A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Technology and Education Reform: Technical Research Report - August 1995

9. Effects on Students

In the previous chapter, we examined the effects of instituting technology-supported project-based learning in the context of our theoretical model of constructivist teaching and learning. In this chapter and the next, we take a more inductive perspective, summarizing the themes that emerged from the cross-case analysis.

Teacher Reports of Effects on Students

During the course of our fieldwork, we observed 17 classes or computer labs at sufficient length to develop separate descriptions (see Volume 2: Case Studies). We interviewed teachers in these classrooms about the effects that technology had on their students. Table 8 presents a categorization of the teacher responses, along with an indication of the number of observed teachers who made each point.

Motivational Effects

The most common-in fact, nearly universal-teacher-reported effect on students was an increase in motivation. Teachers talked about motivation from a number of different perspectives. Some mentioned motivation with respect to working in a specific subject area, for example, a greater willingness to write or to work on computational skills. Others spoke in terms of more general motivational effects-overall orientation toward working on school tasks, satisfaction with the immediate feedback provided by the computer, or the sense of accomplishment and power gained in working with technology:

Kids like the immediate results. It's not a result that you can get anywhere else except on the computer.... For them it really is a big deal-much more so than I ever thought it was going to be.

--Elementary school teacher

Technology is the ultimate carrot for students. It's something they want to master. Learning to use it enhances their self-esteem and makes them excited about coming to school.

--Fifth-grade teacher

The computer has been an empowering tool to the students. They have a voice, and it's not in any way secondary to anybody else's voice. It's an equal voice. So that's incredibly positive. Motivation to use technology is very high.

--Elementary school teacher

Table 8
Teacher-Reported Effects of Technology on Students

Observed Effect Number Reporting a
Technical skills 15
Accomplishment of more complex tasks 14
Increased use of outside information resources 10
Enhanced creativity 9
Improved design skills; ability to present information better 7
Improved understanding of audience needs 7
Higher-quality products 7
Increased likelihood of editing own writing; better editing skills 4
Greater consideration of multiple perspectives 3
Improved oral communication skills 2
Increased motivation 16
Heightened self-esteem 11
Improved behavior, such as attendance, time on task 5
More collaboration with peers; peer teaching 13
Better self-regulation of own learning 11
Students teaching teachers 5

a Out of 17 case study teachers.

In many of these classes, students choose to work on their technology-based projects during recess and lunch periods. A number of teachers describe opening their classrooms before school and during lunch for students who desire access to the computers. One elementary school teacher cheerfully reported that he had had to train his students to say, "Hello, Mr. G.! How are you?" before asking "Can I use the computers?" when they arrive early in the morning. The computer lab at the Maynard Computer Mini-School is well populated with students engaging in self-selected activities both before and after school.

Teacher reports regarding increased student motivation and self-esteem were supported by our classroom observations. Throughout our site visits, students were eager to share their computer-supported activities and products with us. They were obviously proud of their technical skills and of the type of work that they are able to accomplish with technology. Their demonstrated ability to exceed many adults in mastery of technology is highly motivating for students:

I told my mom all the stuff on the computer that she didn't even know. That was fun because I feel like I'm the mom.

--Middle school student

Luckily for us old fogies, many older students seem to develop tolerance for our technology deficits:

It's always an enlightening experience when you have a teacher come up to you and say, "Could you help me with this?" or "Could you get this for me?" You've got to remember they didn't grow up with this [technology]. They grew up with the typewriter!

--High school student

Another reason why technology is so motivating for many students is their realization that technology skills will be required for so many jobs in the future. Unlike much of what students are asked to do in school, they can envision a direct link between the acquisition of technology skills and a satisfying adult life:

The world is getting more technological and scientific. You'll have to learn, you'll have to know [how to use technology] or you won't survive.

--Middle school student

I think if you practice doing all of the technology we have here, when you go out of school...when you want to get a job, they'll pick you over somebody that doesn't know [how to use computers].... It's an advantage.

--Middle school student

Teachers also frequently cite technology's motivational advantages in providing a venue in which a wider range of students can excel. Compared with conventional classrooms with their stress on verbal knowledge and multiple-choice test performance, technology provides a very different set of challenges and different ways in which students can demonstrate what they understand (e.g., by programming a simulation to demonstrate a concept rather than trying to explain it verbally). Teachers and students are sometimes surprised at the level of technology-based accomplishment displayed by students who have shown much less initiative or facility with more conventional academic tasks. For many students, the feeling of mastery, as well as the social recognition that often accompanies such accomplishments, can truly make a difference in one's sense of efficacy as a learner. Not surprisingly, most teachers report also that technology use enhances student self-esteem. Exhibit 11 provides descriptions of the effect that accomplishing things through the use of technology had on the self-esteem of two individual students.

Exhibit 11

Increases in Student Self-Esteem Arising from
Technology-Supported Accomplishments

An Elementary School Student

A teacher at the Progressive School cites the case of one of her students as an illustration of how technology makes it possible for students who do not normally excel at academic tasks to become class "stars."

My favorite is this boy...who had major problems at home. He figured out a way to make music by getting the computer to play certain letters by certain powers and it changed the musical tone of the note, and he actually wrote a piece. He stayed in every recess.... When I asked him what he was working on, he wouldn't tell me. Then he asked if he could put his HyperCard stack on my computer because it was hooked up to speakers. I said "sure" and at recess...he put it on my computer and played his music and literally stopped the room. And for months he had kids begging him at recess, every recess, to teach them how to make music. And for that particular kid it was the world because he really was not successful academically and was having lots of problems.... This really changed him for that school year.

A Middle School Student

The mother of a seventh-grader at the School of the Future described how the school's program and the technology supports it offers increased her son's achievement level, motivation, and self-esteem. At his previous school, the boy had been unhappy and suffered from low self-esteem. He was bored by mathematics and uninterested in learning multiplication tables. In language arts, his work was hampered by poor spelling and sloppy penmanship. At the School of the Future, he was able to use technologies such as the word processor and the spell checker to circumvent these latter problems and concentrate on the meaning of what he was writing. He was given the option also to skip ahead in mathematics and finally conquered the multiplication tables so that he could take algebra in the seventh grade. At the end of 2 years there, he was an eager, confident student who was performing well above grade level in a number of areas.

Both the increased competence students feel after mastering technology-based tasks and their awareness of the value placed on technology within our culture appear to lead to increases in students' (and often teachers') sense of self-worth.

When you work on the computer, you feel smarter. It's like-"I know how to do that!"

--Fifth-grade student

I see more confidence in the kids here.... I think it's not just computers, it's a multitude of things; but they can do things on the computers that most of their parents can't do, and that's very empowering and exciting for them. It's "I can sit down and make this machine pretty much do what I want to," and there's something about that that gives them an extra little boost of, "Wow, I'm a pretty special person."

--Elementary school teacher

Students clearly take pride in being able to use the same computer-based tools employed by professionals. As one teacher expressed it, "Students gain a sense of empowerment from learning to control the computer and to use it in ways they associate with the real world." Technology is valued within our culture. It is something that costs money and that bestows the power to add value. By giving students technology tools, we are implicitly giving weight to their school activities. Students are very sensitive to this message that they and their work are important.

Students commented during interviews that using computers made them feel special and important. More often than not, students also reported that they preferred working with the computer to other, more traditional tools (e.g., textbooks, pencils and paper). A school-administered survey conducted at the School of the Future indicated that 70% of the students thought that the computer "made learning more fun."


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