Special Report: eSchools Work! (Full Report part 1)

In April, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) set off a firestorm in the ed-tech community when it released a report showing that the use of certain software programs to help teach reading and math in some 439 classrooms did not lead to higher test scores after a year of implementation. (See ED study slams software efficacy.)

Read the report, and it’s easy to see why: Average use of the programs accounted for only about 10 or 11 percent of the total instructional time for the entire school year–well below what the products were designed for. But that fact didn’t stop much of the press from leaping to the too-hasty conclusion that educational technology simply isn’t working. (See Repeaters, not reporters.)

The fallout from the report, and the coverage it has received from the general press, already is being felt in school systems from coast to coast–creating a backlash against school technology in many communities. As the head of one prominent ed-tech organization told eSchool News: "I am hearing from teachers that they are getting calls from parents about those headlines–the parents are taking the headlines at face value, and the teachers don’t know how to respond."

Nobody says the report should be dismissed altogether. But, as with the negative image of a photograph, ed-tech advocates believe the report’s true value lies in its "white spaces"; that is, what is most revealing is not what did happen in the classrooms that were studied, but what didn’t happen: Teachers weren’t comfortable with the technology, there was an absence of effective leadership in many of the schools, and the software wasn’t used as often as it should have been.

While these results certainly point to the need for better software implementation in the nation’s schools, they hardly attest to the effectiveness of the technology itself. And, as eSchool News can testify after nearly a decade of reporting on educational technology, there is actually a mountain of evidence to suggest that, under the right circumstances, technology can make a difference.

That fact was confirmed in a recent "metastudy," or study of studies, that set out to determine what the balance of existing research says about technology’s impact on learning. After reviewing dozens of research reports, education researcher Cheryl Lemke of the Metiri Group concluded that, when implemented "with fidelity," technology does, indeed, provide a "small, but significant"
increase in learning across all content areas.

In an interview with eSchool News, Lemke explained what is meant by the term "with fidelity":
"There’s a piece of software that has great research on it for struggling readers, called Fast ForWord," she said. "And the way the company suggests that it be used is for … six to eight weeks, for 100 minutes a day. Many educators, when we talk to them, say, ‘Oh, Fast ForWord doesn’t work,’ and when we probe a little bit, they’ll say back to us, ‘Well, we didn’t really have the computers to use it for 100 minutes a day, so instead we used it for 25 minutes every other day’–and that’s not the way it’s prescribed; it’s not being used with fidelity, so it’s not working."

Lemke added: "There is a sense that it’s easy to put technology into schools, and we know that there’s no easy answer. … [Companies] introduced technology into the business world in the 1960s, and it took them three decades before they saw a bump in productivity–and the reason for that is, they did the ‘same old, same old’ with the new technology. It took them a while to really change the way they were doing business, and the same thing is true with education. [Stakeholders] need to give [schools] a chance to … make that shift in the way they do the business of education before we’ll actually [see] that spike."

(Editor’s note: You can watch the entire seven-minute interview with Lemke here.)
In schools that have made that shift–in communities where there is strong leadership,a clear vision for using technology to improve education, sustained professionaldevelopment in the use of technology to transform instructional practices, andongoing evaluation and support–students and teachers are achieving remarkableresults, as the following pages suggest.

In this Special Report, we’ve highlighted stories from the eSchool News archives that document such ed-tech achievements and the research that validates them. We’ve also included some advice on how to lobby effectively for school technology in your own communities, as well as the keys to successful school software implementation.

Our coverage includes proof of success of a program, called eMINTS (Enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies), that has been so successful, it’s now being replicated in at least nine other states. It includes evidence of success for Maine’s school laptop program; an Arkansas program that combines technology with authentic, community-based problem solving; a link between strong media center programs in Colorado and gains in student achievement; and much more.

Report: Ed tech has proven effective
But it has yet to reach its full potential

November 1, 2006–An analysis of existing ed-tech research offers both good and bad news for advocates of educational technology: Although technology has largely 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 …

EAST program motivates students, encourages innovation
By James Boardman

May 1, 2007–Exciting things are happening in Star City, Arkansas. This small town of a little more than 2,000 people just learned that its high school Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program was named the 2007 recipient of the Timothy R. Stephenson Founder’s Award by the EAST Initiative, an educational nonprofit that oversees EAST programs nationally.

How did a small, rural school stand out from the field of more than 170 programs nationally? The school merely motivated its students to outperform anyone’s expectations in providing community service using very sophisticated technology tools.

Among the projects that the Star City students have undertaken are an awareness seminar on the opportunities for women in high-tech fields; a comprehensive, anti-drunk-driving program, which has led to collaboration with the Arkansas State Police on a statewide video campaign; and a seminar titled "Enough is Enough," involving local self-defense instructors and the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, that aims to raise awareness of the issues of child abuse and abduction. Any of these seminars would be worthwhile for local teens to attend, but the Star City students are actually coordinating and developing these activities. They are taking charge of their education in a way that benefits their whole community.

Where is this innovation and incredible work coming from? A program that started in Arkansas a dozen years ago, called EAST, that has been recognized nationally as an innovative, relevant, and successful approach to education. EAST combines the power of cutting-edge technology, real teamwork, and significant community service in a manner that helps students develop their own interests and aptitudes in a positive environment.

All students, regardless of past experience or previous expectations, are encouraged, expected, and required to work in teams that tackle self-selected community service projects. The EAST model allows students to take ownership of both the challenges in their communities and the responsibility for seeking solutions.

Students in this program have access to a wide variety of technologies to help them in their projects–from GIS/GPS applications, computer-aided drafting tools, and digital film tools, to high-end animation and web design tools, computer programming tools, virtual-reality design tools, and so on. The EAST classroom is equipped with more than 65 different software applications in a student-maintained network of servers, workstations, and peripherals.

Since its birth in 1995, the EAST program has gained support and recognition from groups and organizations in America and around the world. In its home state of Arkansas, EAST is heavily supported by the Arkansas Legislature and the Arkansas Department of Education, which is soon to publish the findings of a three-year scientific research study of EAST and its impact on student learning and motivation.

Preliminary results from the research have documented that EAST students have significantly improved in the areas of problem-solving skills, school motivation, and perceptions of their learning styles. EAST students are equally adept at working in groups and taking responsibility for self-directed learning. And, when comparing the plans that EAST students have after they graduate with those of their peers from similar demographics, a statistically greater number of EAST students intend to attend college …

Shared leadership makes an IMPACT in North Carolina
By Frances Bryant Bradburn and Jason W. Osborne

March 1, 2007–During the 2002-2003 school year, North Carolina school systems applied for grants to transform the instructional practices at one of their schools under a state program called IMPACT–a comprehensive model for infusing technology into teaching and learning.

North Carolina State University (NCSU) and its Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, as well as the Southeastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE) Center at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, have been evaluating these IMPACT grant projects in 10 Title I schools and 10 comparison schools over the past three years. We’ve learned that successfully implementing instructional technology in schools requires more than just hardware and software; it seems effective leadership is the real key to success …

Study: Teacher development is a key to tech success

September 1, 2006–A new survey of teachers and their use of technology suggests there is a clear correlation between hours spent in professional development, classroom integration of technology, and improved student performance.

Technology use by teachers continues to rise, the survey indicates; three out of five teachers said their tech skills were at least "somewhat advanced," four of five think it engages students, and two in three believe it can improve performance. Professional development in the use of technology also is on the rise, according to the survey–though one in five teachers still receives no such training.

Sponsored by CDW-G, a reseller of hardware tools to schools and governments, and administered by education research firm Quality Education Data (QED), the study, called "Teachers Talk Tech 2006: Fulfilling Technology’s Promise of Improved Student Performance," polled some 1,000 K-12 public school teachers on technology’s role in the classroom. The poll offers an in-depth look at how K-12 teachers use computers in their jobs.

Teachers overwhelmingly agreed that the use of technology in the classroom makes students more engaged, and most agreed that students’ academic standing has improved as a result of technology’s use. Eighty-two percent of teachers surveyed said students are more engaged when technology is being employed in classroom activities. Sixty-five percent said students’ academic performance improves with the use of classroom computers. Teachers also noted that computers have been found to help students think more creatively (64 percent), and more independently, if those computers are in the classroom (47 percent).

But there are still obstacles to achieving technology’s promise, teachers reported. Fifty-five percent of survey respondents believe the biggest impediment to effective technology integration is access to computers; 48 percent believe they lack sufficient time to properly integrate technology into lessons; and another 48 percent say district budgets do not allow the level of technology integration they would like to see in their classrooms, the study said.

Researchers contend there is a clear link between professional development in technology use, classroom integration of technology, and improved student performance. According to the survey, 78 percent of teachers who have had at least 16 hours of professional development in technology say they incorporate 21st-century skills into their curriculum, and 66 percent believe teaching those skills strengthens skills for standardized testing. Similarly, 74 percent of teachers who have had at least 16 hours of professional development believe students’ academic performance is enhanced with the use of classroom computers, the study found–that’s 9 points higher than the percentage of teachers overall who hold this belief.

"I think the biggest ‘aha’ of the study is that we are starting to see a direct correlation between hours of professional development and how thoroughly technology is being integrated into the classroom," said Bob Kirby, CDW-G’s senior director for K-12 education. "These are things we’ve always suspected, but now we have some actual statistics through the surveys that validate the correlations" …

Online field trips boost reading scores

May 19, 2005–A free collection of online field trips and other web-based learning materials has been shown to boost reading levels and help improve test scores among middle-school students, according to the results of a scientifically based research study from Maryland Public Television (MPT).

Approximately 400 seventh and eighth graders from two Maryland public middle schools–one urban, one rural–participated in the study, which took place during the 2003-04 school year and was released in late April. The study showed that seventh and eighth graders who used three online field trips–each specifically developed by MPT for social studies and language arts–scored higher on a national standardized reading comprehension test than those who used traditional learning methods alone.

Though relatively small in size and scope, the study’s findings could have national implications for educators who embrace the internet as a tool for learning, executives at the nonprofit television station believe. Every teacher across the country, they say, can access these same resources at no cost by logging on to MPT’s educational web site, www.thinkport.org.

"The study shows that some of the new ways we are teaching with technology are helping our students to succeed," noted Cathy Townsend, principal of Salisbury Middle School, one of the study’s participants.

Specifically, the control-based experiment showed that use of the online field trips in classroom instruction improved students’ reading performance on the Gates-MacGinitie Standardized Reading Test–a popular K-12 assessment used in several states.

"Students who used the [electronic field trips] performed better on the unit tests than the students using only traditional methods," researchers found. Results also showed improved reading comprehension among poor and economically disadvantaged students …

Continued – Special Report: eSchools Work! (Full Report part 2)

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