Elementary School Teachers’ Perceptions of Computer Technology’s Impact, Thesis Paper Example

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Thesis Paper

Abstract

Elementary School Teachers’ Perceptions of ComputerTechnology’s Impact on Student Learning

The purpose of this study is to analyze school teachers and administrators perceptions of the effects of computer technology on elementary school students. The research was completed at one elementary school in the Austin, Texas, area. The results of the study suggest that educators agree that computer-aided education is effective only when combined with traditional textbook-style learning. Administrators and teachers both agree that students benefit from some computer-aided education.

Major findings of the study suggest that:

  • Administrators and teachers both agree that education cannot be computer-based education only.
  • Test scores were raised in some subjects where computer aided learning was implemented.

Based on the findings of the study, the researcher recommendations are as follows:

  • A study should be completed on the amount of parental support the school and child have in order to determine if there is a correlation between parental support and improved test scores.
  • A comparison of the education curriculum and classroom sizes.
  • A study regarding student opinions of computer technology.
  • A study on what other educational aids are available to students and what is actually used by the students.

Dedication

I want to dedicate this study, first to God. Without His presence in my life, I would not have had the strength to follow through. Secondly, I want to thank my mother and father, Bernadina and Luis Lugo. Although my father passed away when I was 10 years old, his influence still shows through my daily actions. My mother supported me and gave me the encouragement needed to succeed. Both of my parents provided the strong foundation needed for me to complete my education. I can only hope that I have grown into the man both my parents can be proud of.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this study to my siblings and friends. All of you have journeyed with me through life and encouraged me to pursue my passions. I appreciate every one of you for being there. Thank you.

Acknowledgements

I want to thank my professor, Dr. Michael K. Rosenberger, for his counseling and encouragement. Countless hours were spent helping me to understand and move forward in my education. He always made himself available to me. I also want to thank Dr. Jill M. Siler, for her guidance. She helped me strive to do better and to be a better person. Dr. Robert G. Otey also deserves my thanks for his patience and guidance. I could always turn to him for sound advice. All of my professors supported me and my education. I cannot thank them enough for pushing me to achieve what I thought was impossible. Throughout me entire academic career my educators dedicated themselves to me, supporting and motivating me. They showed me what I wanted to achieve.

Thank you also to my mother, who always seemed to know what I needed to stay motivated.  Her love and support kept me moving forward in my education. My mother showed me how to be strong during the toughest times; how to persevere when the odds were stacked against me. I also want to thank my family. They stood by me, encouraging me to push harder and to reach my goals. Thank you also to my father, whose passing showed me the unspoken strength I never knew I possessed. I can feel his influence to this day in my determination to complete my Master’s Degree.

I want to thank God, for in His infinite wisdom, he also saw fit for me to complete my Master’s Degree. Only God can be the true source of strength. “The God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet feel like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” Psalm 18:32-34

Elementary School Teachers’Perceptions of Computer Technology’s Impact on  Student Learning

Chapter One

Statement of the Problem

In recent decades the use of the classroom computer has brought new dimensions to teaching and learning styles. Computer use has been measured in conjunction with the various state goals created by the No Child Left Behind Act (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Early and continuing studies place favorable learning, especially in the area of writing, as a direct result of computer instruction.  This is an interesting point because most state achievement tests do not allow elementary school students totake the test using the computer, but researchers have observed that those children who prepare for the tests using computers have significantly higher writing scores than students who use the traditional pencil-and-paper writing methods (Sattler, 2008).

To examine computer use in all levels and in all courses of elementary school learning, researchers and teachers need to study the impact of computers when students are being taught subjects other than writing. While some teachers are certainly supportive of in-class computer use, as an entire faculty we need to be concerned that some children will simply not benefit from computer instruction (Lamy & Hampel, 2007). We also have to be able to understand that, as is the case for any course, teachers need to be present, checking students’ work, and making comments for improvement. The computer should never be used as a replacement for human instruction (Moravec, 1998).

Teachers are aware of the students enrolled in their grades. Teachers should have the knowledge to present material to their classes in an agreeable way. The presented work and assignments need to be geared to both the children’s ages and their proper level of development. The material needs to be presented in a contextual format that takes into consideration the children in the classroom (Lackney, 2008). Educational software is a stimulating method of learning, but it can never take human form. Software just does not contain the ability to know or to deduce what a child already knows and what he/she may have already experienced.  What has the child already learned? Did they understand what they learned before? Are the students ready for larger amounts or more specific amounts of information, or are they still at the various basics? These questions can be answered only by a human being, a classroom teacher. There is no available computer program that can answer these questions, and so, adequate instruction cannot be forthcoming without the classroom teacher.

Not all computer learning is good! Research has suggested that traditional learning methods can be damaged by too much computer use (Guthrie & Carlin, 2004). Many educators feel that computer learning takes place because of all of the effects of video gaming—cosmetic effects.  The cosmetic effects themselves are based on sights, sounds, characters moving across the computer monitor, and interactive characters that appear, much like in television cartoons, to be having interrelationships with each other. In the video game itself, there exists a perfect mathematical formula, because realistically, that is just what computer gaming is: a mathematical formula where numbers move through wire at speeds that the human conscience is unable to absorb. The gaming is such that the user feels he/she has complete domination over the computer. While these concepts are certainly fun for the computer user (student), in the real world things just don’t operate at quantum speeds and real-time learning is considerable slower than anything that can be done on a computer.  In every learning environment there will also be times when students must develop an interest in reading and learning through the use of books (Lawler, 2008). Research suggests that teachers need to help students find that happy medium, that time when computers must be turned off in favor of quiet, independent reading and personal reflection.

A study by Tomlinson (2001) examined technology’s impact on student learning in mathematics for fourth and eighth graders. Student performance was measured using the 1996 National Assessment of Education Progress. Tomlinson concluded that technology does affect academic achievement and its impact depends on how the technology is used. The grade-appropriate use of computers was found to be more important in producing increased learning than the amount of time computers are used. According to the study, when computers were used to perform tasks applying higher order concepts and when teachers were proficient in directing students toward productive uses, computers were associated with significant learning gains.

The study also pointed to the need for high quality, intensive and continuing professional development focused on teaching models that integrate higher-order skills. Professional development, Tomlinson (2001) concluded, should focus on using computers for projects and problem solving that support the topics being introduced in the classroom. Surveys and field research by Henry Jay Becker (2000), a professor of education at the University of California, Irvine, showed increases in learning when students used the computer to enhance sophisticated writing and complex reasoning activities. These skills are difficult to measure and are only recently the focus of research. Becker concluded that educators should move away from teaching isolated technology skills and instead include more constructivist learning opportunities in order to take full advantage of the technology.

Statement of the Problem

From the earliest days of American schooling, there have been different methods of children’s instruction. Historically, the first American schooling was Puritan in nature and consisted of teaching children to read from the Bible (Coffy & Lim, 2008). Thomas Jefferson was influential in opening up the first public school for children, understanding that if America was to grow it needed to be able to teach its masses that they needed to read, write, and do basic mathematical computations (Tozer, Violas, & Senese,1995). Following Jefferson, schooling in America settled down to rote learning. Children came to school each day prepared to read, write, and study arithmetic through repetitive drills. Since the last two decades of the 20th Century, and continuing into the 21st Century, schools have been using introducing the computer into their learning methodologies.

Not all instructors and school administrators are totally in-favor of this new learning approach (Woolfolk Hoy, 2000). There have been many studies produced over the last few decades. Some of these studies absolutely support computer instruction as the wave of the future, the way in which our students will better prepare themselves to participate in the global economy when they finally attain adulthood. Still other school personnel believe that computers should be used to enhance instruction but should never totally replace the human interests a teacher has for his students. After all, the computer is built upon a series of sounds and actions that can entice children to learn. But the computer can never possess the knowledge that each child learns somewhat different from his/her peers and that learning must be more custom tailored by the teacher presenting the learning materials to his/her class.

The purpose of this study will be to seek the perspectives of classroom teachers and other school personnel to determine if they feel that children learn better with computer instruction or from their regular classroom teacher. However, this will not be simply an opinion-seeking study. Along with the opinions of school personnel, the researcher will investigate the amount of time each teacher assigns to his/her students for computer use. The researcher will also investigate the professional, technical ability of each teacher to determine if they are digital natives of digital immigrants (Prensky, 2001).  The researcher will also investigate the amount of time classroom teacher uses a combination of books and other printed media associated with learning through quiet, independent study, while at the same time using the computer to help children gain global knowledge by allowing them Internet access and providing them with computer simulations to help them reinforce their newly attained learning skills.

Research Questions

  1. Do teachers think that children are learning their curricula better with or without the use of computers?
  2. Are there specific subject areas which can be identified as having better learning taking place as the result of computer enhancements?
  3. For those students who seem to conceptualize their learning material better as a result of computer instruction, in those areas being taught without computer instruction, are teachers able to note any major learning differences?
  4. Do teachers feel that they need more professional development activities in order to optimize student instruction with computers?

Operational Definitions:

The following words, terms, and their respective definitions are part of Chapter One of this study. As new words, terms, and phrases appear in subsequent chapters of the study, they will be added to this list.

  1. Computer-enhanced instruction: The kinds of instruction that will take place when students are using computers instead of guided, textbook instruction.
  2. Computer simulations: Using the computer to teach the entire class by projecting certain instructional models (mathematics, science, social studies) to individual computer terminals or to a computer projector which produces an image on a large screen.
  3. Direct Instruction: Instruction in which the teacher usually stands in front of his/her class and delivers information to students. This is also referred to as explicit instruction.
  4. State Achievement Tests: The criterion referenced tests used to measure student achievement across a large student population, usually all of the school districts in any given state.
  5. State Standards: The standards of instruction which are now in-use by each separate state, which started as a result of NCLB.

Assumptions and Limitations of the Study

  1. An examination of the available literature and studies regarding student computer use suggests that massive amounts of data are available. Because of the greatly reduced timeframe available for the completion of this study, combined with a lack of fiscal resources, plus time needed away from the researcher’s work site, the study to be undertaken here will be considerably smaller than most other studies.
  2. The study to be undertaken will be conducted at a single public elementary school– kindergarten through fifth grades. The participants in the study will consist of five teachers and two administrators. Because the school district contains several schools, other researchers employed in the same school district may be able to enlarge the study by speaking with, and analyzing the results of similar questionnaires being used in the first (the researcher’s) study.
  3. The study will be conducted through a series of one-on-one interviews with the participants. The participants will be spoken with anonymously; that is, although certain participants may recognize what they said during their interviews, who said what will not be made public. These interviews will be recorded with all questions coming from a questionnaire predesigned by the researcher. All questions will be open-ended and will require conversations. Questions cannot simply be answered in a yes or no format. After the first set of interviews are recorded they will transcribed and codified. A second set of interviews will then be conducted to answer any questions and sew up any loose ends.

Significance of the Study

In the United States, public education has always been at the forefront of society’s concerns (Zahran, Peek, & Brody, 2008). Parents often ask: How can we make sure our children are receiving a quality education? How can we close the education gap between the scores attained by different groups of children? What can we do to optimize our curriculum regardless of whether we live in the city or in a rural location? What new, exciting, and different instructional methodologies can we bring to our schools that will help our children to learn more than they have ever learned in the past? In recent decades the answers to these questions can be summed up in a single word: Computers.

A review of the literature may suggest that classroom computers will energize learning. Unlike their parents, children now live in a digital world. Learning will come more so from electronic media such as school computers than simply from a teacher standing in front of a chalkboard, pointer in hand.  According to Bottoms (2001), while computers may enhance learning, teachers become too dependent upon them. They lose the human element and the longstanding relationship of teacher to pupil.  Bottoms (2001) observed that better, more long-lasting learning, will take place with limited or no in-class computer time.

Although the study being embarked upon is relatively small by comparison to several other studies already examined by the researcher (Chapman, 2005; Bottoms, 2001), it will add to the total body of literature already available about computer use in public education. Because teachers are also charged with teaching their students, the study also needs to examine the amount of impact teachers really have on their students in areas of computer education. Prensky (2001) observed that most of today’s youth were born into the digital age, making these students “digital natives.” Since many of the teachers staffing our schools’ classrooms were born into a previous generation, they may not be as digitally prepared as the students they are teaching. Prensky suggested that many of these teachers are “digital immigrants.”

Organization of the Thesis

Chapter Two of the thesis will contain an in-depth literature review of computer enhanced instruction. The information presented in the literature review will examine the opinions of both the proponents of classroom computers and the opinions of opponents to this kind of instruction.

Chapter Three of the study will examine the research methodology. In this chapter, the researcher will discuss the targeted population chosen for the study. This population will include school-based professionals. Students’ numerical grades will be examined and codified and placed into charts of descriptive statistics. However, the overall study will rely on qualitative analysis. Students will never be referred to by name or by any other identifier other than class grade and ranked state achievement test scores. The interview questionnaires to be discussed with school building professionals will also be presented in Chapter Three. Lastly, an analysis of all of the accumulated data will be presented.

Chapter Four will contain the final analysis of the accumulated materials from the previous chapter. The material presented in Chapter Four will include all of the charts, tables, and graphs calculated from the data gathered during the preparation of the previous chapter. In addition, there will be a written summary of all the findings presented in the chapter.

Chapter Five is the final summary of the entire study. It will bring the entire study together, including the previous four chapters. It will also suggest one of two hypotheses to other interested individuals: (1) Computer use in public schools classrooms enhances learning and improves students’ grades, or (2) There is no difference in students’ scores when computers are not used and when instruction is placed into the hands of a very capable teacher.

Chapter Two

Literature Review

Introduction

During the last 30 years, computers have made great strides in being included in schools’ classrooms (Alessi & Trollip, 2001). No pre-collegiate classroom has been exempt from this growth. There is a strong, shared belief among professional educators and parents that presenting instruction via computers will contribute significantly to students’ achievement (Bottoms, 2001). Statistically designed experiments have suggested that computers help student achievement in all subject subjects (The Council of 21, 1999). In some circumstances, statistical researchers have suggested, the improvement has been so small,investigators recommend that regular pen-and-paper instructional techniques continue in lieu of school districts investing in computers (Fulton, 2003).

Several factors must be considered in this literature review and in the case study in its entirety:

  1. Computers are expensive to own. In addition, they are only the tip of the iceberg; software is often an even greater expense.
  2. Many older schools, especially those in large, urban districts have outdated wiring and no electrical and cable connections that are necessary to operate computers. Therefore, for computers to be used effectively in these schools, wiring may have to be updated. In any economy this can be an expensive issue. In the United States’ current economy, some or all of these upgrades may be cost-prohibitive.
  3. Studies have suggested that some, not all computer software is effective in improving student achievement. It is simply not cost-effective to invest sums of money into programming that will provide little, if any, improvement in student achievement.
  4. For computer instruction to be effective, teachers may have to take professional development classes to improve their personal skills. Usually, post-secondary instruction in education offers only basic computer use—programs like Microsoft Word and Excel.
  5. In most school districts throughout the United States, support for public schools comes from homeowners’ property taxes. Although some parents may have post-secondary course work in public education, the majority do not. Yet, since these parents are contributing to the support of the public schools and since every store from a basic Walmart up to a specialty store uses and/or sells computers, parents will demand that this kind of education be provided to their children.

The Creation of the Computer Era

The modern computer was really used for commercial purposes and became available in the 1960s (Freiberger & Swaine, 2000). They were basically card-sorting machines. Thin cardboard cards containing holes where light shined through them were how the first computer operated. These computers were first manufactured by International Business Machines. The holes in the cards basically identified consumer information such as customer’s name and address. Employees who manufactured these cards were called keypunch operators. The computers themselves were able to “read” the cards, change the information to binary codes, and then interpret that information into (hardcopy) paper reports (Freiberger & Swaine, 2000). By today’s standards, these early computers were not user-friendly. In addition, each computer was the size of several rooms and produced huge amounts of heat.

Reliable home-based computers could be found in residences, offices, and public schools by the 1980s (Education Development Center, 2002). WINDOWS had not been invented yet, and so specialized skills were still necessary for their operation. By the 1990s, Microsoft was in full-swing and everybody was using computers. Interesting, behind the scenes (in the internal parts of the computer) WINDOWS works exactly the same way as the computers did three decades earlier: They read binary codes (Microsoft, 2003). But from a consumer standpoint, the average person does not need to know binary coding. Pressing the little icons causes the computer to do what it has always done, but without the consumer having any working knowledge about computers.

Computers have made their ways into private and public schools, in-part, because as a gesture of goodwill, companies like Microsoft have sold computers for student-use at below-average retail prices. In many cases these computers operate with minimum components, but for student-use, they are acceptable. In some cases, the federal government has provided monies through grants and in the remaining cases, tax dollars have been used for these purchases. Regardless of socioeconomic conditions, most parents are more than willing to be taxed if they think that those dollars will benefit their children’s education.

Are Schools Ready for Computers?

At the end of the 19th Century, the United States experienced a huge influx of immigrants. These people came from all parts of the world, most of them leaving their homelands because of intolerable conditions. They settled all over the United States, into heavily populated areas where jobs were in abundance. To provide education to the masses, schools were built in these newly-created, industrialized areas (Morrow, 1997). They were constructed of cement and brick and were built to last a century or more. Over the span of time, these schools have been updated. Incandescent bulbs have been replaced by florescent lighting. Desks that were bolted to each other and permanently attached to the floor have been replaced by movable desks in various sizes to accommodate students of all shapes and sizes. Chalkboards have been replaced by dry-erase whiteboards.

What hasn’t been replaced are miles upon miles of electrical wiring, originally encased in steel, brick, and cement. To operate efficiently, computers need new wiring and cables of various sizes. Special antenna need to be brought into the schools, as well as specialized wiring to hook computers to central servers, both in classrooms and in the entire school building. Some school districts in these United States may be spending into hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to compete these upgrades. The cost of purchasing computers will be significantly less than simply providing the electrical connections to operate computers.

Will Computers Significantly Improve Public Education?

Several studies abound that question the value of computer education (Brush, 2007). First, hardware and software vary. Hardware and software vary greatly among schools. Because schools largely are paid for through property taxes, wealthy areas have the best computers and the latest software. Schools in areas with fewer economic resources often use computers that are as old as 10 years, equipped with software that, by current standards, is antiquated. Although computers have become an integral part of education, they don’t stand alone when assessing different school districts. Throughout the United States, school districts spend time and money on improving their overall curriculum; different forms of assessment abound, as does teachers’ professional development. Therefore, it is often difficult to determine whether students are learning better because of computers or because of other educational improvements (Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2002). Finally, longitudinal studies of computer instruction are best done by researchers extraneous to the school district. This being true, these case studies often cost huge sums of money. In tight economic times such as is being experienced in the United States, school districts are inconsistent in spending funds to determine the true value of computer instruction (Chen & Armstrong, 2002).

A Brief Synopsis of Evaluation of Learning Techniques

Researchers have gotten “up close and personal” in their studies regarding computers in elementary or high school classrooms. These researchers have performed both quantitative and qualitative examinations of student achievement in computer accessible classrooms. Quantitative studies are both objective and statistical in nature (Yin, 2005). Researchers don’t have to be an actual part of the learning environment; they perform their examinations by measuring and contrasting dependent and independent variables against each other. These researchers are then able to mathematically compare their findings based on these variables. They can determine that computers make a different in achievement or they advance the null hypothesis: There is no difference.  Quantitative researchers identify theories (Stake, 2006).

Qualitative researchers are also experts, but for a different reason. In most cases qualitative researchers are members of the environment they are evaluating (Southern, 2005). Such is true of the student, who is employed in an elementary school where he will be doing his research.  Qualitative researchers perform their studies by seeking the opinions of workers assigned to the job site, in this study, teachers. Those opinions are then evaluated using charts and graphs: descriptive statistics.  Qualitative researchers manage theories (Stake, 2006).

Some Results of Case Studies

A study conducted by August, Barovick, Bland, Elizabeth, White, and Winters (2002), suggested that 81% of the students in their studies had higher performance grades than students who were enrolled in normal “pencil and paper” classrooms. When students’ performance on state achievement tests were examined, those who were given computer instruction performed at the 62nd percentile compared to those without computer instruction who performed at the 50th percentile (August et al., 2002).

Many of us who are parents ourselves realize early in our children’s lives that lecturing to them produces minimal results. Although teenagers are the worst, even children who are in their pre-teen years “turn off” their parents when they perceive their parents as lecturing to them. Those parents who have mastered the art of being their children’s friend and those parents who are willing to spend countless hours at museums or at arboretums will get better results in their child-parent relationships.

In the non-computer classroom, teachers can often be much like parents. Teachers lecture and expect students to pay attention. Except for questions being asked and answered, there is often little interaction between the teacher and his/her students. Computers in the classroom create improved teacher relationships. Interactions between teachers and students become much more abundant (Bernhardt, 2000). There is usually much more collaboration between teachers and students. Teachers take on a mentoring role and cooperative learning is greatly improved.

In inner-city schools as well as in other, sometimes underperforming school districts throughout these United States, school administrators often search for ways to reduce student absenteeism and tardiness. They also search for ways to improve student discipline issues and to keep students’ grades in the passing range (Chapman, 2005). Historically, team sports worked very well in demanding student improvement. If students had difficulties with any of these issues, they simply were not allowed to participate in team activities. While team sports are still present in many schools, administrators have come to realize that not everybody is athletically inclined.

Until the advent of computers, school administrators had few methods by which to improve behaviors of those students not engaged in competitive activities. Several investigators have suggested that because students are encouraged to play a more active role in their own learning, their personal self-esteem is greatly enhanced. As student achievement improves, almost on 1:1 ratio, discipline issues decrease. Likewise, absenteeism is diminished by as much as 50% (Achieve, Inc., 2001). In computer-based elementary school classrooms, students made strides great enough that enrollment in high school was offered with at least some Advanced Placement classes. Many of these same students were followed through high school and completed their studies with academic awards (Achieve, Inc., 2001). Numbers become sketchy past high school graduation, but by their own admissions, students reported that some went on to college.

Inner city students show the greatest gaps in educational achievement. Although some of these students are successful, as many as 80% of any given class are listed as being at-risk of dropping out of school before receiving a high school diploma (Barrett, 2002). In many states students are allowed to drop out of school having reached their 16th birthday (Jones, 2004). At this age many of them have only completed their sophomore year of high school. Chances of employment and of getting a job with enough salary to maintain a decent standard of living is negligible. Many high school dropouts spend the rest of their lives working sporadically at minimum wage service jobs or living on income derived from the various social service agencies.

Researchers have observed that classroom-based computer technology significantly helps at-risk students. One-on-one interactions between at-risk students and their teachers have produced dismal results. Working on computer, and with their teacher serving as their mentor, at-risk students find the classroom environment to be less threatening (Moe & Blodget, 2000). Achievement scores from state standardized testing have reflected significant gains in the core subjects of reading and mathematics.

Computer Access Problems

Although school funding may come from public grants, certain monies set aside from state funds, and funds provided by large charitable organizations, the primary funds for public education come from property taxes. This funding coming from property taxes explains why schools located in affluent areas pay the greatest teacher salaries and have the best instructional tools. Likewise, schools located in lower socioeconomic areas pay the lowest teacher salaries and are often lacking up-to-date instructional tools. Although not a topic covered in this document, differences in property taxes also explain why education is not always equal and why there may be huge differences in the achievement gaps of some students (Talbert-Johnson, 2004).

Sometimes large, urban school districts do their best to equalize funding across the entire school district (Cope & Ward, 2002). In these areas there are often communities which span the entire economic spectrum: there are large, affluent communities while there are also large, poor communities. Large school districts often pull the property tax income they receive and try to spread it as evenly as possible across the entire school district (Cope & Ward). Engaging in this practice may give both the affluent and the poor equal equity in public schooling. However, it also deters from the purchase of expensive educational tools across the entire school district. The purchase of computers and their assorted peripherals often suffer. The inability to purchase the latest technology may be found in Texas school districts like Austin and Dallas, or in schools in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles (Kozol, 1991).

Another are of great concern is that many school buildings in these United States, are aging; some are actually relics of are era long-gone. The later 19th and early 20th Centuries brought large numbers of immigrants to the United States (Cutler, Glaeser, & Vigdor, 2005). Their countries of origin are unimportant. What is important was that most of these new Americans settled in large cities where work was available. To respond to these immigrants’ needs, schools were hastily constructed. Depending upon the needs of the various locales, these schools were constructed three and four stories high of reinforced granite block and brick. They were constructed to withstand the tests of time. They were also constructed with the electrical wiring of that era, certainly not with the needs of modern-day electronics.

Instructional Resistance

Prensky (2001) observed that there are sometimes questions about whether children are teaching their instructors about computers, or if teachers are really teaching their students. There is little question that teachers have the ultimate responsibility for providing education, but in many instances, students are much more computer literate than their instructors.  Prensky identifies these students as digital natives. They were born into the era of digital media. These students have never operated a television set without a remote. They have personal computers, cell phones, and cameras devoid of film. The computer as a tool for leisure as well as for learning has been their companion since birth.

In order to keep up with their students, some teachers have learned about, or have taken course work in computer literacy. Prensky (2001) calls these individuals digital immigrants. Prior to becoming part of the computer age these digital immigrants had their camera film developed; when they were in public and needed to make a telephone call, they deposited coins in a public telephone. Some of them even remember black and white television. Digital media may now be a part of the education system, but some teachers are reluctant to change from the more traditional education practices.

In-School Computers Benefit Teachers Too!

Like their students, teachers have benefitted from computer-based instruction. By the time a perspective teacher enters college and enrolls in a teaching program, he/she is probably knowledgeable in basic computer programs: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. In addition, they have gained minimal experience researching topics on the Internet.

Classroom-based instruction has opened up new professional development programs for teachers. Teachers can learn how to manage their personal time and the time their students spend using computers. Teachers are able to learn how to employ three dimensional models via the computer to help their students learn both mathematics and science. Instructors are able to become more global in their personal learning, sharing teaching suggestions with teachers in other cities and countries (Hendricks, 2002). Through asynchronous programs, teachers can now earn advanced college degrees without leaving the comfort of their homes. School districts are moving away from the older-style grade books: many districts now expect teachers to keep students’ grades on computers, to prepare lesson plans and direct them to their administrators via email, and to set-up programs where they can correspond with students’ parents without having to ask them to take-off from their jobs and come to school.

Parents Expect Their Children to Use Computers

In almost all school districts throughout these United States, homeowners’ property taxes are accrued for the school districts’ benefits. Research suggests that most parents are aware of the benefits of learning computer skills (National Education Association, 2006). Regardless of economic levels most parents want their children to attain computer skills. Earlier in this literature review it was observed that computer-based education helped to close the achievement gap between those students identified as non-at-risk and those identified as at-risk. But in addition to subject-area skills, parents are also aware that office-based skills (for instance, word processing) can often mean the difference between their children finding unskilled, minimum wage positions and or semi-skilled positions employed in stores and offices.

TestingSuggests that Computers Benefit Education

Over the last several years, researchers have examined computer usage in classrooms across the United States. While their data suggests significance, some gains in scoring are slight.Small gains can be looked at from different perspectives. Since even small gains are better than no gains, politicians who want to gain voter support can note that “computers are beneficial to education.” As mentioned elsewhere in this document, regardless of community economics, parents almost always want to help their children do better in school. On the opposite side of the same coin, community activists suggest that since some gains are small, the money generated for school the purchase of computers can best be spent elsewhere (Coley, Cradler, & Engel, (2004). As communities grow and schools become outdated, the funds, first designated for computer education, can be reallocated to school building improvement, adding additional school busses, giving teachers raises, of for providing before- and after-school tutorials.

Reading Instruction

According to Gardner, Morrison, and Jarman (2003), almost all elementary and secondary schools in the various school districts serving the United States prescribe to Integrated Learning Systems (ILS). This software is produced by many different manufacturers. It provides sequential instruction across many different grades, at the same time keeping track of each student’s progress. The forerunner of ILS software, keeping track of students’ progress was part of a portfolio assessment program called Project Zero. It was developed and directed by Howard Gardner and Davis Perkins, professors at Harvard University. Summer institutes at Harvard provided public educators from all over the country with intensive training about operating portfolio assessment programs in their respective school districts (Harvard University, 1999).

Most ILS programs use tutorial software as part of their instructional methodologies. Too, they provide instruction in both reading and mathematics. Ten studies into reading effectiveness have been statistically examined from 2005 to the present. The average results produced 0.06 standard deviations. This small increment suggests that reading scores in computer-based programs are almost identical to reading scores where students are not benefitted by having access to computers. Tests in the 1990s were observed by Becker (2000). He noted that reading scores produced 0.18 standard deviations. Like tests produced in the 21st Century, the effect was still too small to be significant. The knowledge that can be gained by these tests is that although the technology has improved over the last 15 years, student achievement in reading has remained stagnant. In the performance of still additional testing, other researchers have observed students are spending from about 15% to 30% of their classroom time engaged in computer-based instruction (Jyoung, 2005). These researchers have suggested that if more class-time was devoted to computer instruction, there may be a greater impact on students’ test scores.

Writing-Based Programs

There are two writing-based computer programs that are used extensively by school districts throughout the United States. The first program is entitled Writing To Read(WTR). It is based on the premise that writing will improve reading skills.  The program’s developer, IBM, told consumers that their researchers observed that children who improved their writing skills would be more encouraged to read what they wrote, and would also read materials written by members of their school-age peer group. Research studies suggest that the greatest positive effects of WTR were found in kindergarten. Positive effects were still observed among first grade students, but less than among kindergarten students. Positive effects of WTR were considerably smaller among all students beyond the first grade. In kindergarten, the standard deviations were measured at 0.84, reflecting an equivalency of students improving from the 50th to the 80th percentile. In first grade the results decreased to 0.40 standard variations, resulting in improvement from the 50th to the 66th percentile. Beyond first grade, the studies showed 0.25 standard deviations, interpreted as improvement from the 50th to the 60th percentile (Jones, 2003).

The second reading program is called Accelerated Reader (AR). AR testing suggested greater improvement in that program than from WTR. Reading scores were examined at 6,000 schools in Texas, 740 schools in Tennessee, and 500 schools in Illinois. Collection of the data arrived at in these three states suggested that reading scores improved by 0.43 standard deviations, interpreted as an increase from the 50th to the 67th percentile (Peak, & Dewalt, 2002).

Writing

Writing tests were divided into three categories: (1) word processing, (2) studies with computer writing prompts and (3) studies of computer enrichment. Investigators observed that writing on computers raised scores by 0.3 standard deviations. In interpretive scoring, students raised their scores from the 50th to the 62nd percentile (Sarangarm, 2006). Writing software varied in that some programs gave students writing prompts automatically during the course of their writing exercise. In a different software program, writing prompts were available, but only when students requested them. Improvement varied from student to student, but researchers observed that scores improved over all when students used the writing program where prompts were displayed automatically. When students had to request the prompts they did not do so and scores went down (Vetcher, 2004).

Computer enrichment programs were given to students in an effort to allow them to be more successful using technology. Students were not given specific assignments, but were allowed to pick and choose among writing and mathematics, or simulation programs. Although mentored by their teachers, they were allowed to choose their own assignments. In this unguided environment students’ scores decreased by 0.14 standard deviations. Thus students who started at the 50th percentile actually fell to the 44th percentile (US. Department of Education, 2002).

Mathematics

ILSs have been used to teach mathematics. Testing in numerous states has produced significant results when computers are used for mathematics instruction. Some researchers have observed that mathematical models can be used in conjunction with mathematics instruction. For instance, back when mathematics was taught with the teacher using a chalkboard, he/she could draw a three-dimensional rectangle and students had to envision what each side of the rectangular block looked like. Using computer-based mathematical simulations, the rectangle, as well as other shapes, spring to life. The block can be rotated in any direction on a 360 degree plane. It can be studied from any angle humanly possible to create such a vision. Testing students across several states suggested that tests produced 0.38 standard deviations, increasing scores from the 50th to the 65th percentile (Stevens, 2001).

Conclusion

The United States is considered one of the most advantaged countries in the world. With our democratic form of government and our capitalistic economy, we are thought of by much of the world as being one of the best countries for our citizens to prosper. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for our educational system; there are many countries where it has been documented that children receive a better education. Both myths and facts abound that show that our children do not receive as good an education as they would receive elsewhere. There are many reasons—social and political—which abound as to why our educational system is not as great as elsewhere. However, none of these issues is included in the study on which this research document is based.

The major question in this research is whether the use of technology in students’ classrooms will improve their overall achievement when measured on standardized tests? Test results discussed throughout this literature review suggest that in-class computer study across several different subjects will raise students’ scores in other locales besides those mentioned in this document. The results of tests given elsewhere should be able to be generalized to the students in any other school. But can they be? Often when examining the work of other investigators there is no way to tell if the randomized students’ tests matched the targeted population of students in this researcher’s work site.

There are also other issues. The quantitative researchers examined in this literature review were, by the very nature of the reports they gave, extraneous to the work environment. However, this researcher will be creating an ethnography of teachers at her work site. Teacher-to-teacher: Will the results be the same the same as those produced by other researchers? Or will they be different? Only time will tell!

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