Use of Tech Tools Enhances Learning and Teaching in Russia

This post originally appeared in the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation newsletter and has been reprinted with permission by the editor of the newsletter and authors Daniel Light and Elizabeth Pierson. EDC researchers Light and Pierson are examining the use of technology in schools in Argentina, Russia, and Korea to gain insight into the many innovative ways that technology can be adapted to enhance teaching and increase learning in a wide variety of contexts. In this post, Light and Pierson share findings from their case study of teachers' use of technology in two schools in Russia. They report that the use of tech tools—laptops, interactive whiteboards, Internet, and classroom management software—is fundamentally changing the learning environment for students and their teachers.

For this case study, we visited two schools from different contexts. One school was in a neighborhood in central Moscow, and the other was in an industrial town of 50,000 in the Nizhny Novgorod region. The study focused on how laptops are used in the classrooms of schools that are employing them on a daily basis. At both schools, we observed how teachers used ICT (information and communication technologies) to create personalized learning and increase student ownership within what is still a whole-class, teacher-led learning environment. Similar to what we found in Argentina, teachers are not wholly abandoning their old methods, but rather, the act of introducing new tools into their teaching repertoire has stimulated changes in established structures, routines, and relationships.

The impacts of this successful ICT integration can be seen in classroom practice, student engagement, peer collaboration, assessment, and communication with parents. This, in turn, has shifted the dynamic between teachers and students and also has helped foster a more personalized and humanistic learning environment. We observed three main changes:

1. Increased independent student research. Independent research, supported through a personal computer with access to the Internet, gives students a new active role, making them responsible for their own learning, and also helps them understand that there are many sources of information and many perspectives. The unrestricted access to information afforded by the Internet allows students to pursue their own interests and to make their own interpretations of topics, rather than relying solely on a textbook or a teacher.

2. Increased formative assessment and self-reflection. The laptops, combined with virtual learning environments, allow both schools to integrate easy, computer-supported assessment and self-reflection into every lesson that used laptops. These online assessments provide students and teachers with immediate feedback about their learning.

3. Increased student collaboration. The introduction of laptops and access to wireless Internet allows students to work together at school or from home. The technology facilitates group research projects and presentations, and allows students to communicate freely outside the classroom.

The above three elements support transformations in three important aspects of the learning environment:

1. Creating a more personalized learning environment. The teachers felt that by enabling students to be researchers, to access other sources of knowledge beyond the textbook, and to be active participants presenting and debating information with peers, the new ICT tools helped students see themselves as individual learners with unique perspectives. The ongoing assessment also supports personalization, because the teacher can monitor students' individual progress and prescribe appropriate interventions.

2. Changing the relationship between students and teachers. Even though teachers continue to design and set the parameters for most of the learning activities, students now have an active role in exploring content (as described above). Students feel more empowered to make choices about their own learning. Now that the students are asked to work in teams and to collaborate in projects, students are more apt to support each other around academic, social, and technical problems.

3. Facilitating school-community connections. Use of an "e-record book," in particular, plays a key role in helping parents stay informed of their children’s progress and in enabling communication with teachers and among parents. Through the e-record book, parents in Russia have more access to student progress and can be more involved in helping students reach maximum achievement level.