Technology and Content Area Learning
Kinzer and Leu (1997) demonstrated positive effects of technology on both learning in a content area and learning to use technology itself. They studied the potential of multimedia and hypermedia technologies. One study, The Reporter Project, used multimedia technology to enhance sixth-grade students’ information gathering and writing skills. The Reporter Project was developed and tested in sixth-grade classrooms for two years and showed that students made statistically significant improvement in their recognition and use of elements such as main ideas, supporting details, and cause and effect relationships. Their writing was also more cohesive than their control-group peers who were taught using similar materials and sequences but without the use of technology.
Technology and Reading Comprehension
Findings consistent with these emerged from a meta-analysis conducted by Pearson et al. (2005). The authors reviewed 20 research studies related to using digital tools and learning environments on middle-school students in the following areas:
- Strategy Use
- Reading Motivation
- Reading Engagement
- Reading Comprehension
They defined digital tools to include a wide range of media forms: images, video and audio clips, hypertext, hypermedia, and Web pages. The majority of studies they found dealt with reading comprehension and vocabulary development. Pearson et al. concluded that a wide range of digital tools enhance reading comprehension and vocabulary development by providing students access to word pronunciation, word meaning, contextual information, and comprehension scaffolds to guide an individual’s reading. Thus, a strong research base supports the conclusion that technology can enhance all aspects of literacy development.
Technology and Language Acquisition
There is also a large body of research that supports the benefits of technology for language acquisition (O’Hara & Pritchard, 2006; Pritchard & O’Hara, 2005; Leu, 2005; Cummins, 2005; Zhao, 2005; Duran, 2005; Egbert, Chao, & Hanson-Smith, 1999; Pennington, 1996; Zhao, 2003). Numerous other studies demonstrate that students who learn in existing multimedia and/or hypertext environments show greater gains in areas of language development than students who learn in more traditional environments (Ayersman, 1996; Boone & Higgins, 1992; Charney, 1994; Martinez-Lage, 1997). Studies investigating the impact of student construction of hypermedia environments on language development came to similar conclusions (Goetze, 2000; Lehrer et al., 1994; Nikolova, 2002).
In a review of studies that focused on technology’s impact on language acquisition, Zhao (2005) examined studies that researched the use of digital multimedia and language. Zhao concluded that technology can be used to enhance language acquisition in the following ways:
- Enhancing access efficiency through digital multimedia. Multimedia presentations (video, images, sound, text) can create stronger memory links than text alone. In addition, digital technologies allow instant playbacks, which provide the learner with quick and easy access to different sections of instructional materials than when they are using a textbook.
- Enhancing authenticity using video and the Internet. The Internet provides learners with access to authentic materials, like news and literature, while video can offer context-rich linguistic and culturally relevant materials to learners.
- Enhancing comprehensibility through learner control and multimedia annotations. Video materials online can be enhanced with full captions, key-word captions, and speech slowdown, allowing the reader to more easily digest the information. Digital reading materials can be hyperlinked to different media, which students can choose to help their comprehension of the material.
- Providing meaningful and authentic communication opportunities. Students can engage in authentic types of communication through e-mail, chat rooms, and other digital means. (p. 16)
Technology and Improved Test Scores
In addition to facilitating language and literacy development, technology has also had positive effects on mathematics achievement. Boster’s study (2004) of 2,500 sixth and eighth graders in Los Angeles showed a statistically significant increase in math achievement scores when students used digital video.
In a study reviewed by the Milken Exchange (Mann et al., 1999), teachers using the West Virginia Basic Skills/Computer Education (BS/CE) program found that all their fifth graders’ test scores rose on standardized tests, with the lower achieving student scores rising the most. Other findings revealed that BS/CE was more cost effective in improving student achievement than class size reduction, increasing instructional time, and cross-age tutoring programs.
Sandoltz et al. (1997) reported positive findings from the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project after nearly eight years of studying the effects of computers on the classroom. Aside from performing better on achievement tests, they found that ACOT students were developing a variety of competencies not usually measured. ACOT students delivered lectures along with their teachers. They became socially aware and more confident, communicating effectively about complex processes. They became independent learners and self-starters, worked well collaboratively, and developed a positive orientation to their future. Children were seen as learners and as expert resources, as they were challenged by complex and open-ended problems. These are the skills that will enable students to live productive lives in the emerging age of communication. Moreover, technology use in the classroom helped to decrease absenteeism, lower dropout rates, and motivate more students to continue on to college (Sandholtz et al., 1997).
In 2002, The WestEd Regional Technology in Education Consortium reviewed a number of research studies related to the impact of technology on learning. They chose studies that they judged to be the most methodologically sound and that had analyzed change over time. When reviewing this body of research they found convincing evidence that technology can be effective in teaching basic skills, can significantly improve scores on standardized achievement tests, can provide the means for students with special needs to communicate via e-mail, and can help teachers accommodate students’ varying learning styles.
Technology and Learner Motivation
Technology also motivates and engages the learner. When students have a choice in their assignment, see the relevancy, or can self-assess with teacher feedback intertwined, student motivation increases (Daniels, 2002; Ganske et al., 2003; Harvey, 2002). Technology lends itself to all of the above.
In the article, “Nonfiction Inquiry: Using Real Reading and Writing to Explore the World” (2002), Harvey concluded that the vehicle for increasing relevancy and motivation was through surrounding kids with compelling nonfiction. Researching online or using a CD-ROM allows students to search for information they are passionate about learning. Students can make choices when navigating online, which is engaging for learners. When students are given more choice in their tasks, those tasks are more meaningful and increase the students’ intrinsic motivation (Jordan & Hendricks, 2002).