from the Director's Desk

Musings about school library media and instructional technology programs from NCDPI's Instructional Technology Divison.  Subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

According to this morning's News and Observer (, the US Department of Education released a study yesterday that states: "Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant effect on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education. The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate to meet the testing mandates of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law." ( )

Let's be frank. This is not new information. The researchers are looking at Math and Reading drill and practice programs, not authentic uses of technology that help students become 21st Century life-long learners. Authentic technology skills include using the tools that are and will be a part of their lives. Drill and practice programs, no matter how sophisticated, will never give students authentic learning experiences. They only attempt to prepare them for 20th Century multiple-choice tests--our present, not their future.

Furthermore, research has always warned teachers that as soon as students begin to progress on these programs, they should be moved to the types of technology tools and programs that promote higher order thinking, problem-solving skills, and more authentic learning experiences. In truth, higher level students' test scores often slide when they are put on these drill and practice programs.

Yes, technology can make a difference in teaching and learning. Even drill and practice programs have their place in the academic environment. After all, core skills are essential for both 20th Century and 21st Century learning, and we're still testing students primarily in this environment. But the collaborative, problem-based teaching and learning environment that emphasizes authentic tasks that require higher order thinking skills--those things that technology resources allow us to embrace--WILL make a difference.

And it just makes good sense. Technology resources are the tools that adults use daily. Why would we want our students educated any differently than we work?


Anonymous Annemarie Timmerman said...

The report from the IES also supports your own conclusions, Frances, that technology makes a difference in teaching.

Yes, one conclusion from the study was that in classrooms where software was used there was not a statistically significant effect on test scores from classrooms that did not use software.

However, the study also concluded that teachers and students in the treatment groups (those who used software) were more likely to be engaged in learning. To quote from the study:

"When Products Were Being Used, Students Were More Likely to Engage in Individual Practice and Teachers Were More Likely to Facilitate Student Learning Rather Than Lecture. Data from classroom observations indicated that,
compared to students in control classrooms where the same subject was taught without using the selected products, students using products were more likely to be observed working with academic content on their own and less likely to be listening to a lecture or participating in question-and-answer sessions. Treatment teachers were more likely than control teachers to be observed working with individual students to facilitate their learning (such as by pointing out key ideas or giving hints or suggestions on tackling the task students were working on) rather than leading whole-class activities."

This is an important finding, too. The two observations combined provide a number of implications for further research.

April 05, 2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger Marlo Gaddis said...

I believe that technology done well is technology that is seemless and invisible in the classroom in that it is not teaching about technology or where the technology is the focus. The technology is merely a tool to the curriculum a solid means to an end (learning).

During my graduate work at NCSU, I was floored by the lack of research I could find that supports the use of technology in classrooms. After a time, I came to the realization that the problem is not whether or not technology makes a difference in test scores. What makes a difference is that technology done right means a paradigm shift in what good teaching looks and sounds like. I feel as though this is why research conclusions are not wrapped up pretty with a bow for us to use in proving instructional technology is worthy.

April 15, 2007 3:29 PM  
Blogger Lynn V. Marentette said...

From the viewpoint of a school psychologist, the effective use of technology in the classroom supports the engaged learning of a wider range of students, which is important in inclusive classrooms. This is supported by the research conducted by CAST about digital media and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The right mix of technology provides teachers with the tools needed to provide students with multiple pathways to learning. This is important for students who are visual learners, including those who have autism spectrum disorders and language-based learning difficulties.

Another advantage of using educational technology in the classroom is that many applications provide students and teachers useful data regarding progress, in real time. This enables teachers to use data effectively when making decisions regarding students. An example of how this works is the problem-solving approach adopted by a number of N.C. schools. This approach requires measuring student "response to intervention" (RTI). RTI is one component of the process used when determining a student's need for support, including special education.

I agree with Marlo. Technology is a tool and a means to an end. The definition of "end" is not always the the same among researchers, educators, and policy-makers. In my opinion, educational technology research efforts should focus on short term outcomes AND long-term outcomes such as graduation and drop-out rates.

TechPsych blog
Interactive Multimedia Technology blog

July 19, 2007 2:27 PM  

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