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Inquiry and Digital Technologies

“….Computers are not rescuing the school from a weak curriculum, any more than putting pianos in every classroom would rescue a flawed music program. Wonderful learning can occur without computers or even paper. But once the teachers and children are enfranchised as explorers, computers, like pianos, can serve as powerful amplifiers, extending the reach and depth of the learners.”

Alan Kay

Within every discipline today, knowledge is either furthered or created with the use of digital technologies. Through deep and robust inquiry, digital technologies are used to explore and discover new frontiers and at the same time they are the source of new discoveries. When we take the stewardship of the intellect (2) seriously as an educational charge, students must be given the opportunity to think differently each time they pick up a digital tool. This means that teachers need to use technology in their professional lives and students need to have access to a variety of technologies at every stage of their work.

Bruce and Levin (1997) look at ways in which the tools, techniques, and applications of technology can support integrated, inquiry-based learning to “engage children in exploring, thinking, reading, writing, researching, inventing, problem-solving, and experiencing the world.” They developed the idea of technology as media with four different focuses:

  • media for inquiry (such as data modeling, spreadsheets, access to online databases, access to online observatories and microscopes, and hypertext),
  • media for communication (such as word processing, e-mail, synchronous conferencing, graphics software, simulations, and tutorials),
  • media for construction (such as robotics, computer-aided design, and control systems), and
  • media for expression (such as interactive video, animation software, and music composition).(1)

Learning how to teach effectively with technology both enables and requires some fundamental changes to schooling. Along with these changes come impressive results for students, including improved achievement; higher test scores; improved student attitude, enthusiasm, and engagement; richer classroom content; and improved student retention and job placement rates.(4)

We at the Galileo Educational Network recognize that teachers face an incredible challenge in learning how to successfully infuse digital technologies into core curricula. “With technology, more than perhaps any area of education, the general vector of theory-into-practice is challenged. When we place adult tools in the hands of children, some of education’s most-deep seated assumptions about the nature of childhood, cognitive development and effective learning environments are challenged. We are committed not only to drawing upon educational research about technology; we are committed to building that very body of understanding by feeding in images of the work of children and teachers that would not otherwise be available. We are not very much interested in what kids can do when technology is simply added to the mix of regular schooling, or is regarded as just another tool. There is lots of that kind of work already.” (3) We are interested in getting at:

  • “What do schools and classrooms start to look like when they become knowledge-building environments in which “all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on this most complex world”(6).
  • What kinds of professional development help teachers to create these kinds of learning communities for others?(5)


(1) Bruce, B.and Levin, J. (1997). Educational technology:media for inquiry, communication, construction, and expression. Journal of Educational Computing Research, Vol. 17(1), pp. 79-102.

(2) Clifford, Pat and Friesen, S. (2001). The stewardship of the intellect: Classroom life, educational innovation and technology. In Issues in the Integration of Technology into Teaching, Learning, and School Culture(s). B. Barrell (Ed.). Detselig Enterprises Ltd.

(3) Clifford, Pat and Sharon Friesen (2001). Bringing Learning to Learners: The Galileo Educational Network. Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2001: World Conference on Educational Multimedia/Hypermedia & Educational Telecommunication, June 25 – June 30, Tampere, Finland.

(4) Glennan, Thomas A. and Arthur Melmed (1996). Fostering the Use of Educational Technology: Elements of a National Strategy. Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 18.

(5) Grégoire, Réginald and Thérèse Laferrière. (2001) Project Based Collaborative Learning with Networked Computers. (link)

(6) Meier, Deborah (1995). The power of their ideas: Lessons for America from a small school in Harlem. Boston: Beacon Press.