E-Learning, Information Technology, and Student Success in Higher Education
Abstract and Keywords
E-learning expands options for teaching and learning using technology. This nomenclature has been solidly in use for the last ten years. The expansive and ever fertile frontier of e-learning—a term used interchangeably with distance and online learning—has become standard fare as an educational delivery solution designed to enhance knowledge and performance. Many educational institutions, corporate enterprises and other entities are utilizing web-based teaching and learning methodologies to deliver education either partially or wholly online using electronic platforms. The learning value chain, including management and delivery, has created multimodal systems, content, and processes to increase accessibility, measurability, and cost effectiveness by infusing advanced learning techniques, such as adaptive learning or communities of practice, among students, employee groups, and lifelong learners. It is interesting to note that e-learning encapsulates internet based courseware and all other asynchronous and synchronous learning, as well as other capabilities for supporting learning experiences.
Student success and advancements in technology are now inextricably linked as a result of higher education institutions embracing and offering e-learning options. The absence of direct instructor guidance makes distance learning particularly difficult for some students. Certain students struggle with the lack of guidance inherent in online learning and the requisite need to work independently. In particular, the lack of high touch strategies in e-learning often leads students to drop or fail courses. While some students struggle to remain engaged in technology-enabled learning, technology is often the vehicle for keeping these same students on task. There are a variety of electronic tools designed to augment online learning and keep online learners on task. Podcasts, for example, can be easily downloaded, then played back on a student’s media player or mobile device at a later date. The student is not tied to a computer, which results in a more comprehensive learning experience.
In many cases, e-learning has become a very lucrative and desirable marketplace for higher education institutions. The business case for e-learning is a clarion call for tight integration among business, human resources, and knowledge and performance management. Hence, it is incumbent upon educational institutions to instill approaches that focus on the learner, learning, and improved performance, more so than the tools and technology. Of further importance is the need for higher education institutions to provide stratagems for developing and supporting caring online relationships, individualized student environments, collaboration, communication, and e-learning culture. Ultimately, institutions should measure not only improved business and performance, but also improved student online learning aptitudes (more self-motivated, self-directed, and self-assessed learning).
No generation is more at ease with online, collaborative technologies than today’s young people—“digital natives,” who have grown up in an immersive computing environment. Where a notebook and pen may have formed the tool kit of prior generations, today’s students come to class armed with smart phones, laptops, and iPods.
(The Economist Intelligence Unit, p. 5, 2008)
E-learning is a nomenclature assigned to a field of study and practical application. The term encompasses electronic delivery of teaching and learning as well as the theoretical dimensions of cognition to ensure the effective use of the technological tools (Siemens, 2005). As a prominent sector in educational delivery methods, e-learning utilizes audio streaming video, animation, audio written content in the process of instructional design while considering human behavioral theory to inform effectiveness and efficacy. E-learning can occur in a multitude of environments (Dougiamas, 2001). It can be applied for distance learning and in face-to-face situations as blended or hybrid learning. E-learning can take place synchronously (in real time) or asynchronously (self-paced). As a medium of delivery of learning, there are advantages and disadvantages, like any other medium.
In a business environment, e-learning offers opportunities to educate potential customers, build customer loyalty, reduce customer service costs, cross-sell, and deepen customer relationships. Lauridsen (2010) explored a framework based on Porter’s idea on Value Chain Analysis (VCA) to identify factors that leverage activities along a “chain,” delivering educational services to self-directed learners. The notion of value chains is useful for documenting and improving a complex life cycle, such as delivering online education to adults (Lauridsen, 2010). Numerous authors, scholars, consultants, and practitioners have adapted the VCA model to guide decisions about allocation of resources.
In comparison, while a supply chain involves suppliers and buyers of goods and services, a value chain focuses on the material or services provided by participants, as the transactions reporting movement also track increases in asset value. Further, a value chain focuses on the specific actions that add value, such as ordering and receiving goods, releasing material to a job order, shipping finished products, receiving revenue, and financial accounting for the aggregate cost of doing business (Lauridsen, 2010).
A value chain for higher education entities is notably different than that for commercial enterprises (Lauridsen, 2010). The higher education landscape has undergone significant changes in the past few years. The notion of a business approach to education and the students as customers is getting stronger. The external environment presents a changing paradigm, characterized by heightened customer awareness and demands, rising educational costs, increasing competition in the form of new and alternative sources of learning and information (such as technology assisted learning), and an increasing bevy of 21st century technologies. All of these have made it necessary for colleges and universities to seek new and innovative ways to deliver education and to support all other institution transactions. They have also made it necessary for higher educational universities to acquire alternative models in terms of structure, work organization, and the management of knowledge, information, and course content. In this new reality, it is imperative that institutions of higher learning cease thinking in terms of supplying education to students; rather, these institutions are providing services that their customers are willing to buy, because these services add value to their future potential.
Today, technology reaches well beyond the classroom to serve the needs of learners with disabilities, rural inaccessibility, or those being home schooled. Technological tools ensure that these remote populations of students have many more options open to them to learn and investigate. Through Internet connection, students and instructors have a portal and connection to every part of the world. Computers can open pathways that stimulate learning and help develop high-order thinking skills when technology is applied in a meaningful manner (Jackson, 2011). Histories of technological developments have often shown links between innovations in industry and communications and improvements in educational methods (Pool, 1997). The proliferation and success of web-based curricula at all levels of education is just the latest example of the importance of technology to both students and instructors.
Issues in Teaching and Learning that Threaten National Competitiveness
Thomas Edison once said, “Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools …, our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years.” Amazingly enough, however, one of our nation’s most important inventors was proven quite wrong. The American education system has a remarkable resistance to innovation, and the classroom experience has changed very little in the 100 years since Edison’s prediction (Brunner, 1992). Online learning is revolutionizing access to education. But if U.S. higher education cannot make this revolution work for millions of disadvantaged learners and the thousands of institutions that serve them, the nation will incur an economic liability from which it will not recover (Adamy & Heinecke, 2005). Already the nation’s education gap contributes to an increasingly polarized society characterized by “haves” and “have-nots.” If this persists, a growing proportion of the population will become terminally unemployable in high wage jobs. The U.S. economy will lose competitiveness even as the workforces of India, China, and other developing nations surge to unprecedented levels of educational attainment (Brunner, 1992). We simply cannot afford to continue on the current path. Inventing a successful model for educating disadvantaged students online is an economic necessity. The imperative now is to enhance student success by providing “anywhere, anytime” access to the 21st-century learning tools and resources our students and faculty require to succeed.
As state and federal policymakers continue to emphasize the importance of increasing rates of college completion, many colleges are beginning to consider the use of technological tools to support students’ progress toward their educational goals. For instance, a growing number of colleges are implementing advising technologies that can help students identify programs of study or courses to take, help students and counselors generate educational plans, and aid faculty and college staff in identifying and reaching out to students at risk of failure. If employed effectively, such technologies have the potential to supplement college student support activities and address a range of student and institutional needs.
Sometimes referred to as Integrated Planning and Advising Services (IPAS), these technologies can contribute to improved student outcomes by fundamentally changing the way students are guided and supported as they make their way through college. The main purpose of IPAS technologies is not to increase administrative efficiency or information technology (IT) compatibility, though this may occur (Leonard, 2004). Rather, it is to help colleges in restructuring the student experience to encourage improved learning, persistence, and completion. For a technology to be widely adopted, end-users must learn how to use the tools, and all the features of a product must be well understood and helpful (Leonard, 2004). Yet there have been observations of college campuses that demonstrate that adoption is not just about the technology. The organizational and departmental cultures of colleges also influence whether individuals make use of new technologies in ways that improve their practice and increase student success. In this regard, institutions must understand how to evaluate their cultures and systems for technological readiness.
Technological readiness focuses on institutional-level characteristics affecting the deployment of new technology. It refers to the capacity of a college or university as a whole to implement a new technology, make it reliably available for use, and train users to employ it effectively (Ash, 1997). Most discussions of successful technology implementation focus on this capacity and define success as getting a new technology to a point where it can be reliably used by college personnel. Not surprisingly, an institution’s level of technological readiness is critical to the successful implementation of newly acquired technology (Ash, 1997).
Advances in information technology have revolutionized how people communicate and learn in nearly every aspect of modern life except for education. The educational system operates under the antiquated needs of an agrarian and industrial America (Ash, 1997). The short school day and the break in the summer were meant to allow children to work on family farms. Schools have an enduring industrial mentality placing students in arbitrary groups based on their age regardless of their competencies. While an institution may determine in technical terms that the system is ready for technological adoptions, there is still the possibility of barriers that prevent implementation.
Strategies for Eliminating Barriers in the Use of Technology in the Classroom
Transformation in our educational institutions has been stymied because governance systems insulate them from the disruptions that technology creates in other organizations. The government regulates schools perhaps more than any other organization. Rules govern where students study, how they will study, and who will teach them. To overcome these obstacles, instructors must be persuaded that technology will empower them and improve their student outcomes. For consideration are five strategies (Brunner, 1992) for successful instructional adoption of education technology to help facilitate the potential that Edison saw a century ago.
Using Technology to Empower Educators
Instructors rightly reject education technologies that divert their attention from high touch instruction (Brunner, 1992). The best education technologies enable instructors to do more with fewer resources (Adamy & Heinecke, 2005). Communication platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr enable dynamic communications with students. Instructor-empowering technologies include mobile apps that grade written student work and provide curriculum-planning databases. Educational institutions need to aggressively track what works for their instructors and eliminate ineffective technologies (Cobb, 2010).
Adoption of Technology in Curriculum Planning
One of the major drivers of bad policy is policy churn. New institutional leaders want to make their mark adopting new policies and jettisoning the old. This constant changing of priorities makes beneficial reforms difficult to implement. Instructors can incorporate technology directly into their practice and insulate their students from the deleterious effects of policy churn (Brunner, 1992). For example instructors can use open educational or other online resources to improve remediation and student outcomes. Systematic adoption of technology at the classroom levels limits the damage of shifting policy maker priorities.
Use of Open Source Technologies
Many mistakenly believe that education technologies are expensive and complicated to use. Open-source technologies are stable, secure, and compatible with other platforms (Brunner, 1992). Organizations both small and large use open source devices every day. Many businesses use open-source servers for their efficiency and costs savings. They often have large communities that provide high quality customer support. Best of all, open-source technologies often cost less than proprietary products.
Using Online Education Portfolios to Evaluate Students
Educators have known about the benefits of paper-based portfolios for generations. Portfolios allow students to express creativity for difficult to assess subjects. Instructors can choose from a variety of online portfolio providers tailored to the needs of their classroom. They also serve as a platform for students to demonstrate growth. Online portfolios have many advantages over paper-based options because they cost less and allow for more robust outreach (Brunner, 1992). Online portfolios are also amenable to a wider variety of formats including video, music, or other interactive features.
The Impact of Technology on Teaching and Learning
Innovations propelled by technology have revolutionized teaching and learning in colleges and universities globally. Information technology has created transformational benefits for collaborative opportunities for research partners around the world (Cooper & Bull, 1997). However, technology remains an expensive disruptive innovation (Fullan & Donnelly, 2013). There is still resistance among faculty members accustomed to teaching using other methods and loathe to expending time to acquire new strategies. Nevertheless, in spite of the existing barriers, technology has had a significant impact and, predictively, will continue shaping higher education. Online education has gained a firm hold in a multiplicity of higher education institutions worldwide. E-learning has become a core differentiator for recruiting students, and for corporate and community partners (Lauridsen, 2010). Many institutions with a public service mandate have embraced e-learning as a key component for advancing their missions by placing access to higher education within reach of people who might otherwise find advanced education prohibitive (English, 2008). Likewise, attracting corporate-academic partnerships as a means for locating funding in a diminishing cash environment means institutions need to demonstrate a commitment to advancing long range plans for technological strategies (Fullan & Donnelly, 2013).
To override faculty resistance, institutions will be called to overcome operational challenges and create organizational practices that encourage faculty to adopt new technologies and incorporate technology into pedagogy, andragogy, and curriculum planning (Kezar, 2011). Mobile learning is another consideration as more students rely on the smart phones and tablets to access their online courses, especially in third world countries where infrastructure is often primitive or non-existent. Globalization is another factor driving higher education institutions to establish an overseas presence (Kezar, 2011).
Positive Effects on Meaningful Learning
Academic performance is one of the traditional standards used to measure success or lack of success in our schools. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, all schools are required to close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency (Toward a New Golden Age In American EducationHow the Internet, the Law and Today’s Students are Revolutionizing Expectations, 2004). For classrooms to achieve or to be successful, technology must be in place to improve academics. According to Kulik, computer simulations and Instructional Learning Systems (ILS) are effective only when they are integrated into the “regular classroom instruction” Smith, Clark, & Blomeyer (2005). Taking it one step further, students whose instructors were high level users of technology scored significantly better than did the students whose instructors were low level users of technology in the classroom.
According to Ausubel, “meaningful learning occurs when there is personal recognition of the links between concepts; better understanding of concepts will result from proper negotiations of meanings across links that are created with relevant prior knowledge” (Kezar, 2011) These complex ideas and information are combined with students’ own experiences and prior knowledge to form personal and unique understandings. Learning is meaningful when the student comprehends the relationship of what is being learned to other knowledge. The environments in which students learn and the ways in which people work and live are constantly being transformed by existing and emerging technologies; hence computer technology needs to be integrated into the everyday institutional learning environment (Dooley & Murphrey, 2000). An important finding shows technology improves performance, positive attitudes, and motivation and creates meaningful learning when the students find the games meaningful to their lives, and learning about learning takes place (Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology, 2005).
Applications of Technology
Presently, classroom learning is increasingly dependent on the integration of technology, thus enhancing learning (Brown, 2000). The current technology uses email systems, data processing and laptop audio/video webinars. As we go further into the 21st century, educators will need to define more explicitly the role computers will play in the learning environment.
Students can learn “from” computers—where technology used is essentially as tutors and serves to increase students basic skills and knowledge; and can learn “with” computers—where technology is used as a tool that can be applied to a variety of goals in the learning process and can serve as a resource to help higher order thinking, creativity, and research skills.
For example, productivity tools such as databases, spreadsheets, computer-assisted design, graphics programs, and multimedia authoring programs (programs for creating computer-based presentations or lessons) allow students to independently organize, analyze, interpret, develop, and evaluate their own work (Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology, 2005).
In addition to fostering independent thinking, these technological processes will help students, upon graduation, join the workforce with greater abilities. By using technology with real-life links to education and the workforce, technology is used to meet real world demands in careers such as finance, hospitals, sales, and manufacturing. A report on the state of technology integration in Minnesota documents that information technologies bring the world into the classroom by allowing students to interact with other students in their community, state, nation, and world. Information technologies have the potential for being a constant and convenient electronic connector that can join the lives and minds of students, teachers, employers, and parents (Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology, 2005). Students and teachers of the 21st century need to have technological skills to navigate through the school system, as do businesses engaging with the global economy as well. In this age of information, both groups need to acquire the skills to collaborate and participate to meet real world needs facing us as a global nation of interconnected economies. For example, the technological tools allow students to inexpensively and instantly reach around the world, learning directly about other cultures (Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology, 2005).
Technology and Student Success Factors
Technological advances in education have been many over the last 50 years. As we look back just 20 years ago, computers were not commonplace inside classrooms and certainly not in households. Today’s students have grown up immersed in a computing environment. Labeled as “digital natives,” their orientation to learning in a technologically enriched environment often begins in the K-12 educational system. These students are entering colleges and universities armed with smart phones, tablets, laptops, and iPods. As a result of this pervasive use of technology, institutions are driven to reinvent teaching methodologies that allow students to become more engaged in constructing their own acquisition of knowledge. Cognitive research has demonstrated that critical thinking skills and the ability to access information and construct knowledge independently is imperative for learning success (Ratchford & Barnhart, 2012). Online degree programs have become mainstream by widening access to education, expanding new markets for delivering content, and increasing revenue potential for academic institutions. What this means for higher education is a shift in operational dynamics from being one-dimensional traditional campuses to becoming a multi-dimensional, multi-modal concepts (physical and online delivery system). These same innovations in technologies are also driving changes in other aspects of academic administration (Hall, 2010). Social network technology tools are building new methods for outreach to alumni, career service activities, and other external constituencies. E-marketing campaigns have expanded the reach and success of recruitment and fundraising campaigns.
As policy makers call for sweeping improvements in college completion rates and educational attainment, many higher education institutions are embracing the mandate to broaden access to education. But with this broadening access comes an influx of students who are:
• Underprepared: Lacking academic preparation for college level work.
• Low income: Lacking financial resources to pay for college.
• Under-represented: Entering educational settings with insufficient support networks and representation to address their diverse needs and cultivate their success.
These students are more likely to struggle in any academic setting: face-to-face, blended, or distance learning (Adamy & Heinecke, 2005). At a time when much of the innovation in technology-assisted learning focuses on the efficiencies of mass delivery, these students often require personal interaction, coaching, and mentoring to help them establish behaviors that lead to collegiate success (Adamy & Heinecke, 2005).
Assembling the resources, processes, and systems to address these challenges is no small feat (Keengwe, 2008). Although online education has brought a revolution in educational delivery, it is not yet optimized for disadvantaged students. Institutions too often lack funding for innovative programs that support these students and prevent them from slipping through cracks (Jackson, 2011). Yet successful solutions must meet these learners where they are and help them bridge the gaps they face.
Institutions that specialize in educating under-represented, underprepared, and low-income students, such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority serving institutions (MSIs), face compounded difficulties in providing adequate support to these audiences (Hall, 2010). Funding lies at the core of these problems. Typically, annual funding covers the cost of operations with little allocated for innovation. Years of under-investment in institutional technology and faculty professional development have left these institutions technology-challenged, and cutting edge innovation on these campuses is often years behind the mainstream (Hall, 2010). Many HBCUs have emphasized mentoring and personal outreach to cultivate student success. Translating this high-touch approach to time-and cost-efficient online settings is a dilemma.
Technology-Facilitated Development of Core Competencies Contributes to Student Success
Technology facilitated (digitally enabled) instruction enables instructors to explore a variety of pedagogies using adaptable, flexible technologies designed to facilitate collaboration and interaction (Leonard, 2004). These innovative approaches will engage students and allow them to acquire knowledge and skills beyond their particular academic discipline, leading ultimately to improved student success. These transferable skills/core competencies might include enhanced collaboration, communications, writing, and problem-solving abilities. Examples of pedagogies that technology-rich environments support include the following:
Student success can be enhanced by creating environments allowing students to “learn by doing.” (Hall, 2010) Technology can enable students (and collaborative groups) to engage in simulations, case studies, problem-solving exercises, etc. Innovative uses of furniture and other physical appointments allow instructors to rely less on lecture, listening, and note taking, etc., and to explore classroom activities promoting student inquiry, discovery, and community-based learning.
Peer-to-peer instructional approaches allow students within a given group to act as both teachers and learners. “These environments [facilitated by cyber infrastructure and flexible classrooms] allow a group of students to take collective responsibility for identifying their own learning needs and planning how these might be addressed. This is a vital learning-how-to-learn skill as well as a practice for the kinds of interaction needed in employment. Learning to cooperate with others to reach mutual goals seems a necessary prerequisite for operating in a complex society” and for achieving undergraduate success (Brown, 2000, p. 25).
Collaboration (Team-Based Learning)
Collaborative learning implies a broad range of practices emphasizing faculty design, guidance, and management of the instructional process, but with the incorporation of peer-to-peer and active/participative learning (learn by doing) opportunities. The use of case studies is an example of this approach (Pool, 1997).
The Importance of Student Engagement
Student engagement is perhaps the key element for almost any learning context. When engaged, learners are enthusiastic and excited about the subject, their work is informed by the enjoyment of discovery. Engaged learners work willingly, instead of by coercion, and approach their assignments as something that matters to them personally. The spirit engendered by engaged learners in a course is infectious, spreading among and sustaining all participants. (EDUCAUSE Review , pp. 38–56)
Devising techniques, supported by technology, to capture, retain, and sustain student engagement should be at the forefront of course design. In doing so, instructors and course designers need to … leverage technology to achieve the following goals (Dooley & Murphrey, 2000):
• Garner students’ interest in the subject matter at the outset of a course.
• Engage the students both in and out of the classroom.
• Engage students more directly with the subject, with each other, and with the faculty.
• Evaluate the effectiveness of these techniques and incorporate feedback to further improve teaching and learning.
The Relationship of Student Success and Web 2.0 Technologies
Earlier, student success was defined as the acquisition of lifelong learning skills. But what are the learning skills that one is acquiring? Traditionally, education focused on the three “Rs” of “reading, `riting, and `rithmetic.” But these core skill sets must now be matched by the additional three “Rs” of information literacy: rigor, relevance, and relationships (Bonk & Cunningham, 1998). Rigor refers to the developed skill of discerning the accuracy and validity of information accessed on the Internet, along with meeting the demands of copyright, protection of intellectual property, and creative commons requirements. Relevance involves the ability to identify online information that relates directly to the topic of study or research using a full array of online information sources and tools, while avoiding the potential for disruptive tangents that the Web offers. Relationships refer to the ability to network and identify communities of like-minded people who collaborate and contribute to an informational commons. This new set of skills and its vast potential for collaboration offers new hope for an informed global society with a civic view of the goals of education. While serving the prospects for democracy, therefore, this new reality complicates outmoded notions of individual achievement (O’Reilly, 2005).
Achievement of success requires that faculty take the core of knowledge that is vital based on desired outcomes and integrate it with the new learning modes. Contemporary learners are motivated to acquire information, but they have much to learn about what information to savor and how to use information and communication to various ends.
Defining Web 2.0
Over the past several years, many Web 2.0 technologies have been developed; technologies that are constantly evolving with the growth of technology in general. These Web 2.0 tools and services have been immediately embraced and utilized by students. Learning Management Systems (LMS) have emerged that increasingly reflect student, as opposed to teacher, needs (O’Reilly, 2005). The LMS attempts to buffer the distance between the skill sets of faculty and the learning sets of students. They are a bridge tool, connecting generations with diverse learning styles and capabilities.
The very concept of Web 2.0 illustrates the rapid emergence of ideas. The concept was introduced by Tim O’Reilly in 2005 at the Web 2.0 2005 conference (O’Reilly, 2005). It quickly became a buzzword in the educational world. By 2008, many interpretations of Web 2.0 had emerged, with more than 9.5 million citations in Google. Web 2.0 can best be understood in contrast to the static and isolated environments of Web 1.0, with its characteristic tools including word processing, static web pages, and other modes of one way communication (from the publisher to the reader). Web 2.0 environments offer a dynamic, permanently evolving, interactive web platform that gives free and open access to diverse participants (O’Reilly, 2005). As a result, Web 2.0 facilitates the following activities:
• Individual and collective productivity,
• Creative authorship and interaction with data published on the web,
• Multi-modal interpersonal, group and public communication,
• Active participation,
• Advanced levels of collaborative learning, and
• Social networking that provides for a sense of connectedness and relationship.
Educators have increasingly adopted Learning Management Systems (LMS) as course organizational tools. New platforms have improved on first-generation systems such as Web CT/Blackboard. As an enhancement to the face-to-face classroom, these tools can be employed for paperless assignment handling and record keeping as well as a means to engage students in active learning. They also offer a platform for moving to on-line teaching. These tools variously involve steps beyond the traditional Web 1.0 setting, empowering students to communicate, collaborate, and create collectively. But they retain strong Web 1.0 features in the high degree of control retained by the instructor. These LMS tend to be quite costly to use and, as a result, are found generally in large institutions.
There is now a new generation of LMS emerging from Web 2.0 innovation rather than being modified from Web 1.0. These LMS are freeware and open source (improvable by users). An excellent case in point is Moodle, an acronym for the Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. The product of a dissertation by Martin Dougiamas (2001), Moodle is one of the most promising Learning Management Systems from the point of view of innovative learning and teaching. As an indicator of its success, Moodle has been translated into twenty-seven languages and is being used by several hundred educators around the world, including universities, schools, and independent teachers (Dougiamas & Taylor, 2003).
Moodle was explicitly designed as a tool for improving processes within communities of reflective inquiry. Its power derives from the combination of Web 2.0 features with the most significant educational theory to emerge in our time, Constructivism (Brunner, 1992). In Constructivism, learners are understood to build knowledge with the help of other learners, teachers, experts, and learning objects from a combination of existing knowledge, interaction with their environment, and new experiences. Importantly, constructivists violate the practice of behaviorism, which creates traditional, authoritarian classrooms where a teacher is the expert, the only transmitter of knowledge and the only dominant force (Brunner, 1992). Instead, constructivists prefer learning to be initiated by the learner. They emphasize independent learning, the personal construction of meaning, effective collaboration and multi-channel communication (in Web 2.0 language: “connectedness” (Siemens, 2005). There is a natural synchrony between constructivism and Web 2.0 that is perfectly expressed in the Moodle design.
Moodle and similar programs like Haiku are primarily asynchronous in form; learners in an on-line environment communicate at different times rather than at the same moment. The instructor seeking to go beyond the LMS to create live interaction (synchronous learning) can combine Moodle with a freeware virtual classroom program such as WizIQ. Subscription virtual classroom programs are also available, including Elluminate Live* and Marratech. The combination of a virtual classroom with Moodle allows class participants to meet and learn online synchronously as well as asynchronously.
Virtual Classrooms create powerful and effective communicative learning environments. These programs integrate such features as whiteboard, chat, audio, video, question/response, multiple choice responses, embedded PowerPoint, and sharing of desk top applications. Affect can be added with emoticons (symbols for emotions). Online learners can even work in groups inside virtual rooms created by the instructor and then return to a common space to present their projects to the whole class. The entire class can also visit a group to watch their presentations on the group’s whiteboard.
Other Web 2.0 environments have emerged offering powerful learning opportunities. Faculty have begun to experiment, for example, in using Second Life, a simulated world, as a three-dimensional learning environment. A hybrid of Moodle and Second Life has now been created called Sloodle. This Open Source project aims to bring together the learning support and management features of web-based LMS to create a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE employs rich, interactive game-technology based 3D Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVE) that have a natural appeal to a generation of students weaned on virtual reality computer games and digital technologies. The possibilities of integrating technology in teaching are endless and will continue to evolve.
Faculty and students alike are trained by Web 2.0 and other technological tools to be effective lifelong learners in an evolving connected knowledge environment. The collaborative nature of Web 2.0 tools not only makes it possible to find global knowledge quickly, but it allows for new knowledge to be created collectively. The existence of this body of “collective intelligence” can only be accessed through participation and active learning (Brunner, 1992). Thus, the boundaries between teaching and learning and between knowledge acquisition and knowledge production break down. Successful learning in this technologically enhanced environment is enabled by the use of Web 2.0 technologies in teaching and learning.
Assistive technology consists of tools designed to allow students with disabilities to use computers and related technology easily (Keengwe, 2008). Some alternative input devices include touch screens, modified keyboards and joysticks that direct a cursor through use of body parts like chins, hands, or feet. Some up-and-coming technology in this area includes sip-and-puff systems, developed by companies like Microsoft, to perform computer functions through the simple process of inhaling and exhaling. On-screen keyboards are another area of input technology capable of enhancing the educational experience of learners with disabilities by providing enhanced use of computers and mobile devices for learning.
This technology is making mainstream waves through its use in popular cell phones like the Android-platform Razr M. While it is a convenience tool for people without disabilities, text-to-speech provides a learning advantage for students who have mobility or dexterity problems, or those who are blind. It allows students to speak their thoughts and even to navigate the Internet without typing. Text-to-speech options can also “talk back” to students and let them know about potential mistakes or errors in their work.
Depending on the disability, students may need to learn differently than their peers (Fullan & Donnelly, 2013). Sensory enhancers may include voice analyzers, augmentative communication tools, or speech synthesizers. With the rapid growth of technology in the classroom, these basic tools of assistive technology are seeing great strides.
Screen reader technology is slightly different from text-to-speech because it simply informs students of what is on a screen. A student who is blind or struggling to see what is on the screen can benefit from the audio interface screen readers provide. Students who struggle to do what so many other Americans accomplish so easily—glean information from a computer screen in a matter of seconds—can learn more easily through technology meant to inform them (Hall, 2010).
Assistive technology is important for providing an equitable education for students with disabilities, but it also benefits the greater good of all citizens. Assistive technology in simple and complex platforms has the ability to comprehensively augment the educational experience for students with disabilities. Offering assistive choices in technology increases opportunities for students with disabilities to achieve the same successful outcome as students without disabilities. It provides for an equitable and meaningful educational experience.
In the world of higher education in the 21st century, some faculty teaching these highly literate digital technophiles use the computer as an extension of the typewriter; it is a tool, but not a mode of being. These “digital immigrants” (McGee & Diaz, 2007) experience culture shock as they learn a new language and tools. Many cannot advance to fluency. For students, however, technology is a pedagogical context. They are far moreadvanced than many of their instructors, for whom technology is an intrusive set of new tasks that infringe on the content learning that is of value to them.
Consequently, the emerging student techno-learning mode is aligned with the lifelong learning and collaboration skill sets that are demanded by our evolving global world. The educational expectations are of transient learning, where expertise in areas that become rapidly obsolete is less valued than the ability to quickly master emerging knowledge (Brunner, 1992). Disciplinary knowledge is also being made irrelevant by the demands for multi- and interdisciplinary skillsets.
Rapid advances in technology are reshaping our society, social institutions, and educational institutions. Modern technologies have vastly increased our capacity to know and do things and to communicate and collaborate with others. These technologies allow us to transmit information quickly and widely, linking distant places and diverse areas of endeavor in productive new ways. Such technological advances allow citizens in a global world to form and sustain, virtual communities for work, play, and learning in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. Today’s learners have a vast catalog of new and readily available technology available to them. These ever evolving innovations constantly revolutionize the relationship between people and knowledge. Information literacy, therefore, is inherent in today’s society and increasingly crucial for student outcomes that will lead to self-sufficient world citizens capable of navigating a 21st –century economic environment.
Discussion of the Literature
The review of the literature identified five components of technological readiness. At the most basic level, implementation-ready colleges have mature information technology (IT) systems, with the hardware, software, network capabilities, and human resource capacity to support the use of the technology. The literature strongly indicates that a mature IT system facilitates end-user adoption.
Similarly, implementation-ready higher education institutions have stable IT systems. This means that the institution’s “technology adoption cycle,” or the frequency with which technology changes within the college, is not too rapid. When technology frequently changes, end-users are often unable to learn about and meaningfully implement tools; this may increase users’ resistance to change (Hall, 2010; McGee & Diaz, 2007; Rogers, 2003). Moreover, end-users do not want to invest time and effort in learning to use new tools if there is no assurance that the tools will have some permanence at the institution (McGee & Diaz, 2007).
The compatibility of new and existing IT also influences implementation and end-user adoption. IT systems are considered to be compatible if they can seamlessly share information and data without having to be manually synced. When a reform introduces a new technology that is compatible with existing technology, the user experience is not disrupted; end-users do not have to re-input data or recreate documents. A lack of integration between tools and systems requires users to log in, input data, and track results multiple times, creating frustration among end-users and ultimately inhibiting adoption (Ahmed, Daim, & Basoglu, 2007; Dean, 2003; McGee & Diaz, 2007; Rogers, 2003).
Current patterns of IT use influence how constituents will utilize new technologies (McGee & Diaz, 2007; Narwani & Arif, 2008). Technologically savvy end-users are more likely to test and adopt new technologies than end-users who are less experienced with technology or who rely primarily on non-IT tools to perform their daily job tasks. Colleges in which individuals rely primarily on non-IT tools are likely to find it more challenging to encourage adoption than colleges in which end-users already use IT tools in their daily work processes. Moreover, members of various microcultures may be more or less inclined to adopt new technologies based on their level of technological knowledge.
An institution’s past experience with IT implementation also influences its readiness for new technologies. Institutions with experience implementing technological tools similar to the proposed innovation may experience a smoother implementation and adoption process (Narwani & Arif, 2008). Experience breeds skill and capacity, laying the groundwork for more complex innovations. In general, the larger the leap in IT infrastructure or demands placed on end-users, the less successful a new technology is likely to be (Narwani & Arif, 2008; Moreover, change is inherently risky. End-users feel that change is less risky when their institution has previously demonstrated proficiency in deploying and supporting constituent use of new technologies (McGee & Diaz, 2007).
Much of the literature on technology adoption focuses on the process of getting a product up and running. This renders a hypothesis that although institutional and project-specific technology resources are critical and foundational aspects of an institution’s overall readiness for adoption, they are not the only, or even the most important, precursors to success. As noted by Fullan and Donnelly (2013), merely acquiring a technology does not lead to improved learning unless the underlying practices and approaches to daily tasks are changed as well. There are numerous instances of higher educational institutions in which a technology was available, stable, and well implemented, but in which end users did not integrate the technology into their daily work flow, thereby minimizing its potential impact. This leads to a theorization that technological readiness and project readiness are necessary, but not sufficient to facilitate adoption and technology-oriented reform.
Social, economic, technological, organizational, and individual factors interact in complex ways and influence which technologies are adopted and how they are used after adoption (Pool, 1997). Even the most technologically ready college is unlikely to achieve successful adoption if it does not pay attention to the cultural components of readiness. Institutions in which the prevailing attitudes are not change-oriented, or do not support the reform effort, are unlikely to see changes in end-user practices, no matter how well-implemented the technology.
Organizational readiness includes the institutional-level cultural practices or characteristics that influence a college’s ability to support and adopt reforms (Bonk & Cunningham, 1998). Siemens (2005) identified five components contributing to organizational readiness. First, an organization’s clarity of mission contributes to its readiness to adopt new technologies. Institutions that lack clear missions are less likely to be able to identify areas of need or to understand how change could improve their functioning (Lehman, Greener, & Simpson, 2002). Colleges with clear missions are more likely to know which areas need improvement and how reforms can help them achieve their goals. Furthermore, when a college’s administrators and staff understand the institution’s goals and are united in valuing and pursuing those goals, they are more likely to support changes that could further their efforts. The shared values of the organization and increased likelihood of buy-in from faculty and staff strengthen the organization’s position to successfully adopt a new technology (Jackson, 2011).
Second, technology adoption is more likely to occur in environments characterized by open, active, and collaborative communication. Colleges that communicate their plans openly and that regularly provide accurate information to staff members throughout the organization are able to manage the adoption process more successfully. Importantly, adoption-ready colleges provide opportunities for collaboration among staff members, have leaders who are receptive to suggestions, and take advantage of information networks to achieve their goals (Adamy & Heinecke, 2005; Lehman et al., 2002). Key to successful technology adoption, however, appears to be a willingness by colleges to prioritize open communication and to commit to engaging stakeholders at all levels, in particular, when decisions will directly affect end-users. Communication occurs both vertically (i.e., up or down the organizational chart) and horizontally (i.e., between departments across the college) (Ash, 1997). Open and active communication of both types is instrumental to the reform process. Adoption is hindered when the project teams leading the reform process become insulated from outside perspectives, thus reducing end-user involvement and eventual buy-in (Ahmed, Daim, & Basoglu, 2007; Ash, 1997).
Moreover, interdepartmental coordination, both to determine specific IT needs and to support implementation efforts, is an important factor affecting implementation (Ahmed et al., 2007). A third component of organizational readiness is a college’s decision-making process. Adoption-ready colleges include end-users in decisions from the beginning of the reform process, in order to create early buy-in and support implementation efforts (Adamy & Heinecke, 2005). Generally speaking, decentralized decision making promotes discussion and collaboration within organizations, which can facilitate successful technology adoption.
However, it is possible for a college’s decision-making process to be too inclusive. In contrast with previous studies, the research shows that having more people involved may lengthen the time required to make decisions and may impede adoption. Adoption-ready colleges are strategic in creating structures that encourage input and maintain momentum. Though communication and decision-making are each important components of organizational readiness for reform, together they have a multiplicative effect. Strong communication and effective decision-making practices help to create a culture of trust within a campus community, which is an important precursor to successful adoption of new technologies (Lehman et al., 2002; Schneckenberg, 2009).
Last, the extent to which members of an organization have an openness to change greatly impacts the adoption of technology. Regardless of the technology to be implemented, the characteristics of the end-users and management will impact the likelihood of its adoption (Lehman et al., 2002; Rogers, 2003). Of particular import is the general orientation of college community members toward change (Ahmed et al., 2007), attitudes toward technology, and history of early adoption (Erdoğmuş & Esen, 2011). An organization is a complex social structure, and even though top-level leadership may champion a cause, the willingness and openness of other staff to change current practices may have ripple effects on the intended end-users.
Information Literacy and Technology Integration in Learning
The review of the literature shows technology integration requires that instructors must first become comfortable with their own computer use, and their access to and use of computer technology must be supported by administration. There can be many advantages to improving student literacy by better supporting instructors in their computer using needs. Access of instructors and their students to well-equipped computer and supported labs as part of an institution-wide computer literacy curriculum proves to be a greater benefit than a traditional classroom. Computer and technology literacy is the “ability to use, manage, understand and assess that technology” (Emeagwali, 2004, p. 16).
As technology becomes ever-present in the classroom, instructors are finding, with regards to using that technology, the “need for professional development should be recognized and ongoing” (Sharp, 2002, p. 275). While computer use by students at home is increasing, students often “lack the understanding of Internet structure and databases, what a computer can do, as well as the skills and knowledge to understand and use information technology” (Sharp, 2002, p. 275). Technology must be integrated into the classroom in a manner that encourages instructors to “venture beyond familiarization and utilization and into the integration, reorientation, and evolution phases of technology use” (Hooper & Reiber, 1995, p. 161).
The role of the computer in the computer lab or classroom focuses on the desired outcome, which is solving an intellectual problem using the best tool at hand, in this case, a computer. To better understand how instructors use computers, it is important to concentrate on several factors that identify the exemplary computer-using instructor. These focal points with regard to computer usage are: the instructor’s goals, frequency of the student’s computer use, experience level of student computer users, the relevancy of this computer use compared to the desired outcome of the learning activity, and finally, the general functions of the computer in the class or lab setting (Becker, 2000). Instructors considered by their peers to be exemplary computer users themselves encourage their students to exploit these computers as intellectual tools for writing, analyzing data, and solving problems (Becker, 2000).
The article Teaching Competencies for Technology Integration (Guzman & Nussbaum, 2009) identifies nine domains that they found were important in order for instructors to effectively integrate technology into the classroom as a result of a study. Some of the factors they found that were necessary mirror the results found by Levin and Wadmany (2008). Such similar factors include: a need for mastery of technology resources, appropriate and systematic planning for integration of technology, nurturing student learning in and out of the classroom, a positive social environment, and encouraging a positive attitude toward technology in the classroom.
Similarly, Zuniga (2010) found three factors that influence the effective use of technology. He found that instructors rejected the notion of using technology as a mode of instruction because of inexperience and fear of not knowing what and how to use it, the time they felt it would take them to set it up and plan for it, and inadequate training. Cobb (2010) found that, to effectively differentiate instruction using technology, teachers needed to change teaching practices and have appropriate professional development training.
Jay Sivin-Kachala (1998) reviewed 219 research studies from 1990 to 1997 to assess the effect of technology integration on learning and student success across all learning domains and learner ages. His final analysis of the studies reported the following patterns: Positive findings: Students in technology-rich environments experienced positive effects on achievement in all subject area; Students in technology-rich environments showed increased achievement in preschool through higher education for both regular and special needs children, and; Students’ attitudes toward learning and their own self-concept improved consistently when computers were used for instruction. Inconclusively, Sivin-Kachala (1998) found that the level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the educator’s role, and the level of student access to the technology.
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