I’ve written a few of these over time and space. It’s essentially a response to a challenge to come up with research supporting our 1:1 technology program. The requestor mentioned her research indicated technology doesn’t create change. In any case, I thought this response might be useful to someone else. I will likely take it and increase references, examples etc. in the near future.
I agree completely that technology by itself does not promote student learning. Technology is a tool which needs competent application within an educational context. It is not my intent to parse words but this is an essential delineation and one that is evident, although perhaps subtle, in the statement referenced in the Richmond Times Dispatch supplement. Technology facilitates both visual and collaborative learning which have proven important across a number of studies. You can read a meta-analysis of over 100 research studies in Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement.1 This work specifically recognizes the importance of non-linguistic and cooperative learning as having direct impact on student achievement. Technology is an enzyme, a facilitator of these strategies, a tool of amazing flexibility that allows for the application of research proven instructional strategies across our content areas and beyond. We continue to emphasize and work towards an ideal instructional environment where all teachers and students are fully leveraging all of our resources at all times. (*Additional details on instructional technology affordances are included below.)
Return on Investment
While I would agree that it is important that the return on investment for technology needs to be addressed, it seems that without applying that same lens must be applied to all school costs for that analysis to be relevant. I don’t know if you’ve seen research on the return on investment for textbooks or school libraries. I have struggled to find reliable data on elements like these. The ROI discussion is important but it is essential that it be shaped by the larger comparative context and simple longevity should not cause us to turn a blind eye to any element.
The return on investment conversation is further complicated by the fact that we have been working hard to leverage the 1:1 for the last 12 years. In order to move to a non-1:1 model, HCPS would have to instigate massive changes in curriculum, instructional resources, workflows, and teacher training. We would need to rewrite our core curriculum. Analog parallels to our current electronic resources would need to be found, evaluated, and purchased. Nearly all computer labs have been repurposed as classrooms. Provisioning enough rooms to meet our computer lab/cart storage needs would result in building capacity issues with substantial associated costs. Another less apparent cost involves the lost instructional time that comes with rotational use of technology resources.
The Commonwealth suggests a minimum of a 1:5 ratio of computers to students to support online SOL testing. We’ve found that ratio problematic at the elementary level where testing is less pervasive and have moved to a 1:2.5 model there in order to lessen the negative impact on instruction and students. Suffice to say that even if we opted not to continue with the 1:1 model, we would still need to purchase a large number of computers.
I agree that it is essential that HCPS move deliberately and with intent. Our leadership is focused on making data focused decisions and as we analyze old and new opportunities we continue to refine our practices so that continuous improvement is possible.
At the most basic level technology allows teachers and students to access a wealth of material that far surpasses anything we could previously provide. That matters for a variety of reasons.
- Research shows that culturally relevant, level-appropriate reading material impacts literacy. Technology allows us to find and provision this kind of content. It broadens the scope of what students might read in ways that could not otherwise be achieved.
- Additional research indicates non-linguistic representations and multimedia content play important roles in building student understanding. Technology allows students and teacher access to this material and the ability to contextualize it. The ability to view and interact with multimedia content also elevates sensorimotor engagement options which are a key element in adolescent attention and learning.
- Relevance and engagement play a strong role in improving student learning. Technology places teachers and students in a unique position to use topical conversations as teachable moments and to make connections between current events and content material in a way that creates synaptic connections.
- Access to a wealth of primary source material of historical and cultural importance opens up the real work of scholars to our students. The use of primary source analysis and document based questioning results in higher order thinking and analysis that make real differences in student understanding.
- The digital aspect of digital media allows teachers and students to use material in ways that were impossible before. That spans everything from sophisticated annotation to the understandings generated by building multimedia content.
In addition to modeling the tools and skills our students will need when they join the workforce, technology enables teachers to impact student understanding in powerful ways.
- A variety of our technology tools enable our teachers to gather and analyze data in a formative and summative fashion. This kind of interaction spans the gamut from simple checks for understanding to the ability to comment on student writing in process rather than after completion. The ability to assess in the moment as well as in aggregate over time is an essential element in reflective instruction and differentiating instruction.
- A variety of our resources enable independent student progressions and adaptive path progressions that create individualized learning progressions.
- The importance of social and interactive experiences in education is well documented. Technology provides important avenues to break down the classroom and school walls. It enables every student to have a voice through the effective facilitation of asynchronous communication. Other collaborative options include leveraging internal school communities to engage in peer editing and working with larger school communities in a variety of ways.
- Technology enable synchronous and asynchronous interactions with outside experts that would not be possible otherwise increasing engagement and building mentorship opportunities.
- Technology provides both the tools to create real-life relevant products for a real audience. This impacts a variety of areas that influence learning including engagement and purpose.
- Given the increasing complexity of our world and the types of data and analysis students will need to engage in technology based data visualization tools are an essential part of their future literacy.
1 I wish Marzano hadn’t done that work with Promethean.