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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Technology Integration Research Review: Additional Tools and Programs

Technology tools also have value beyond teaching the core curriculum. Here are our recommendations for research-proven tech tools that can enable more comprehensive assessment and better collaborative discussions. We also explore the best resources for teaching digital literacy in the classroom.
Vanessa Vega
Former Edutopia Senior Manager of Research

In addition to improving outcomes in academic content areas, there are some overarching considerations for using technology well in the classroom. In the following sections, we take a look at using technology for collaborative discussion, assessment, and supporting digital literacy. We also offer research-based suggestions of programs that can be useful for each area.

Schools That Work:

In Maine, every middle and high school student is given a school-issued laptop (left). Two students from Casco Bay High School record narration for a multimedia project (right). Learn more about this school.

Credit: Michael Warren

Using Technology for Assessment and Customizing Instruction

According to researchers, data-driven decision making (DDDM) is "a system of teaching and management practices that gets better information about students into the hands of classroom teachers" (McLeod, 2005). Using student data to better address students' learning needs through instructional decisions at the classroom, district, state, and national levels has potential, when implemented well, to be useful for improving teaching and learning (Marsh, Pane, and Hamilton, 2006; Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, and Jones, 2009; Means, Padilla, and Gallagher, 2010).

At the classroom level, technology helps teachers to gather, analyze, and act upon student feedback more efficiently. For example, by using an audience response system (ARS), such as polleverywhere.com, students can partner up and text in their answers to warm-up or quiz questions. The entire class can instantaneously and electronically view their collective responses to the multiple-choice questions, which allows the teacher to differentiate instruction and address misconceptions accordingly. When used in large classrooms, audience response systems can improve student understanding and engagement and create a more positive and active atmosphere (Caldwell, 2007; Kay and LeSage, 2009).

Combining audience response systems with peer learning has also proven particularly effective (Smith et al., 2009). When students answer an in-class conceptual question individually, then discuss it with their neighbors, and then vote again on the same or a conceptually similar question, the percentage of correct student responses typically increases, even in groups where no student had given the correct answer previously (Smith et al., 2009). It is important to remember that audience response systems themselves are not as important as the effective teaching and learning strategies that they facilitate, which include the following (Lemke, Coughlin, and Riefsneider, 2009):

  • Checking for real-time student understanding of content being taught
  • Diagnosing student misconceptions and misunderstandings
  • Displaying responses of the group to trigger discussion and reflection
  • Gathering formative data to guide instruction
  • Saving time in administering and scoring quizzes
  • Introducing and monitoring peer learning methods

Assessing student understanding in real time can be accomplished without technology -- by a show of hands or paper-and-pencil quizzes -- but electronic feedback systems help to accelerate the process, allowing the teacher to gather and respond to data about what students are understanding more quickly and accurately.

Embedding on-going assessment into curriculum has been shown to improve student learning, particularly for struggling students and when assessments reveal students' thinking processes in ways that inform instruction (Black and Wiliam, 1998). Several online platforms may help to indicate what students know and can do while saving classroom time in creating, administering, and scoring multiple-choice exams. ExamView offers a bank of thousands of test items aligned to state standards across subjects which teachers can use to create and administer online quizzes and tests, and which refreshes with new items if the same student takes the quiz again. Quia allows teachers to create their own quizzes as well as other learning activities, such as flashcards and word scrambles (Light and Polin, 2010). SAS Curriculum Pathways is a free platform that teachers can use to create and automatically grade custom multiple-choice quizzes. SAS Curriculum Pathways also offers a tool that provides automatic feedback on student essays. Diagnoser is a Web-based assessment tool for middle and high school students that helps to reveal students' underlying reasoning about content areas (Thissen-Roe, Hunt, and Minstrell, 2004).

At the school and district level, the following data-driven instruction practices were indicated by case studies to yield value for student learning (Means et al, 2010):

  • Regular data discussions. Schools and districts that are leaders in data-driven decision making set aside regular time during the work week to analyze student data and develop instructional decisions. Their data analysis meetings typically consist of small groups of teachers who work together as part of a grade-level, department, or project team. Teachers often use student data to group students according to their performance level and reteach content that was understood poorly. To promote comfort with using student data, it is critical to separate data reflection activities from performance management activities (which could affect salary or job status).
  • Support and training in data interpretation. School "data coaches" are instrumental in helping teachers to interpret data and use it to inform future instruction. School leaders also play an important role in modeling how data can be used to inform school decisions and in developing school practices where teachers use data to guide their instruction. School leaders should participate in ongoing training in using data to inform school instructional decision making and in inspiring staff to participate. Helpful resources for data-driven decision making include
  • Interim assessment of student progress and programs. State test results usually arrive too late to inform instructional decisions, and teachers often cannot assess student performance by each learning standard; thus, timely, credible interim assessments that generate actionable data are key to engaging teachers in using data to support students' learning districtwide. District data systems should aim to provide assessment results that arrive in time to inform teachers' planning activities and that support routine evaluation of instructional programs and practices by linking student participation with standards-based assessments. Also, district policies that require interim assessments should not have contradictory pacing requirements that prohibit teachers from reteaching content that students have not yet mastered.
Technology for Assessment and Customizing Instruction
Promising Tools (limited evidence) Impacts Tech-Integration Practices
  • Using frequent feedback from students to tailor instruction to address students' interests and learning needs improves student achievement (Black and Wiliam, 1998; Light and Polin, 2010; Thissen-Roe et al., 2004).
  • Online tools for embedded and ongoing assessments help instructors to more quickly and frequently understand what students know in order to tailor instruction to better address their learning needs.
  • Schools and districts that use data effectively to make instructional decisions can help improve student learning (Means et al., 2010).
  • Grade-level data discussions with supportive colleagues
  • Training and support in using student data and data systems to make instructional decisions
  • District-level interim assessments that support routine evaluation of instructional programs, and that provide credible, actionable data, linked to relevant instructional resources
(*) Promising programs are supported by case studies but are not yet tested by rigorous research. Research evaluating digital learning practices has not kept pace with the rapid growth in online tools and resources.

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Collaborative Discussion and Argumentation

Networked collaborative dialogue among students, teachers, parents, administrators, and other stakeholders strengthens educational communities (Light and Polin, 2010). Whereas early websites were usually limited to one-way broadcasting of information, today, the Web increasingly supports two-way communication and user-generated content, which can be used to engage students, parents, and teachers in dialogue around meaningful assignments and learning objectives.

One qualitative study suggests that using student blogs to post student work for weekly critiques, regular journals, and structured debates resulted in student excitement and dialogue (Light and Polin, 2010). Students reported feeling less shy and liking having time to formulate and respond to critical comments. Teachers reported that allowing comments to be posted and carefully considering student privacy improved classroom blog experiences (Light and Polin 2010).

ThinkQuest supports online discussions and sharing of projects and presentations by and for K-12 students and educators around the world. ThinkQuest also provides professional-development resources to help with integrating project learning and technology in classrooms. Evidence from case studies indicates that ThinkQuest can result in improved outcomes for students, including critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and cross-cultural understanding (SRI International, 2011). Similarly, Powermylearning.com provides a collection of free online learning activities and tools for educators to create digital playlists of activities and to view students' activities. Edmodo and Moodle are free e-learning environments that educators can use to share their course curriculum with students and other educators while promoting online community building and learning outside school. In addition, K-12 educators can find, share, and reflect on lesson plans through numerous curriculum-sharing sites.

Practices and Tools for Collaborative Discussion and Argumentation
Promising Tools (limited evidence) Tech-Integration Practices
  • Edmodo* and Moodle* support blogs for student collaboration within and between classes. Educators can also share assignments and communicate with students.
  • VoiceThread* can be used for online dialogue and adding voice comments to text, audio, or pictures.
  • Engaging students, parents, and teachers in online dialogues about meaningful assignments and learning objectives
  • Using blogs for weekly journals, structured debates, and posting student work for weekly critiques
  • Powermylearning.com* provides a collection of free online learning activities. Math and English language arts lesson plans are aligned with Common Core standards.
  • Creating digital playlists of learning activities and tracking students' usage
  • ThinkQuest* is for primary and secondary schools and offers project-based learning resources and professional development support in technology integration.
  • Technology-integrated project-based learning and discussion
  • Digital collaboration and publishing tools
  • Community of educators and students around the world
(*) Promising programs are supported by case studies but are not yet tested by rigorous research. Research evaluating digital learning practices has not kept pace with the rapid growth in online tools and resources.

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Teaching Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is essential for participating in today's global, knowledge-based economy (U.S. Department of Education, 2010; Warschauer and Matuchniak, 2010). Digital literacy refers to having fluency with digital hardware and software technologies in order to access, control, and create information, as well as having information literacy skills to ask questions, find and use relevant information, and to critically evaluate the credibility of information on the Web. Both information literacy and fluency in technology are necessary in order to be considered digitally literate.

1:1 laptop programs have been shown to improve students' fluency with using digital technologies, writing skills, and engagement in learning (Fleisher, 2012; Zucker and Light, 2009). Yet for many teachers, lack of access to computers and reliable Internet connectedness is a barrier to technology integration (Innovative Teaching and Learning Research, 2011). To overcome these obstacles, students can partner up and share technology, and schools may explore BYOD (bring your own device) policies, as well as partnerships with businesses and local organizations. For example, computer recycling centers, such as Free Geek, often facilitate programs to refurbish computers. Educators can also raise money for classroom technology and other supplies on DonorsChoose.org. Advice on starting a school computer lab is described in this Edutopia blog. Schools can also stay updated on network solutions and best practices to support broadband access by participating in the Education Superhighway project.

Access to technology is necessary but not sufficient for developing digital literacy. By ensuring that students use technology for self-expression, critical analysis, and collaboration, teachers can help to prepare students to become active participants in a global information society.

Practices and Tools for K-12 Digital Literacy
Effective Practice Impacts
1:1 laptops
  • Improved writing skills
  • Improved digital technology skills
  • Increased engagement in school and willingness to spend time on assignments
  • (Fleisher, 2012; Zucker and Light, 2009)
Promising Practice Promising Tools (limited evidence)
Improving digital access
  • Free Geek* recycles computers and offers the opportunity to take home a refurbished, recycled computer.
  • DonorsChoose.org* is a website teachers can use to raise money for classroom supplies.
  • Education Superhighway* provides information on best practices to support high-quality broadband in K-12 schools.
Deconstructing media messages
  • Students analyzed mass media images and developed blog postings about social stereotypes and how these images affect their own self-image (ITL, 2011).
Creating multimedia presentations, news stories, simulations, and animations
  • Twitter* and Google historical event maps* enable students to research, role-play, and re-enact historical events.
  • Glogster* creates interactive posters.
  • Using video cameras in their cell phones or digital camera, students write and edit multimedia news stories or reports.
  • NewsMaker* supports students in creating their own newscasts, from writing to publishing online.
  • Animoto* is an online video production site.
  • Storybird* allows students to use their art to create storyboards.
  • Teach Youth Radio* helps students learn to broadcast reports.
Connecting with learning communities around the world
  • Curriki.org* and Digital Is* are examples of educator communities that provide free K-12 curriculum materials and interactive professional learning resources.
  • On the First Peoples' Project*, indigenous children from around the world post to the Internet writings, artwork, and photographs depicting their culture's history and beliefs.
  • Open High School of Utah* is an open-source school that has won Utah's Best of State Award for Curriculum Development.
  • ThinkQuest* is an online learning environment that supports a global community of students and educators in using technology to solve problems. Professional-development support and international competitions are also provided.
(*) Promising programs are supported by case studies but are not yet tested by rigorous research. Research evaluating digital learning practices has not kept pace with the rapid growth in online tools and resources.

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Continue to the next section of the Tech Integration Research Review, Avoiding Pitfalls.

Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Nicole Feledy's picture
Nicole Feledy
English teacher and literacy coach, Sydney, Australia

Blogging offers students a platform that amplifies their voice and gives them a reason to practice writing. The result, student writing improves. However this is not the only happy consequence, students also hone their ability to critically reflect and express their own thoughts and emotions. I asked my classes to blog each Friday. After a month or so of settling into a routine, I soon found that the students would come in to class, log on and quickly settle themselves into a writing zone. It was amazing to watch. Better yet the honest, evaluative prose was awe inspiring to read. Of course some students benefited more than others and the increase in writing skills was not uniform however, each student who actively maintained their blogs became better writers and evaluative thinkers. I still believe that blogging was the most effective tool I ever used in the English classroom.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer
Staff

I agree with you completely. I've met so many educators that have used blogging to engage their students and it's not only worked, the students now spend more time on their blogs outside of class and even for fun!

When they have an authentic outside-of-the-class audience, all of a sudden, it makes them take more ownership of their writing and many students would say, " It needs to be perfect!"

Many teachers I know have used Tumblr, Blogger, Kidblogs, and edublogs (all free and easy to set up).

faryal's picture
faryal
seventh grade math teacher from pakistan

Hi! I am doing DTWICT ( diploma in teaching with ICT) I want to discuss the barriers that prevent some institutions in being able to embed ICT fully please give your views

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