Educators are constantly seeking new ways to measure student achievement in order to better understand what methods produce the most effective and impactful results. No question has been more pressing in this field over the past thirty years than the question of whether technology in the classroom has helped to improve student achievement. Years of research into the field has cautiously endorsed the idea that technology can indeed help to improve student achievement levels.
Recent studies have found that the use of technology in the classroom has both benefits and drawbacks, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, so long as the technology is used properly. Indeed, studies have found that almost twice as many students attending online schools report having an interest in learning versus those in traditional schools. Almost three-quarters of teachers say that technology has made a positive impact on their classrooms.
Yet at the same time, technology has led to distractions, particularly from students using phones to access social media while in class, and even cheating, with students using phones to trade test answers, to cheat on exams, and even to buy assignments from third-party writing services.
Basically, technology isn’t going to magically change student engagement levels all on its own. It’s not a panacea. But when used strategically, particularly among students on the lower end of the achievement spectrum, technology can increase engagement and involvement, leading to more positive outcomes for at-risk students overall. But because technology has to be used strategically, educational institutions need careful and evidence-based plans for technological implementation before deploying new technologies in order to attempt to improve student achievement.
There are three key elements that can make a new technology an effective way to enhance student engagement:
- Use Technology for Interactive Learning. Technology works best when it allows students to interact with the technology and the material they are learning rather than simply having them sit in front of a presentation, no matter how sophisticated. Hands-on learning produces greater engagement and helps students to learn.
- Use Technology to Spark Exploration and Creativity. Traditional education relied on memorization and repetition to drive important lessons into students’ memories. Technology can overcome the boredom and shortfalls of the so-called “drill and kill” method by sparking students’ creativity and giving them the opportunity to explore. This makes them active learners rather than the passive recipients of lessons delivered by the instructor.
- Use Technology with Teachers Trained to Use It. Technology is only effective when the teacher understands it and can use it effectively. Technology can’t be a replacement for instructors and direct instruction, but should be blended into traditional lessons to target students with multiple methods of learning.
The biggest impact of technology, however, might not be the devices themselves. Studies have found that classrooms with and without technology doesn’t have significantly different outcomes once researchers controlled for one key factor. It turns out that technology’s biggest impact might well be that it encourages teachers to adopt a more student-centric approach, which limits lectures, promotes interactivity, and encourages creativity. Teachers who engage actively with new technology tend to have more individualized relationships with their students and spend more time interacting rather than lecturing. None of these results is a direct impact of the technology itself but rather how people choose to use that technology.
Consequently, technology is cautiously recommended for improving student achievement, but not because technology itself yields great results on its own. Instead, its benefits derive from the excitement it creates in students and the improvements it encourages in teachers’ teaching styles. Therefore, when adopting new technologies, it’s important for schools to provide training and professional development to make sure teachers use them effectively.