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Critical Issue:
Technology: A Catalyst for Teaching and Learning in the Classroom

This Critical Issue was researched and written by Gilbert Valdez, Ph.D., director of North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium and codirector of North Central Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Consortium (NCEMSC). Editorial guidance was provided by Barbara Youngren, director, NCEMSC.

The Critical Issue team would like to acknowledge the following experts for reviewing this article: Marla Davenport, director of Learning and Technology, TIES; Kathleen Fulton, director for Reinventing Schools for the 21st Century at the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future; and Robert Nelson, Learning, Leading and Technology.

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The interface between educational technology and science and mathematics instruction is integral and symbiotic. Few of the examples noted in the Glenn Commission report (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000) would be as advanced as they are without the use of technology:

Literacy in these areas [mathematics and science] affects the ability to understand weather and stock reports, develop a personal financial plan, or understand a doctor's advice. Taking advantage of mathematical and scientific information does not generally require an expert's grasp of those disciplines. But it does require a distinctive approach to analyzing information. We all have to be able to make accurate observations, develop conjectures, and test hypotheses: In short, we have to be familiar with a scientific approach. (p. 14)

Educational technology, especially computers and computer-related peripherals, have grown tremendously and have permeated all areas of our lives. It is incomprehensible that anyone today would argue that banks, hospitals, or any industry should use less technology. Most young people cannot understand arguments that schools should limit technology use. For them, use of the Internet, for example, plays a major role in their relationships with their friends, their families, and their schools. Teens and their parents generally think use of the Internet enhances the social life and academic work of teenagers:

The Internet is becoming an increasingly vital tool in our information society. More Americans are going online to conduct such day-to-day activities as education, business transactions, personal correspondence, research and information-gathering, and job searches. Each year, being digitally connected becomes ever more critical to economic and educational advancement and community participation. Now that a large number of Americans regularly use the Internet to conduct daily activities, people who lack access to these tools are at a growing disadvantage. Therefore, raising the level of digital inclusion by increasing the number of Americans using the technology tools of the digital age is a vitally important national goal. (U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, & National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (2000, p. xv)

The very concept of the Internet would not be possible without technology. This is paralleled by the incredibly rapid growth of information that likely would not be possible without this technology. Research centers with no computers would arouse suspicion about the completeness, accuracy, and currency of their information because science and mathematics information grows daily and much of that new information can only be found through the use of technology. In fact, very few would argue with the statement that computers are essential to the work of professional scientists and mathematicians.

From the beginning of the computer age, educational researchers and practitioners have told us that for technology use to be successful in our schools it needed to be closely tied to school reform. Glennan and Melmed (1995) wrote: "Technology without reform is likely to have little value: widespread reform without technology is probably impossible" (pp. xix–xx.). The unavoidable conclusion is that successful improvement of technology, science, and mathematics education is of high importance to our future. In 2002, 100 high-tech executives met with President Bush to discuss the future of technology: They indicated that improving mathematics and science education ranked next to national security and broadband Internet access was one of the most important considerations for improving economic growth in their companies.

Given the vital role of technology in today's world, t his Critical Issue will examine the value of effective technology use in classrooms with specific references to mathematics and science instruction, programs, and curricula. It will attempt to answer the following three questions that are essential to making technology use more effective in instruction :

  1. What prevents educational researchers from giving us definitive answers about technology in the classroom that would satisfy both critics and advocates?
  2. What does the best quantitative and qualitative research tell us about educational technology's effectiveness and the conditions and factors necessary for maximum effectiveness?
  3. Why is educational technology important to the teaching and learning of mathematics and science and what are the important considerations and resources that make technology use more effective?

Overview | Goals | Action Options | Pitfalls | Different Viewpoints | Cases | References


Teaching is changing and, in many ways, becoming a more difficult job because of increasingly numerous contradictory expectations, including the following:

Technology can actually assist with some of these expectations and make teachers—and their students—more successful. However, as the world becomes more complex—virtually year-to-year instead of the generation-to-generation pace of most of the last century—educational needs continue to shift from teaching and learning isolated skills and information within each content area, to teaching skills that enable students to solve complex problems across many areas. Educators must prepare for a technology-rich future and keep up with change by adopting effective strategies that infuse lessons with appropriate technologies. This makes a uthentic assessment needs even more important: Assessments must keep pace with effective instructional technology use. All this while educators at every level, but teachers especially, actively pursue professional development that enables a lifelong exploration of ways to enhance the teaching and learning of science and mathematics and support science and mathematics education reform.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are virtually no differences in Internet access between poor schools and wealthier schools any more, as Internet access has steadily been increasing in public schools over time (Fox, 2005). Technology being infused into the schools is ongoing, unstoppable, and necessary. Thus, school use and access to new and current technologies is on the rise and more and more states have established technology standards for students, teachers, and administrators (Fox, 2005). Teachers have begun to use the Internet more frequently as a valuable tool in their instruction:

Seventy-seven percent of public schools had a majority of teachers who used the Internet for instruction during the 2003–04 school year, up from 54 percent in 1998-99 … with 73 percent of high-poverty schools and 71 percent of high-minority schools having a majority of their teachers using the Internet for instruction. (Fox, 2005, p. 42)

On the other hand, the apparent growth of technology use is not always welcomed by critics who argue that schools should use less technology. For example, Oppenhimer (2003) in his book titled The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom concluded that placing computers in the classroom has been almost "entirely wasteful." Other critics have written and spoken extensively of their beliefs that schools should not use technology for a variety of reasons ranging from creating social isolation to preventing students from learning critical basic skills.

This apparent paradox of technology use inexorably spreading across society—homes, businesses large and small, libraries, government—as critics continue to challenge its use in schools is even more puzzling when students are asked how important they believe technology and especially the Internet is to their lives and their schoolwork. The Pew Internet and American Life project (Levin & Arafeh, 2002) found that t eenagers use the Internet extensively. About 17 million students, ages 12–17, use the Internet to finding information for school research; that number represents 94 percent of the youth in that age bracket. According to the study, students are very positive about the use of the Internet to do their schoolwork:

[Students] complete their schoolwork more quickly; they are lesslikely to get stymied by material they don't understand; their papers and projects are more likely to draw upon up-to-date sources and state-of-the-art knowledge; and, they are better at juggling their school assignments and extracurricular activities when they use the Internet. (Levin & Arafeh, 2002, p. ii)

However, student perceptions about the in-school uses of technology may be less positive, depending on several factors. One factor revealed in this study is student perception of insufficient teacher knowledge. Another factor students revealed is their disappointment in the lack of quality access and presence of excessive filtering systems that prevent them from accessing significant sites, especially those related to medical topics. They noted that while there were exceptions of positive and engaging uses of the Internet assigned by their teachers, they stated that Internet-related assignments were often of poor quality:

Students say that the not-so-engaging uses are the more typical of their assignments. Students repeatedly told us that the quality of their Internet-based assignments was poor and uninspiring. They want to be assigned more—and more engaging—Internet activities that are relevant to their lives. Indeed, many students assert that this would significantly improve their attitude toward school and learning. (Levin & Arafeh, 2002, p. iv)

Out of school, students use the Internet and handheld devices as major tools to maintain and enhance their social life and to communicate with friends locally and even internationally.

Overall, managing the changes in teaching (which surround and permeate implementation of technology use in schools) means dealing with student, parent, and institutional high expectations in student learning of high-level skills and content specifics as well as success on high-stakes assessments that tend to ignore many of those otherwise valued skills.

What Prevents Educational Researchers from Giving Us Definitive Answers About Technology in the Classroom That Would Satisfy Both Critics and Advocates?

There are several reasons K–12 educational organizations continue to agonize about how much and in what ways technology use in schools is appropriate. Their concerns include the following:

In considering research on technology, Fulton (1998) in an essay titled "A Framework for Considering Technology Effectiveness" noted that the following caveats must be taken into account:

Meanwhile, the usually high value-added effects of classroom technology use have received more critical review than other educational tools. But too often both the praise and criticism of such technology use fails to consider the large and varied range of contexts found in classrooms. As Fulton (1998) also noted:

In other words, to ask if technology works is almost the equivalent of saying "Do textbooks work?" Yes, some textbooks "work," in some conditions, with some teachers, with some students, but these same textbooks may not "work" in another educational context. Clearly, the question of technology effectiveness requires us to be clear in what results we seek, how we measure success, and how we define effectiveness. (p. 1)

Painter (2001) noted similar concerns regarding results, measures of success, and an effectiveness definition when developing technology evaluation instruments and protocols. She wrote:

"What observable behaviors will indicate that technology integration is successful in this setting?" This discussion is likely to surface complexities that appear to be uniquely problematic to the area of technology integration. These issues relate to the complexity of technology integration, the confounding of teacher quality and philosophy with integration, the difficulty of inferring important information about complex cognitive processes from direct observation, and the rate of technology development that challenges evaluators' abilities to keep pace. (p. 22)

Indeed, many researchers believe that using paper-and-pencil tests to assess student learning after students had been taught content through the use of technology is the wrong thing to do and the wrong focus of technology use. Russell and Haney (1997) studied the effects of test administration mode to see whether tests administered on computer versus paper-and-pencil have an effect on student performance on multiple-choice and written test questions. The study found that significantly higher cognitive-level responses are written on computers than those written by hand:

The size of the effects was found to be 0.94 on the extended writing task and .99 and 1.25 for the NAEP language arts and science short answer items. Effect sizes of this magnitude are unusually large and of sufficient size to be of not just statistical, but also practical significance (Cohen, 1977; Wolf, 1986). (Russell & Haney, 1997)

Such findings suggest that the medium of instruction makes a difference in the accuracy and value of assessment in the classroom. Russell (2000) claims that technologies used during learning activities should also be used during testing. Further, he contends that student assessment methods should match the medium in which students typically work and that advocates for state and local assessment programs should ensure students have access to the same technology in the assessment process as they have in the learning process. Rose and Meyer (2002) believe that selecting appropriate testing accommodations for students on an individualized basis is a very complex endeavor involving the following factors that can confound assessment results:

In their study, Russell and Haney (1997) concluded that, "As more and more students in schools and colleges do their work with spreadsheets and word processors, the traditional paper-and- pencil modes of assessment may fail to measure what they have learned." The study suggests that more and more paper-based assessments of today are becoming a thing of the past. Media characteristics of the technology used to administer the test also can present factors confounding test results when students are more apt in one medium (i.e., paper-and-pencil tests) than another medium (i.e., computerized tests that require keyboarding skills). This is a concern that will continue to grow as more assessments become technology based. Companies that develop these tests increasingly design their tests to be taken on computers. However, Rubin (Fulton, Feldman, Wasser, Spitzer, Rubin, & McNamara et al., 1996) believes that a more important outcome than raising test scores is the potential of technology to create communities of learners that do the following:

In their studies, Haertel and Means (2003) provided guidance on the evaluation of technology and thereby provided ways to determine the effectiveness of educational technology. They noted as follows:

What Do the Best Quantitative and Qualitative Research Tell Us About Educational Technology's Effectiveness and the Conditions and Factors Necessary for Maximum Effectiveness?

Most educational researchers, especially those who have examined large numbers of controlled studies (meta-analyses) that were neutral and independent, agree that if used appropriately, technology can improve education in the effect-size range between 0.30 and 0.40 (Kulik, 2002; Waxman, Connell, & Gray, 2002). In order to make effect size more meaningful for nonstatisticians, Kulik (2002), in a section on methodology, stated the following:

An effect size specifies the number of standard deviation units separating outcome scores of an experimental and control group. Effect sizes are positive when the experimental group outperforms the control group and negative when the control group comes out on top. Slavin, an expert in educational evaluation, considers effect size above 0.25 large enough to be educationally significant. Cohen, a pioneer in the use of effect size in the social sciences, classifies effect sizes of around 0.2 as small, 0.5 as moderate in size and 0.8 as large. (p. 1)

To achieve statistically significant effect sizes, schools must make certain that the following occur:

Based on the effect size of 0.30 to 0.40, Kulik's (2002) conclusions were as follows:

Computer tutorials can produce very favorable results in natural and social science instruction. Effects of tutorials on test scores in most studies were large enough to be considered educationally meaningful and were also unusually large for field studies in education. Tutoring effects on student attitudes toward instruction and science were also large. Evaluation studies suggest that student attitudes go up dramatically when students receive some of their instruction from computer tutorials…. Evaluation results from simulations and MBLs [microcomputer-based laboratories], however, were weaker and less consistent than were the results from tutorial programs. Although simulation programs sometimes improved the effectiveness of science teaching, … results from MBLs were usually small, and they were negative as often as positive.

But, as cannot be overemphasized, one factor that increases maximum effectives of technology use is good teacher preparation and skills. To be effective when using technology, teachers need to be highly involved by interacting and providing feedback to students. Researchers indicate that appropriate technology use can be very beneficial to increase educational productivity (Byrom & Bingham, 2001; Clements & Sarama, 2003; Kulik, 2002; Mann, Shakeshaft, Becker, & Kottkamp, 1999; Valdez, McNabb, Foertsch, Anderson, Hawkes, & Raack, 1999; Waxman, Connell, & Gray, 2002;Wenglinsky, 1998). Research studies (Chang, Henriquez, Honey, Light, Moeller, & Ross, 1998; Mann et al., 1999) indicate that technology may be most effective in science when technology is used to access information, especially from the Internet, and that information is used to communicate findings to others by using graphs, illustrations, and animations as well as to simulate and solve real problems. This seems to be especially true when scientific probes and other technology tools are used to assist with laboratory experiments. Teachers' views can help explain what research studies confirm.

photo of Kristin SakKristin Sak, a fourth-grade teacher and first-year science teacher at Bertha Vos Elementary School in Traverse City, Michigan, attests to the fact that technology can eliminate a lot of barriers of understanding—both in the classroom and among teachers—and explains how she approaches technology in her classroom. [Video: 1:00]

Research clearly indicates that the single most important factor in the effective use of technology is the quality of the teacher knowledge of effective technology uses in instruction. Coppola (2004) noted that:

The effect of technology on students' access to knowledge is determined by the pedagogical knowledge and skill of teachers. Technology enables teachers with well-developed working theories of student learning to extend the reach and power of those theories; in the absence of these powerful theories, technology enables mediocrity. (p. xii)

Coppola (2004) was even more direct in her conclusions, stating that without strong teacher knowledge of ways to use educational technology, a lot of precious instruction time can be wasted:

Whether computers are used well depends on the pedagogical knowledge and skill of the teacher, their use in the classroom. While it is possible to use computer in the powerful ways, … it is also possible to use them in ways that waste time or [are] actually detrimental to learning. (p. 4)

When used appropriately, technology acts as a great catalyst for learning in the classroom, says Eric Dreier, science coordinator and school principal at Traverse City Area Public Schools in Michigan. He notes that technology may often offer better and more accurate tools for students to search for solutions than regular probes and manipulatives. [Video: 1:15]

Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) considered the research findings of good practice in innovative technology-enhanced and technology-delivered education. They determined that there were at least seven factors as follows that were critical in manifesting effective good practice of technology use:

  1. Encouraged contacts between students and faculty, especially those students who were unwilling to speak out in face-to-face classroom settings.
  2. Developed reciprocity and cooperation among students allowing for the benefits of peer learning.
  3. Used active learning techniques that made students active learners.
  4. Gave prompt feedback.
  5. Emphasized time on task.
  6. Communicated high expectations.
  7. Respected diverse talents and ways of learning. (pp.144–145)

There can be little doubt that technology is very important for all students; moreover, it can be critical for students in various subgroups, such as limited-English proficiency and students with special needs (Padrón & Waxman, 1996; Lee, 2000; Edyburn, Higgins, & Boone, 2005). As a caveat, one needs to differentiate between two types of technology, educational and assistive, as follows:

Although researchers' degree of agreement fluctuates, instructional technology is generally recognized as a powerful means to boost student achievement (Kulik, 2002; Waxman, Connell, & Gray, 2002). But for technology to work, curriculum and instructional methods need to be expanded to match the variety and rich learning options that these technologies are making possible. Educators also understand that technology itself has created tools that can assist. They realize that assistive technology is about using simple implements like a pen grip or overhead projector as well as sophisticated software and adaptive hardware, so each learner has an opportunity to achieve. They recognize that technology integration means using many technologies to enhance teaching, learning, and multisensory experiences, providing "a range of pathways for students at varying levels" (Ficklen & Muscara, 2001, p. 26). For more detailed information on technology uses with LEP students and students with special needs, see Using Technology to Support Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students' Learning Experiences and Enhancing System Change and Academic Success Through Assistive Technologies for K–12 Students with Special Needs.

Why is Educational Technology Important to the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics and Science and What are the Important Considerations and Resources That Make Technology Use More Effective?

Mathematics and science have suffered from the stereotype that only a few people can and in fact need to be highly proficient in science and mathematics. An equally unfortunate and false stereotype is that primarily white males have the capability to become scientists and mathematicians. Barton (2002) provides compelling statistics about why those perceptions need to be changed:

While the number of 18- to 24-year-olds will grow by 3 million by 2010 and offer possibilities of a fresh supply of scientists and engineers from our colleges and graduate schools, there is one striking fact about that population increase: only 3 in 10 will be White. (Among all 18- to 24-year-olds, the percentage of those who are White will decline from 66 to 62 percent). White students currently represent [a] disproportionately large share of degree recipients. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians—who are currently underrepresented in college and graduate school programs—will constitute almost 60 percent of the population increase over the next decade. And as pointed out above, only 3 or 4 percent of high school seniors from these subgroups currently reach the "proficient" level in mathematics. While the growth in the proportion of these minorities in the 18- to 24-year-old population is not dramatic, it does point toward need for greater effort to improve their educational achievement. Together these facts make it clear that meeting our nation's future economic needs will not be possible without improving the math and science achievement of underrepresented minorities . ( p. 4)

Meanwhile, the educational role of technology has grown tremendously in several ways proving that technology use is undeniably capable of, and important for, helping teach content. As noted in NCTM (Suydam, 1990, as cited in Jarrett, 1998):

Today's technology can offer adolescents a bridge from concrete to abstract thinking, enabling them to observe and create multiple representations of mathematical ideas: numerically, graphically, and symbolically. For example, students can use geometric construction software to investigate the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle. They can measure several round objects and record the circumference and diameter (numerical representation). They can plot the values and estimate a "best fit" (graphical representation). Students can then determine the best fit equation (symbolic representation). Technology can also help teachers respond to students' diverse learning styles by creating rich environments that engage students' tactile, visual, and auditory senses. Finally, information technologies such as word processing, calculators, spreadsheet tools, and the Internet can enable middle-grade students to begin learning higher communication and problem solving skills—abilities that are essential to mathematical thinking. (pp. 4–5)

Educational technology is now widely valued for its ability to enhance one of the most significant intellectual developments for students: their emerging ability to think abstractly (Jarrett, 1998, p. 4).

Photo of Dr. Gilbert Valdez Technology has become a very powerful instructional tool to develop abstract thinking, which should be reflected also in assessment, says Dr. Valdez. [Video 1:20]

One of the necessary characteristics of the effective use of technology is that it be used for authentic tasks. According to Means and Olson (1997, as cited in Jarrett, 1998), there are the following important considerations for fostering the authentic uses of technology:

Technology has been proved to accommodate learning styles and to be an effective motivator for students with specific learning needs. Furthermore, students working in collaborative-team-learning settings appear to function better when learning events are accompanied by technology use. In addition, technology also is important when used to provide distance-learning opportunities to students who otherwise would not have access to course offerings. Distance education is especially important to students in rural settings because many high school courses that are necessary prerequisites in universities, such as higher mathematics and science offerings, are less available because of the fewer numbers of students in smaller schools.

In contrast to the statement above supported by The National Center for Education Statistics (Fox, 2005) that there are virtually no differences in Internet access between poor schools and wealthier schools, equal access to technology—especially in families of high poverty—continues to be a problem. The National Center for Education Statistics (DeBell & Chapman, 2003) study reported that among the group of children and adolescents who access the Internet at only one location, 52 percent of those from families in poverty and 59 percent of those whose parents have not earned at least a high school credential do so at school. In comparison, 26 percent of those from families not in poverty and 39 percent of those with more highly educated parents do so only at school. This illustrates the role of schools in bridging the digital divide.

A reasonable conclusion is that classroom computers and other technology can play many instructional roles, from personal tutor and information source to data organizer and communication tool. So, it is important for teachers to consider how computers and other electronic technologies can enhance the learning experiences of students and increase their productivity. The primary conclusion of much of the research is that t echnology has considerable potential for increasing interest in, and improving the quality of, learning in science and mathematics classrooms. However, effective use of instructional technology is possible only if sufficient attention is given to the following:




Any effort to create and encourage the effective use of education technology in instruction and assessments must consider specific issues of consistency, continuity, and support. Some of them, sorted by area of stakeholders' responsibility, are as follows.

School Board Members


Leaders who are trying to make technology more effective in improving learning are fortunate that a great deal of thought has been given to defining standards. James Bosco, chairperson of the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA) Committee, noted in the introduction to Technology Standards for School Administrators:

These Standards enable us to move from just acknowledging the importance of administrators to defining the specifics of what administrators need to know and be able to do in order to discharge their responsibility as leaders in the effective use of technology in our schools. (Technology Standards for School Administrators Collaborative, 2001, p. 1)

The TSSA document, a product of the TSSA Collaborative, is a useful guide that articulates the following main technology standards for administrators:

Readers are encouraged to view NCREL's Pathways Critical Issue titled Technology Leadership: Enhancing Positive Educational Change. The article deals with leadership strategies for use of technology to improve learning successfully.


Representatives of appropriate organizations also have created technology standards for teachers. The following are teacher standards modified from the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers. They are especially relevant for teachers considering the following technology action options:


Student standards have been developed by the International Society for Technology (ISTE), which recommends students' use of technology should reflect the following skills and operations:


The following are recommendations of what skills, knowledge, and dispositions parents are expected to develop in terms of technology use :


Some researchers believe that there are so many barriers to successful implementation of effective technology use in U.S. schools, and they are so prevalent, that it is very difficult to isolate and measure just how much effective technology use is actually in place in the schools. Some generic reasons for the failure of educational change-and-reform efforts are important to note, reasons which may certainly apply to efforts to create effective technology use. Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991) indicate the following reasons:

Likewise, there are many factors that affect technology implementation, especially in urban schools (Means, Penuel, & Padilla, 2001, p. 197), including the following:

Photo of Gabriella CastilloGabriela Castillo, a first-grade bilingual teacher at Johnson Elementary School in Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton, Illinois, stated issues such as lack of access to a computer laboratory, limited software functions, and insufficient interaction among classroom teachers and computer teachers often act as barriers to successful use of technology with students. [Video 2:00]

Managing Technology-Use Initiatives

Many of the barriers to implementation, as Means, Penuel, and Padilla (2001) noted, are self-explanatory, while some require clarification. Take, for example, the different uses of technology by departments in secondary schools. In those locations where principals and department heads are able to provide concrete, specific examples of how technology can support learning, there can be more quality use than in those locations where such guidance is not provided (Means, Penuel, & Padilla, 2001). Block scheduling with its longer time periods also encouraged in-depth projects where technology could be used with the most effectiveness. One of the most challenging barriers is that of low expectations for student decision making. These lower expectations result in teachers assigning primarily drill-and-practice uses of technology rather than the student-centered and complex tasks that offer the greatest value-added opportunities for the use of technology (Means, Penuel, & Padilla, 2001, pp. 197–208).

Meanwhile, affecting all of this planning and effort is, of course, all the communication and leadership pitfalls to implementation that are factors in other change efforts are also true when stakeholders attempt to provide educational technology-use leadership. Failure to have a shared vision, clear goals, and objectives with defined measurable outcomes can kill a change effort right from the beginning. A poorly designed implementation plan that fails to define tasks, responsibilities, and ongoing benchmarks also will result in the change effort failing. Clearly, failure to assess progress and challenges and to make needed changes as the program progresses is an implementation pitfall with dire consequences. Also, administrators who do not communicate with stakeholders about defining success and challenges increase the risk of failure dramatically.

A careful plan may avoid several pitfalls. But those careful plans may be surprised, short-circuited, or defeated by people, institutions, rules, policies, or inertia: These are barriers to implementation of such scale that they cannot be treated as mere pitfalls. If barriers to implementation are not dealt with, the chances of success for even the best-planned implementation is seriously compromised.

These are all extremely important implementation pitfalls to avoid and barriers to overcome, but there are some problems unique to technology leadership that require special attention. One of the most significant is the need for professional development for both administrators and teachers. Because many educators did not receive adequate preparation for use of technology in their preservice experience, most have to learn effective and efficient use even as they try to instruct and model use of the available technology.

Such insights suggest that instructional technology use, if it is to be successful, needs to be implemented systemically rather than in isolation. For example, failure to integrate technology use into the required curriculum may result in technology being perceived as an instructional add-on. Teachers may be frustrated when they realize that to use technology effectively, they will need not only to learn technology use and integration but that they may need to modify their instructional and assessment practices as well. Meanwhile, administrators need to share the change process, beginning with why the change is necessary, what the benefits expected are likely to be, and what the consequences are of not making any changes, with respect to the emphasis on providing a full education to all students. In addition, administrators need to encourage and support technology professional development opportunities exactly because some teachers are less comfortable with technology than with other aspects of their teaching. However, some teachers may need additional constructive feedback that will enable them to take risks using technology in ever more ways.

Creation and management of technology infrastructure and support is probably the implementation problem that can be most fatal. Teachers and students should not be expected to be technology infrastructure and support experts. The equipment they are using needs to be dependable and easily accessible. Teachers need to experience technology as something that they can build lesson plans around and not worry that their planning efforts and schedules are frequently impossible because of equipment failure or unavailability. A few negative experiences will lead teachers to believe that technology use is more problematic than helpful and will likely reduce their technology use substantially.


Routinely, articles and books are published that continue to make the argument that schools use too much technology. Some critics attack technology use in schools for physiological, psychological, moral, and physical reasons, and those critics and their opinions may never change. However, most critics attack technology use because they believe it provides minimal value-added benefit to educational efforts. Fool's gold: A critical look at computers in childhood (Cordes & Miller, 2000), Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom (Cuban, 2001), and The Flickering Mind (Oppenheimer, 2003) are three critiques that have received considerable attention as serious criticisms of technology use in schools.

The main criticism in all three of these books, and other critical articles as well, is that computers are not as cost effective as other interventions. They note the obsolescence factor of computers and the ongoing costs of upgrading both hardware and software. Some critics indicate a belief that many hardware and software companies purposely design products to become quickly obsolete and thus require updates that educators must buy. It is their belief that educational technology is too much in its infancy and not yet reliable enough for use by most students.

Some critics such as Kirkpatrick and Cuban (1998) indicate that technology equipment requires extensive support structures that require districts to take money away from basic expenditures for other and better uses in the classroom. They believe this money should be invested in the arts, science laboratories, shops, and anything else that involves more hands-on ways of learning. Technology literacy, some believe, is highly overblown in its importance and that people who need to use technology will learn by using task applications that involve "real" work.

The criticism is especially strong for computer use by younger students. Some critics believe that with the exceptions of assistive technologies for students with special needs, students below the third grade should not use much, if any, technology. Other critics are concerned that technology reduces socialization opportunities. Some parents are concerned about the effect that children are gaining so much of their world knowledge from a virtual, rather than the real, world. Other critics are concerned that the sexual and violent content accessible on the Internet challenges or prevents character education necessary for development of moral citizens (Rifkin, 2000).

Some critics think that technology use is a wasteful and negative use of scarce resources and give examples of visiting schools where uses of computers are actually making education worse. They note that in many cases, teachers use computers to entertain students with irrelevant and unconnected activities because it makes their teaching lives easier and not because it benefits students as they learn important content.

Subsequently, several people have written very enlightening responses to such critics. Two articles that are especially informative are "Myths and Realities about Technology in K–12" by G. M. Kleiman (2000) and " Strip Mining for Gold: Research and Policy in Educational Technology—A Response to Fool's Gold" by D. H. Clements and J. Samara (2003). Kleiman (2000) indicated that there are realities to some of the criticisms but that many of the points of objection are due to poor implementation of technology. He noted:

The central theme underlying all these myths is that while modern technology has great potential to enhance teaching and learning, turning that potential into reality on a large scale is a complex, multifaceted task. The key determinant of our success will not be the number of computers purchased or cables installed, but rather how we define educational visions, prepare and support teachers, design curriculum, address issues of equity, and respond to the rapidly changing world. As is always the case in efforts to improve K–12 education, simple, short-term solutions turn out to be illusions; long-term, carefully planned commitments are required. (p. 20)

No doubt, technology will always have critics. Some believe that technology reduces hands-on experience and student engagement in active participation. Others believe technology reduces important human contact. In the final analysis, one can conclude that identified uses of technology can have different critiques depending on one's personal values and perspectives of what is good and bad in education. The single most important factor for reducing criticism of technology use in instruction is to have teachers who are competent and knowledgeable about appropriate and effective use of technology to improve student learning.


Following are a few exceptional resources focused on effective uses of technology in schools:

Additional Links

Central Operations of Resources for Educators (CORE)

This Web sitedescribes more than 200 aeronautics and space programs chronicling NASA's state-of-the-art research and technology efforts. These videocassette, slide, and CD-ROM programs can serve as a springboard for discussing life science, physical science, space science, energy, Earth science, mathematics, technology, and career education.

The Earth Exploration Toolbook

This Web site has a collection of computer-based Earth science activities. Each activity, or chapter, introduces one or more data sets and an analysis tool that enables users to explore some aspect of the Earth system.

Eisenhower Mathematics and Science National Clearinghouse Digital Dozen

This Web site offers 12 new exemplary curriculum features and resources each month. It identifies effective curriculum resources, creates high-quality professional development materials, and disseminates useful information and products to improve K–12 mathematics and science teaching and learning.


This Web site offers numerous resources such as The Tools for Teaching, an important stop for all science teachers.

Federal Resources for Educational Excellence

More than 30 federal agencies formed a working group in 1997 to make hundreds of federally supported teaching and learning resources easier to find. All can be accessed from this site.

Geometry Java Applet Gallery

This Web site provides applets to triangle calculators and advanced principles in an interactive manner and demonstrates excellent uses of technology to improve learning.


The Illuminations Project is designed to illuminate the vision for school mathematics described in NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Illuminations is a partner in the Marcopolo Internet Content for the Classroom program.

Intel Innovation in Education

This Web site features project-based activities that model interesting and relevant learning and effective uses of technology.

ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)

In partnership with a number of organizations and educators across the country, ISTE has developed National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for students.

Knowledge Network Explorer

This Web site offers many resources, including Blue Web'n that classifies Internet resources rated on a five-star scale.

Manipula Math With JAVA

This Web site features interactive programs that teachers and students can manipulate as well as animation that helps students grasp the meaning of mathematical ideas.

Materials Across the Curriculum Electronic Bookshelf

This Web site offers numerous resources for teaching mathematics in an interdisciplinary manner.

NASA SCIence Files

This Web site is a must for teachers: The activities found here demonstrate how exciting the interface of technology and learning can be when done well.

NCREL's Educational Technology Resources

Some resources here focus on technology and its use in education, while others focus on related issues such as professional development and policy, which have an educational technology component.

Ohio Resource Center

The mission of the Ohio Resource Center is to identify and disseminate effective online instructional and professional development resources to schools, school districts, and higher education in Ohio.

Online Educational Resources for Physics Teachers

This is a large collection of Java and other interactive tools and resources of value to science and mathematics teachers, especially those teaching physics.

Science NetLinks

This Web site provides numerous Internet experiences and resources for K–12 science educators and students that address important science standards. The tools and resources sections are especially valuable.

United States Geological Survey

This Web site provides an unbiased, timely, relevant, and impartial study of the landscape, natural resources, and natural hazards.

Your Sky

This Web site allows users to enter their precise geographic coordinates (or choose a city from a list) to get sky maps in three different views. The site has information valuable to the beginner as well as the most advanced sky watcher.

Weather Scope: An Investigative Study of Weather

This is an essential Web site for the study of weather.

Why Files: The Science Behind the News

Based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this Web site presents information related to science, mathematics, and technology based on daily news items to make a clear connection between science and daily life.


International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)
1710 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Suite 900
Washington , DC 20036
Phone: 866-654-4777
Fax: 202-861-0888

NationalCenter for Education Statistics (NCES)
1990 K Street, NW ,
Washington , DC 20006
Phone: 202-502-7300

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
NCTM Headquarters Office
1906 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1502
Phone: 703-620-9840
Fax: 703-476-2970

National Research Council (NRC)
500 Fifth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: 202-334-2000

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
1840 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington VA 22201-3000
Phone: 703-243-7100

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Date posted: 2005
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