Benefits of Technology Use
Archived Information

"Parents want what's best for their children, and parents now realize that education today has to be different than what was provided for them."

Parent, Midwest Regional Forum

Educators have used computers and other information technologies as tools to increase student learning in America's elementary and secondary schools for over 30 years. The 1960s brought computer-assisted instruction (CAI) to schools. CAI was developed to help students acquire basic skills, practice them, and measure learning gains.

With the development and increased availability of lower-cost personal computers, the use of technology in schools broadened in the early 1980s to encompass the use of general-purpose tools such as word processors and spreadsheets. Technology that allowed classes to be given by remote teachers via two-way audio and video, known as "distance learning," also first appeared in schools in the early 1980s and has become widespread. Distance learning programming, transmitted via cables, fiber optics, and satellites, expands access to instruction for students, particularly for those in remote regions of the nation and in underserved communities.

As we approach the 21st century, several new, more powerful technologies are just beginning to make their way into classrooms across the nation. For example, new personal computers support "multimedia" educational software that employs both sound and video to teach students facts and concepts. Advances in telecommunications technologies have spurred access to the Internet, allowing students and teachers to communicate with people from around the world via electronic mail, or "e-mail" as it is commonly known. New ways of obtaining and presenting information have given students powerful new ways of analyzing and understanding the world around them.

In fact, not only are new technologies more powerful, but they are easier to use and more accessible. Modified keyboards, joysticks, and head pointers allow students with physical disabilities to use computers.6 Synthesized speech lets those with speech impairments "talk" by typing their words into a computer. And speech-to text translators transfer the spoken word into written text, facilitating communication for those who cannot type, or choose not to.7

Through the use of advanced computing and telecommunications technology, learning can also be qualitatively different. The process of learning in the classroom can become significantly richer as students have access to new and different types of information, can manipulate it on the computer through graphic displays or controlled experiments in ways never before possible, and can communicate their results and conclusions in a variety of media to their teacher, students in the next classroom, or students around the world. For example, using technology, students can collect and graph real-time weather, environmental, and population data from their community, use that data to create color maps and graphs, and then compare these maps to others created by students in other communities.8 Similarly, instead of reading about the human circulatory system and seeing textbook pictures depicting bloodflow, students can use technology to see blood moving through veins and arteries, watch the process of oxygen entering the bloodstream, and experiment to understand the effects of increased pulse or cholesterol-filled arteries on blood flow.

We now know--based on decades of use in schools, on findings of hundreds of research studies, and on the everyday experiences of educators, students, and their families--that, properly used, technology can enhance the achievement of all students, increase families' involvement in their children's schooling, improve teachers' skills and knowledge, and improve school administration and management. This chapter presents an overview of the benefits of technology use for education, as well as a discussion of the characteristics of successful technology-rich schools. It concludes with a call to continue investing in research and development in this area.

When I hire someone at the drugstore, if they haven't got at least a little experience with computers, I probably don't even want to talk to them about a job.

-- Local Business Owner, Plant City, Florida14

Enhanced Student Achievement

As an instructional tool, technology helps all students--including poor students and students with disabilities--master basic and advanced skills required for the world of work. As an assessment tool, technology yields meaningful information, on demand, about students' progress and accomplishments and provides a medium for its storage. As a motivational tool, technology positively impacts student attitudes toward learning, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Indeed, as the following sections demonstrate, these findings are not trivial and represent the many ways in which technology can be used as a powerful tool for enhancing student achievement.

Basic Skills Instruction

Since its earliest classroom applications, technology has served as a very successful and efficient tutor for students learning basic reading and math skills. Teachers who employ CAI, for example, can drill students on specific topics for which they need extra help, such as with long division or spelling. Among the attractions of CAI are its ability to individualize instruction and to provide instant feedback. Many CAI applications not only mark student answers as right or wrong, but explain the correct answer. Since students are able to control the pace at which they proceed through their exercises, they are neither held back nor left behind by their peers. And, the instant feedback motivates them to continue. In a decade-long series of studies, students in classes that use CAI outperformed their peers on standardized tests of basic skills achievement by 30 percent on average.9 (However, not all applications of CAI have been found to be so successful in all types of settings.)

Schools have also turned to videodiscs and multimedia software--which can store and play back extensive collections of multimedia images--to strengthen students' basic skills. Video and audio technologies bring material to life, enhancing students' ability to remember and understand what they see and hear.10 Until recently, teachers have used video primarily as a visual aid to demonstrate events or concepts.11 By incorporating pictures, sound, and animation in classroom activities, multimedia significantly enhances students' recall of basic facts, as well as their understanding of complex systems.12

Distance learning, delivered via live interactive transmissions, improves student achievement at least as much as traditional methods of instruction.13 In addition--particularly for students in rural or remote schools--distance learning technology expands student access to the core curriculum by enabling students to take classes not typically offered at their own schools. In many cases, the instruction students receive is of high quality, because distance learning courses can attract exceptional teachers and content experts.

Finally, even as technology has helped students master the traditional basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, it has created new ones--those related to the use of technology itself. By the 21st century, 60 percent of all jobs in the nation will require skills in computer and network use.15 This means that any student who does not know the essentials of using computers--word processors, spreadsheets, databases, networks, and operating systems--will be at a distinct disadvantage.


Pease Elementary School:
San Antonio, Texas

Problem Solving with Technology

At Pease Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, students improved their own lives even as they learned how technology could be used to solve real problems. For the Global Laboratory project, students decided to test the air in their own, poor smelling classroom. Using primitive air pumps and testing tubes, students were surprised to find elevated carbon dioxide levels in the air. They replicated their experiments in other classrooms with similar results. Since they could not find the cause of the elevated carbon dioxide levels, they decided to seek help on a computer network. An environmental scientist responded to their questions. With his suggestions in hand, the students examined the school's construction and found that the likely cause was poor ventilation. Using word processors and graphics programs, the students developed a presentation of their findings for the school board which, after confirming the readings, repaired the ventilation system. The students then shared what they had learned on the network, which in turn prompted at least one other school to discover elevated carbon dioxide levels in classrooms.

Advanced Skills Instruction

In 1992, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills focused the nation's attention on the fact that more than half of all high school students leave school without the problem-solving and reasoning skills necessary to find and advance in a good job. Fortunately, teachers have found that interactive educational technology is an invaluable ally in moving all students beyond the basic skills. Access to computer-generated simulations, videodiscs, the Internet, and software on CD-ROM offers students experiences available nowhere else--experiences that students will need for the 21st century. In fact, students with extensive access to technology learn how to organize complex information, recognize patterns, draw inferences, and communicate findings.16 Not surprisingly, they exhibit superior organizational and problem-solving skills as compared to students in more traditional high school programs.17

It's the difference between looking at a picture of a heart in a textbook, and looking at a beating heart and being able to slow it down and analyze it to see exactly how it works, step by step.

-- High School Science Teacher, Plant City, Florida18

One simulation software package, for example, allows students to assume the role of mayor of a large city. By governing the imaginary city, students learn about the interconnections and tradeoffs of modern society. Raising taxes results in more city services, but in less disposable income for residents (and a drop in public opinion polls for the mayor). Opening manufacturing plants increases employment, but harms the environment. Another program allows students to assume the role of a 19th-century Irish immigrant in Boston. Students experience the trip to the New World on a whaling vessel, practice writing by keeping journals of their life in their new homes, and strengthen math skills as they struggle to live within their budgets. Throughout, multimedia presentations help bring the period to life for the students, and word processors and spreadsheets give them the tools they need to complete their assignments.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that technology is particularly valuable in improving student writing. For example, the ease with which students can edit their written work using word processors makes them more willing to do so, which in turn improves the quality of their writing.19 Studies have shown that students are more comfortable with and adept at critiquing and editing written work if it is exchanged over a computer network with students they know.20 And student writing that is shared with other students over a network tends to be of higher quality than writing produced for in-class use only.21

Several mathematics software programs help students reach the high standards promoted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and other professional groups. One of these products, for example, shows students how math can be used to solve problems encountered in real life. Each segment in the series presents mysteries or problems encountered by the main character that require mathematical solutions. In one, students must figure out if the main character has enough gas and time to get his boat home without refueling. The data necessary to solve the problems are embedded throughout the stories, requiring students first to determine which information is relevant to the solution and then to use their skills to solve the problem at hand. Another program teaches problem-solving and computer programming skills through a story about a planet with a disappearing rain forest. Students manipulate geometric shapes to repair damaged bridges, learn map-reading skills to navigate rivers and roads, develop logic skills as they program robots to help them, and use algebra to pack parcels they find along the way.22

One thing I like about the computer is that it does give a lot of instruction--and you don't need to have hearing to take advantage of it.

-- High School Student with a Hearing Disability, Consumer Review Panel

Learning-disabled students can master complex problem-solving skills as well as nondisabled students with the support of educational technology.23 In some cases, these students exhibit unique facility with technology and become highly valued tutors within the classroom. Word processors, teamed with carefully guided instruction, have enabled some students with learning disabilities to write well reasoned and organized reports.24 Studies of students with disabilities show that technology can expand access to educational resources and enhance students' ability to process and remember information.25


Blackstock Junior High School
Port Hueneme, California

Creating Smart Classrooms

Since moving to integrate technology in 1983, Blackstock Junior High School has seen results that are impressive: 8th-grade students are now scoring at or above the 90th state wide percentile in math, history/social studies, science, and writing. Measures of critical thinking skills rose from the 40th to the 80th percentile, average daily attendance has increased, and discipline problems have declined.

Blackstock's work to develop and support their learner-centered, technology-rich environment has created "smart classrooms." There are at present eight smart classrooms, including two for instruction in 7th-grade science, one for instruction in 8th-grade science, two for literature and history, one for ESL instruction, one for instruction in business education, and one called "Tech Lab 2000."

Tech Lab 2000 is best described as the futuristic equivalent of a wood or metal shop. Designed to make students familiar with the technology present in the modern workplace, the Tech Lab is outfitted with computer-assisted design (CAD) software, a computer numerically controlled (CNC) flexible manufacturing system, pneumatic equipment, and a satellite dish. All of the other smart classrooms have between 25-30 computers on a local area network (LAN). Each is also equipped with a sophisticated file server and a special switch to give the teacher maximum control over classroom dynamics. With the switch, students can all be working on the same project, or there can be a variety of things going on in the classroom at the same time.

Staff development efforts for teachers in the smart classrooms have centered on giving individual instructors large amounts of paid time off to familiarize themselves with technology and to organize a technology-based curriculum. Ongoing staff development for all teachers is supported by four paid days of technology training per year and a considerable amount of informal sharing.

Assessment of Student Progress

Technology offers several advantages over traditional methods of student assessment.26 For example, multimedia technology expands the possibilities for more comprehensive student assessments that require students' active participation and application of knowledge. The immense storage capacity enabled by technology such as CD-ROMs allows schools to develop electronic portfolios of students' work. A single CD can hold exact copies of students' drawings and written work, recordings of the child reading aloud, and video images of plays, recitals, or class presentations. By saving work samples on different subjects at different times during the year, teachers can display them in rapid succession to demonstrate and assess growth. A recent development, computer-adaptive testing, promises to administer tests more efficiently by automatically adjusting the level of difficulty of the questions until it correctly ascertains a student's level of proficiency.

Exposure to computers has changed the type of student I am and my methods for attacking problems. I now gain a far better understanding of the topics I pursue, and discover links and connections between them.

-- High School Student, Midwest Regional Forum

Student Motivation

The use of technology in the classroom improves students' motivation and attitudes about themselves and about learning. Technology-rich schools report higher attendance and lower dropout rates than in the past.27 Students are found to be challenged, engaged, and more independent when using technology.28 By encouraging experimentation and exploration of new frontiers of knowledge on their own through the use of technology, students gain a greater sense of responsibility for their work--producing higher-quality assignments that reflect the increased depth and breadth of their knowledge and talent.29 And technology energizes students, because they often know more about its operation than do their teachers.30

Increased Family Involvement

Technology offers new and exciting ways for families to increase their involvement in their children's education. For example, one project at several schools in one state provides 4th- through 6th-grade students with computers at home and modems to connect their home computers with their schools', thereby increasing the amount of time students spend on educational activities outside of school and increasing family involvement.31 Students watch less television, improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills, improve their writing and math skills, and improve their computer skills. Parents communicate more with their children and their children's teachers, are more aware of their children's assignments, increase their own computer skills, use the computer for personal and business reasons (such as working toward a GED), and spend more time with their families. In fact, this program has become a vehicle for empowering students in other, less tangible ways. For example, since students are often more proficient with technology than their parents, they can teach their parents about the technology--an experience that improves students' self-confidence and skills.

Students in another school district created an electronic bulletin board service that provides students, family and community members, and staff with information on school activities, announcements, weather forecasts, academic materials, tutorials, and e-mail services.32 The potential of these and other projects is why nine of every ten districts are, or are planning to, increase family involvement through home use of instructional software.33 Other enterprising projects identify and recruit parent volunteers who have technology expertise to lend to schools. These volunteers can train teachers, install hardware and software, and offer other technology-related advice.


East Bakersfield High School
Bakersfield, California

Education to Build Job-Related Experience

East Bakersfield High School emphasizes a technology-rich, school-to-work transition program in a school serving 2,400 students, with a majority considered at-risk. The result: fewer students are dropping out, and graduates are markedly more successful in finding work.

The curriculum is organized around five career tracks designed to allow students to develop technical and applied skills related to broad industry groups: science, technology, engineering and manufacturing; health careers; communications and graphic arts; human and government services; and business and entrepreneurship.

Technology-based instruction is integrated smoothly into coursework from beginning to end. As freshmen, students take a nine-week course in keyboarding and basic computer literacy. Writing assignments in the freshman English and history core courses are organized to ensure that all students moving into their sophomore year are proficient in the use of word processing programs. As seniors, students have to complete a technology-based project as a graduation requirement. Projects involve the use of computers, graphics software, or video equipment.

Administrators at East Bakersfield use a variety of measures to support technology related staff development. There is a limited amount of funding available for paid, formal technology training--the school's staff development budget allocates an average of one paid day per teacher per year. To support informal development efforts, the school has established a teacher computer lab. And to keep the technology running smoothly, the school has a half-time technology coordinator, a full-time repair specialist, and a budget for hiring network specialists on an as needed basis.

Improved Teachers' Skills

I am changing the way I teach, because of the things I am able to do.

-- High School Science Teacher, Northwest Regional Forum

Technology helps teachers improve their classroom practice by expanding their opportunities for training and by fostering collegial work with other teachers and professionals.34 For example, videodiscs and CD-ROM multimedia presentations are being used to show prospective teachers how contrasting styles of teaching affect student engagement and achievement.35 Similarly, distance learning technologies are being used to deliver staff development courses across 90 school districts in California.36 These courses are being led by experts, many of whom are teachers themselves. Teacher participants have the opportunity to call in and interact with the experts by telephone, as well as to engage in discussions at each school site led by facilitators.

Particularly promising to teacher skill development are electronic networks that allow teachers to overcome the isolation they experience in their classrooms.37 By bouncing ideas off peers and sharing experiences and resources with like-minded colleagues across the country, they are gaining enthusiasm, confidence, and competence. As one principal notes, "E-mail allows teachers to pose questions to each other and to me when they have the time. On the system, we can respond to each other at our convenience, and we avoid the 'let's talk later' syndrome that is part of working with children."38 Other professional activities of teachers who use telecommunications include accessing relevant student information, accessing educational research, downloading lesson plans, and accessing libraries.39

Improved School Administration and Management

Similar to the experience of businesses in the private sector, technology used as an administrative and management tool enables principals and superintendents to save money, streamline operations, and monitor student progress. For example, the Guilford County school system in North Carolina uses a district wide interactive video network, resulting in cost savings by eliminating unnecessary travel, reducing busing, and using staff time more efficiently. A recent 30 minute curriculum planning meeting of three people on the network saved 72 miles in travel reimbursement and more than 3 staff hours of professional salaries. Students learning French IV over the network are no longer bused to class, which saves salary, fuel, and maintenance costs.40 The Pinellas County, Florida, school system maintains a 13-year longitudinal database of costs and other inputs, school processes, and student outcomes to monitor ongoing school improvement efforts. School and district quality councils access the database regularly during strategic planning phases and annual evaluations of school and district programs. Additionally, the database allows the district to continue to track students who leave the district and enroll in other districts in the state.41

Technology, in and of itself, is not a magic wand. Technology is not going to fix the problems associated with schooling, but, at the same time, the problems that plague our educational system are not going to be remedied without the presence of technology.

-- Researcher, Northeast Regional Forum

Characteristics of Successful Technology-Rich Schools

We know that successful technology-rich schools generate impressive results for students, including improved achievement; higher test scores; improved student attitude, enthusiasm, and engagement; richer classroom content; and improved student retention and job placement rates.42 Of the hundreds of studies that show positive benefits from the use of technology, two are worth noting for their comprehensiveness. The first, a U.S. Department of Education-funded study of nine technology-rich schools, concluded that the use of technology resulted in educational gains for all students regardless of age, race, parental income, or other characteristics.43 The second, a 10-year study supported by Apple Computer, Inc., concluded that students provided with technology-rich learning environments "continued to perform well on standardized tests but were also developing a variety of competencies not usually measured. Students explored and represented information dynamically and in many forms; became socially aware and more confident; communicated effectively about complex processes; became independent learners and self-starters; knew their areas of expertise and shared that expertise spontaneously."44 Moreover, research that demonstrates the effective use of technology is borne out in many successful schools across the nation. For example, the Carrollton City School District in Georgia reported a decline in the average failure rate for 9th-grade algebra from 38 percent to 3 percent after employing technology in its schools.45 Leading edge technology districts are more likely to be located in affluent, suburban communities. Table 1 presents success measures of technology rich schools with very different student populations.

Table 1
Success Measures in Technology-Rich Schools46
Christopher Columbus Middle School
Union City, NJ
91 percent, minority, 79 percent free-lunch eligible Rising scores on state tests; improved student attendance

Blackstock Jr. High School
Port Hueneme, CA
65 percent minority, 76 percent Title I Improved test scores; increased student comprehension, motivation, attitude; strong student, parent, and teacher support

East Bakersfield High School
Bakersfield, CA
60 percent minority, very low English proficiency Improved student retention; improved placement in jobs

Northbrook Middle School
Houston, TX
Largely minority, low socioeconomic status Sharply improved test scores

Studies examining the success of technology-rich schools have revealed four key features that appear to represent best practices of the high technology school of the future.47 The first feature emphasizes the role of concentrated, conscious, and explicit planning among school leaders, families, and students to create "learner centered" environments. These learner-centered environments focus on how technology can support students' individual needs and capabilities, not on the capabilities of the technology itself.

As a corollary to this planning process, the goals and challenging standards for student achievement are clearly articulated. In successful technology-rich schools, these measures of student success are not simply limited to achievement test scores, but also include indicators of other important school processes, such as student motivation and engagement, job placement, attendance rates, dropout rates, and level of family involvement.

A third feature emphasizes the restructuring of the school to support the learner-centered environment and achievement of standards. Successful technology-rich schools physically reorganize and redesign their classrooms and school buildings, rethink their use of time, reevaluate the manner in which they deliver their curriculum, and build better partnerships among teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

For example, within the framework of this learner-centered environment, a successful technology-rich school may lengthen its class periods to accommodate an interdisciplinary program, which is enhanced through the use of technology. Teachers may lecture less and require more interaction and discussion from students. Properly supported with technology, many students with disabilities remain in regular classrooms with their peers, or reduce their need for school-related services.48 In these and similar ways schools are restructured to become learner centered.

The fourth and final feature common to successful technology-rich schools is near universal access to computer technology --at least one computer for every five students. To accomplish this level of access, successful schools spend about three times as much on technology-related costs as do average schools. In some cases, these schools spend more than five times the average. Additionally, many currently successful technology-rich schools secure an initial investment of external funding to defray the startup costs of technology and training.


Northbrook Middle School
Houston, Texas

Preparing life-long learners for the world of work

Northbrook Middle School students use technology as a tool to increase their learning and productivity in all subjects. Since it reopened in 1991 with a commitment to a technology-rich, learner-centered environment, Northbrook has seen test scores, attendance records, student attitudes and self esteem, and discipline all improve. Setting aside 25 percent of its $6 million startup costs for networking, hardware, and software costs, Northbrook Middle School is a new creation in an old building. It serves a 6th- through 8th-grade population of under 800 students drawn largely from families of Hispanic migrant workers.

The school itself is organized into four learner-centered clusters. Teachers and students in each cluster work together to support one another in gathering information and solving problems. Technology is employed to help students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as to tailor instruction to individual student needs.

With over 400 computers in place in the school's six technology labs and 48 classrooms, Northbrook has a student-to-computer ratio of just under 2:1. Each of the school's classrooms is outfitted with five or six computers. All of the computers have built-in CD-ROM capabilities in order to expand the range of software products available for student use. Access to network resources supports student information searches. Computers in the classrooms, in the computer labs, and in the library are networked together in a school wide LAN with Internet connectivity.

To support the technology program, Northbrook has relied primarily on on-site staff development. Each of the school's 48 teachers received two weeks of technology related staff development in the summer prior to the school reopening. On an ongoing basis, teachers participate in three to four days of paid training each year on average. Additional personnel supporting the technology program include a full time technology assistant and a part-time district technology coordinator. These two individuals conduct training and keep the technology running smoothly.


While research studies and the experiences of technology-rich schools demonstrate that current technologies are powerful tools for improving many aspects of the nation's schools, we must remain poised to take advantage of new and potentially exciting opportunities as they emerge. After all, three years ago technologies such as CD-ROMs and the Internet were virtually unheard of in schools. Today, we can see that they offer the nation's children a brighter future.

To that end, we also must continue our research and development efforts to understand those and other rapidly emerging educational technologies. Past investments in research and development in technology have paid huge dividends to education. The development of the microcomputer grew in part out of NASA's space exploration program in the 1960s and 1970s. The Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) began experimenting with computer networks in the 1950s, leading to the development of the Internet. The National Science Foundation enabled the Internet to form by expanding its reach and supporting research and development on networks. The Kurzweil machine, which converts written words into speech, was developed in part with the support of the U.S. Department of Education. To remain competitive in the 21st century, we cannot afford to miss any benefits technology might afford us.

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Last Modified: 08/23/2003