Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Major Catalyst for Increasing Learning

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Major Catalyst for Increasing Learning

Article excerpt

"If you can conceive of it, you can achieve it." (Kennedy Space Center, Florida) A rural Nebraska public school district adopted this philosophy when they applied for a three-year competitive Excellence in Education Grant in late 1995.

The school district serves approximately 1,400 students and is located in a community with a population slightly above 5,000. The economy is agri-related but somewhat diversified. Twenty-three percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch services; 11% for Title or Special Education services; and 14% for migrant education services.

Six school administrators and the District Technology Team of 18 staff members had the vision to design a plan for restructuring their schools and classrooms. Not unlike other educators and psychologists (Collins, Brown and Newman 1989; Resnick 1987), the staff recognized that the major skills needed by all students were comprehension, reasoning, composition and experimentation. Skills cannot be acquired through simply teaching facts but, instead, can be acquired by providing the learner with an opportunity to interact with the content, define learning goals, and explore new understandings through authentic, challenging tasks. Technology was the major catalyst identified by staff for encouraging the learner to interact with the content.

Purpose

The students involved in this study will live and work in the information age. Life outside the school doors provides opportunities for students to interact with their environment through television, simulation games, home computers and videos. Unfortunately our schools have not kept up with technology that has invaded our businesses, homes and marketplace. The purpose of this study was twofold: a) to examine the changes in teachers' and students' use of technology in the classroom and; b) to determine the changes in reading and math achievement for students in grades 1-3 over a three-year period. Students used an Integrated Learning System to improve basic reading and math skills and were tested annually on a norm-referenced test.

Research and evaluation of technology innovations linked to school reform have provided few definitive answers (Herman 1994). Attempts to answer questions focused on school reform with empirical data have provided little verification for policy makers, educators and the public. However, studies in public school settings produced evidence showing that increased access to information has positive effects on student learning. In order to measure these effects, evaluation in this study included alternative research and evaluation strategies that were qualitative in nature, longitudinal in design and context-centered.

Procedures

The information needed to answer the research questions in this study was collected from a rural Nebraska school district. The school district received funding for a three-year study to increase technology access and provide technology training to teachers and students. A computer was placed in each classroom (80 classrooms) and 27 computers were located in the elementary Integrated Learning Lab with Computer Curriculum Corporation Success Maker software. The computer software, Success Maker, automatically diagnoses and places students on the appropriate skill level while using the computer. The computer lab was used by 314 students and 13 teachers in grades 1-3 from January 1996 through May 1998.

A teacher survey was used to collect data on teacher and student use of technology in the classroom. The survey instrument was developed by Sandy Blankenship, a technology consultant for Educational Service Unit #6 in Nebraska. Previously, the instrument had been used in five Nebraska school districts to assess changes in teacher and student behavior relating to the use of technology. Following 3 years of technology staff development training (6 days per year), this instrument was distributed to 80 teachers. …

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