Dr. Cheryl L. Ward   cward@uakron.edu    440 417-2997




Academic Exchange Quarterly      Fall 2010    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  14, Issue  3

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Emergent Internet Technologies for STEM


Cheryl L. Ward, University of Akron, Oh

Wendy Lampner, University of Akron, OH
John Savery,
University of Akron, OH


Ward, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology, Lampner  MA, is Manager of Design and Development Services, Savery, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, College of Education and Director of Instructional Services.




A diverse group of stakeholders collaborated to develop a STEM middle school within a public school system in a large midwest city. Critical success factors include developing teachers prepared to engage students in technology-enhanced learning environments.  This paper reports on efforts to use the NETS-T/S  and 21st Century principles to empower teachers to use emergent Internet technologies support student learning. TPACK grounded in a constructivist environment provided the framework for this teacher professional development.



STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) schools appear to focus on four discrete areas of learning when in reality the design principles for these schools depend on a connected educational philosophy where students explore the areas in an interdisciplinary approach based on inquiry and problem solving. Students are engaged in technology design processes to meet the curriculum challenges of math, science and engineering. These schools are collaborative and innovative and rely on strong partnerships among K-12, higher education and business. Walking through the doors of a STEM school propels students, teachers and parents into a new world of learning.  Preparing all of the stakeholders to teach and learn effectively in this new environment is the challenge. This paper describes a professional development program developed and implemented to empower teachers to use new technologies to support student learning in a constructivist environment.  The professional development was built on using knowledge of NETS-T/S (National Educational Technology Standards Teachers/Students)(ISTE, 2010), 21st Century principles (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010) and TPACK (Technological, Pedagogical Content Knowledge) (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) to provideand provided a foundation for teacher use of technology with students.


The seamless integration of technology in STEM schools is based on the guiding principle that technology is an integral part of learning and authentic work in the worlds of math, science and engineering. Technology supports the real world connections and collaborations in a way that is authentic to digital native students.  Teachers play a pivotal role the design of curriculum and pedagogy that is supported by authentic technology use.  Emerging Internet technologies (EITs), such as current Web 2.0 technologies, read/write technologies, and social software tools, have the potential to make valuable contributions to furthering the STEM goals of collaboration on authentic problem based work and personalized learning (Crook & Harrison, 2008).  This group of tools is referred to as “emergent Internet technologies” since narrow terms like Web 2.0 or social networking tools may not continue to include the wide array of developing products in this area.  Web 2.0 and other emergent Internet technologies have distinguished themselves by taking full advantage of the network nature of the read-write-web.  The movement from read web to read-write web is characterized as a shift from passive to active use with interactions that add value to content for “communication, collaboration, creating, re-mixing and sharing” (Crook & Harrison, 2008, p.1).


Crook and Harrison (2008) found four potential benefits for “participatory, collaborative and creative inquiry” for learning in their extensive study of Web 2.0 technologies.  These read/write technologies:


   1. Simulate new modes of inquiry;

   2. Encourage engagement in collaborative learning activities;

   3. Support interactions with new literacies; and

   4. Provide opportunity for online publication of content (p. 3).


A fifth benefit:  harnessing recombinant content to construct new meaning which is promoted by emergent Internet technologies and necessary for 21st Century learning is added to this list.  Construction of new learning from existing content typifies the type of activities digital natives use daily in their personal, social use of EITtechnology.  The construction of new learning through the use of EIT new technologies leads us to consider the importance of learner control and responsibility, both essential skills for 21st Century digital natives (Lee & McLoughlin, 2008).  Moving learners from informal, social use of emergent Internet technologies to collaborative, inquiry-based formal learning poses a new set of challenges for teachers in all schools, but especially for teachers in STEM schools.


 In principle, most teachers have positive attitudes toward the use of emergent Internet technologies, but remain cautious in practice (Crook & Harrison, 2008).  These cautions exists due to issues including restricted Internet access in schools, e-safety issues, bandwidth, time, as well as lack of personal, social use of EIT technology by teachers.  Crook and Harrison (2008) found that only 29% of teachers had written or contributed to a blog or uploaded a video versus 70% who used the Internet for work purposes.  The percentages lowered further when questioned about the use for educational purposes with only 9% participating in discussion boards and 4% were involved in social networking.  Research and in-depth analysis of the relationship between emergent Internet technologies and teaching and learning is rare, but some research has shown that Web 2.0 is well-suited for learning (Ullrich, et al. 2008). Fostering an understanding of the role of emergent Internet technologies in classrooms for learning is a goal for STEM school professional development for 21st century teachers.


Teacher use of Emergent Internet Technologies

Teachers need to become fluent personal users of technologies if they want to seamlessly integrate these into their classrooms to solve learning problems.  This is consistent with constructivist views of teaching and learning that focus on teaching with technology rather than about the technology (Savery & Duffy. 1995). To accomplish this goal, teachers in the school were provided with personal laptop computers, up-to-date software, ubiquitous access to the Internet, and time to invest in learning how to apply emergent Internet technologies in the context of curriculum studies.  Professional development cannot be done in isolation, in narrowly defined skill sets, or as an after-thought at the end of the school day.  This is work that is embedded into each day through personal, classroom and professional use. Teachers need to use EIT for personal problem-solving like using Skype to call a relative in another state, for classroom problem-solving like using Del.icio.us to share tags with students for a research project, and for professional problem-solving like teachers using PBWiki to communicate and share information in asynchronous or real-time online spaces.


The framework for this embedded use becomes clearer when we consider three elements: technology, pedagogy and content knowledge (TPACK).  TPACK is technological pedagogical content knowledge, a cluster of integrated knowledge and skills needed by teachers who propose to meaningfully use technology in specific content areas to solve learning problems (Mishra & Koehler, 2006).  Meaningful use of technology is further complicated due to the complex and ill-structured nature of teaching and learning. Rittel and Webber (1973) refer to this as a “wicked problem” with no clear linear solutions and compounded by the complex, contradictory, and novel nature of teaching and learning.  This complexity suggests that a greater emphasis should be placed on the idea of teachers as curriculum designers (Koehler & Mishra, 2008, Spence, 2001). Consequently, the design of professional development for teachers was grounded in content knowledge based on the Ohio Content Standards as well as the NETS-T standards for technology and supported by the design principles of 21st century schools that speak to the pedagogical needs for learning with technology.


Student Use of Emergent Internet Technologies

Students in the STEM middle school are 5-8th graders born between 1995-1998 in a world that has always had the Internet and mobile devices.  They have been classified as millennials or Generation Y students. They use emergent Internet technologies daily and seamlessly to communicate and collaborate.  Their personal use of EIT revolves around social networks (Facebook, Flickr), file sharing (music, pictures, video), instant messaging, texting, blogging and podcasting. Most student emergent Internet technologiestechnology usage is for non-educational purposes. Lenhart, et. al.(2007) found that 59% of all of those ages 12-17 have created online content.  


Jenkins (2006), working under a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to study how digital environments are influencing children and to develop educational curricula, refers to online content creators as being members of a “participatory culture.”  Knowledge creation through participatory culture empowers students as “creators, circulators, connectors, and collaborators” (p.3) instead of just consumers.  In this culture, members understand that their participation in creating content is significant and authentic and they feel socially connected to the content. The use of emerging Internet technologies ige enables the development of these participatory learning environments for students.


Wesch (2007) in his video "A Vision of Students Today" dramatically illustrated the increasing disconnect between the tools new generations are using in their life outside of school and those that they use in school. If students are to be asked to bring their social tools into the school, they will need guidance in the differences between social and educational discourse and the accepted norms of behavior in each environment.  In order to have a clear understanding of these differences as well as to be able to provide an effective pedagogical intervention, teachers need to be immersed in the participatory culture in both their personal and professional lives.


The Professional Development Project for Teachers in STEM Schools

The vision for the STEM middle school evolved from conversations that took place between 2007-2009 with significant stakeholders in the community - the University President, the Mayor of the city and the Superintendent of the school district. These individuals plus teachers, professors, business professional, and students envisioned a school that would shape middle school students into our future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The physical school, housed within the National Inventor's Hall of Fame building near the University of Akron campus, would function within the constraints and affordances of the Akron Public School system with the expectation that what was done here would have an infectious (viral) effect on other middle schools in the system. To achieve this goal it was necessary to recruit and train teachers from within the system and prepare them to become effective project leaders and learning facilitators for their students. Teaching the same way as it had been done in other middle schools was not a preferred option.  Rather the goal was to prepare teachers to be as comfortable with technology as their millennial students and to incorporate emergent technology into their teaching practice.



Project Description

Through a collaborative process, three instructors developed a blended professional development experience for teachers interested in becoming STEM teachers in a new school. Technology would be ubiquitous in the new school with one-to-one computing for students and teachers.  Providing personal computing opens vast possibilities for student and teacher use of emergent Internet technologies for learning. The goal was to develop an experience including both face-to-face and online learning to meet the diverse adult learner needs as well as provide an opportunity for teachers to be immersed in emergent Internet technologiesnew technologies at a personal level.  The course standards were based on the newly refreshed 2008 NETS-T and the guiding principles of 21st century learning. Teachers also understood that their look at EIT new technologies would be framed through constant consideration of the Ohio Content Standards and how the technology tools would align with the learning outcomes in their classrooms.  This standards framework was introduced through the TPACK model (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). 


The main goals for the course focused on helping teachers become aware of emergent Internet technologies, become familiar with use through skill building, and then understand how they could support learning outcomes using these technologies.  Teachers became skilled at understanding the power of emergent Internet technologies and how these technologies could be used to provide alternative learning environments for students. Teachers were challenged to become prolific personal users and as a result seamlessly integrate their expertise into their everyday school use in the classroom. Because these learners were at all different ability levels in terms of their technology use, the face-to-face initial class and the survey tools provided information to the instructors for modifications in content and instructional activities and style.  Since the learners would be working independently, scaffolding supports like an online Virtual Office, clear job aids, and peer support were incorporated into the weekly work.  Learners were encouraged to use resources based on their own path of learning and could move through the course in linear or non-linear ways to obtain and apply the content; also a model for student learning in the STEM school.


Specifically, the learners were asked to explore the five benefits of read/write technologies.  New modes of inquiry were explored through activities such as subscribing to RSS feeds, commenting on peer blogs, establishing personal portals, and using social bookmarking to locate resources.  Collaborative learning was explored using a class wiki where each learner was expected to contribute throughout the course, a collaborative social bookmarking project, and using online document sharing tools to aggregate data about the class.  New literacies were explored by locating Creative Commons licensed content aligned to their content standards on media sharing sites; and the creation of podcasts, voice threads, and speaking avatars.  Throughout the entire course, the learners were expected to publish reflections online in their course blogs, publish new findings to the class wiki, and contribute comments to each other's blogs.  Finally, the learners explored recombination of content to construct new meaning using such activities as voice threads and collage tools.  These tools were then integrated in to a culminating lesson where teachers used Ohio Content Standards, NETS-S, 21st Century skills and emergent Internet technologies to create engaging learning environments for their students.  These lessons were implemented in the classrooms and then shared during the final class session.


Challenges and Successes

One of the biggest challenges faced when introducing teachers to new technologies was the restricted Internet access in their schools.  Baston (2008) finds that K-12 schools may be even less able to adapt to emergent Internet technologies due to lack of current technology, the fact that they cannot “open the gates for broad-scale interaction on the web” and because of the “massive curricular, standards, and testing structures in place that are based largely on pre-Web 2.0 learning assumptions” (p. 89).   Due to district filtering, most of these Internet sites are blocked in the majority of school districts; so paving the way to success for teachers is to ensure they have adequate personal technology as well as clear access.  Educating technology directors, administrators, and others in control is an essential piece of the preparation.  These teachers were given laptops as the course began which proved to be a challenge and a success!  Learning new technology tools while learning to operate a new laptop adds cognitive load, but it also provided the opportunity for teachers to get to know their laptop as a personal tool and to do some troubleshooting on their own—much in the way their STEM students would be introduced to their laptops when school opened.


One thought provoking discussion examined the dichotomy between students who teach themselves how to use technology and teachers who “feel a need to be trained, guided, nurtured ... and then given an external treat.” This kind of gentle but somewhat critical commentary came from a peer and thus seemed to be accepted and acknowledged even though there were course participants who had been asking to be closely trained on each activity.


An early success in the course involved the level of peer sharing, collaboration and support among the participants.  Although a structured set of activities was designed, learners were encouraged to seek out resources at their level of expertise, construct and extend their knowledge and to support each other.  One striking example involves two of the course participants who were boldly using the tools in their regular middle school classroom at the same time as they were acquiring and learning about the tools.  The first structured activity was to setup a blog for the course and share the blog with the class.  One advanced teacher who had already used blogs extended this lesson by adding a speaking avatar to her blog.  One of the novice users asked her for assistance and then shared her excitement in being able to both establish a blog and to add a speaking avatar.  This was an early concrete demonstration of informal mentorship described by Jenkins (2006). This learner extended a lesson and also shared that with the rest of the class to the level that it propagated.  Similar collaborations spontaneously occurred between experienced and novice users as the course progressed beginning the viral process that was desired from this learning experience.


The remarkable parallel is that the novice teacher also established a separate blog for her fifth grade students to complete their book reviews.  She included her speaking avatar asking the students to “tell her what they are reading”. She shared her first success with her peers that only one student knew about speaking avatars and she was able to introduce a new engaging technology to her students.  However, she was most excited when four of the students started commenting on each other’s book review blogs and providing peer feedback, without her instruction.  The students had essentially extended the lesson without her instruction, marking the beginning of continued constructivist work by the students.  Her next steps included an activity where the students created their own speaking avatars; the class drafted its own list of blogging manners, and opening up the blog to the sixth and seventh graders.  Finally, this teacher is sharing her experiences and excitement on the course blog so her fellow teachers can use the course blog to learn about her results with her classroom blog.


Results and Recommendations

Data collected included survey and interview data as well as self and post assessment based on ISTE standards and TPACK units of knowledge.  Initial data collection included a skills survey that sought to establish the self-perceived level of awareness about these special technologies by the STEM teachers, the extent to which these technologies had been used in teaching, and whether any analysis of impact had been collected.  At the end of the course, this skills survey was repeated to measure progress.  In addition, the teachers were asked to measure their own skills using a survey based on the NETS-T standards focusing on their use of technology to learn and to teach.


The initial and post course skill survey assessed teachers knowledge about personal or professional usage for eleven (11) emergent Internet technologies areas.   Initial survey results demonstrated that the overall teacher skill level ranged from level one (have not heard of this) to two (they had heard of the skill but had not used it) with an overall initial average level of 2.35.  Only one participant self-rated one tool (blogs) as a level five (they had used the tool in their classroom and collected data to measure results). 


The post-course skill survey demonstrated an overall average increase in all eleven (11) areas.  All respondents self-rated their usage at a minimum of level three (had used but not in the classroom), with the majority choosing level four (had used in their teaching), and several respondents reported a level five (used and collected data) for more than one tool (blogs, online videos, and portals).  The overall average increased from 2.35 to 3.45. These results were echoed in participant comments in which the teachers frequently shared their excitement with their own increased skills and their self-reported ability to “truly understand the focus of the future of education” and “more easily develop lessons that are enriched with technology.”


Teachers were introduced to the NETS-T at the beginning of the class as objectives for their own growth as technology using teachers. Emphasis was placed on using technology to support the Ohio Content Standards, to support the NETS-S and student learning, and to provide differentiated opportunities for learners.  Most teachers in our group had not heard of the NETS-T or NETS-S, but by the end of the class 90% reported using these in their teaching.  The majority also agreed in a self-evaluation that they “demonstrated fluency with new technologies and systems” and could “design or adapt learning experiences that incorporated digital tools to promote student learning and creativity.” 


Teacher interview data also supported the impact on teaching and learning and their ability to solve educational problems through the use of emergent Internet technologies. One teacher commented:


I have enjoyed this class and also feel that I have learned new skills to improve my instruction as well as meet the needs of my learners. The recent addition of the classroom blog to my GAR science grant has been a huge success. I had a need - time and place for my students to debrief after mentoring K-students. The blog fills this need.


Another teacher writes:


 Prior to this class, I had very limited awareness of 2.0 technologies. This class was outstanding in that it introduced me to a variety of technologies that I have now incorporated into my teaching and PD with staff. I recently went to a state-wide best practices convention and felt as if I truly understood the focus of the future of education.


A second theme prevalent in participant comments was the desire for more face-to-face hands-on tool training. Much of this is based on the way adult learners experienced learning technology tools.  Most do not experiment or take risks, they follow directions.  Encouraging more risk-taking was promoted as it is would be encouraged for STEM students with one-to-one computing.


Despite concerted attempts to alleviate disconnects between the tools they were learning about and the tools they were learning with, a limitation of the learning management system (LMS) itself was identified. Most notably, there was no alignment between an LMS and tools that either students or teachers use in their personal lives.  Returning to the five benefits of read/write technologies, the following additional limitations were defined:


1.        New modes of inquiry can be brought into the LMS but the LMS creates an unneeded barrier.

2.        While collaboration is possible, this collaboration is not easily opened to the public.

3.        No new media literacies are built into the LMS; audio and video can be embedded but the LMS adds an unneeded barrier.

4.        Publishing takes place within the course only and is not shared with a larger potential public for discussion or affirmation.

5.        Any content created within the LMS is not recombinant.  There is no way to make the content in an LMS available for potential learners who would like to recombine it or expand it to create new insights.


Given the limitations of an LMS in collaborative learning environments, two recommendations are: 1) that future iterations of the course be conducted solely within the participatory read/write web and 2) that optional face-to-face technology support sessions are scaffolded in for the teachers who are not yet ready for the self-directed technology training model that has been embraced by their students.


In conclusion, the professional development created for the new STEM teachers immersed them in a world of personal and professional use of emergent Internet technologies that they viewed through new lenses.  These new lenses (TPACK, ISTE standards, 21st Century Skills) helped them begin to develop a new knowledge set that will support their growing authentic use of technology to support advanced content and 21st Century learning strategies for STEM education.




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