The term hardware refers to any "hard" equipment such as desktop and laptop computers. (See also Handhelds on this site.) In addition to computers and monitors, hardware includes equipment that connects to computers such as printers, disk drives, and scanners (collectively also called "peripherals").
Peripheral devices also include such tools as digital microscopes and scientific probes (i.e., temperature, pH, barometric pressure). These tools are designed to bring data into the computer, allowing students to analyze it in the context of a well-crafted lesson plan.
Other devices such as digital cameras and videoconferencing equipment are also called hardware, and have computer chips incorporated within them. Some of them can also be connected to a computer for image transfer, or to be integrated with major software packages for greater functionality in conferencing, for example.
The various types of hardware together with appropriate software become tools that can provide opportunities for new instructional strategies that transform teaching and learning. A number of considerations will help you use these tools in designing more effective instruction.
Key research Findings
- Digital equity is dependent on all children having access to—and being ready to use—engaging technology-supported learning opportunities (Valdez & McNabb, 1999).
- Effective technology integration can transcend very limited technological resources. While many educators desire a 1-1 ratio of students to computers, in many instructional situations such as a science lab that ratio is unnecessary. Exemplary instructional activities can occur with student-to-computer ratios of 25:1 (Kozma, 2003).
- Understanding the "computer culture" and how it can be harnessed to positively impact education is critical to all teachers (Papert, 2000).
- Using peripheral devices allows you to create new opportunities for developing effective curriculum and instruction (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999).
Here are some strategies to guide your thinking and planning about hardware.
- Think long-term. The first version of any hardware product usually has a high price and later versions become much cheaper. Older versions might have plenty of capability for your intended usage. Use this to your advantage by identifying technologies for your 'watch list'.
- Maximize student use of the time you have access to technology. Many examples included on this site share how teachers have used technology effectively with limited access. Plan ahead for students to take full advantage of the available technology.
- Use the hardware available outside your classroom. Not every student will have a computer at home, but many community libraries have technology labs or offer videoconferencing services. Learn where they are located and how you and your students may use them.
- Expand your definition of hardware. The increasing power of computer chips brings expanded capabilities to new technological devices. Keeping informed on these new technologies will allow you to take advantage of them early in your classroom. (See also Handhelds.)
- Experiment and learn along with your students. Recognize that students will likely acquire new hardware before schools make these purchases. Digital media players, video equipment or digital cameras may provide learning opportunities for you and your students to explore together.
- Extend your students' abilities. Peripheral devices allow students to engage in authentic learning activities using new tools. Common peripherals are often available but under-used in schools, and can create a rich environment for learning.
- Digitize analog information. A digital scanner can scan much more than just pictures—anything on paper (charts, student work samples, etc.) can be digitized, then analyzed and shared in digital portfolios or online. Many teachers use digital cameras for the same purpose.
Ed-Tech Insider published by ESchool News is a Web site devoted to information about uses of technology in education shared by educators.
The University of Wisconsin has compiled a list of case studies on effective use of videoconferencing and distance education.
The Digital Bridges section of the Northwest Educational Technology Consortium (NETC) site has more information on selecting and using videoconferencing in education.
Learn about the newest technologies as they become available by watching sites that track emerging tech. Although they don't often speak to the issues in education, they provide a wide variety of links to both vendors and users.