Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

From the Lagging to the Leading Edge

Research on technology in schools reveals what works, what appears to work, and what might work tomorrow.

Classroom ManagementTechnologyTechnologyTechnology
Today, even in some of the poorest neighborhoods, American students live in a world of portable CD players, hand-held video games, and multifunction remote controls. Yet when these students go to school, they often enter an environment where technology is limited to one hour a day on an obsolete computer or sharing calculators in math class. Even though the pace of technological innovation continues to accelerate in our society as a whole, in schools such innovation lags far off the pace.
A key obstacle to the use of technology in schools is the limited support teachers have for integrating unfamiliar technologies into instruction. As a result, teachers frequently avoid new technologies or use them for purposes other than those for which they were designed.
To help educators make more judicious use of technologies with potential for school use, we have classified some proven and promising applications. The first cluster includes applications that have been carefully studied and found to be effective for specified purposes. Applications in the second cluster have substantial anecdotal and research support. The third cluster describes technologies that are used in business and industry, but have not yet been evaluated in schools.

Research-Verified Applications

For two reasons, reliable research on school technologies may be hard to find. First, in some areas of technology, comprehensive research has simply not yet been done. Second, many conclusions are based on studies done before 1983 (Becker 1988). Nevertheless, a solid body of research and long-term classroom use indicates that some technologies make major contributions to instruction:
Calculators. To their familiar arithmetic, algebraic, and trigonomic functions, the most recent generation of calculators has added plotting and graphing capabilities that permit students to view the results of computations instantly in graphic form. Some calculators can also be connected to a large video display device.
Properly used, calculators facilitate learning in many aspects of mathematics, particularly in understanding mathematical concepts and problem solving (Palmer 1992). Further, because the calculator frees students from mechanical drudgery, they are encouraged to investigate mathematical applications, explore patterns, and try various approaches to problems. Research has also shown a positive relationship between calculator use and higher scores on basic skills tests.
Many mathematics educators believe that calculators are facilitating a desirable switch in emphasis from rote computation to active contemplation of mathematical ideas. For example, Steen (1992) observed, “As calculators and computers diminish the role of routine computation, school mathematics can focus instead on the conceptual insights and analytic skills that have always been at the heart of mathematics.”
Distance Education. In distance learning systems, learners in remote locations meet at a site that has cable or satellite receivers, phone lines, and video cameras. This equipment provides one- or two-way audio and one- or two-way video contact with a course provider. Specific learning opportunities (such as foreign language or advanced mathematics courses) can be offered this way in school systems that would not otherwise have them. Research results indicate that student performance in distance education depends heavily on the way that students are selected, courses are planned, and sessions at the remote sites are facilitated (Knott 1993).
One example of distance education is the Hughes Corporation's Galaxy program, which beams daily lessons to schools via satellite. Another example, Ameritech's Superschools program, links classrooms to two-way audio and video transmissions through microwave and fiber-optic networks used for long-distance telephone calls.
Drill and Practice (CAI/ILS). Certain drill-and-practice programs have been shown to exert a small but positive effect on learning (Kulik et al. 1983, Bangert-Drowns et al. 1985, Niemiec and Walberg 1985 and 1987, Rockman 1993). In some schools, computer-assisted instruction (CAI) using integrated learning systems (individualized academic tutorials) has shown impressive gains, especially in the early years and among under-achieving urban populations. Richey (see “Urban Success Stories,” p. 55), for instance, reports that in an urban elementary school with an outstanding CAI program, students in grades K–5 averaged a full grade above the norm on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Laser Videodiscs. Laser videodisc-based programs enable the user to interact with still or moving images in addition to print. Texas, Florida, and West Virginia have approved laser videodiscs for instruction. In fact, in 1990, Texas approved Optical Data Corporation's Windows on Science program for use in lieu of textbooks. The corporation's studies strongly suggest that the medium improves a variety of educational outcomes (see “Can Videodiscs Improve Student Outcomes?” p. 46).
Laser videodiscs do not require a computer. In fact, disc players with remote controls and barcode readers that select and present images are available for less than $400. Some multimedia authoring systems, like ASCD's Electronic Chalkboard, include barcode generators for adding graphics to print materials and incorporating videodisc-based images into multimedia presentations.
Microcomputer-Based Labs (MBLs). The Technical Education Resource Center (TERC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops labs using microcomputers and probes to sense such information as temperature, light intensity, and pH levels. The center's labs show up in the popular National Geographic Society's Kids Network and the IBM/EduQuest Personal Science Laboratory. Research literature supports computer labs as an avenue to hands-on science and the constructivist approach to teaching and learning (Loucks-Horsley et al. 1990, Rutherford and Ahlgren 1990, Simon et al. 1992).
Presentation Software. Overhead projectors and other audiovisual technologies can effectively support lectures and demonstrations, reduce the amount of time teachers spend lecturing to students, and increase hands-on, interdisciplinary instruction. Research on presentation software use indicates that it significantly increases retention rates, provided that the materials are well organized and color is used appropriately (Falkman 1990).
A single computer, along with either a large-screen monitor or LCD display panel, is a powerful tool for presenting visual information. The addition of multimedia capability permits enhancements like sound, graphics, and video images, which appeal to students with differing learning modalities (Gates 1993).
Telecommunications. Locating, reaching, and collecting the most current, accurate materials available is possible only through telecommunications networks, which can disseminate large quantities of information simultaneously to many people. In education, students can use telecommunications services for accessing publications, training materials, and collected data; informal sharing and communications (electronic mail); conferencing (bulletin boards and chat centers); and information interpretation and sharing (file exchange).
The equipment required ranges from a computer with modem and telephone-line access to multichannel satellite and fiber-optic access. The linkage can be one-way (transmitting information to a receiver), two-way (connecting two senders/receivers), or multiple-path (permitting information to be sent or received by many individuals or groups) (Honey and Henriquez 1993, Morton 1992, Roberts et al. 1990).

Emerging Applications with Substantial Support

The applications in this cluster have earned support in anecdotal records and meta-analytical studies.
Computerized Adaptive Testing (CAT). With CAT, test questions are presented according to the test taker's responses. A correct answer elicits a harder question, an incorrect answer is followed by an easier question, and so on until the person's level of knowledge is determined. The initial validation studies have established that CAT provides more accurate results with fewer questions and in less time than traditional tests take.
The Educational Testing Service, which publishes the Scholastic Aptitude and Achievement Tests, has launched a CAT program for the Graduate Record Exam. The creators of integrated learning systems will probably produce adaptive testing for a variety of subjects and levels within the next three to five years.
Interactive Multimedia. This computer technology links information from multiple sources (multimedia) and enables the user to interact directly with program content (hypermedia). Typically, the interactive multimedia program contains text, line drawings, maps and graphs, animated graphics, voice narration, music, and full-color, full-motion video clips. It also displays icons or buttons directing the user to other related information.
Multi-User Dimensions (MUDs). Individuals with a computer and modem are communicating via telecommunications services in order to play out roles in a preset imaginary context. MUDs may transport the user to any place in any time. For example, the environment might put the user in July 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, looking out from Little Round Top. Users might take on the roles of Union and Confederate soldiers. Participants must conform to the characteristics of their roles, but within these parameters, players can create novel representations of their surroundings and selves. MUDs provide opportunities for children and adults to pursue creative and collaborative activities stretching far beyond typical writing or drama exercises.
Text-to-Speech. Computers can translate text to speech. Although the results still sound somewhat mechanical, the addition of text readers to word processors is an increasingly popular enhancement for primary grades and non-English-speaking populations. Monologue for Windows by First Byte and Davidson's Kids Works 2 are well-known text-to-speech programs.
Voicemail. Telephones answered by digital voicemail systems are commonplace, but although many school districts use them as answering machines, few exploit their potential to deliver information to students. Since an estimated 99 percent of all homes have at least one telephone, each child can be assigned a private mailbox with a personal information number (PIN). From any touchtone phone, students, teachers, or parents can access their mailboxes, which might contain teacher comments, homework assignments, reading samples, appointments for parent conferences, and so on. Teachers can also set up mailing lists for directing messages to particular sets of students.
Word Processing. Schools widely use word processing programs to develop students' composition, editing, and revision skills, and it appears that students with a high degree of access to the programs do write more and better. Particularly among low-achieving students, the access for regular writing tasks seems to make a substantial difference in the quality of student work (Cannings and Finkel 1993). The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow evaluations (1992) also show that the early acquisition of keyboarding skills (in grades 2 and 3) significantly increases writing productivity (Hiebert 1987; see: “The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow: What We've Learned,” p. 4).
Word processing does not necessarily require a full-scale computer. Edinger claims that giving a Tandy WP2 (a portable device that does only word processing) to every 3rd grade student at her school has transformed teaching and increased the quality and quantity of student writing (see “Empowering Young Writers with Technology,” p. 58).

Future Opportunities

Although technologies in this cluster are already at work in business and industry, little evidence is available about their applications in schools.
Broadband Networks. It is not entirely facetious to say that Sega and Nintendo are in control of our children's educational futures. The mass market for entertainment software is fueling the development of real-time interactive programming (that is, two-way, delay-free transmissions) delivered to the home via cable or satellite through interfaces attached to television sets. The communications bandwidth needed to transmit entertainment programming will also allow the delivery of high-quality, interactive instructional programming. This advance will greatly expand what distance learning can do. The potential trouble spot, however, is that once again, hardware development is racing ahead of software production. Unless educators develop programs to meet educational needs, entrepreneurs will fill the void.
Groupware. An emerging class of products (such as Lotus Notes from the Lotus Development Corporation) allows users in a computer network to jointly author, share, and disseminate electronic documents. The initial author creates a file, and each person who reads the file may add comments, suggestions, or original text as a separate overlay visible to all other group members (graphic images, sound, and video clips can also be attached). The original author has the right to incorporate any of the suggestions into the original document.
Another kind of groupware, group decision support software, allows network users to brainstorm, analyze items, rank, set priorities, and do other decision-making operations. Team Focus is the IBM Corporation's version of this sort of groupware.
Both classes of groupware have educational applications. They can support cooperative learning activities, curriculum development, or any collaborative type of work.
Knowbots. Automated systems for collecting, screening, and organizing data are called knowbots (short for knowledge robots). These systems are useful because the volume of available information has grown so huge.
Knowbot users first define the kinds of information wanted. The knowbot might filter an incoming stream of video, audio, and text information (such as that received by members of an Internet mailing list), or it might search online databases. These pools of data can be located on the user's local area network, in free databases available from government agencies or Internet, or in databases to which the user subscribes. Hoover, from the Sandpoint Corporation, is a knowbot that can be tailored to load automated search results directly into Lotus Notes applications.
Pen-Based Computing. In addition to power and memory, computer users want portability and ease of use. In the past, limits to miniaturization were imposed by the need to enter data on a keyboard. This problem has been overcome with pen-based applications that use touch screen icons and handwriting recognition.
Personal digital assistants (PDAs), like the Apple Newton or Casio/Tandy Z-series, are small, portable technologies with excellent potential as instructional devices. For example, a teacher moving about the classroom could use a PDA to record observations or complete checklists, then subsequently upload the notes to a cumulative file on a computer network. Students can also use PDAs to record data during field trips.
Speech-to-Text. Until recently, personal computers did not have enough memory and processing speed to recognize voices and accomplish speech-to-text operations effectively. Now, however, hardware is more powerful, and speech recognition algorithms have become highly sophisticated. Both advances support the development of voice-aware applications enabling users to vocally control computer functions like saving or printing a file. Trainable speech-to-text translation software with a basic vocabulary of 30,000 to 40,000 words is now available from IBM Direct, and a Massachusetts company called Dragon Systems offers a developer's tool kit for less than $2,000.
Virtual Reality. Virtual reality programs require that the user strap on special goggles that are connected to a “data glove” or some similar input device. Users are enveloped with a three-dimensional environment that mimics real life. A person can explore this artificial setting just as he or she would the real world.
Virtual reality provides visual and kinesthetic experiences that are seldom available in schools, and it transforms learners from a passive to participatory mode. In arts education, for example, a student could create the set for a virtual reality theater production and then act in the drama before it is ever written on paper or produced with live actors on a stage.
Wireless Connectivity. The popularity of cellular telephones demonstrates how useful wireless connectivity can be—indeed, laptop or handheld computers with cellular fax modems have become the hallmark of business's so-called “road warrior.” With wireless technology, teachers and students can have school information available at any time wherever they are. Wireless Coyote (1992), a videotape from Apple Computer Inc., describes the power of wireless connectivity for use in instruction.

Planning Smarter Schools

Identifying promising advanced technologies and planning how to integrate them into instruction are two very different issues. To rise to the latter challenge, planners need to know what is apt to happen when technology is used intensively and effectively.
  • Learning experiences proliferate. Teachers expect more of their students and present more complex material. The range of learning experiences extends far beyond those offered in traditional classrooms.
  • More individual attention is possible. Time-consuming paperwork for teachers is reduced, permitting them to focus their attention elsewhere. Teachers can better meet the demands of individual students, give them more attention, allow more independent work, and accommodate different learning styles.
  • Roles shift. Teacher-centered classrooms tend to evolve into student-centered ones. The teacher acts more as a coach than an information dispenser. More collaboration and small-group work occurs.
To realize any vision of smarter schooling by using technology, school districts and colleges of education must prepare teachers to use the technology. Apart from funding considerations, adequate teacher preparation is probably the most important determinant of success.
  • rent-to-own agreements in cooperation with local businesses;
  • professional contract revisions to recognize that the ability to do productive work is not restricted by time or place;
  • teachers-only electronic tools provided in classrooms, teachers lounges, or library/media centers;
  • technology loan programs for teachers' home use;
  • technological competency requirements in all teacher education programs;
  • state-of-the-art electronic tools for professors of education; and
  • a telephone line in every classroom.
Recent research suggests that seven years of administrative support, staff development, and planning time are required before teachers fully integrate technologies into their repertoires (Sheingold and Hadley 1990). To move this process along, teachers must have timely opportunities to use technology for classroom and personal productivity. In other words, when it is time to send letters home to parents, give teachers access to a laptop computer and a voice-aware word processor. Then just watch how quickly they warm up to technology.

Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow. (1992). Wireless Coyote (videotape). Cupertino, Calif.: Apple Computer, Inc.

Bangert-Drowns, R., J. Kulik, and C. Kulik. (1985). “Effectiveness of Computer-Based Education in Secondary Schools.” Journal of Computer-Based Instruction 12: 59–68.

Becker, H. (1988). The Impact of Computer Use on Children's Learning: What the Research Has Shown and What It Has Not. Baltimore, Md.: Center for Research on Elementary and Middle Schools, Johns Hopkins University.

Cannings, R., and L. Finkel. (1993). The Technology Age Classroom. Wilsonville, Ore.: Franklin, Beedle, and Associates.

Falkman, S. K. (1990). Training Delivery Problems: An Analysis of Novice and Expert Trainers. St. Paul, Minn.: University of Minnesota.

Gates, W. (March 1993). “The Promise of Multimedia.” American School Boards Journal 180, 3.

Heibert, E. (1987). “Report on the Writing Program at ACOT's Cupertino Site.” Unpublished report. Berkley, Calif: Apple Computer, Inc.

Honey, M., and A. Henriquez. (1993). Telecommunications and K–12 Educators: Findings from a National Survey. New York: Center for Technology in Education, Bank Street College of Education.

International Society for Technology in Education. (October 1990). Vision: Test. Final report. Eugene, Ore.: ISTE.

Knott, T. (1993). “Distance Education Effectiveness.” ED Journal 7, 6: J7–J16.

Kulik, J., R. Bangert, and G. Williams. (1983). “Effects of Computer-Based Teaching on Secondary School Students.” Journal of Educational Psychology 75: 19–26.

Loucks-Horsley, S., R. Kapitan, M. D. Carlson, P. J. Kuerbis, R. C. Clark, G. M. Melle, T. P. Sachse, and E. Walton. (1990). Elementary Science for the '90s. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, in cooperation with The NETWORK Inc., Andover, Mass.

Morton, C. (1992). “Telecommunications: Making Global Connections.” In The ASCD Curriculum Handbook. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.

Niemiec, R., and H. Walberg. (1985). “Computers and Achievement in the Elementary School.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 1: 435–440.

Niemiec, R., and H. Walberg. (1987). “Comparative Effects of Computer-Assisted Instruction: A Synthesis of Reviews.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 3: 19–37.

Palmer, M. (1992). “Mathematics Principles.” In The ASCD Curriculum Handbook. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.

Roberts, N., G. Blakeslee, M. Brown, and C. Lenk. (1990). Integrating Telecommunications into Education. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Rockman, S. (1993). “Asking the Right Questions.” American School Boards Journal 180, 3.

Rutherford, J. P., and A. Ahlgren. (1990). Science for All Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sheingold, K., and M. Hadley. (September 1990). Accomplished Teachers: Integrating Computers into Classroom Practice. New York: Center for Technology in Education, Bank Street College of Education.

Simon, S. A., and A.T. Jones, with R. W. Fairbrother, J. R. Watson, and P. J. Black. (1992). Open Work in Science: A Review of Existing Practice. London: Centre for Educational Studies, Kings College, University of London.

Steen, A. (1992). “Mathematics.” In The ASCD Curriculum Handbook. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD.

Vicki Hancock has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

Learn More

ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

Let us help you put your vision into action.
Related Articles
View all
Classroom Management
Rethinking Challenging Behavior
Christopher Emdin & Ian Levy
8 months ago

Connection Before Correction
Lee Ann Jung
8 months ago

Is the Challenge Our Behavior?
Kimberly N. Parker
8 months ago

Growing Prosocial Brains
Wendy L. Ostroff
8 months ago

Following Through on Restorative Practice
Sarah McKibben
8 months ago
Related Articles
Rethinking Challenging Behavior
Christopher Emdin & Ian Levy
8 months ago

Connection Before Correction
Lee Ann Jung
8 months ago

Is the Challenge Our Behavior?
Kimberly N. Parker
8 months ago

Growing Prosocial Brains
Wendy L. Ostroff
8 months ago

Following Through on Restorative Practice
Sarah McKibben
8 months ago
From our issue
Product cover image 194049.jpg
Realizing the Promise of Technology
Go To Publication