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Technology and Academic Achievement

Technology and Academic Achievement

Recently, a growing number of researchers have published studies that provide substantial evidence that technology can play a positive role in academic achievement. Several organizations like Edutopia, the North Central Educational Lab (NCREL) and the Center for Applied Research in Educational Technology (CARET) are documenting research studies that link technology to increases in academic achievement. Two studies are reflective of the growing body of research on technology's role in academic achievement.

Harold Wenglinsky's study, "Does it Compute: The Relationship between Educational Technology and Student Achievement in Mathematics," concluded that for 4th and 8th graders technology has "positive benefits" on achievement as measured in NAEP's mathematics test. But it is critical to note Wenglinsky's caveat to this conclusion. He argues that not all uses of technology were beneficial. Wenglinksky found using computers to teach low order thinking skills was negatively related to academic achievement. In other words, this type of computer use was worse than doing nothing. By contrast, teachers who had students use computers to solve simulations saw their students' math scores increase significantly. As he explored the reasons for the differing ways teachers used technology, Wenglinsky found that professional development was the difference between those teachers who used skill and drill software and those who used software that could create simulations. Teachers who had training and skills used technology in ways that focused students on simulations and applications that encouraged students to develop problem solving skills. Those teachers who hadn't had training used skill and drill software.

More recently, educators in Missouri issued their findings on a study of the impact the statewide eMints program had on academic achievement. This program is designed as a comprehensive approach to assist teachers to integrate technology. Participating teachers receive classroom equipment, and over two hundred hours of professional development over a two-year period. In addition to traditional workshops, eMints training includes peer coaching for individual teachers. The training is designed to help teachers integrate technology so that they can use inquiry-based teaching and emphasize critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. One key finding was that when you put inquiry based learning and true technology integration together, there's a synergy created that really boosts students' learning.

These two studies highlight the importance of rethinking our current beliefs about technology. Educators can no longer accept the belief that technology is a silver bullet. Both studies argue that improvements in student learning occur when technology is paired with instructional strategies like project-based instruction, which actively involves students in intellectually complex work that demands higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills. Henry Becker's research adds further weight to the argument that technology is a particularly strong tool for supporting active, inquiry-based learning. Becker argues that the kind of active learning necessary to master principles and concepts and explain student work is easier to implement in a technology-rich environment where students have a rich array of information to work with, when communications structures enable students to pose relevant questions to appropriate individuals…and when technology-based tools such as databases, analytic software, and composition software help them to extract understanding from information.

Each of these studies also highlights the importance of Michael Fullan's observation that "The more powerful that technology becomes, the more indispensable good teachers are". If we expect teachers to use technology in ways that enrich and enhance student achievement, we must provide them with the professional development they need to develop the confidence and skills to apply technology, and an understanding of how technology supports standards-based education. Preparing teachers to use technology effectively also means ensuring that professional development focuses on instructional strategies like project-based learning, and cooperative or collaborative strategies, in addition to technology skills.

This need to prepare teachers to use technology effectively means schools have to adopt new models of professional development. Too often the limited staff development available focused on the computer, not technology's role in learning and teaching. As a result, the training teachers received was usually too little, too basic, and too generic to help them develop real facility in teaching with technology.

There is a consensus about the characteristics of a new, more effective model of professional development. One of the most salient of characteristics is that teachers need opportunities to work with colleagues, both in their school building and beyond. They need chances to learn from one another's successes and failures and to share ideas and knowledge. Professional development also needs to be ongoing, and if we are to overcome the barrier of time, teachers' daily schedules must include "embedded opportunities” for professional learning and collaborating with colleagues. Others argue professional development must be immediately linked to the work teachers are doing in their class each day, and must model effective classroom instruction. To meet these needs, many leaders who are pressing for new staff development models encourage schools to adopt peer coaching or study groups to provide needed on-the-job collaboration on issues that are immediately relevant to classroom needs.

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