Study: Ed tech leads to significant gains

Integrating Promethean’s ActivClassroom–a suite of educational technologies that includes an interactive whiteboard, teaching software, and student response systems–into instruction can raise student achievement by an average of 17 percentile points, according to new research that also confirms the experience, comfort, and skill level of teachers in using the technology has a huge impact on how effective they’ll be.

The study determined that student achievement can really soar if a teacher has 10 or more years of teaching experience, has been using the technology for two or more years, has high confidence in his or her ability to use the ActivClassroom suite, and uses it 75 to 80 percent of the time in the classroom.

During the 2008-09 school year, teachers and students took part in independent studies to find out whether using Promethean ActivClassroom can improve student achievement. The study included 1,716 students whose teachers used ActivClassroom to augment their instructional practices, as well as 1,622 students whose teachers–the same teachers as in the experimental group–used other strategies and materials to facilitate instruction.

The report, “Evaluation Study of the Effects of Promethean ActivClassroom on Student Achievement,” authored by noted education researchers Robert Marzano and Mark Haystead, was released last month.

The study examined whether ActivClassroom had an impact at different grade levels and across different academic content areas. It also took into account a teacher’s length of teaching experience, how long the teacher had been using the whiteboard suite in his or her instruction, the percentage of instructional time that ActivClassroom was used in the classroom, and teachers’ perceived confidence in their use of the technology.

“I’ve spent my career looking at general instruction, and I think we know a lot about that, and adding this [kind of technology] changes the paradigm,” Marzano said. “Five years from now, the vast majority of classrooms in this country are going to have this technology, so we better figure out the best way to use it–because it’s no small capital investment.”

The average student in the groups using the whiteboards scored higher than 67 percent of students in groups that did not use the whiteboards.

The study saw large increases in student achievement with ActivClassroom use in elementary and high school, with achievement gains of 23 percentile points and 21 percentile points, respectively. Middle school achievement gains increased 6 percentile points as a result of the technology.

The researchers also studied achievement at individual grade levels. The seventh graders exhibited no gains in achievement, but Marzano said those results were likely a function of sampling, especially because the surrounding grades all exhibited gains: sixth graders showed high achievement increases, eighth graders showed some increased achievement, and ninth graders exhibited high gains as well. That seventh-grade sampling influenced the overall middle school figure, accounting for the low, but still positive, increase in achievement, he said.

First graders exhibited a 26 percentile point gain when teachers used the whiteboard suite in the classroom. Second grade student achievement jumped 22 percentile points, third grade achievement increased 24 percentile points, and fifth and ninth grade achievement both increased by 20 percentile points.

When teachers used ActivClassroom during social studies instruction, achievement increased 11 percentile points. ActivClassroom use in language arts and mathematics saw a 17 percentile point increase, and using the technology in science class increased achievement 18 percentile points.

Student achievement jumped 29 percentile points when teachers used the technology during 75 to 80 percent of their instructional time, compared to a 4 percentile point gain when it was used 10 to 40 percent of the time, an 18 percentile point gain when used 45 to 70 percent of the time, and a 9 percentile gain when used 85 to 95 percent of the time.

Data showed that classroom performance increased as the amount of time teachers spent using ActivClassroom increased, until use hit 85 percent of instructional time–at which point student achievement dropped.

Marzano said one possible explanation is that if a teacher uses the technology too much, he or she might be leaving out other classroom activities such as collaborative assignments or administrative tasks.

At the secondary level, teachers taught a short unit on a topic of their choice to two groups of students, using the whiteboard suite with one group and using other methods with the other. Both groups of students took a pretest and a post-test to gauge their understanding of the material prior to and after the lesson. The researchers indicated that instructional activities were to be as similar as possible, except for the use of an interactive whiteboard and response systems in one group.

In elementary grades, teachers often have one group of students for the entire year, so they might not have a chance to teach the same unit to two different groups of students. In that case, teachers taught two separate but related lessons–for instance, one unit on writing essays with a focus on transitions and logical progression of ideas, and a second unit on writing essays with a clear purpose for a specific audience. The whiteboard suite would be used in the first lesson, but not with the second.

Using the same teachers for both the experimental and control groups added to the study’s validity, Marzano said.

“Most intriguing is that in this study, each teacher was his or her own control, and that made it stronger,” he said.

The study will be repeated next year, Marzano said, and an additional component of the study will examine specific aspects of Promethean ActivClassroom, such as the use of ActivExpression (a text-based response system). Researchers will examine video taken and observe how teachers used the technology, interacted with students, and whether they picked up on student comprehension.

“The next level of the study should include what the [system] didn’t help with, what are the things that teachers didn’t get, and what are teachers whose students’ achievement did not increase with the board doing differently from teachers whose students’ achievement did increase with the whiteboard,” Marzano said.

Marzano said he hopes the follow-up study will point out common traps that teachers might fall into when integrating technologies such as interactive whiteboards and accompanying software.

“There’s no such thing as a tool that works for everybody,” he said. “[There are] different ways of [using] it that can help you or hurt you.”

To illustrate that the technology is not a universal solution, Marzano noted that 23 percent of the time, “a teacher got better results without the board than with [it].”

Although this study looked only at Promethean ActivClassroom, it could prompt research into other brands or types of educational technology and its effectiveness in the classroom.

“It makes sense that a very similar technology would produce similar results,” Marzano said, though he was careful to draw a distinction between Promethean’s interactive whiteboard technology and educational technology as a whole.


Robert Marzano’s research


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