such activities is looking at the history and possible future changes that computers have brought in thinking about thinking (objective e).
  • a. Use computers first and foremost to teach or learn things that are difficult to teach or learn with pedagogical approaches that are not based on computers.
    b. Make sure that learning/knowledge-construction is happening, especially when asking students to use the internet.
    c. Model computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.
    d. Incorporate activities that identify constraints and keep alternative ways of thinking in mind, remembering that computers, like all tools, constrain at the same time as they enable. (see Case study 1d)
    e. Without discounting the social and inter-personal dimensions of supporting learning (see guideline 1c), consider whether software and/or its use meet the principles of Universal Design for Learning

2. To facilitate group interaction, e.g., by freeing teacher from the bookkeeping part of class activities

    • These guidelines are evident in software from Tom Snyder Productions, whose slogans are “teaching in the one-computer classroom,” and “software for teachers who love to teach (see Case studies 2a-c).
      because pre-programmed software tend to inhibit exploration of pathways and questions that deviate from what the designers anticipated.
      If students remain seated in front of a computer, as is the case in computer labs, they are easily distracted from discussion and other group activities. Ways need to be found to physically separate the computer use from the group interaction.
      Training may be needed. Attention to this contributes to building the desired learning community (see objective c). (See structure of cases in Case study 1c.i.)
  • 1a-c apply here as well.
    1d also applies
    e. “Take away the toys.”
    f. Provide an explicit structure for small group interaction and peer coaching.

3. To enhance communication of knowledge

    • E.g., Powerpoint eliminates the time it used to take to write material on a chalkboard, but chalkboards are better for making connections during class and for acknowledging students’ contributions.
      In relation to guideline 1a, see Case study 3.
      In relation to guidelines 1a-c, see An exemplary webportal that Margaret Waterman provides to resources for science educators, especially in biology
  • Guidelines 1a-d also apply.

4. To organize a personal workstation or “virtual office”

    • See A minimal set of tools to handle my office-on-the-computer and enhance teaching/learning interactions in a sustainable way
      E.g., Do not use email or voicemail to communicate something you are avoiding doing face to face, or that you would not be prepared to do face to face. See Internet etiquette and ethics.
  • a. Identify and address bad work habits before seeking a technical fix.

    b. Assess — either in advance of experimenting or afterwards — whether a new use of technology will be sustainable in your real-life work situation.
    c. Take stock of the tendency towards “Continuous partial attention” (a.k.a. multi-tasking), set limits, and make unrushed time for sustaining/sustained synchronous, face-to-face human interactions.

    d. Hold yourself to high collegial standards.

5. To comply with expectations, standards, or expenditures that promote technology use without providing sound pedagogical guidelines.

    a. In discussions with colleagues and administrators, emphasize guidelines 1-3 and the distinction between “COMPUTERS in education” and “computers in EDUCATION” and, similarly, between “the teaching of technology” and “the enhancement of teaching/learning through technology.” 

    b. Initiate or participate in a needs assessment in relation to pedagogical benefits.

    c. Notice that, although technology standards for teachers may refer to higher-order thinking, etc., illustrations of standards center on using technology and rarely cite evaluations that show benefits for learning the subject matter, let alone higher-order thinking.

6. To occupy students’ attention while the teacher focuses on other students

    a. We should minimize this! When a teacher has insufficient resources to sustain teaching/learning interaction with students, the first step should be to mobilize additional human resources. 

    b. Take into account which software is drill and practice, and which extends students’ thinking.


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to Guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit

  1. Pingback: New Social Media: From technologies to spaces for virtual and face-to-face interactions IV « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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