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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Examples of Technology as a Scaffolding Tool for K12 Educators

Scaffolding is defined as “tutoring or other assistance provided in a learning setting to assist students with attaining levels of understanding impossible for them to achieve without assistance” Brush and Saye (2002). Scaffolds in a classroom setting can be provided in a variety of ways, from manipulatives to handouts to teacher interventions such as questioning techniques.
Brush and Saye (2002) determined there are two types of scaffolding, hard and soft. They define hard scaffolding as those techniques which are static and can be anticipated and produced in advance of learning, such as handouts and manipulatives. Soft scaffolding is dynamic in nature. The teacher uses these techniques to support student learning on the spot based on the needs of the individual student. Questioning techniques would be an example of this type of scaffolding. Technology has some powerful implications as a potential tool to assist teachers in providing scaffolding for learners, particularly in the area of hard scaffolds.
Sharma and Hannafin (2007) discuss the use of technology-enhanced learning environments (TELEs) to support learner needs. “Two important affordances of computer systems are the ability to constrain user actions through predefined rules and the ability to store large amounts of data. By directing attention on important task features, software scaffolding may prevent learners from engaging in unnecessary, misleading, or unproductive tactics.” They go on to describe practical ways to use technology to focus on the areas students are likely to misunderstand and to provide access to a variety of problem solving strategies so students can attempt to solve problems using different approaches.
I have seen technology used in this fashion. For example, Pearson’s SuccessMaker software uses a variety of approaches in assisting students learning mathematics. Students are introduced to math word problems through written text and speech. Important numbers are highlighted to draw students’ attention, and students are asked to fill in numbers and symbols in an equation to be solved. If students request help or answer the problem incorrectly, the program offers additional scaffolding by first filling in the equation for students to solve. If this scaffold is insufficient to allow for student success, further scaffolding is provided in the form of pictures or other concrete examples representing the problem. For example, if the problem involved determining how many birds were left on a fence after some flew away, the software might display an animation of the original birds sitting on a fence and the suggested number flying away, allowing students to visualize the concept of subtraction in a concrete way. This is an example of hard scaffolding, as the program can only provide those examples pre-programmed by the instructor, but it is more dynamic than some uses of technology for scaffolding in that the amount of scaffolding provided varies based on the needs of the individual student, and the scaffolding is designed to fade over time as student proficiency increases.
GE and Land (2004) suggest that technology can be used to scaffold problem-solving processes by providing an opportunity for reflection and metacognition. One such use of technology is found in blogging. “A blog can become much more than an online diary and has countless instructional applications” (Kajder & Bull, 2003). In addition to offering an opportunity for students to reflect or participate in in-depth discussions among themselves, Kajder goes on to state that blogging is powerful because it provides students with an authentic writing platform with a real audience, immediate visibility, the opportunity to receive feedback, a chance to review how their writing has developed over time, and the ability to experiment with multiple forms of communication such as multimedia.
Ragan (nd) describes requiring a timely response to learning from students as one of ten “best practices” for online instructors. Classroom instructors can use blogging as a method of requiring a timely response from students. An expansion on the idea of a written journal, students can post reflections to their learning, questions they still have about what was learned, important vocabulary, examples, and more on their blog pages. They can connect what they have learned to new ideas online through the use of hyperlinking. But perhaps the most powerful use of this technology is the ability for students to interact with each other’s posts, commenting and expanding on the ideas of their peers. By requiring a regular blog entry to be kept, instructors can see areas where students have faulty understanding or need additional supports, and peer interaction provides a built-in scaffold system. Thus this tool provides both hard and soft scaffolds for students.
Technology promises to provide additional opportunities to support student learning as teachers become familiar with new applications and expanded technology capabilities. Computers are becoming more complex and “smarter”, increasingly more responsive to the needs of the user. As new applications become available, scaffolding will more truly mimic the support of an expert teacher, providing a greater range of soft scaffolds. This will increasingly free the time of the teacher to facilitate additional student needs and fill in learning gaps. While technology will never replace the need for human interaction, the amount and complexity of scaffolding tasks that technology is able to provide can only increase based on current innovations. 


Brush, Thomas A. and Saye, John W. (2002). A Summary of Research Exploring Hard and Soft Scaffolding for Teachers and Students Using a Multimedia Supported Learning Environment. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning, Vol. 1, No. 2. Retrieved April 15, 2012 from 
GE, Xun and Land, Susan M. (2004). A Conceptual Framework for Scaffolding Ill-Structured Problem-Solving Processes Using Question Prompts and Peer Interactions.
Kajder, Sara and Bull, Glen (2003). Scaffolding for Struggling Students: Reading and Writing with Blogs. Learning & Leading with Technology, Vol. 31 No. 2. Retrieved April 15, 2012 from
Sharma, Priya and Hannafin, Michael (2007). Scaffolding in Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments. Interactive Learning Environments Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 27-46.
Ragan, Lawrence (nd). 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education. Distance Education Report.

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