Applying Technology to Restructuring and Learning


Over the years, educators have come to realize that understanding how people acquire knowledge is central to helping students learn. During the Regional Educational Laboratory contract for FY1996–2000, SEDL’s Applying Technology to Restructuring and Learning project developed models of learner-centered classrooms supported by appropriate technologies, particularly in schools with highly diverse student populations. The project was founded on six principles from constructivist learning theory, which concludes that knowledge or meaning isn’t fixed, but rather constructed by individuals through their own experiences. Research suggests that learning environments based on constructivist theories are effective and strategic ways to educate children for cross-disciplinary thinking required in today’s world.

Field-based research and development

Based on these six principles, SEDL developed, field-tested, and revised a professional development program, Active Learning with Technology, with more than 150 classroom teachers and 10 technology coordinators in six sites across the region. SEDL conducted research to develop models of constructivist learning environments and found that:

  • No single model of a constructivist learning environment emerged. Instead, researchers saw many configurations. Such differences most likely reflected the unique prior knowledge and experience each teacher brought to the project.
  • Students were more active, autonomous, and highly engaged with the content under study. Much of the time, students worked collaboratively with peers to solve a problem, present findings, or complete a project. Often, but not always, such tasks were accomplished with the use of technology. The teacher, while an integral part of the classroom, acted more as a producer rather than a director, setting up the learning situation and then allowing students to use the means necessary to arrive at a certain end.
  • Professional development opportunities had a major impact on teachers’ practice. The research showed that the more hours teachers had participated in SEDL’s project-specific professional development, the more they used constructivist practices and technology. By participating in professional development experiences that promoted constructivist learning environments for teachers and receiving time for reflection, teachers were able to confront their “theories in use” and change their practice.
  • While the presence of technology made teachers aware of the need to change instructional practice, technology by itself did not result in practice changes. Change appeared to occur with teachers’ increased confidence/comfort using technology in the classroom.
  • An optimum number of computers seemed to be required to support the creation of constructivist learning environments. One computer was not enough. But there was minimal change in classrooms with a 1:1 ratio of computers to students, such as a computer lab. In classrooms with approximately 20 students and four computers, more implementation of constructivist practices was observed. A scarcity of resources required a reorganization of the classroom to accommodate the use of the technology, leading to a shift in other practices.
  • Those campuses led by principals who both understood and supported the use of technology and constructivist practices saw the greatest change in classroom practice.
  • The greater the number of teachers using appropriate technologies within a school, the more change in teaching practice that took place. With 25 teachers on a campus using technology, awareness and interest throughout the rest of the school and school district increased. Teachers at the site with no critical mass on campuses made the least change in practice.

SEDL’s Active Learning with Technology program

The resulting program consists of a 16 module portfolio, follow-up coaching and assistance, and resources to support teachers in learning how to restructure their classrooms around the six constructivist principles. Resources in the portfolio include: Constructing Knowledge: A Review of the Literature; Connecting Student Learning and Technology, a practitioner's guide to the literature review; TAP into Learning, six newsletters that describe one or more of the six principles and feature classroom activities that reflect these principles; a database of teacher and student resources; and six videos that portray constructivist learning environments enhanced by technology.