Before looking at the technology specifically used in ELAR classrooms, one must consider the challenges of integrating technology for any teacher. Incorporating technology in any classroom is not a simple process. Teachers must be willing to invest their personal time as integrating technology requires an increase in planning time (Shapley, 2011; Zawilinski et al., 2015). Zawilinski, et al (2015) noted that the additional hours spent “digitizing existing or creating new electronically accessible presentations and demonstrations” were “not surprising” as it should be expected when implementing any kind of new approach (p. 706). However, Grisham and Wolsey (2006) noted that the time spent planning for technology use was the same as any other learning activity. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Educators (2016) state that “[e]ducators dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology” (standard 4). Whether or not it is an addition to the time teachers already spend planning, all can agree that technology integration does require a significant time commitment in order to be effective.
Additionally, as in all cases, administrators must support and listen to teachers. Without teacher buy-in, technology integration will have no effect or possibly have a negative effect on student learning. Administrators are wasting their money on electronic textbooks, online assessments, and virtual coursework if they cannot secure teacher buy-in (Alvermann & Harrison, 2016; Shaffer, 2015; Shapley, 2011; Zawilinski et al., 2015). Before the students can utilize the technology, the teacher must first understand its utilization, meaning that professional development is often necessary (Shaffer, 2015; Shapley, 2011). However, professional development is not always offered by school districts or, if offered, is insufficient (Shaffer, 2015). When professional development is not available, teachers must take the initiative and train themselves. Zawilinski et al. (2015) made use of online video tutorials for both learning new technology and troubleshooting problems with the technology in their inverted instruction project.
Teachers must also have the correct mindset for integrating technology. There is a learning curve involved in implementing any new approach, especially one involving new technologies, and teachers need to be ready for things to go wrong in order to be able to come up with solutions on the spot (Alvermann & Harrison, 2016; Hughes, 2009; Zawilinski et al., 2015). The ISTE Standards for Educators (2016) state, “Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning” (standard 1). Teachers are continuously learning, but it is an increased demand when integrating technology, especially when it is technology with which teachers are not already familiar.
An area that the research does not yet sufficiently cover is the effect of professional development on technology integration. Educators believe that more specific training and professional development is necessary to learn how to effectively manage technology integration; however, there is not sufficient research quantifying the positive or negative effects of additional training on the integration of technology and, further, on the learning of students.
Just as the teacher buy-in is an important aspect of technology integration, student buy-in is equally important. While technology may be pervasive in teenagers’ lives (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Shaffer, 2015; Tarasiuk, 2010), one cannot assume that students are automatically going to buy-in to technology for the simple fact that it is technology (Kolb, 2017; Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Jacobs, 2013; Shaffer, 2015). Today, students are inundated with media and are growing up with technology surrounding them (Hughes, 2009; Tarasiuk, 2010); however, that does not automatically mean that they understand how to use it instructionally or want to do so. The focus of technology integration is often an increase in student engagement with learning, but it is important to note that students can not immediately be considered fully engaged in their learning simply because they are utilizing technology (Kolb, 2017). Technology does not always warrant intrinsic motivation, as students may not immediately want to use technology for various reasons, including a lack of keyboarding and other technical skills that educators tend to assume students have (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Jacobs, 2013). Considering that intrinsic motivation is better and lasts longer than extrinsic motivation, which is based on rewards and fades when the rewards are no longer present or enticing enough, Jacobs (2013) believes that we need to consider how technology can be used to create a culture of participation and learning that will create the intrinsic motivation that makes students want to utilize the technology in the classroom and is necessary for deeper learning.
21st century skills are essential for students in today’s technological society, and so literacy is becoming less individualized and more participatory and collaborative (Curwood & Colwell, 2011). The ISTE Standards for Students have an entire strand dedicated to the ways in which students need to become global collaborators (2016). While Alvermann & Harrison (2016) believe that “[t]he online learner will suffer from the lack of group interaction and learning with and from peers” (p. 223), many others believe that technology can be used to create a community among students within a class (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Kolb, 2017; Tarasiuk, 2010; Zawilinski et al., 2015). Students are more likely to be motivated to become deeply engaged with the learning when they are part of an online community. Students interact more deeply with and put more effort into the assignments when they know they have audience of their peers, not just their teacher (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Tarasiuk, 2010; Zawilinski, 2015).
Furman (2017) discusses the idea of social currency in which students feel relevant when participating as a necessary part of a group and therefore perform better. Grisham & Wolsey (2006) noted that students felt a responsibility to their classmates resulting in “a form of positive peer pressure to keep up with reading” (p. 659), which means that teachers are not spending as much time managing students who have not completed the reading and can redirect that time and effort to more fruitful endeavors. Even more noteworthy was their assertion that the online community created in their ELAR classroom resulted in a sense of home for students, adding, “the social setting offered students comfort and context for their learning, the opportunity to demonstrate competence, and the chance to contribute to the learning of the group members” (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006, p. 659), all of which are key to creating the intrinsic motivation that Jacobs (2013) discussed.
Technology can also be used to remove barriers between students and learning. Alvermann & Harrison (2016) may have stated that online learning can remove the sense of interaction with peers, however, they also noted that online learning eliminates the humiliation sometimes associated with reading or answering questions in front of those peers. Additionally, numerous technologies exist to make learning more accessible to all students, such as the DyslexBrowser tool that can allow students to set their font type, size, and color, making it easier for students to view information, as well as various online resources that provide leveled texts for students to read and learn at their own level (Alvermann & Harrison, 2016). Shapley (2011) also found that technology immersion lowered the number of disciplinary actions, meaning that students are more engaged with the material instead of causing disruptions. Teachers then have more time to focus on instruction instead of behavioral interventions.
Along the same lines, technology affords traditional classroom settings the ability to become self-paced, allowing students to learn at a pace that best suits them (Alvermann & Harrison, 2016; Zawilinski et al., 2015), a concept that is especially important in the ELAR classroom when students all read and comprehend at different paces. Further relevant research can verify the idea that students, especially in ELAR classrooms, benefit from moving at their own learning speed. Additionally, Zawilinski et al. (2015) mentions the benefits of technology providing a means of communication between student and teacher. This could be a benefit for struggling students with access to instant help and answers from their teachers; however, it could also be a detriment as it could mean more work and stress on the part of teachers answering student questions after school hours, and it could contribute to students’ sense of reliance on the teacher instead of allowing the technology to create student independence. Qualitative research into this area could answer that question.