Technology in the Classroom

The ISTE Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT) is an observation tool developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The ISTE is a membership association for educators and education leaders. The association’s purpose is to engage in advancing excellence in learning and teaching through technology. The association is also responsible for developing the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for students, teachers, and administrators. The classroom observation tool was designed to evaluate the amount of technology being used in the classroom as well as its effective use based on the NETS.
        Educators can download the ICOT application by registering free online. Once the educator is has registered and downloaded the application, classroom observations of both teachers and students can be conducted using a lap top computer off line, upload the data to a secure online account, where the data can be aggregated to generate reports.
Why use ICOT as an Observation Tool?
There are several good reasons for using an observation tool such as ICOT to evaluate the effective use of technology in the classroom. For one, Moskowitz & Martabano (2009) argue that today’s district and building level administrators are busier than ever. In addition, administrators are being asked about the use of technology or evaluated themselves based on the amount of time and quality of technology being used in their classrooms. In fact, one of the NETS for administrators, according to the ISTE website is to create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture at their school or district. Another reason to use an observation tool such as ICOT, according to the authors, is because larger amounts of school and district budgets are being earmarked for technology in the classrooms. The authors report that technology spending in education will reach $56 billion by 2012. Being able to document and retain the effective use of technology in the classroom using observation tools such as ICOT will give administrators much more confidence in requesting funds from the district or grants. A final reason for using such technology to evaluate the use of technology in the classroom is for administrators to better prepare and plan professional development for teachers in the use of technology. Collier, Weinburgh, & Rivera (2004) imply that the majority of teachers do not feel comfortable using computers in the classroom for instruction. The authors go on to say that educators must focus more attention on how to effectively use technology in the classroom.
About the Instrument
            The components of the ICOT instrument consist of setting, groups, activities, technology, NETS, and charts. There are a series of questions, calendars, timelines, or charts for each of the components. For example, the setting consists of a series of questions about the subject, grade, time of day, and number of students. The group component asks questions concerning what type of grouping (i.e. individual, pairs, small groups, whole class) as well as engagement in the activity. The activity component touches on what the students and teacher are doing during the lesson (i.e. researching, writing, test taking, simulations, etc…). The technology component is the meat of the observation tool. In this section, the observer reports on what type of technology is being used, who is using it and how they are using the technology. The NETS component reports on what teacher or student standards are being taught or used during the lesson. Finally, the chart section reports on how long technology was being used, who was using it, and for what purpose (i.e. used for learning or used for something else). The charts are arranged for the observer to report who is using the technology and for what purpose in increments of 3 minutes for the duration of the lesson.
         For the practical purposes of this article the writer used the ICOT instrument to observer a fifth grade teacher at the writer’s school. The teacher is a fifth year teacher who has taught traditional classes as well as boys’ single gender classes. The school is located in central South Carolina and has approximately 640 students. There are five fifth grade classes containing approximately 23 students per class. All of the fifth grade classes have one to one computing using wireless lap tops provided by the school. Each class also has a mounted interactive board as well as a mounted projector. Teachers are encouraged to engage students in the use of technology at least on a daily basis.  
The writer observed the teacher teaching a single gender boys’ class during a social studies lesson for 30 minutes. The teacher was having the students research and report on the Reconstruction period of United States history. There were 23 students in the classroom at the time. The environment was uncluttered and purposefully organized for movement and collaborative work. Each student had their own lap top computer provided by the school. This was the teacher’s first year having one to one computing in his classroom. Each pair of students was working on a Power Point presentation. One hundred percent of the students were focused and actively engaged in the activity. The teacher’s role was to facilitate and coach the boys as they researched and created a presentation. Students were creating, researching, collaborating during the lesson. The teacher also used an interactive board to model what he expected from the boys.
       There were a number of NET standards for teachers that the writer observed. One was the fact that the teacher was using curriculum-based presentations to engage the students. Second, the teacher created a developmentally appropriate learning activity for fifth grade boys. Third, the technology used during the lesson enhanced instruction. Fourth, the technology supported learner-centered strategies. Fifth, the teacher applied technology to develop students’ creativity. Finally, the teacher modeled legal and ethical technology practices by using the interactive board to show examples.
        After conducting the observation, the observer and the teacher were able to sit down and discuss the lesson. The observer was able to walk through the observation question by question and praise the teacher as well as offer constructive suggestions. For example, the observer suggested that since the boys were using wireless lap tops to let them sit on the floor, at their desk, or stand at the bookcase to work on their project. The observer felt that this is one of the benefits of using a wireless lap top to complete a task.
         ICOT is a useful tool for administrators to safely document the effective use of technology in the classroom. The tool allows educators to observe technology being used by both students and teachers based on the NETS. The data gathered is aggregated and stored for future reference. This data can be used to track effective practice, track the amount of technology use, and compare the use of technology to national standards. This information can be useful as administrators are competing for grants and other district funding for additional technology. The observation tool itself is user-friendly and is easily accessible by anyone.
It is important for educators to be able to observe a classroom for the purpose of evaluating the use of technology in the classroom specifically. Many general classroom observation tools touch on technology in the classroom, but very few if any go in to as much detail as the ICOT does. The writer suggests that the ICOT instrument be used in isolation to evaluate the effective use of technology in addition to the more general observation tools.  
In addition, district office administrators and directors of IT departments could definitely use the ICOT to evaluate instructional technology district wide. As administrators observe in classrooms and upload data to the website, district administrators can generate and view reports that can guide professional development and future purchases.
Collier, S., Weinburgh, M. H., & Rivera, M. (2004). Infusing technology skills into a teacher education program: Change in students’ knowledge about and use of technology. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 12(3), 447-468.

Moskowitz, S. & Martabano, S. (2009). Administrators accessing the effectiveness of technology. Retrieved from http://www.schoolcio.com/default.aspx.


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