Technology and Action Research: How Effective Are Classroom Computer Minilabs?
Stellwagen, Joel B., American Secondary Education
The pressures on school districts, administrators, and teachers to provide students with the most current use of information technology are increasing. For example, one of President Clinton's educational goals for our country is that all classrooms should be linked to Internet access. With his Technology Literacy challenge, Clinton established a national initiative for making every student in our nation technologically literate in the 21st century Teacher workshops, summer institutes, and college course catalogs are filled with new courses that promise to aid teachers who want to apply technology in their classrooms. This striving to hop on the technological bandwagon comes with certain inherent dangers. Before we adopt and use newly-created technology in the classroom, do we also ask ourselves questions such as: Does this new technology allow us to teach better? Does this new technology allow us to do something we were unable to do before? Are we becoming more effective? What is the best method of using the new technology in the classroom? Is technology being wrongly equated with progress?
There is a limited amount of research that currently supports gains in classroom achievement when computer technology is being used. A report by the United States Department of Education (Birman, Kirshstein, Levin, Matheson, & Stephens, 1997) reported a "very disjointed research base - - one from which it is difficult to draw clear and compelling conclusions." Thompson, Simonson, and Hargrave ( 1996) concluded in their review of educational research that the adoption of technology alone is not directly impacting learning in schools.
With the pressures to adopt new technology and the current gap in knowledge about the best technological practices, teachers are left with increased responsibility and opportunities. With a limited number of research-based methods, teachers are being left with opportunities to be flexible and creative in their use of new educational tools. At the same time, they can explore through their own research efforts to find out what implementation practices and procedures work best in their own classrooms.
Research Design and Question
Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Illinois has tried to engage in this type of proactive thinking while implementing new technologies. The high school is currently trying to find out the most effective way to use computers throughout various classroom settings. Hinsdale South is a large suburban high school in the Chicago area. Traditionally, most of the teachers of the school have had access to large computer labs located in several central locations. As a part of an exploratory effort, an administrative decision was made to establish ten classrooms throughout the school as computer minilabs. A minilab was defined as a classroom setting that had five Internet connected computers as opposed to a computer laboratory where each student had access to a computer.
All the teachers of Hinsdale South High School were asked to submit a proposal detailing how they would use the minilabs. Based primarily on these proposals, the administrative council and technology committee selected ten teachers who represented a variety of subject areas and teaching experience to administer the minilabs. The newly-formed Hinsdale Project Team (1998) of ten teachers was composed of representatives from Mathematics, English, Science, Special Education, Social Studies, and Business Education. All of the teachers had an interest and experience in using computers. I was designated as the project director, and during a summer workshop each of the ten teachers established a specific research question that they believed was applicable to their subject matter. Each teacher created a lesson for use in the lab and then designed a research plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the lesson. This effort yielded the following general research question: What educational variables affect the teaching and learning experiences of using a classroom computer minilab? …