Technology and Education

The educational system is regarded as the force that, when functioning properly, pro- motes literacy or, when failing, allows illiteracy. Many U.S. corporations have under- gone a transformation to respond to the changes in the world marketplace and have installed state-of-the-art technology to make the workplace more efficient, economical, and safe. They have retooled the workplace and are presently retraining their work- ers. With the installation of new technology, the training of employees needs to be at a compatible level. There are very few places within the workplace now for the unskilled or the high school dropout. Many of those jobs are now exported to developing nations in which the labor laws are few and the costs are minimal. Business has accepted the double financial burden of both retooling and retraining. However, the enormous retraining costs cannot be incurred indefinitely solely by industry. Education must share the responsibility of developing technologically literate people, not only to help people maintain a standard of living but also to help people create a balanced lifestyle.

Since the inception of the personal computer in 1977, two “generations” (two 12-year cycles) of students have progressed completely through the school system. Their experiences with computers depended on the visions and financial priorities of their teachers, administrators, and state and community leadership. In many cases, they left high school less prepared than their parents for the demands of the work- place and the decisions of the lifestyle they dreamed of enjoying.

Interpreting the Results of Research on Technology in  Education

FIGURE 6.1      Do computers make students smarter?

FIGURE 6.1      Do computers make students smarter?

Unfortunately, as the technology wave crashes into traditional educational practices, teachers are only infrequently being made aware of the latest research findings. Dozens of articles are written every year on educational technology–related topics, and although the sheer amount of information can be staggering to new teachers, being aware of the mistakes and successes of others will help to establish sound prac- tices. In order to integrate technology effectively into the lives of students, teachers need to be able to weigh the evidence (Wargo, 2006). Do computers make students smarter? How do actual classroom teaching and learning behaviors alter as a result of introducing technology to the curriculum? Is this technological revolution really good for our children, or is this just education’s attempt to stay up with the times? (See Figure 6.1.)


Changing Research Goals

As each new media type has become available to classrooms, educators, along with the general public, have been quick to jump on the bandwagon, hop- ing that real change in education may be possible this time. History shows, however, that many educational inno- vations have come and gone without satisfying the goals for improved student learning. Much of the past research on technology integration has focused on incorporating computers into traditional teaching methods (Berson, 1996) and allowing teachers to do what they normally do, but faster (O’Neil, 1995). Educators are discov- ering that it is no longer enough merely to place a computer in a class- room and say that students are “using” technology. It is the way com- puters are used rather than the actual machines themselves that contributes to learning (Proctor & Burnett, 1996; Roblyer, 1997). Researchers are beginning to look more at how technology might change basic teaching and learning processes to bet- ter address expectations for what students should learn, moving away from simply investigating whether students have higher test scores with computer-based in- struction (Roblyer, 1996).

Rather than asking questions like “Should technology be used in education?” educators now must ask themselves, “How should technology be used to help students achieve higher levels?” (Fouts, 2000). The discussion of research in educa- tional technology can be expected to continue to be refined as researchers suggest the need for more experimental, quantitative studies on the effects of technology on learning (Waxman, Connell, & Gray, 2002), coming on the heels of the No Child Left Behind legislation that calls for scientifically based evidence of student learning (No Child Left Behind, 2002).

New Learning Theory and  Practice

Any discussion of the inclusion of technology in classrooms must be informed by an understanding of current learning theories and practices that represent fundamen- tal changes in the ways teachers teach and learners learn. Constructivism is a learn- ing theory premised on the understanding that people are participants in their own learning. There is no single true reality that must be imparted to learners, but rather individuals create their own knowledge based on how they relate new information to what they have previously experienced (Yoder, 2006). Social constructivism addi- tionally recognizes the value of social interactions in the learning process, meaning that people clarify personal conceptions as they interact with the understandings of others. Engaged learning is tied closely to constructivist underpinnings. Students learn best when they are active participants in the learning process, meaning that they make their own decisions, think critically about real learning problems and resources, and operate in contexts that are meaningful to them. Authentic, challenging, and multidisciplinary learning tasks allow students to grasp the subject matter better.

Scaffolding learning situations encourage collaboration and small group learning situations (Baker et al., 2006). Scaffolding is based on the work of Vygotsky (1978) whose theory was that social interaction encourages learning. Brush and Saye (2004) examined the effects of problem solving to support historical problem solving (see Their framework used interactive technology to scaffold problem-based historical inquiry into basic civic issues (Hicks, Swan, & Lee, 2006). Technology encourages the scaffolding approach to learning that involves problem-solving activities.

Teachers in constructivist and engaged learning classrooms must build rich learn- ing environments filled with opportunities for authentic, project-based tasks as well as a variety of technology and nontechnology tools. They must then facilitate the management of a range of information by their students, rather than telling students what they need to know. Students need to have a voice in what topics will be explored and ample interaction with peers, adults, experts, and others with whom they can test theories and confirm understanding. Students take ownership of their own learning, with teachers serving a supportive, rather than directive, role.

Clarifying the Research Variables

The changed goals for research on technology use, along with the increasing acceptance of constructivist and engaged learning principles, have implications for inter- preting research results on the effectiveness of technology in education (Nodine & Petrides, 2006). Computers used in traditional classrooms, in which students are expected to converge upon predetermined correct answers, will have a different effect on student learning than computers used in classrooms in which students are expected to participate in their own understandings of various concepts. Technology will be used for different purposes in each situation (see A Theory-Based Meta- Analysis of Research on Instruction at

The following three factors must first be accepted in order to interpret research on the effectiveness of technology in student learning (Honey, Culp, & Spielvogel, 1999):

 FIGURE 6.2      Technology  refers to more than  computers,  including  a  range of electronic methods and tools that can be used to support learning.

FIGURE 6.2      Technology  refers to more than  computers,  including  a  range of electronic methods and tools that can be used to support learning.

  1. Technology refers to more than computers, including a range of electronic meth- ods and tools that can be used to support learning (see Figure 2).
  2. The assessment of how technology affects student achievement is a complex process that demands alternative methods to standardized assessments of isolated
  3. Classroom change correlates with other educational factors, such as teaching and learning

Educators looking to the results of research for the answers about using tech- nology for learning might start by isolating study variables through the following questions:

Who? Who are the leaders in student learning? Do students have ownership and  direction in their own learning or are classroom activities primarily teacher directed?

What? What technology is being used? Are students using productivity software, content- specific software, web-based tools, hand-held devices, or scientific probeware?

Where? Where do students have access to tech- nology? Regular, as-needed access to comput- ers in the classroom will affect student learning differently than will limited, weekly visits to the computer lab.

Why? Why is technology being used? Is there a clear learning goal in mind, or is technology being used only for technology’s sake?

How? How is technology used by students and teachers? Are electronic information sources used to supplement traditional instruction or as the basis for student-led, meaningful, inquiry- based learning?

Research reports do not always clearly specify the learning conditions in class- rooms in which technology use is studied, so as consumers of research, teachers must look carefully for clues. If none exist, the results should not be taken as a complete story but rather as one indication of technology effectiveness.




Teaching With Technology

Teachers’ actions greatly influence their students’ achievement. Therefore, an un- derstanding of the academic effects of the use of technology for students should be- gin with an understanding of the impact of technology on the teaching profession. The types of teachers who use technology, how that technology use alters teaching practice, the effects on collegial relationships, and the stages of integration through which teachers progress through when adopting technology as a part of their teach- ing are areas of recent investigation (Kay, 2006).


Technology-Using  Teachers

Becker (1994) looked at how “exemplary computer-using teachers” differ from other teachers in the environment in which they teach their personal computer experience, and their teaching habits. Using information from surveys of third- through twelfth- grade teachers, this study found four main requirements of a school environment that make it more conducive to exemplary computer-using teachers.

  1. Teachers need to be surrounded by other teachers who use Whether they are expert or novice users, teachers can benefit from the collegial sharing of ideas, resources, and teaching strategies with other computer-using teachers in their building.
  2. Teachers benefit by working in a school in which computers are used for authentic, meaningful purposes, such as for writing for a real audience. Exemplary computer-using teachers are more likely to come from a setting like this than from one in which word processing is used only to accomplish predetermined skills or computers are used primarily for
  3. Financial support for technology at both the school and district levels makes for more proficient computer users. Schools in which exemplary computer users were found frequently had a school or district computer coordinator who as- sisted teachers in getting started with technology In addition, these teachers had available to them sufficient staff development opportunities, to in- struct them in computer applications and to integrate the computer into the con- tent being taught.
  4. A resource-rich environment supports expert computer Teachers often had smaller class sizes and fewer students per computer. It is unclear whether teach- ers were able to become exemplary computer users because they had smaller classes, or whether they were given smaller classes because they were exemplary computer users.


When surveyed about their personal backgrounds, researchers found that these exemplary computer-using teachers, more than other teachers, spent a great deal of their personal time working on computers, staying after school, or bringing com- puters home (Becker, 1994). These teachers, on the whole, also had more training with using computers, higher levels of education, more experience teaching their cur- rent subject, and they tended to be male. Later studies have supported these charac- teristics, finding that teachers who were more likely to use computers for teaching had greater personal computer skills, allowed for open-ended learning activities, and saw computers less as an “add-on” and more as an integral component of a learning plan (Higgins, Moseley, & Tse, 2001). In practice, the teachers surveyed who fell into the category of exemplary computer users more often than others made conscious decisions to alter existing curriculum, eliminating less important topics to allow room for more computer-related endeavors (Becker, 1994). They allowed students some choice in their learning and encouraged teams of students to work together on com- puter assignments. Together, these data imply that both increased personal interest as well as greater amounts of experience, with computers and with general content knowledge, make for a teacher who is more apt to be successful in technology inte- gration in the classroom. This finding is echoed in other studies that show that the amount of technology used by the teacher positively impacts student achievement in areas such as reading and math (e.g., Kadek, 2005; Middleton & Murray, 1999).

There is a strong need for training to maintain teachers’ knowledge of new technology and its use in education, not only for specially designated computer teachers, but extended to all teachers (Yaghi, 1996). Effective integration of technol- ogy depends on teachers who have knowledge about how to use technology to meet instructional goals. However, lower-socioeconomic schools spend less on teacher development (Anderson & Becker, 2001). Unfortunately, whereas 66 percent of tech- nology expenditures are spent on hardware and 19 percent on software, only 15 percent is allocated to teacher professional development (Technology in Education 2002, 2002). Administrators must play a key role in envisioning the effective use of technology and in providing an appropriate environment for technology use (Solomon, 2002; Stolarchuk & Fisher, 2001). Teachers are more successful when they have regular access to technical support (Tiene & Luft, 2001). The leadership role nec- essary to provide such support, along with extra resources, release time, and en- couragement, is vital in teacher success with technology (Higgins et al., 2001).


Changes in Teaching Practice

The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project involved giving every teacher and every student in test classrooms across the country two computers each, one to use at school and one to bring home (David, 1995). The intent was to create model, technology-rich learning environments in which teachers and students could use computers on a routine, authentic basis. ACOT researchers found that changes in teaching practices did not take place instantaneously (Ringstaff, Sandholtz, & Dwyer, 1995). New technology was typically slotted into a place determined by old teaching habits. Even teachers who use technology for personal reasons often  do not use technology in the classroom, or if they do, they integrate it with traditional teaching methodologies (Pflaum, 2001). Teachers and students initially followed the traditional classroom patterns with which they were familiar (O’Neil, 1995). Gradually, over years of participating in the study, teachers began making notice- able alterations in the dynamics of the learning environments, based on the new thinking the technology sparked. Teachers were finding out that one person, whether it was himself or herself or a student, could not always be the expert on every facet of a new technology medium. Rec- ognizing the potential for student in- volvement in the teaching of peers was a difficult shift for many teachers who had grown accustomed to the traditional teacher–student relationship structure. When teachers were able to move past that pervasive teacher-centered view of education, students and teachers, as com- munities of learners, were able to benefit from  the  range  of  individual  areas   of expertise represented by the entire group (see Figure 6.3).

FIGURE 6.3      Students  and  teachers benefit from the range of individual areas of expertise represented by the entire group.

Collegial Relationships

As teachers ventured through this learning process, they discovered new facets of relationships they shared with each other (Ringstaff et al., 1995). In a traditional school, teachers are fairly autonomous; once the classroom doors close, most of their time is spent with students. Teachers in the ACOT schools at first communicated pri- marily to commiserate about their unfamiliar experiences and to support each other. As they grew accustomed to having and using the technology, they supported each other using the hardware and software, passed along instructional ideas and strate- gies, and ultimately collaborated with team members to develop innovative teach- ing methods and curricula. Technology was the topic of conversation and also the medium through which much of the communication was made possible.

Integration Stages

Researchers were able to identify five distinct stages through which teachers new to technology progressed developmentally in their pursuit of technology integration (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997). The Entry stage was one of frequently painful growth, as experienced teachers ran headlong into the very basic challenges that generally plague rookie teachers. Everyone involved was required to learn to live with very different classrooms than those in which they were used to teaching and learning. Teachers had to contend with students experimenting with new cheating techniques, technical problems, and the annoyances of classroom facilities not built for computers. At this initial stage, teachers found themselves reacting to the small issues and overlooking the larger issues involved with integrating the computers into effective instructional agendas. Teachers transitioned into the Adoption stage as they began to take a more proactive stance toward meeting the challenges presented by the computers. They worked with students to learn to use the hardware and soft- ware and began learning from their mistakes to settle into tolerable patterns of class- room life, often accepting a level of movement and activity in the classroom that they might not have found acceptable earlier. Learning to use the technology tends to take precedence over the integration of content, with initial technology projects done with excitement and flash, but meaningful content integration taking perhaps years (Goldman, Cole, & Syer, 1999).

In the Adaptation stage, teachers finally began making the technology work for them, instructionally and for administrative duties. The traditional lecture format perpetuated in classes throughout the study, but teachers were able to get past issues of teaching the technology and get back to teaching content. During the Appropria- tion stage, they were able to move beyond simply accommodating computers and squeezing them into the traditional daily routine, and began to accept personally the new teaching possibilities technology offers. Ultimately, many teachers arrived at the Invention stage, at which they were not only ready but also eager to break out of typical, teacher-controlled classroom routines. At this stage, teachers communicated with each other a great deal, sharing ideas and innovations, and even bringing together groups of students for authentic project-based activities. Working with and learning from other teachers and students characterized this changed philosophy of education, whereby technology became the medium for inquiry, collaboration, and constant reflection on what was being accomplished and what was yet attainable. At this final stage, teachers took advantage of new communication capabilities to play the roles of information consultants, team collaborators, facilitators, course devel- opers, and academic advisers (Kook, 1997).

Learning With Technology

Those involved with educational technology–policy decisions are frequently concerned with one issue: Do the academic gains brought by the addition of computers into class- rooms outweigh the financial expenditures necessary to equip classrooms? Unfortu- nately, those looking for quick answers will find none. The results from research into the effects of technology on learning are mixed. Whereas a large proportion of researchers are able to demonstrate positive academic results, others have shown no effects or even slightly negative effects on achievement. The most recent meta-analysis of research on the effects of technology on student outcomes suggests that students who used technology in their learning had modest but positive gains in learning outcomes over students who learned without technology (Kadek, 2005; Waxman et al., 2002).

Overall Academic Effects

Similar to the ACOT study, a study of concentrated computer use took place in Union City, New Jersey, a largely ethnic and impoverished community in the most densely populated city in the United States (Honey et al., 1999). The city embarked on sub- stantive changes in class block length, increased in-service training for teachers, ren- ovated buildings, and improved class libraries. Union City also began investing in technology resources so that it is now one of the most wired urban school districts in the country. Researchers found that these reforms impacted standardized-test per- formance, especially for those students with home and school access to technology. Writing was the area in which middle-grade students showed the greatest gains. In- creased expectations and teacher preparation combined with other reforms to achieve such improvements. The researchers suggest that technology will have the greatest impact when other reforms happen in concert. Professional development in teaching approaches, not only for technology skills, must be offered to teachers. Stu- dents should be assisted in developing learning skills such as creativity through in- dividualized tasks for all ability levels. Information-rich environments including technology and nontechnology tools should be available.

When compared with students in traditional classrooms, students in the technology-rich ACOT classrooms were more apt to work together, which made school more interesting and, consequently, improved students’ attitudes about them- selves  and  their  learning  (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1995b). Rather than merely fulfilling what was asked of them in assignments, these students surpassed original goals, challenging themselves to ex- plore new and creative projects, and often choosing to work during their free time. Teachers, in fact, had trou- ble at times getting students to move on to other projects. Students did not, as was feared at the outset, be- come solo workers in front of their personal computer screens. Instead, they developed and demonstrated the ability to use social interaction to enhance their learning by shar- ing knowledge and explaining processes as they were undertaken (see Figure 6.4).

FIGURE 6.4      Students do not become solo   workers in front of their computers but use social interaction to enhance  their learning.

Along with those for whom computers facilitated a richer learn- ing experience, some students became just as bored with technol- ogy  as  they  did  with traditional teaching. This was the case when the technology was not used as just one of a selection of classroom tools but was focused on in an artificial manner. Students worked best when technology was not the topic itself but was integrated into the entire curriculum. High school students who had unlimited access to technology during their en- tire high school careers matured into self-starting problem solvers and self-assured collaborators (Tierney et al., 1995). They were able to verbalize the role computers played in their growth as students, and they saw how the unique abilities they had gained during those four years had empowered them to future success.

A staggering number of studies on educational technology have examined the ef- fects of a whole range of factors on success with technology, from student variables such as gender and socioeconomic levels, to environmental variables such as the type of technology being used. Academic and other gains made by various segments of stu- dents often appear to contradict each other; so, again, the reader is cautioned to inter- pret such findings as partial indication of effectiveness rather than as absolute truth.

Boys are more likely than girls to see themselves as computer users and to see the world of computer use as male-dominated, although behaviors related to computers do not generally vary according to gender (Whitley, 1997). Boys are more concerned with mastery of computer work and feel more relaxed while working with computers, possibly leading them to feel better about their performance of work on the computer. Girls like to use computers to communicate and to solve real prob- lems (Solomon, 2002). It is believed that differences in how boys and girls perceive their computer competence stem from boys having more opportunities, at home and at school, to use computers (Nelson & Cooper, 1997).

Having a home computer is associated with higher mathematics and reading scores, and in general, children from high- rather than low-socioeconomic-status homes, boys more than girls, and white students more than ethnic minorities, achieve the largest educational gains from home computers (Attewell & Battle, 1999). Fami- lies from diverse cultures can use home connectivity to find resources and connect with the school, enhancing language learning for the entire community (Solomon, 2002). Other findings indicate that high school students’ skill and experience with computers, parental education, access to computers, and even academic self-concept are all reliable predictors of student use of electronic communication tools (Fishman, 1999). Fifth-graders using an integrated learning system improved test scores, although in this case, lower-achieving students made the greatest gains, and boys and girls achieved equally (Mann, Shakeshaft, Becker, & Kottkamp, 1999).

Both regular and special needs students in technology-rich environments showed positive achievement in all subject areas in preschool through higher education, as well as improved attitudes toward learning and self-concept (Sivin-Kachala, 1998). Students who used educational computer games had more developed comprehen- sion skills and outscored non-game-playing peers in both reading and math, possi- bly a result of experience with comprehending game instructions and performing game-related tasks (Mayer, Schustack, & Blanton, 1999). Technology has been shown to allow learner control, increase motivation, provide connections to the real world, and lead to increased achievement when tied to content standards and the needs of the learners (Valdez et al., 1999). Students are using computers at home in increasing numbers. Studies released in 2001 showed that more than 17 million teenagers (73 percent) use the Internet (Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001), with 94 percent using it for school research (Lenhart, Simon, & Graziano, 2001). The Internet has become the primary research tool for teens. For Help with Research Assignments go to My- LabSchool Research Navigator ( For more information on cases go to MyLabSchool Case Archive (


The Effect of Technology on Language Achievement

Language arts education has many unanswered questions related to technology applications and student learning (Knezek et al., 2006). Research into the effects of technology on student achievement in language arts has resulted in widely disparate findings. Sixth-grade students who wrote compositions on word processors showed few differences in quality and complexity of compositions, as well as accuracy of grammar, from students who wrote compositions by hand (Nichols, 1996). Those students using word processors, provided they had ample keyboarding experience, wrote significantly longer compositions than those writing with paper and pencil. Us- ing computers has no conclusive effects on either the quantity or quality of the writ- ing of fifth-graders. This suggests that the difference in students’ writing abilities will stem from their teachers’ beliefs and dedication toward teaching writing rather than from the decision of whether to use computers (Dybdahl, Shaw, & Blahous, 1997).

Yancey (2004) emphasizes that helping writers develop competence in a variety of technologies is now a key part of teaching writing. A review of research on the effects of word processing programs on students’ writing abilities shows that, in gen- eral, writing using word processing programs improves students’ attitudes toward writing, produces longer and more fluent written products, and allows students to revise their writing more easily and quickly than with paper and pencil (Reed, 1996). Despite this success, the potential problem with word processing programs is that they are not completely aligned to writing process theory. The programs offer an open area for drafting compositions, but do not prompt student writers to consider prewriting thoughts, or specific revision activities. Teachers should understand the role of this software as a tool in the writing process, not a substitute for the process itself. In fact, first-graders, whose use of computers resulted in longer writing including more words and more sentences, improved in their writing abilities not because they liked using computers, but because specific software features aided the writing process (Barrera, Rule, & Diemart, 2001). When writing on the computer, stu- dents reread their writing aloud frequently, which facilitated more writing. Rather than rereading their own writing, students writing by hand spoke to classmates about what they were writing. Handwriters frequently asked their teachers when they could stop writing, whereas their computer-writing counterparts were reluc- tant to stop. Teachers found that it was more beneficial to sit with students to edit their papers on-screen rather than from a printed copy.

Technology allows students to enhance written words using multiple modalities through which to communicate, such as through video, animation, and sound effects (Baker & Kinzer, 1998). Word processing allows teachers to reevaluate composition methods by viewing the writing process as dynamic and recursive, rather than lin- ear, as it frequently is when students use pencil and paper. Students who word- processed rarely considered their writing pieces to be finished, regularly returning to saved files to rework compositions. Peers collaborated more openly, offering feed- back to writers as they passed by the computer monitors. These practices signal potentially dramatic changes in assessment, as traditional practices such as grading final papers might not measure student learning sufficiently. One caveat: there is a tendency for students to put more focus on creating electronic presentations than on attending to the content of the paper.

Researchers have also investigated the effects of technology on reading compre- hension. Students had higher comprehension scores after reading the electronic sto- ries versus reading printed texts (Greenlee-Moore & Smith, 1996; Matthew, 1997). The interactive effects of sound, animation, narration, and additional definitions that make up electronic texts motivate students to want to read the stories again and again, something researchers found to occur less often with printed books. However, the educational potential of these stories is jeopardized when insufficient teacher guidance leads to the software being used solely for entertainment.

Ninety percent of kindergarten students using a computer-based reading readi- ness program achieved grade-level reading ability by first grade (Alfaro, 1999). Third- through sixth-grade students in a low-socioeconomic community scored the same reading scores with traditional basal reading preparation and computer- assisted instruction (Hamilton, 1995). Drill-and-practice software was found to be effective with practicing correct spelling (Ediger, 2001). Students using computers in a collaborative context demonstrated superior depth of understanding and reflec- tion, as well as improved reading and language scores (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996).


The Effect of Technology on Mathematics  Achievement

There are many unanswered questions about the impact of using technology as a tool to teach mathematics (Knezek et al., 2006). Research into how computers have affected mathematics learning and teaching examines the effects of programming, computer-assisted instruction, and tool software (McCoy, 1996). Students from pri- mary to secondary grades who have programming experience score higher on mea- sures of geometry knowledge and problem solving. A review of research found that experimental groups of students from third grade to high school, using fraction soft- ware, problem-solving software, and estimation software, scored significantly higher than did control groups (McCoy, 1996). Simulation programs that allowed students to explore mathematical environments actively were shown to be effective in help- ing students understand geometric notions and develop intuitive understandings of graphing. Students using mathematical software for algebra, geometry, and calculus were shown to have gained a better understanding of the topic (McCoy, 1996). The tools allowed students to participate actively in mathematical topics that otherwise might be considered stagnant or outdated (Blubaugh, 1995).

Students were more motivated and self-confident about subjects such as calculus, finding them to be more meaningful than they had previously thought (Rochowicz, 1996). Students in math courses in which computers were used were able to tackle more complex problems without spending time on routine exercises. Other studies, however, found no difference between the achievement levels of students using com- puters in mathematics and those who were not, yet noted improved motivation and participation of the computer users (McCoy, 1996).

The professional development of the teacher and the frequency of home com- puter use were positively related to academic achievement in mathematics (Educa- tion Testing Service, 1998). Fourth-graders achieved better in mathematics when they had experience using math computer games, whereas eighth-graders did better when higher-order thinking skills were stressed. The positive aspects of technology use were more prominent for older students, equivalent to up to 15 weeks above grade level, than younger students.


The Effect of Technology on Science Achievement

Computers have been used in science classrooms in a variety of ways aimed both at helping students learn scientific facts and at giving them experience with the scien- tific process. Computer-assisted instruction has been shown to have a positive effect for secondary science achievement (Ardac & Sezen, 2002; Bayraktar, 2001–2002; Chang, 2001; Siegle & Foster, 2001). The most effective forms of technology for sci- ence achievement are those that engage students in more active learning, such as sim- ulations and tutorials; drill-and-practice software actually had a negative effect on achievement. For biology class, dissection simulations led to learning equivalent to that from hands-on dissection and he were more effective when used before other learning experiences (Akpan, 2001). Software developed by teachers themselves was shown to be the most effective because of the awareness of learning objectives. The ef- fects were highest when computers supplemented traditional instruction. Computer- based instruction fostered content knowledge and process skills in secondary science students when accompanied by teacher guidance; students working independently on the computer were less able to gain the content knowledge (Ardac & Sezen, 2002). Problem-based software may encourage students to focus on the central problem and to consider science within a real-world context (Chang, 2001; Knezek et al., 2006). On average, students receiving traditional instruction supplemented with computer- assisted instruction attained higher science achievement than did those receiving only traditional instruction (Christmann & Badgett, 1999).


The Effect of Technology on Social Studies Achievement

Social studies educators recognize the potential of instructional technologies to trans- form the nature of teaching and learning within social studies education (Knezek et al., 2006). In a review of recent research involving the effectiveness of computers in social studies (Berson, 1996), drill-and-practice programs were found to be the most prevalent of applications used in social studies education. Use of this type of soft- ware was studied largely with secondary students, and results showed modest gains in recall-type skills and motivation. Simulation programs allowed students to  go beyond the basic knowledge level to explore environments to which they might not normally be able to go. Although working with these programs also appeared to in- crease a student’s ability to recall facts, students additionally showed improvement in problem solving, curiosity, and personal initiative and control. Computerized sim- ulations resulted in students who could communicate better and at higher levels than those who did not use simulations in social studies (Willis, 1996). Databases were en- couraging to the development of students’ abilities to search for and analyze the ex- tensive collections of current and historical data (Berson, 1996). Overall, computers allowed students access to information and motivated them to inquire and to learn.

The Effect of Technology for Students with Special Needs

In the areas of composition and reading, the literature has shown positive effects from using technology with students with mild and moderate disabilities (Fitzgerald & Koury, 1996). Improved comprehension, spelling, and collaborative practices were found, along with positive attitudes in students who used multimedia tools to compose. Current advancements in voice transcription technology allow students to compose a piece of writing completely via dictation.

Technology helps students with disabilities participate in collaborative pro- jects and increase their independence and communication skills (Solomon, 2002). Motivation, self-confidence, learning attitudes, and achievement of at-risk students were improved with cooperative-learning computer-search activities (Gan, 1999). Traditionally, schools have had lower expectations for at-risk students and have emphasized the acquisition of basic skills, often in special pullout programs or in lower-level tracks (Means, 1997). Students with special needs may require more coaching in computer-based activities, but they will benefit from the experience of learning with and from other students (Adams, 2006b).

Technology Enriched Learning Environments

Effective technology-rich educational environments are characterized by: (1) stu- dents’ active involvement in the learning process through such activities as problem solving and data analysis; (2) collaborative learning activities that tend to increase student motivation, understanding, and self-confidence; (3) immediate and individ- ualized feedback on student performance typically provided by educational soft- ware; and (4) material presented in the context of real-world situations or through other authentic sources of information available through the Internet (Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000). Teachers with access to technology are less likely to present to the whole group and more likely to allow for increased student work time (Tiene & Luft, 2001). They shift into a more facilitative role and feel their teach- ing is more effective because of the technology. Teachers see their students’ learning improve, and some see standardized test performance improve for students with access to technology. Technology facilitates student interactions and task-oriented discussions, and decreases classroom management issues with cooperative groups.

Social context is important when learning with technology (Lou, Abrami, & d’Apollonia, 2001). Students working in small groups had greater cognitive and affective gains than students working individually. Although students working individually accomplished tasks faster, students in small groups found benefits in the social interaction, leading to improved attitudes toward group work and an increase in appropriate learning strategies. Group work was most effective when teachers prepared students with strategies for cooperative learning and when groups were small. Students working in pairs had the greatest learning gains, possibly because groups have to be able to fit around the computer screen to participate equally. The effects on learning in groups were most prominent when students were working with drill-and-practice or tutorial programs. With these characteristics in mind, it is important for teachers to distinguish expected outcomes for the group as opposed to the individual. Students with a 2:1 computer-to-student ratio showed the greatest improvement in writing abilities over time (Owston & Wideman, 2001). Stu- dents were willing to assist each other with technical problems and cooperate for learning activities. Higher computer-to-student ratios may have been less effective because of reduced student time on the computer and increased teacher time spent on student management issues.

When students have individual access to computers, teachers can individual- ize learning opportunities and allow students to work at their own pace; students seem   to   focus   on   their work longer (Tiene & Luft, 2001). When working individually, students talked less and were more fo- cused on the learning task than were students working in pairs, but took the same amount of time as pairs, apparently taking more time to think, while the pairs engaged in off-task discussion (Jackson, Kutnick, & Kington, 2001). Drill-and- practice software was better for individual students.

FIGURE 6.5      Topics  that make up the digital curriculum

These findings imply that teach ers should not require students to work in groups for the sole rea- son of increasing student time on computers; they should consider instead the student grouping arrangement that makes the most sense for the learning task (Adams, 2006). The digital curriculum be- comes a more realistic practice as technology advances continue (see Figure 6.5).

Laptop Computers

There is a growing movement to consider the use of laptop computers in educational settings, citing the appeal of the flexibility and individual access to technology that portable computers provide. A variety of laptop configurations are being tested, in- cluding those in which all students and teachers have laptops, only the teachers have laptops, or wireless carts are employed (Rideout, 2002). When teachers are strong lead- ers, display a willingness to help students using laptops, and are organized and in- terested in their subject, students were shown to have positive attitudes not only toward the laptops but also toward their content area (Stolarchuk & Fisher, 2001). Teachers with laptop computers increasingly teach with constructivist practices, use discussion rather than lecture, encourage student-led inquiry, and emphasize thinking skills (Walker, Rockman, & Chessler, 2000). They feel they have a greater sense of con- trol over their classroom instruction and use computers more frequently and with greater confidence.

Students with the ubiquitous access to technology that laptop computers provide demonstrated improved writing assessments, increased time doing homework, and increased use of computers and the Internet, at both home and school (Walker et al., 2000). Elementary students with access to laptops from third through fifth grades exhibited an increased writing ability over those with only occasional access (Owston & Wideman, 1997). Secondary students benefited from using laptops to review information, complete assignments, and study for tests (Siegle & Foster, 2001). Access to laptops has been shown to enhance academic gains among sixth-grade stu- dents who traditionally have not succeeded in school, with laptop users consistently outperforming nonusers (Stevenson, 1999). Laptops encouraged collaboration among students, working more often in groups and assuming a greater variety of roles teaching their peers and their teachers. Finally, these students were more con- fident, organized, and motivated. Laptop-using students were more likely to agree with the statement, “Computers help me improve the quality of my schoolwork,” whereas non-laptop-using students agreed with the statement, “I enjoy playing games on computers” (see Figure 6.6).

FIGURE 6.6   Laptop-using students are more likely to think that computers improve the quality of their work.


A growing concern among critics of technology use in education is that the charm of technology might not be so magical after all. Some critics argue that students be- come so focused on learning the tricks of a particular software that they are prevented from learning what the software is designed to teach (Oppenheimer, 1997). Another challenge is group computer work, which in reality involves one student centered in front of the computer screen with control of the mouse at any one time. Other stu- dents may or may not be attending and participating in the decision-making process and may not get a turn in the “driver’s seat” with any regularity. Some students may have difficulty paying attention in a classroom filled with the variety of noises, ac- tivity, and distractions common to technology-enhanced rooms (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1995b).

The rate of technological advancement is staggering, and in order to provide the best education possible to students, hardware must be maintained, software must be upgraded, and staff must be kept trained in the most current practices. These issues might prove to be too great a financial burden for schools and districts to face regu- larly. There are clearly no easy answers for schools, so it follows that the best advice would be to consider these potential drawbacks as part of a complete and ongoing decision-making process regarding technology integration.

Observations from the ACOT study summarize well the need for caution as we form expectations about computers in the classroom (Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997):

  1. Teachers must be ready to make some changes in their teaching beliefs and methodologies in order to give innovations a
  2. Technology by itself cannot be expected to revolutionize education, but rather should be seen as one of a collection of tools that might spark and facilitate in- novative
  3. An environment of support and sharing will encourage teachers to take
  4. Any changes initiated by the introduction of technology to classrooms must be expected to occur over time and with a great deal of dedication and


Teacher as a Researcher

The characteristics and trends in educational technology research should certainly be understood by classroom teachers, but more importantly, the growing body of research should signal a call for action. The interaction between the technology and the user is beginning to be seen as a conversation that is different with every user in every situation (Kozma, 1994); this presents difficulties for neat, convenient research. More qualitative, ethnographic-type studies are called for, but the dilemma is that no easy, all-encompassing answer is available to apply to every situation (Roblyer, 1996).

Traditional educational research cannot keep pace with hardware and software development, yet the teachers who generally are on the forefront of innovative meth- ods often do not write their findings so that other teachers can learn from their insight (Valdez et al., 1999; Willis, 1996). If classroom teachers participate in educational re- search, that research will be stronger as it reflects their daily experiences. Despite the requirements of normal duties, teachers’ substantial participation in research is the only way to ensure meaningful and practical research results (Bingham et al., 2006).

Even more important than enriching the literature base, the process of classroom research serves the vital function of helping teachers learn more about their own teaching by carefully observing their students (Painter, 2000). Teachers who research with colleagues, and even students, can further inform their own understanding, sat- isfy personal learning goals, and accomplish writing through collaboration.

In general, technology-based research findings include the following points re- garding computers in the classroom (see and

  1. Practice basic skills better and faster
  2. Engage students
  3. Individualize and customize
  4. Higher level of comprehension
  5. Express ideas more clearly and powerfully
  6. Lower dropout rates
  7. Motivation
  8. Higher levels of esteem

World Wide Weather

In an interview prior to a lesson on weather, the teacher describes expectations and objec- tives for the students and plans for obstacles that might occur while using technology. During the lesson, students use laptops to research weather and create a slide show using KidPix. Following the lesson, the teacher reflects on the strengths and weaknesses of the technology used in the lesson. How does the teacher’s plan play out during the lesson implementation, and how does her post-interview reflect the implementation?