Reports > Teacher and Student Roles
New Teacher and Student Roles in the Technology-Supported Classroom
Ray McGhee and Robert Kozma, SRI International
The focus of this paper is a preliminary analysis of how the roles of teachers
and students in different classroom settings are altered as a result of
computer-based technologies. We are particularly interested in how the capabilities
of computer-based technologies can enable and constrain innovative pedagogical
Powerful new capabilities of computers make it possible to access, represent,
process, and communicate information in new ways (Kozma, 1991, 1994). These
capabilities make it possible to search and organize information, analyze
data, represent ideas, simulate complex systems, and communicate with others
in ways that were not practical or even possible previously. They also enable
new ways of teaching and learning-new activities, new products, and new
types of learning (Kozma & Schank, 1998). The research literature (Means
& Olson, 1997) documents a strong association between these new technology-based
practices and changes in curriculum and pedagogy. For example in many countries,
the use of educational technology is part of an instructional shift toward
project-based, constructivist approaches to teaching and learning within
a context of school improvement or reform. Instead of focusing solely on
increasing the acquisition of facts related to specific subject areas, teams
of students are engaged in solving complex, authentic problems that cross
discipline boundaries. Instead of dispensing knowledge, teachers set up
projects, arrange for access to appropriate resources, and create the organizational
structure and support that can help students succeed. This approach moves
conceptions of learning beyond rote memorization of facts and procedures
to learning as a process of knowledge creation. It moves education beyond
the notion of a place where knowledge is imparted to one of classrooms,
organizations, and societies as knowledge building communities (Bereiter,
1999; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994; Brown & Campione, 1994). These
are more appropriate constructs for the information society and knowledge
economy of the future. Technology plays a role in this approach of providing
students with tools and information that support their problem solving,
communication, collaboration, and knowledge creation. It also provides teachers
with new tools that can transform instructional roles, curricula, and practices.
Plomp, Brummelhuis, and Rapmund (1996) define learning as a process in which
four components interact: (1) the teacher, (2) the student, (3) curriculum
content and goals, and (4) instructional materials and infrastructure-more
specifically in our paper, the role of information and communications technology
(ICT). In this paper, will synthesize findings about changing teachers'
and students' roles and classroom practices from twelve case studies in
technology-enhanced classrooms across the U.S. This paper, we will provide
descriptive details of individual cases as well as analyze similarities
and differences across cases.
As in other studies (Means & Olson, 1997), many of the innovative schools
in this study used technology to support project-based or inquiry-based
learning. Project-based learning was a predominant feature of the innovations
in two of the schools: Newsome Park Elementary School and New Tech High
School. In two of the schools, Mantua and Jennings, project-based learning
was part of a larger reform effort. In Mantua Elementary, the reform is
part of a larger, "Basic School" philosophy in which technology
was used to create a learning community with a coherent curriculum. At Jennings
Junior High, the reform package is more eclectic and atheoretical and project-based
learning is employed along with other approaches that include reduced class
size, renovation of facilities, and retention of school staff. In the remaining
two schools, Mountain Middle School and Lemon Grove Middle School, project-based
learning (inquiry-based learning, in the case of Lemon Grove) are instructional
approaches that are employed along with others with the primary goal of
increasing student achievement. In the case of Mountain Middle School, student
achievement is explicitly standards-based.
Beyond this finding, what implications do these new instructional approaches
have for the roles of students? What new teacher roles complement those
of students? How does technology support these roles? In the following sections,
these questions will be addressed by analyzing interview and observational
data from the six case study sites collected in the 2000-2001 academic year.
New student roles.
Looking across the six schools in our study, we identified three new roles
for students that were often associated with project-based or inquiry
learning: self-learner, team member, and knowledge manager. Each of these
roles is, in turn, associated with typical activities.
The "self-learner" role is not only a major feature of New Tech
High School but also at the elementary school, Newsome Park. In the schools,
students must select their own real-world projects and identify possible
solutions. In this way, students help determine the content of the curriculum.
Students in these schools must also organize their projects and manage
progress made on them. This management task extends to managing student
time. Time management was most pronounced at New Tech, where students
moved from class to class within the open campus at their own discretion,
unprompted by bells that marked class periods. At Jennings Junior High
School the role of self-learner extended to that of helping others learn.
As one teacher put it, "They definitely rely on each other instead
of me. The focal point is on them and not on me."
While students have always been divided into groups, the role of collaborator
or "team member" is a relatively new one for students. The difference
here is that the team in some way owns the project or investigation, and
the team member is actively involved in advancing the project. There is
both shared and individual responsibility for the success of the project.
Students work collaboratively to move it forward. This team work was most
obvious in the projects observed in Mountain Middle School, where students
collaborated in science class to publish a newspaper on the Alaskan ecosystem,
called Tundra Times, or the cross-disciplinary "light rail"
project in the 3rd grade of Newsome Park. Sometimes the role of team member
was a specialized one. For example in the "light rail" project,
students rotated between different tasks given to a map committee, a research
committee, and a field trip committee. For the 5th grade "flowers
and plants" project at Newsome Park, students performed specialized
tasks such as collecting survey data on the preferences of potential customers,
cultivating the plants, developing and implementing an advertising campaign
for the plant sale, or conducting research on how to care for the different
plant varieties. Sometimes, students share their expertise with other
students, as at Jennings Junior High School.
The third role that we observed was that of "knowledge manager".
This was, perhaps, the most prevalent role and the one most often associated
with the use of technology to support project-based learning. The focus
of the role is on the development of knowledge products. These are often
reports, research studies, newspapers, or multimedia presentations that
solve a real world problem, address a scientific question, or express
personal feelings. Examples of these products include a daily, student-produced,
in-house news TV program at Mantua, a presentation on biomes at Lemon
Grove, student-published poetry on a website at Mountain, and a study
of flowers and plants at Newsome Park. Activities demanded of this role
include formulating questions, searching for information, collecting and
analyzing data, and designing reports and presentations. Perhaps the school
that took this role most seriously was New Tech High School, which has
as its mission "to prepare students to excel in an information-based,
technologically-advanced society". Run as a high-tech start-up company,
New Tech views students as knowledge-workers. At New Tech, students are
engaged in extended projects consisting of complex tasks and long-term
deadlines. The intent is to create technology-savvy citizens who are prepared
for college and the world of work.
Technology supports for new student roles.
A range of hardware and software applications support these new student
roles. The most supported role is that of "knowledge manager".
In this role, students have access to vast stores of information, either
on the Internet or CD-ROM. In addition, they have a variety of tools that
they can use to transform this information into knowledge, tools such
as search engines, data analysis packages, word processors, spreadsheets,
graphing and graphics packages, and presentation and web development software.
The role of "team member" is supported through the use of communications
hardware and software. Two schools-Newsome Park and Mantua-are using wireless
computers that support teamwork. With wireless laptops, students could
assemble whenever and wherever needed (within the range of the network).
Students were observed using their computers in classrooms, hallways,
and libraries. Thus, groupings are based on what made the most sense for
learning rather than on hardware constraints. Several schools provide
students with email accounts that they used to exchange information with
team members and teachers. Additionally, several schools used intranet
applications such as Lotus Notes or Blackboard that support the exchange
of documents. However, there was no use of software that was specifically
designed for collaboration or shared construction of documents.
The least-supported role was that of "self-learner". This role
is marked by the need for students to set their own goals, organize their
own work, and manage their time. There were no student-equivalents to
professional applications such as project management and time management
software. This kind of software design for students engaged in project-based
learning remains an open-market niche for educational software companies.
New teacher roles.
In terms of new teacher roles, the picture across the six cases we studied
is much more complicated. Although teachers retained many of their traditional
roles (e.g. class leader or director, lecturer, discussion leader), they
negotiated multiple new roles in classrooms that utilized innovative technology-supported
practices. The new teacher roles we identified were: instructional designer;
trainer; collaborator; team coordinator; advisor; and monitoring and assessment
specialist. Each role is associated specific activities and is made possible
by the use of technology in support of project-based learning and inquiry-based
"Instructional designer" is one of the more common new roles
taken on by teachers. Much like the "self-learner" role adopted
by students, teachers in this role must design, plan, and organize themselves
in order to effectively use and integrate technology in their classrooms.
The instructional designer takes into account of all the resources available
to meet the variety of needs his/her students have and implements well
designed activities to address those needs. Teachers from New Tech High
School are exemplars of this role. Since all the curricula is based on
students creating interdisciplinary projects, teachers design and create
instructional materials constantly. A teacher, describing a software tool
(Tegrity) that allows a teacher to record and store digital web video
on demand for students to view, explained, "I think is it meets a
variety of learning styles and I couldn't do that in the traditional classroom,
but it's wonderful. I have kids, you know, begging me, hey Smith, you
know, we need you to put that Tegrity lesson up because they go home and
they can access these materials from home. It helps them access the material
to decode their textbook to get through the lessons and it's a wonderful,
wonderful tool…". Support for this new teacher role can be found
in those cases where remedial instruction occurred. At Mountain Middle
School, for example, remedial instruction in mathematics using a drill
and practice software tools is in an overall approach using technology
to provide remediation and develop skills so that students may catch up
and eventually achieve at high standards. Lemon Grove Junior High School,
with its use of "thin client" terminals, are able to differentiate
remediation for each child using a skill-based software program that helps
to diagnose and remediate students according to their individual deficiencies
in mathematics and reading. Each child can receive additional help in
an area of weakness, receive guidance from a computer-based tutorial,
and work independently so that teachers have the flexibility to work with
students individually or in small groups.
The role of "trainer" is one that was reflected in 3 of the
6 cases. "Trainers" give individual instruction to enable skill
development. This training is accomplished through modeling the use of
technology and helping students see how they might use software tools
that can help them accomplish unique tasks. The teachers in Newsome Park
regularly model how ICT could be used in completing projects. Because
all teachers own an Apple PowerBook laptop computer, many use a variety
of software applications and multimedia programs in class to present material
or to model an activity that students will undertake. In a 4th grade classroom
that was observed, the teacher began the class by giving a multimedia
presentation about fractions (1/2, 1/4, etc.) that showed squares being
divided into halves and into fourths. The next day, the students worked
at laptop computers around the classroom, using the same multimedia software
the teacher used the day before to create slides of whole squares representing
fractions. Teachers at Newsome Park have received support from a job-embedded
form of professional development in the use of a variety of software packages
and computer-based learning activities. During the training, the teachers
are encouraged to take what they are learning about spreadsheets, databases,
and multimedia presentations and share it with their students. As one
teacher put it, "I know I've learned a lot. It has improved my teaching,
I think, especially taking the FutureKids (professional development) class.
I'm creating things; it gives me the opportunity to create things along
with my students so we're kind of learning together..." This role
of "trainer" was also supported by observations and interview
data from New Tech High School and Jennings Junior High School.
The collaborator role was evident in all six of the cases we analyzed.
Collaborator refers to a variety of activities teachers undertake to work
with their colleagues to improve their instruction. These activities include
informal sharing with colleagues, team teaching, and grade level or interdisciplinary
instructional activities conducted in conjunction with other colleagues.
Team teaching is common in instructional approaches that utilize project-based
learning and allow for additional time for students to explore some natural
phenomenon in depth. For example, team teaching is an institutionalized
feature of core content instruction at New Tech High school. It is less
so at Jennings Junior High, although teachers in the English department
collaborate with one another on lesson plans and content. Teachers at
Mantua, Lemon Grove, Mountain, and Newsome Park report that sharing of
ideas among their grade-level colleagues is common as was team teaching.
"Team coordinator" is another teacher role supported by data
collected at three of the six case study sites. The focus of this role
is on the active assignment of individual students to project or study
teams. In addition to opening up opportunities for collaborative learning
activities, teachers who assume the "team coordinator" create
opportunities for peer tutoring and support between students with mixed
achievement levels. This role was evident at Newsome Park, New Tech High,
and Jennings Junior High. At New Tech High, students receive a grade for
their level of collaboration from their project team members. Additionally,
to graduate, all students must demonstrate and document their collaboration
skills through the completion of an electronic portfolio that is evaluated
by teachers and a review panel from the community. A teacher at Jennings
Junior described how the use of technology enhances collaborative learning:
"…when we went to technology, it was the highest form of collaborative
learning. We didn't have all those obstacles in working with teams where
one person was trying to force another person to work. The technology
just lends itself to them working very much as a team…". Teachers
at Jennings Junior and Newsome Park employ heterogeneous grouping (i.e..
placing students with different levels of ability together in the same
group). Heterogeneous grouping is used to incorporate all students in
small group collaboration. Provision is made to ensure that low performing
students play a significant part in the group's work, especially true
when using ICT.
The role of "enabling advisor" refers to the teacher who gives
assistance, advice, suggestions or poses questions in a way that enable
students to make sound decisions and find the information they need to
complete a particular task. The teacher adopting this role is apt to give
students a great deal of autonomy so that they take greater responsibility
for their own learning activities. A common term used sometimes to describe
this role is the term "facilitator". This new teacher role was
found in four of the six cases analyzed. At Jennings Junior High, one
teacher described this role in this fashion:
I'm the facilitator! You know, I'll come back and say, oh, OK, here
you might want to look at this, this, this, and this. Here you go. Here
are three sites that I hope address the question. Go ahead and read
them and see if that's what you were looking for. Almost like a research
person for them. But they don't even know it. Which is, I mean, just
absolutely fantastic. And they're just, you know, that's how I see myself.
It's just there to assist them in their learning process…
Newsome Park teachers link constructivist learning principles and project-based
learning to this new teacher role. Here's how the technology coordinator
As far as the role of the teacher, I think with the project-based learning,
the traditional role of the teachers has definitely changed. I know
when I entered into teaching it was kind of a more traditional role
where the teacher stood up and taught the class. They taught the information
and the child was responsible for regurgitating the information. It's
more of a, I don't want to say, drill and practice, but it's more of
memorization and exposure to information. Where now with the constructivist
approach and project-based learning, the teacher pretty much takes a
facilitating role and the child basically takes control and directs
their own learning process…
Teachers expressed adopting this new role in Mantua Elementary, Jennings
Junior, and New Tech High, but less so at Mountain Middle School.
The "monitoring and assessment specialist" refers to the new
role where teachers monitor student performance and attempt to assess
and improve student performance. This role is reflected in a variety of
ways among 4 of the 6 cases analyzed. In Mountain Middle School, a school
where standards-based achievement was a vital priority, this role was
reflected in teacher tracking of individual student test scores. Teachers
and administrators monitor test scores and provide written feedback and
encouragement to students about how they might improve their scores on
future examinations. At Lemon Grove, the skills-based software for mathematics
and reading provides "just-in-time" data to teachers about student
performance. This enables the teacher to have a regular point of assessment.
At New Tech High, teachers use rubrics that lay out the various components
of the work being completed as well as assign a score or level of competence
based on clearly articulated criteria. Students are regularly involved
in a range of self-assessment and peer assessment activities using rubrics.
These various teacher roles align and exist in tandem with the new student
roles seen in our analysis of these cases. Additionally, the new teacher
roles appear to overlap the different student roles in the cases we analyzed.
The student role of "self learner" is complemented and supported
by the roles that teachers play as "trainer", "instructional
designer", and "monitoring and assessment specialist".
This connection is nicely illustrated by the interaction of teachers and
students in learning together and collaborating at Jennings Junior High
School. The student role of "team member" appears to be linked
to the teacher role of instructional designer, collaborator, and team
coordinator. Newsome Park, with its focus on teams working together on
project-based learning activities, is an exemplar of how the new teacher
and student roles operate. The knowledge manager, a creator of knowledge
products, is related to and supported by the advisor, instructional designer,
team coordinator, and the collaborator roles that teachers adopt. New
Tech High, with its teachers adopting multiple roles, provides a setting
where both the new student and teacher roles are present to support project-based,
interdisciplinary learning with technology.
Technology supports for new teacher roles.
A variety of technology supports these new teacher roles as they are adopted
by teachers in all the school sites we visited. The instructional designer
and trainer role are supported by a range of software tools that enable
the differentiated instruction at Lemon Grove and project-based learning
occurring at Newsome Park and New Tech High. The use of the Tegrity video
software system at New Tech High, the utilization of application software
tools, and the use of the CCC mathematics and reading software at Lemon
Grove are examples of how teacher can design an instructional program
that can be used to develop skills and meet the needs of students of different
learning styles and achievement levels. The collaborator and team coordinator
roles are supported by the use of Internet browsing software and electronic
mail software programs. Lotus Notes, used at New Tech High, enables teachers
to plan appointments, communicate via email, compile agendas for weekly
meetings, and obtain student information, add Internet hyperlinks to existing
course documents, and store other digital learning resources. Telecommunications
software permits efficient communication between team members (student
teams or team teaching teams) or between teachers, their students, and
their parents. Electronic mail has been particularly supportive of these
roles at Mountain Middle School, where teachers exchange email communication
with students and parents. Additional support can also be found for the
enabling advisor and monitoring and assessment roles in the skill development
software and application tool software supporting projects in a number
of the school sites analyzed.
The findings from this preliminary analysis of six cases reveal that technology
is being used in a variety of ways to improve classroom instruction. Each
of the six cases provides an example of how technology is enhancing instruction
in variety of school types in different regions of the U.S. Additionally,
teacher and student roles are being altered in ways that are reflective
not only of the presence of technology, but also the efforts at systemic
school reform. These findings highlight different roles that students
and teacher adopt in the course of their interaction with technology-supported
pedagogical practices that inquiry-based learning. These practices:
- Promote active and autonomous learning in students;
- Provide students with competencies and technological skills that allow
them to search for, organize, and analyze information, and communicate
and express their ideas in a variety of media forms;
- Enable teachers, students, and their parents to communicate and share
- Engage students in collaborative, project-based learning in which
students work with other classmates on complex, extended, real-world-like
problems or projects;
- Provide students with individualized or differentiated instruction,
customized to meet the needs of students with different achievement
levels, interests, or learning styles;
- Allow teachers and students to assess student and peer academic performance.
What is the significance of these role transformations? Although these
changes in roles and technology-enhanced pedagogical practices can be
linked with a number of factors, one stands out as noteworthy. The standards
movement, which has resulted in schools throughout the U.S. adopting high
performance standards, has had a significant impact on schools to prepare
them to use technology. Coupled with the move toward challenging standards
are the high expectations that schools have adopted, believing all children
can achieve at high levels if given the necessary support. This environment
has provided new opportunities for teachers and students to break out
of old roles and patterns through the use of technology. Furthermore,
technology has allowed teachers and students to adopt new behaviors and
responsibilities consistent with the realities of a rapid technological
society. Future analyses of all the data from the U.S. case studies will
examine additional cases that will help to explain, identify, and describe
additional role changes and derive implications for policy and improved
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