Despite wide investments in technology use in education, many teachers are not able to adopt technology for teaching and learning tasks and the gap between technology presence in schools and its effective use is too wide (Jacobsen, 2001). Many teachers believe that technology integration is a difficult, time-consuming and resource-intensive endeavor and is more trouble than it is worth (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990). The under-utilization of technology is probably a result of a lack of vision of technology's potential for improving teaching and learning (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995) and the difficulty to cross the bridge between technology’s capabilities and curriculum requirements (SERVE, 1996).
Dexter, Anderson and Becker (1999) indicate that the effectiveness of technology integration into education is largely dependent upon its ability to engage students into learning. Trilling and Hood (1999) believe that the key in using educational technology is to utilise meaningful activities that may engage students to construct their knowledge in different ways, not available before the technology was introduced. Studies have shown that learner engagement is paramount to learning success (Herrington, Oliver & Reeves, 2003). Lim, Nonis, & Hedberg (2006) reviewed the literature and found that there is a myriad of definitions for the term engagement. They concluded that 'what is apparent about the definitions of engagement is that they entail some kind of mindfulness, intrinsic motivation, cognitive effort, and attention' (p.213). However, there are different levels of engagement that one can attain.
Meaningful technology integration is defined as curricula, utilising authentic tasks that intentionally and actively help learners to construct their own meanings from thinking about experiences and allows for more interdisciplinary project-based instruction (Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999). Integration is defined not by the amount or type of technology used, but by how and why it is used (Earle, 2002).
Meaningful integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesise the information and present it professionally (Harris, 2005). However, harnessing the power of technology integration requires not only a new or advanced technology, but also a systematic way of utilising the technology to improve student learning (Schofield, 1995).
Research indicates that In order to achieve meaningful technology integration, learning must be designed from a constructivist approach that encourages students to learn in a social context and help them to develop an ability to readily create new knowledge, solve new problems and employ creativity and critical thinking (Griest, 1996; Hoffman, 1997; Mergendollar, 1997; Richards, 1998). Spivey (1997) indicated that constructivists view students as constructive agents and view knowledge as built instead of passively received by students whose ways of knowing and understanding influence what is known and understood.
In addition, the interaction between students, the flow of ideas and loud thinking encourage students to foster active learning, in which users discover and address gaps in their understanding when explaining concepts to others (Kafai, Ching & Marshall, 1997; Tyner, 1998).
Constructivist strategies include collaborative and cooperative learning methods, engaging in critical and reflective thinking and evaluation through electronic portfolios (Nanjappa & Grant, 2003). Jonassen and Carr (2000) believe that in order to help students to construct their knowledge, they should be actively involved in learning with the help of ICT tools. In addition, Wheatley (1991) argued that because a student will construct his/her own meaning based on his/her interpretation, technology can become a vital educational tool depending on the way it is used in learning. Strommen and Lincoln (1992) believe that it is not what technology is used, but how the technology is used to be relevant to a constructivist classroom.
For example, initial computer’s role in education has been largely viewed through Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI), which is generally used for low-end tasks or providing a richer and more exciting learning environment, such as drill and practice (Office of Technology Assessment, 1995; Duffy & Cunningham, 1996; Roe, Stoodt & Burns, 1998). However, teachers can use computers, as tools for accessing information, interpreting and organizing their personal knowledge and producing and representing what they know to others, to engage students more and result in more meaningful and transferable knowledge (Jonassen et al., 1993).
Tay (2004) classified ICT tools used in the
classroom to improve student learning into four types: 1) informative tools; 2)
situating tools; 3) communicative tools; and 4) constructive tools. Informative
tools are applications that that store and provide vast amount of information
in various formats (e.g., databases, encyclopaedias and web resources). Situating
tools are systems that situate students in an environment where they may
experience the context (e.g., simulations and games). Communicative tools are
systems that facilitate communication between the student and others (e.g.
e-mail and discussion boards).
Constructive tools are general-purpose ICT tools that can be used for manipulating information, constructing student's own knowledge or produce a certain tangible product for a given instructional purpose. PowerPoint and Word, for example, are found the most frequently used constructive tools by students for their presentations and special curriculum-based projects (Lim and Tay 2004). Multimedia authoring and presenting tools, in particular, like PowerPoint, Illustrator, MultiMedia Builder, HyperStudio, MovieMaker and iMovies proved to be a good constructive tools to learn through production, collaboration and project management.