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What the Research Says

Despite the large outlay of dollars for technology in education, not enough is known about its effects on student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Waxman, Lin, and Michko (2003), in conducting a meta-analysis on the impact of technology on student learning and achievement, criticized the quality of the available research related to teaching and learning with technology. They found few recent quantitative studies of quality and few studies that used randomized, experimental design. They also lamented the lack of details (such as specifics about software and technology components) in published studies.

 

One of the reasons that technology’s impact on student learning is difficult to gauge is that the skills it can affect — skills such as higher-order thinking and research ability — are more difficult to measure in a quantifiable way. Another impediment is that technology and its uses are changing so quickly that technology use in schools today is very different from technology use only a few years ago, suggesting that its impact may have changed dramatically as well. Yet another reason for the lack of clear research is that technology is not a solution in itself. Rather, it is a tool whose effectiveness relies on the expertise of the user — on the teacher to use it effectively as a teaching tool, on the administrator to use it effectively as a data resource, and so on.

 

Nonetheless, there is a growing body of research dedicated to understanding the impact of technology. Some research indicates that technology can have a positive effect on student learning and achievement. For example, the Waxman, Lin, and Michko (2003) meta-analysis found that teaching and learning with technology has a small, positive effect on student out- comes when compared to traditional instruction. Further, this study found that technology’s results can be generalized across a wide variety of conditions and across student, school, and study characteristics. Other recent meta-analyses include Blok, Oostdam, Otter, and Overmaat (2002), which found that computer-assisted instruction programs have a small positive effect in supporting beginning readers, and Lou, Abrami, and d’Apollonia (2001), which found that students working in a small group using computer technology had more positive effects than students working individually using computer technology.