Thoughts on Technology Research

There have been a few studies and news articles published lately that have gotten me thinking about what makes technology “good.” In other words, what kind of technology increases student achievement/learning and what type does not?

One study was released by the federal government on April 5. It proclaimed that reading and math software did not increase student achievement. I’m not surprised at this study, though I was not happy when I first read the headlines. People within in the technology community have been questioning the way this study was conducted, including eSchooNews. But that’s not really my point. I think, instead, we need to ask ourselves, “What does this report mean for us as educators?”

To me it was a call to stop and think about the different types of technology. How do we use them in our classrooms? What are we expecting from them?

Some types of technology, the way they are used currently, actually do not help learning. Power Point, for instance, is a good program that is frequently used incorrectly, causing learning to actually decrease. Presenters often use PowerPoint to “read” their lectures, a method, according to another recent study, which causes the human brain to have trouble focusing. A better use of PowerPoint is to only post visual information (pictures, videos, graphs, charts, etc) to support your presentation, rather than posting the same thing you will be saying out loud. Slide shows can also be used to present information independently of the presenter (i.e. on a website).

Some types of technology are just replacing things we normally do in a classroom with a different way. I think reading and math software falls into this category. The software might make it easier on teachers to keep records, to know what material to present to each student, or to take grades, but it’s not radically different enough to effect student achievement. Kids are doing the same type of learning they were doing before, just now with a computer. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s not all that different.

Math software programs, like Larson’s and FastMath, for instance, don’t really do anything much different than flash cards and workbooks. It’s just in a different format. The kids might be a little more excited about it because it is on the computer, but it’s not really allowing them to think any differently than they could without the computer. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use it, or that it doesn’t make teachers’ jobs easier because they can get a quick look at data about what their students know and don’t know…it just doesn’t make the students think differently. Drill and practice on the computer is still the same as drill and practice on paper.

There are some forms of technology, though, that open doors that weren’t there before. Blogging for instance, is not really possible with paper and pencil. You can write, you can get feedback, but the audience is much smaller and the feedback takes much longer. You can’t easily make connections with people who are sharing ideas that interest you with just paper.

I hope the government doesn’t cut funding for technology, but instead takes a good look at what technology is used for in the schools. Maybe they could spend time researching the effect of resources like Google Earth, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasting, and digital storytelling–things that can be used to get kids thinking on higher levels and communicating on a global scale. I predict that studies on those types of resources might produce better results.

As teachers, we need to ask ourselves, “Is the way I’m using technology in my classroom CHANGING the way I teach and the way my students learn?” That’s the way that technology will really make a difference for our students!

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