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THE COMPLEXITY OF TEACHING IN THE INFORMATION AGE SCHOOL Marcella L. Kysilka, Mark Geary, and Sharon Schepise University of Central Florida

Teaching is a highly complex task. Many educators and curriculum leaders suggest that technology can help teachers with that complex task. This article examines the complexity of teaching and suggests that in many ways technology does not necessarily make the task easier, but rather more difficult. The additional consider­ ations a teacher must engage in when thinking about using technology as both teaching and learning tools are explored in the three stages of teaching: pre-active (planning); interactive (classroom events) and post-active (evaluation).

Teaching is a complex act. A good teacher needs to be able to make split second decisions while analyzing students' actions, reactions, responses and questions quickly and accu­ rately. A good teacher needs to plan effective lessons for the variety of students found in a typical classroom culture. A good teacher is a good problem solver, a person who can iden­ tify the essence of a problematic situation, pose possible solutions, think through the con­ sequences of the possible solutions and select the path that meets the need or needs of the time. A good teacher must be a creative teacher, one who can find ways to motivate poor students to want to learn, encourage able students to take on new challenges, help stu-

dents with diverse learning needs to be suc­ cessful, and to guide all students, regardless of ability, in their academic pursuits. To add to this already complex act, school administrators, parents, students, and teachers are determined to take advantage of the new technologies to enhance the activities of the classroom. Through the advances of technol­ ogy, information is rapidly increasing. Har­ nessing that information and making it available for students is a new task for teach­ ers. Although the management of content information has always been a large part of the teacher's job, the information glut that exists today as a result of new technologies has added a new dimension to the teacher's task. The

• MBrceUB L. Kysilka. kysilka@mail.ucLedu Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue Vol. 4, No. 1,2002, pp. Copyright © 2002 Information Age Publishing, Inc.


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Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue


Pre-Active (Planning)

Interactive (Classroom Events)

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Post-Active (Evaluation) Formal

Aims, Goals, Objectives





The Complexity of Teaching

teacher now has to wade through the endless stream of information that is available through computerized programs and the Internet and go on to categorize, analyze, synthesize, evalu­ ate, and finally use the processed information within the context of lessons being taught. Thus, technology, although perceived as a tool to help ease the task of the teacher, may indeed make the act of teaching much more complex. If you examine the diagram, "The Com­ plexity of Teaching," you will begin to under­ stand how difficult teaching is (KysiIka & Davis, 1988). You will note that the teacher is responsible for three distinct "acts" of teach­ ing: Pre-Active (Planning), Interactive (Class­ room events) and Post-Active (Evaluation). Not only does the teacher need to think of these "acts" in terms of what he/she wishes to accomplish, but the teacher must take into con­ sideration what the students want and expect. This paper will examine what has happened to this complex task now that technology has been integrated into school programs.

The Complexity ofTeachi.

ously faced. Technc teachers in this pial have web-sites that curriculum and have incorporate activities meet these criteria. tests also have web-s instruction for the "t addition, there are n have been designed ance" with respect to the standards-based ( publishers have encoi purchase various CO which are "guarantee: performance. The re spend much more time this "help" to find wha students and which IDl grated into the presen same time they are try and learning fun and ell

PRE-ACTIVE STAGE In the pre-active stage, teachers are attempting to set both long- and short-term aims, goals, and objectives. They need to consider what will be taught, why it will be taught, the spe­ cific content to be taught, how long it will take to teach the content, what the expectations are for the students, what activities might be used to stimulate and motivate the students, what special activities are needed to help students with special needs, what strategies would best meet the intent of the lesson, and how technol­ ogy can help in these processes. With the emphasis on high-stakes testing, teachers now have the added dimension of ensuring that the content being addressed is that which is being assessed. Also, most states have adopted stan­ dards-based curriculum, so teachers must also keep in mind the various curricular standards the students in each of the grade levels and subject areas are expected to meet. Needless to say, this makes thinking about planning a much more complex task than teachers previ-

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Curriculum gu Standards textbooks

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The Complexity of Teaching in the Information Age School


ously faced. Technology as a tool can help teachers in this planning stage. Most states have web-sites that address standards-based curriculum and have suggestions on how to incorporate activities and web-sites to help meet these criteria. States with high-stakes tests also have web-sites to help teachers plan instruction for the "teaching of the test." In addition, there are numerous web-sites that have been designed to give teachers "guid­ ance" with respect to the mandated tests and the standards-based curriculum. Commercial publishers have encouraged many districts to purchase various computer-based programs which are "guaranteed" to improve student performance. The reality is, teachers must spend much more time searching through all of this "help" to find what might work with their students and which might be able to be inte­ grated into the prescribed curriculum at the same time they are trying to keep instruction and learning fun and exciting to the students.

Thus, teachers might find that using tech­ nology as a tool, they might be able to enhance their instruction in the classroom, provide for special needs of students, arrange remediation for those who need it and enrichment for those who desire it. However, to plan for all of this, requires a great deal of time and thought on the part of the teacher. The complaint most teach­ ers share is that time is their enemy (Becker, 1999; Fullan, 1991) and the technology seems to take more time than to give more time to the teacher. Perhaps part of this is the teachers' lack of experience in working with technol­ ogy. Perhaps part can be attributed to the fact that most teachers are aware that the students may be more adept at using the technology than the teachers and teachers are reluctant to admit that or know how to effectively turn the students' knowledge into an asset for the teacher. Regardless, the advent of new tech­ nologies has not made the teaching task less complex (McKenzie, 200 I).


't teachers are attempting

short-term aims, goals, need to consider what : will be taught, the spe­ ght, how long it will take vhat the expectations are activities might be used ivate the students, what needed to help students bat strategies would best lesson,and how technol­ se processes. With the res testing, teachers now ision of ensuring that the ed is that which is being states have adopted stan­ m, so teachers must also ious curricular standards of the grade levels and eted to meet. Needless to iking about planning a task than teachers previ­




rechnology Integ~atioH Teaching/Learning

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The Complexity of Teaching-Pre-Active Stage



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tion? Do you "close it up" for the day and start again tomorrow? If so, what do you do with the remaining 20 minutes? All these decisions must be made quickly and efficiently. Another example can relate directly to the use of technology as a teaching tool. Once again, you have a great lesson planned, this time using "presentation software" with all the right bells and whistles to engage the students in the presentation. After the first ten minutes, the computer freezes up and you are unable to complete the visual presentation that you spent four hours developing. Your call to the techni足 cian goes unanswered. Students begin to make suggestions on what to do. You try a few and realize that you are getting nowhere and can足 not fix the computer presentation. Now what do you do? Can you refocus the lesson? Can you work from the board, can you put students into groups and give them some work related to the presentation, or do you have handouts that they can work from? Obviously, when you are working with technology, you need to have

a back up plan... die zie, 2000). How do you lost? How will til tomorrow? Teachers should "teachable moment." sion planned on the eJ Berlin Wall on the your students enter yo abuzz about the receJ ban in Afghanistan. ' kinds of questions at and what "extended w Do you address their ( planned lesson or C8l event and have it war objectives of how w world economies? If how will you get acee you use the television . Can you get on the Int information? How C8I students engaged in thl help them understand] other world economies , by the activities in Afgll are many and you have1 You must adequately . plan an alternative can' recognize the con~uCl planned. Changing you obviously affect what 'Y' eral days in your cl The interactive stag the one that is adju beyond a teacher's have group activities p are absent, or students . work, or materials did dents needed, or the co tiona!. A teacher may special guest to come to teacher got a call just guest was involved in and would not be there. the world can be easily events, but the intera . must go on. How well a

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INTERACTIVE STAGE During the classroom interaction stage of the teaching act, teachers are faced with another set of events and challenges. This part of teaching, although planned for, frequently becomes much more spontaneous and event specific. For example, you have a 30 minute demonstration with key questions planned and you have just completed 15 minutes of the demonstration when your class is interrupted with an unscheduled fire drill. You move your students out of the classroom according to the prescribed directions. After 10 minutes, stu足 dents are returned to their classes. You now have 20 minutes left in the period. What do you do? How much of your demonstration was "ruined," if any by the interruption? Do you start the demonstration again, from the begin足 ning, realizing that you do not have sufficient time to use all the key questions you planned? Can you start where you were interrupted without losing the continuity of the demonstra-

Gradebook, Attendance Software

Interactive (Classroom Events)

FIGURE 3 The Complexity of Teaching-Interactive Stage

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.. for the day and start hatdo you do with the All these decisions d efficiently. relate directly to the teaching tool. Once , lesson planned, this software" with all the o engage the students ~ the first ten minutes, and you are unable to mtation that you spent 'our call to the techni­ tudentsbegin to make 10. You try a few and lng nowhere and can­ esentation. Now what focus the lesson? Can l, can you put students ~m some work related you have handouts r Obviously, when you logy,you need to have

a back up plan ... did you have one? (McKen­ zie, 2000). How do you recoup the time that you lost? How will this affect what you will do tomorrow? Teachers should always be aware of the "teachable moment." You have a great discus­ sion planned on the effects of the demise of the Berlin Wall on the European economy. As your students enter your classroom, they are all abuzz about the recent bombings of the Tali­ ban in Afghanistan. They are asking you all kinds of questions about this military action and what "extended war" might mean to them. Do you address their concerns and dump your planned lesson or can you take this current event and have it work to meet your planned objectives of how world events can affect world economies? If you choose the latter, how will you get access to information? Can you use the television within your classroom? Can you get on the Internet to gather relevant information? How can you strategically get students engaged in the necessary research to help them understand how our economy and other world economies are going to be affected by the activities in Afghanistan? The questions are many and you have to handle them quickly. You must adequately analyze the situation, plan an alternative, carry out your choice, and recognize the consequences of what you have planned. Changing your direction today will obviously affect what you do for the next sev­ eral days in your classes. The interactive stage of the teaching act is the one that is adjusted the most by events beyond a teacher's control. A teacher may have group activities planned and key students are absent, or students did not do their assigned work, or materials did not arrive that the stu­ dents needed, or the computers were not func­ tional. A teacher may have arranged for a special guest to corne to the classroom and the teacher got a call just before class that the guest was involved in an automobile accident and would not be there. The best planning in the world can be easily foiled by numerous events, but the interaction in the classroom must go on. How well a teacher can think on

hislher feet and make instantaneous decisions is crucial to the success of that teacher and to the learning that will occur in the classroom.



POST-ACTIVE STAGE The post-active phase of the teaching act is perhaps the easiest to understand. In this phase, teachers are attempting to determine how effective their teaching has been; how effective the lessons were. Typically the data gathered and analyzed is a combination of observation of classroom activity and the results of students' written work. Teachers can examine students' test scores, projects they completed, and written work they did. If coop­ erative learning or group work was part of their activity, that can be evaluated as well. Teach­ ers may reflect upon the classroom discourse. Who spoke? Who answered questions? What questions did the students ask? Did they partic­ ipate in their groups and to what extent? Did they seem confused? Were discussions (whole class or group) exciting and spontaneous or were they strained and dull? By looking at these dimensions, thinking about the positive and negative aspects, teachers become reflec­ tive, responsible, good teachers. Teachers can­ not function in this stage without good objective and analytical skills. So, how does technology affect this aspect of teaching? Actually, it is in this stage that teachers may find the technology very effective. Student presentations can incorporate technology and make class presentations and demonstrations far more effective (Schacter, 1999). Teachers can help students create electronic assessment portfolios where various stages of students' written work is constantly available for both the student and the teacher to examine. Stu­ dents can use their technology skills to develop showcase portfolios, which include projects their cooperative groups worked on, with all the necessary documentation of artifacts, etc. They can engage in group "chats" on their class projects which the teacher can monitor to determine individual student participation.

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Portfolios - Working assessment, showcase Electronic?

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Report card software Individual Education plans ,--L---,.JAcademic Improvement Plans

haring ideas with peer (Midlink Magazine)

FIGURE 4 The Complexity of Teaching-Post-Active Stage

Rubrics can be designed and accessed on the computers for all the written and performance activities, thus making the paperwork easier for the teacher. More informal feedback can be given to the students as their work progresses if teachers have easy access to it via the com­ puters. Also, teachers now have access to vari­ ous electronic IEP's (Individualized Education Plans) and AlP's (Academic Improvement Plans) which makes for better documentation of pupil progress on specific objectives they are expected to achieve. Also, student report cards are becoming easier to complete now that most schools have turned to electronic reporting of grades. Finally, teachers may find that they can communicate with their peers more effectively on-line to help them make crucial decisions about the success of their activities in the classroom. This is particularly true for secondary teachers who do not always have the opportunity to meet regularly with their colleagues. As teachers struggle with their responsibili­ ties in each of the phases of the teaching act, students likewise are dealing with the same

phases, except through their eyes. They have their own agendas for what goes on in the classroom. They know what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. If their "what and how" corresponds well with the teacher's perceptions of the "what and how," then there will be relatively few problems in the class­ room. If however, the students' expectations are drastically different from the teacher's, then potential conflict and difficulty can and often does arise; thus the teacher must take on a new set of actions (Kysilka & Davis, 1988). Students are very astute young people. They know when they have not learned what they think: the teacher expects them to learn. They also know who to blame (certainly not them­ selves). However, the use of technology in the classroom may find a way to keep students actively engaged in what the teacher wants them to learn and how the teacher wants them to learn. Students are attracted to technology­ not as busy work, not as something to do when all else is done, but as a tool for learning (Kulik as cited in Schacter, 1999). Their enthusiasm may even get them involved beyond their abil­

The Complexity ofTeachi

ities to understand ! explore via the Inten role for the teacher) whole is a great adc perspective to the lea Technology certa but alone it is not a p teacher's role. It simp teacher may spend h delivering and evalua classroom. Teachers 1 nity to engage stude through the use of 1 itself, however, canm nor should it. Techno tool can be used as pal ing as well as in pre product, technology h summative part to eVI the teaching act, the 1 evaluate if the instnn been met, but also whc ogy used was effective meet those objectives. In summary, teache cognizant of their O\l phases of the teaching be aware of how the stu tive abilities will aft Teachers must undersa

MarceJJa L. KysUka i~ Instruction Doctoral serves as Assistant ~


Mark Geary is curren~' doctoral candidate in He has been a technol lege of Education at the Sharon Schepise is a student in the CurricuI a technology coordina lege of Education.


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their eyes. They have goes on in the ".what they want to learn io learn it. If their "what Is well with the teacher's rhat and how," then there ~ problems in the classle students' expectations rent from the teacher's, ::t and difficulty can and .the teacher must take on (Kysilka & Davis, 1988). lute young people. They re not learned what they IeCtS them to learn. They arne (certainly not them~ use of technology in the a way to keep students .what the teacher wants wthe teacher wants them attracted to technology:as something to do when :a tool for learning (Kulik i 1999). Their enthusiasm rvolved beyond their abil-

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The Complexity of Teaching in the Information Age Schoo/

ities to understand some of the content they explore via the Internet (which creates another role for the teacher). But, technology on the whole is a great addition from the students' perspective to the learning environment. Technology certainly has its advantages, but alone it is not a panacea for lightening the teacher's role. It simply has redirected how the teacher may spend his/her time in preparing, delivering and evaluating what goes on in the classroom. Teachers now have more opportunity to engage students in creative learning through the use of technology. Technology itself, however, cannot drive the curriculum, nor should it. Technology is a tool. Since the tool can be used as part of the process of learning as well as in presentation of a finished product, technology has both a formative and summative part to evaluate. At each stage of the teaching act, the teacher should not only evaluate if the instructional objectives have been met, but also whether or not the technology used was effective in helping the students meet those objectives. In summary, teachers not only have to be cognizant of their own role in the various phases of the teaching act, but they must also be aware of how the students' goals and cognitive abilities will affect the teaching act. Teachers must understand the complexity of


teaching and its dependence upon good thinking skills of the teacher. Teaching is a thinking activity and what teachers need to think about while they toil away in their classrooms has become far more complex with the advent of new technologies than has typically been experienced in the past.

REFERENCES Becker, H. J. (1999). Internet use by teachers. Teaching, Learning and Computing [on-line]. Available: http://www.crito.ucLeduffLCIFINDINGS Becker, H. J. (2000). Findings from the teaching, learning, and computing survey: Is Larry Cuban right? [on-line]. Available: http:// www.crito.uci.edutrLCIFINDINGS Becker, H. J. & Ravitz, J.L. (1999). The influence of computer and internet use on teachers' pedagogical practices and perceptions. Journal of Research on Computing in Education. 31 (4), Summer, pp. 356-384. Fullan, M. G. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Kysilka, M.L. & Davis, O.L. Jr. (1988). Teaching as thinking in action. In A. Wood, M. Kysilka, K. Biraimah & J. Miller (eds). Reading, writing, and thinking in education. pp 106-116. Needham Heights, MA: Ginn Press.

MarceUa L. Kysilka is Professor of Educational Studies and Coordinator of the Curriculum and Instruction Doctoral Programs in the College of Education, University of Central Florida. She also serves as Assistant Chair of the Educational Studies Department. Mark Geary is currently a high school social studies teacher in Seminole County, Florida. He is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at the University of Central Florida. He has been a technology coordinator in the public schools and teaches on-line classes for the College of Education at the University of Central Florida. Sharon Schepise is a coordinator for the flaRE Project in the College of Education and is a doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction Program at the University of Central Florida. She has been a technology coordinator in the public schools and teaches on-line and traditional classes in the College of Education.

The Complexity of Teaching in the Information Age School  

Authored by Marcella L. Kysilka, Mark Geary, and Sharon Schepise 3 stages of teaching analyzed from the perspective of integrating technolo...

The Complexity of Teaching in the Information Age School  

Authored by Marcella L. Kysilka, Mark Geary, and Sharon Schepise 3 stages of teaching analyzed from the perspective of integrating technolo...