An analysis of existing ed-tech research offers both good and bad news for advocates of educational technology: Although technology has had a positive impact on education so far, more dedication to research and implementation is needed for technology to realize its full potential as a teaching and learning tool.

That’s the conclusion, anyway, of “Technology in Schools: What the Research Says,” a new meta-study–or study of studies–on the use and effectiveness of classroom technologies. Produced by Cisco Systems and the Metiri Group, the report summarizes general trends and representative studies in areas such as television and video use, calculators, engagement devices such as interactive whiteboards, portable or handheld devices, virtual learning, in-school computing, and one-to-one computing.

“Contrary to popular belief, much is now known about the effect of technology on learning and teaching in primary and secondary schools,” the report says, adding that technology does, indeed, provide a “small, but significant,” increase in learning across all uses and in all content areas when implemented “with fidelity.”

For example, a review of research literature published in 2004 by the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency (BECTA) found that the use of simulations and modeling in the natural sciences resulted in increased learning and retention by students. A meta-analysis conducted by Boston College on writing with word processors across the curriculum found that students using these electronic tools wrote significantly more, received earlier interventions by teachers, and wrote higher quality work than students in comparison groups. And a 2003 study of California middle-school students found that, when compared with a control group, students using laptop computers significantly outscored students in conventional classrooms in math and language arts. But closer attention to areas such as leadership development, professional development for teachers, and curricular design is needed to ensure the full benefits of technology implementation, the report warns.

The document comes as education stakeholders continue to debate the importance of technology in the nation’s schools. According to the report, significant investments in technological infrastructure, teacher training, and software have left many people questioning the value of technology in education.

“The reality is that advocates have over-promised the ability of education to extract a learning return on technology investments in schools,” the report says. “The research studies suggest that their error was not in citing the potential of technology to augment learning–for research now clearly indicates that the effective use of technology can result in higher levels of learning.”

A review of research over the past decade revealed four miscalculations on the part of educators. First, the report says, educators have been “overly confident that they could easily accomplish the depth of school change required to realize the potential technology holds for learning–not an easy task.”

Second, educators did not make as much effort as they could have in documenting technology’s effect on student learning, the way teachers used the technology, or how efficient it was. Additionally, educators and school staff have underestimated the amount of time it would take for technology access to be sufficient, the report says. Finally, they have underestimated the rate of change in technology, and the impact of such a rapid, continuous change on staff time, budgeting, professional development, software upgrades, and curricular and lesson redesign.

“As a result, the real potential of technology for improving learning remains largely untapped in schools today,” the report says.

It is this idea that educational technology has not met its full promise that critics have seized on.

Larry Cuban, a professor at Stanford University, says in his book Oversold and Underused that technology has not transformed teaching or learning and has not affected the productivity gains that educators and others had hoped for.

The report recommends that school leaders heed Cuban’s recommendation for a reexamination of technology in schools. It says that such an examination should “result in redirecting investments of technology funds to proven learning technology solutions. Conscientious educators, facing severe budget deficits, will need to examine the research to focus technology investments on solutions that address profound, critical challenges that schools face today.”

Researchers have found that gaining the maximum learning return from technology requires more than simply introducing it with software and online resources that are aligned with the curriculum. Content, sound principles of learning, and high-quality teaching must all support one another, and these also must be aligned with assessment and accountability, according to the report.

Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), called the report “a very important piece of research.”