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