ERIC Identifier: ED479843
Publication Date: 2003-09-00
Author: Barnett, Harvey
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology
Investing in Technology: The Payoff in Student Learning.
Imagine this moment in your life as a school administrator. A skeptical
member, prospective parent, or local public official visits your school
and, after a tour in which you point out the wonderful new computers, scanners,
digital cameras, and other technology which you've acquired over the past
few years, says to you, "You've clearly made a tremendous investment in
technology. How do you know this investment will pay off in terms of student
This ERIC Digest reviews some significant research on technology use
in the classroom that attempts to answer this question and indicates the
conditions under which technology is most likely to have a positive impact
on student learning.
RESEARCH ON THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IN
Educational researchers have studied two major ways in which students
use computers in schools. The first is learning from computers. Here the
computer acts as tutor. The computer presents information to the student
and the student responds. Simple drill and practice programs and more comprehensive
Integrated Learning Systems, such as Jostens and Computer Curriculum Corporation,
are examples of this category.
Researchers have also focused on how students learn with computers.
Here, students use computers and other technologies to write, analyze data,
develop presentations, and do research.
LEARNING FROM COMPUTERS: COMPUTERS AS TUTORS
Let us look at two longitudinal studies on how students learn from computers.
The first is the West Virginia Basic Skills study (Mann, Shakeshaft, Becker
& Kottkamp, 1999; West Virginia Study Results, 1999).
West Virginia began implementing computer technology one grade at a
with first grade. Each year the state added a grade until reaching
Grade 6. Each year
included extensive teacher training. Schools had the option of placing
classrooms or in a lab. Schools were also required to select from suites
of software that matched West Virginia's content standards. Researchers
followed students from first grade to sixth grade, and beyond. The researchers
found the following when students used computers as tutors to receive information:
(1) On statewide tests, students who learned from computers showed consistently
higher gains. The researchers were able to determine that 11% of the
gain was due to the use of technology.
(2) Students did better when the computers were in the classroom rather
than a lab.
(3) The advantages of computer use extended through high school, where
learning from computers had better grades, took more advanced placement
and were more likely to graduate than those who did not use computers.
Another important study is Project CHILD from Florida (Butzin, 2000).
CHILD placed computers in classrooms and, like the West Virginia project,
provided extensive teacher training and had students use software that
was aligned with the state's content standards. The Project CHILD researchers
found that when students used computers as tutors to receive information
(1) Computers contributed to higher scores for students in both low-
and high-achieving schools
(2) Students had better discipline
(3) The boost that technology gave students was sustained over time,
which was also the case in the study of computer use in West Virginia.
The studies in West Virginia and Florida show that students can gain
when technology is deployed to bolster and complement the traditional
work of teachers and that the effects of learning from computers are lasting.
These results are obtained where there is on-going teacher training and
where computers are available for use in the classroom.
LEARNING WITH COMPUTERS: COMPUTERS AS TOOLS
What does the research say about the effects of technology when it is
used as a tool
rather than a tutor? How is learning with computers different from
computers? The application of technology here is even more powerful,
as the following studies demonstrate.
In a study sponsored by Apple Computer that spanned ten years, researchers,
were from institutions of higher education and not Apple employees,
analyzed Apple's Classrooms of Tomorrow project, known to many by the acronym
ACOT (Fisher, Dwyer & Yocam, 1996; Sandholtz, Ringstaff & Dwyer,
1997). In ACOT classrooms, technology was pervasive and available anytime
a student needed to write, analyze data, develop presentations, and do
research. Teachers received intensive training and were given time to examine
their beliefs about instruction and learning. Researchers arrived at four
(1) Students routinely used higher-order thinking skills far beyond
what was expected for their grade level.
(2) Students demonstrated enhanced ability to collaborate with peers
to develop projects and reports.
(3) Students demonstrated increased initiative. They maintained time
on task for longer periods and often continued their work during recess,
before school, and after school.
(4) The use of technology coupled with teachers having time for reflection
led, over a period of three to five years, to substantial changes in teacher
beliefs about teaching and learning.
The ACOT findings are reinforced by a recent study of the Challenge
2000 Multimedia Project conducted by SRI International (Penuel, Golan,
Means & Korbak, 2000). In the Multimedia Project, teams of K-12 teachers
were trained to develop curriculum-based multimedia projects with students.
The teachers received intensive on-site support.
In the final evaluation of the 5-year long project, the researchers
asked students in
project and non-project classrooms to complete an authentic assessment
students were given a set of resources and data about homeless students
problems such students face in attending school. In small groups, students
had to study the information, formulate a set of recommendations for their
school leaders on how their own school might better serve the needs of
homeless students, and create a prototype of a brochure for advocating
their position. The brochures were evaluated using a rubric especially
developed by SRI to help measure the impact of the use of technology.
What did SRI's researchers find? Students in Multimedia Project classrooms
consistently out-scored their peers in the non-project classrooms in
the areas of
understanding content, adapting their message to their intended audience,
and applying principles of design in the format and layout of their brochures.
Together, these studies point out how powerful technology can be when
it is employed as a tool for research, data analysis, and communication.
Does that mean we abandon the use of computers for simply acquiring specific
facts and rudimentary skills? Of course not. We have to remember that it
is never a question of either learning with computers or learning from
them, but rather a balance between instruction and construction based on
the objectives of the lesson.
IMPACT ON LEARNING
Whether students learn from computers or with computers, the research
indicates the following conditions under which computer technology
is most likely to
have a positive impact on learning.
Access: Computers will enhance learning only when students have easy
access to them in their classroom. Using computers once or twice a week
will have negligible impact on student learning.
Integration: Computers make their greatest impact on student learning
when their use is tightly linked to content standards and integrated into
ongoing classroom work, rather than taught as a separate or stand-alone
Broad-based reform: The computer is just one tool in a broad-based reform
effort to improve student learning. Just as computer use needs to be integrated
within the on-going instructional program, so technology planning needs
to occur within the context of the entire school or district strategic
The long term: Like any other reform effort, computer use is not a one-time
event. It is not simply a matter of "buy them, install them and sit back
to enjoy the difference they make." It will require a long-term effort
on the district's part to fund, support and assess their use.
Professional development: Having a swimming pool does little good if
no one can swim, and learning to swim well is not done in a couple of after-school
workshops. To empower teachers and students to learn with computers, districts
will need to plan for ongoing staff development that takes place in large
groups, one-on-one, and online.
Teaching style: For technology to have the impact research says it can,
many teachers will have to learn more than new technology skills; they
will need learn new instructional strategies and new roles. Districts will
need to ensure that teachers have the opportunity and support to transform
their approach to teaching.
Balance: Like any reform effort, one does not throw out the baby with
the bath water. There is always a balance. Yes, teachers need to teach
facts; but they also must help students acquire and use the intellectual
and workplace skills demanded by the 21st Century.
Vision: As the research on effective principals demonstrates again and
leadership is the single most important factor affecting the successful
technology in education. Principals and superintendents must have a
vision of how
technology will support student learning and teacher productivity.
The research reviewed in this ERIC Digest demonstrates that technology
can make a difference in how and what students learn. Technology is one
piece of the puzzle that can support educational change, but technology
will have little impact without accompanying reform at the classroom, school,
and district level.
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