Designing Studies to Measure the Implementation and Impact of Technology in American Schools by

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Designing Studies to Measure the Implementation and

Impact of Technology in American Schools
Larry V. Hedges
Spyros Konstantopoulos
Amy Thoreson
The University of Chicago

Paper Presented at the Conference on The Effectiveness of Educational Technology: Research Designs for the Next Decade, Menlo Park, CA, February 26, 2000

Different and complementary research strategies are needed to measure the implementation and the impact of technology in American Schools. To measure the implementation of technology surveys of (ideally representative) samples of American classrooms are needed. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides some idea of how such surveys can contribute to knowledge and provides important lessons about the development of targeted surveys to learn more than can be discovered from a general purpose survey such as NAEP. Some recommendations for in depth surveys of technology use are given. Assessment of the impact of technology from cross sectional surveys is difficult, as illustrated by analyses of NAEP data on technology use and achievement. Recommendations for longitudinal studies and designed experiments that might provide less ambiguous information will be given. However a major consideration is how quickly technology and technological competence is changing, which may make information rapidly obsolete. Consequently a major concern in the design of studies about technology is how to developing information in a timely fashion. New strategies may be needed to provide useful information for policy formation.

In commerce and manufacturing, in multinational corporations and individual households, computer technology has fundamentally altered how business is conducted and how people communicate. In the field of education, computers have become a common fixture in this country’s schools. In 1980, less than 20% of elementary, junior and senior high schools in the U.S. were equipped with microcomputers. Less than a decade later, virtually all public schools had some computing capability (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989). Similarly, student access to computers has increased dramatically, from more than 60 students per computer in 1984 to approximately 6 students per computer in 1998 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). Important questions for educators and policy makers concern the availability, use, and impact of computers in American schools.

The results from a number of published studies on the relationship between computer use and academic achievement indicate that this technology can bolster student outcomes (Becker, 1994; Christmann and Badgett, 1999; Hativa, 1994; Kozma, 1991; Kulik and Kulik, 1987; Liao, 1992; Niemiec and Walberg, 1987; Niemiec and Walberg, 1992; Ryan, 1991; Van Dusen and Worthen, 1994). In their research synthesis on computer-based instruction (CBI), for example, Niemiec and Walberg (1992) calculated a positive average CBI effect on achievement of 0.42 standard deviations. Ryan (1991) computed a mean effect size of 0.31 in a meta-analysis of 40 published and unpublished studies on computer use and achievement in elementary schools. Most of the subject-specific research on computer use and achievement have examined performance in science and mathematics.
There is some evidence, however, that the access to computers and the academic benefits that can be derived from computer use are not the same for all students. Although monies from federally-funded programs such as Title 1 that are targeted to assist disadvantaged students are often used to purchase computers (Scott, Cole and Engel, 1992), high-income and White students tend to have greater access than low-income and Black students and non-English speaking students tend to have the least access (Cuban, 1993; Neuman, 1991; Sutton, 1991). Moreover, even when high-SES and low-SES schools have comparable student-to-computer ratios, students in low-SES schools are likelier to use computers for drill and practice exercises while their more affluent counterparts engage in more challenging activities (Cole and Griffin, 1987; Kozma and Croninger, 1992; Watt, 1982). A number of quasi-experimental studies of the computer-achievement relationship for students of different abilities have also been conducted. The results from these designs are mixed. Some studies show that even under the same treatment conditions, high-ability students receive greater benefits from learning by computer than their lower ability classmates (Hativa, 1994; Hativa and Becker, 1994; Hativa and Shorer, 1989; Munger and Loyd, 1989; Osin, Nesher and Ram, 1994) while others indicate that high- and low-ability students attain similar gains (Becker, 1992; Clariana and Schultz, 1988). However, the results from longitudinal studies of computer-assisted instruction prompted some researchers to conclude that computerized learning contributes to the increasing achievement gaps between high- and low-SES students and between high- and low-ability students (Hativa, 1994; Hativa and Becker, 1994; Hativa and Shorer, 1989).

Considerable evidence indicates that even though teachers have had increasing access to computers for instruction, very few actually use them. In 1996, for example, the National Education Association reported that although 84% of all public school teachers said personal computers were available to them, only around 60% indicated that they ever used them (U.S. Census Bureau, 1998). Analysis of teacher data from NELS showed that about half of 8th grade math teachers have students who spend less than 10% of class time working on computers (Owens, 1994), while across subject matter, teachers average only about 4% of all instructional time with computers (Cuban, 1993). A survey of middle school math and science teachers in South Carolina (Dickey and Kherlopian, 1987) also showed that although 70% of these teachers had access to computers, almost half of those with access did not use them. Thus even though computer technology may be widely available, in general, it is poorly integrated into the classroom curriculum and is under-used (Maddux, Johnson, and Harlow, 1993; Becker, 1991; Ognibene and Stiele, 1990).
Most of the research on technology in schools indicates that computers have had little effect on teaching practices or classroom activities. Some authors (Cuban, 1993; Scott, Cole and Engel, 1992) have argued that computer use in schools simply follows the pattern of new technology such as radio and television when they were introduced. According to this view, the educational systems conservatism resists innovation, seeking to retain current goals and social organization. As a result, new technology is incorporated in old ways. Moreover, the sharp increase in the number of computers in schools is due to the efforts of those who profit from this expansion, such as hardware and software makers, not educators. These profiteers have been particularly successful by supplying goods and services for federally-funded programs for low-achieving minority students. These programs often feature computer systems with drill and kill software and are designed to replace teachers and control student behavior (Scott, Cole, and Engel, 1992).

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