ORIGINS AND PURPOSE OF THE PROJECT
This project grew out of ongoing concern by the U.S. Department of Education, education practitioners, education researchers, and members of the information technology1 community that the potential of information technology (IT) to transform K-12 education for all remains unrealized. While many pioneering IT projects have been developed by the education research community and individual schools or school districts and examples of commercially and publicly available IT for supporting language arts, mathematics, science, and technology education abound, there is a growing recognition that IT hardware and applications are having less influence on improving learning for all than has been envisioned. Despite the frustration about the unrealized potential, however, there is a sense of optimism that the motivation to confront and address the issue is gaining momentum. What may be needed most are mechanisms and incentives for the IT, education research, and practitioner communities to share their challenges and collective wisdom, to work together in strategic and sustained ways, and to focus on quality improvement of products and services for the benefit of all students. The purpose of this project was to explore opportunities for moving these communities in this direction.
CHALLENGES AND GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM
With the many innovations and applications of information technologies developed for supporting learning and teaching in the past decade, these technologies may finally be able to play transformational roles in enabling learning to higher standards (e.g., Means et al., 1993; President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), 1997; President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), 1999, 2001; Pea et al., 1999; Roschelle et al., 2001; Web-Based Education Commission, 2000), in individualizing instruction to all learners (National Research Council, 2001b), and in fostering continual teacher professional development (e.g., National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000; Goldman, 2001). These innovations and applications of IT include web-based, hyperlinked, multimedia, interactive 2-D and 3-D graphics and animations, modeling, data visualization, geolocation, and community-oriented features. Currently, the United States possesses an infrastructure in which over three-quarters of all classrooms have Internet access and multiple computers for student use (Cattagni and Farris, 2001). This change is due to the billions of dollars that American schools have expended in the past five years on the costs of information technology and telecommunications, with funding enabled by the E-Rate (discounted telecommunications services for schools and libraries) and other federal programs, as well as state and local initiatives.
The expectations are not to “replace” teachers with technologies that students use entirely on their own, as earlier critics of computer-assisted instruction and integrated learning systems feared, nor to naively assume that uses of computers will translate automatically into cost efficiencies and gains in achievement test scores. Umbrage is rightly directed at such “silver bullet” thinking, because education systems, like business systems, are far too complex for adoptions of specific interventions to translate into predictable outcomes. After a decade of sustained research on what has come to be called “systemic reform” (Smith and O’Day, 1991), it is obvious that there are tremendous variations in how any specific educational intervention is implemented. Such differences are not surprising, given the enormous amount of variability in local education systems and how their components interact.
Success in implementing educational interventions is especially dependent on the capacities of teachers to provide high-quality instruction with these new approaches (e.g., Boesel, 2001; Darling-Hammond and Sykes, 1999; Education Week, 2000; Haycock, 1998; National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future [NCTAF], 1996). Theory and research that examine systemic reform recognize the intricate interplay among these education system components—including student characteristics and classroom groupings, curriculum, classroom tasks and assessments, teacher proficiencies and
professional development opportunities, school leadership, and community involvement—and at different levels, from the classroom, to the school, to the district, state, and federal levels (e.g., Goetz et al., 1996). The decentralized nature of education in the United States adds to this mix the special caprices of local decision making and different standards for what students should know and be able to do across states and locales.
Despite these complexities in implementation and the difficulties they pose for understanding the impact of education technology on learning and student achievement, current research shows that the impact of IT can be substantial. This is the case even though one might expect that the more significant impacts of technology on teaching and learning will accumulate only slowly over time. In meta-analytic studies that examine effect sizes aggregated across many different studies, relationships between various educational interventions and student achievement have been demonstrated, including those of computer-assisted instruction (e.g., Hattie et al., 1996). In a recent comprehensive review of hundreds of studies conducted since 1994 on the effectiveness of “discrete educational software”2 for K-12 learning achievements, Murphy et al. (2002, p. 2) concluded that “the research base is severely limited” since “out of the 195 experimental or quasi-experimental evaluation studies that our initial search identified, just 31 studies used designs that met our minimum requirement for methodological criteria: the use of a comparison group, large enough samples, reliable measures of achievement, and sufficient information for estimating an effect size.” Nonetheless, with these stringent criteria secured, their meta-analysis did support a positive association between the use of discrete educational software products and student achievement in reading and mathematics, with an overall weighted effect size of +0.38 standard deviation.3,4 This effect size is consistent with and slightly larger than earlier meta-analyses of computer-based instruction. For comparison, the authors note that “many educators believe
reducing class size is an effective way to improve learning, but effect sizes for studies of class size reduction are between +0.13 and +0.18” (p. 35).
Many new paradigms for IT use diverge from the discrete educational programs that have dominated technology in education over the first 20 years that microcomputers have been employed in K-12 settings and that have been the subject of existing meta-analyses. Those previously dominant technologies (e.g., computer-assisted instruction and integrated learning systems) target skill training in core subject areas, such as reading and mathematics. They employ methods such as drill and practice, skill games, exercises, memory games, review and reinforcement tutorials, and problem-solving simulations (e.g., Foshay, 2000). The new paradigms of IT use cover a broader range of applications. As characterized by the report, How People Learn (National Research Council, 2000), there are five classes of use for information technologies in K-12 education that are grounded in the learning sciences:
Supporting learning in real-world contexts, such as with inquiry projects that allow students to collect scientific data in the natural environment.
Connecting learners to experts and communities of other learners.
Providing scaffolds and tools to enhance learning, such as visualization and analysis tools that enable students to utilize complex data for higher order thinking.
Providing opportunities for feedback, reflection, and revision in the acquisition and construction of knowledge, such as with intelligent tutoring systems.
Expanding opportunities for teacher learning, using methods such as on-line communities of practice and best-practice case studies.
The types of IT application described in How People Learn have great potential for improving teacher learning and professionalization, for connecting learners via telecommunications to the distributed expertise of others from whom they can learn, for using student responses much more frequently in formative assessments that can guide instructional practices, and for providing far broader student access to complex concepts and skills more typically associated with only advanced learners by using visualization and other dynamic knowledge representation techniques (e.g., National Research Council, 2000; Kaput, Noss, and Hoyles, 2001; Pea, 2002; Linn, Davis, and Bell, 2003). As many of these more recent developments and applications using IT in K-12 learning engage multiple aspects of systemic reform, from curriculum to assessment to teacher development and parental involvement, they may offer great potential to have impacts on learning that go well beyond those demonstrated for discrete educational programs in the meta-analytic reviews cited above (e.g., National Research Council, 2000; Roschelle et al., 2001).
APPROACH TO THE TASK
In response to concerns about the continued unrealized potential of IT in K-12 education, the National Research Council’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Center for Education (CFE), Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences (BBCSS), and Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) undertook a collaborative project to help the IT, education research, and practitioner communities work together to find ways of improving the use of IT in K-12 education for the benefit of all students. The project was supported by the U.S. Department of Education. Its purpose was to catalyze the creation of a community of experts in technology, cognition and learning, and education who are devoted to improving education through creative and research-based development and applications of information technology. This project examined a range of work in the field, from creating innovations, to research that tests whether specific innovations are able to improve learning and teaching, to the implementation steps needed to make those resources and techniques available to all teachers and students.
The committee conducted its work according to the following statement of task: “This project is a collaborative activity of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, the Center for Education (CFE), the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences (BBCSS), and the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) to catalyze the creation of a community of experts in technology, cognition and learning, and education who are devoted to improving education through creative and research-based applications of information technology.”
While the primary focus of this project has been at the K-12 level, there are clear cross-cutting issues and opportunities for intersections with higher education (e.g., National Research Council, 1997, 1999a, 2002a, 2002c) and the workplace (National Research Council, 1998, 2001a).
The project was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, the project’s statement of task called for a steering committee to hold a workshop in January 2001 to make an initial roadmap of core issues and explore the potential for new applications of computing in schools, colleges, and universities. That workshop also featured lessons learned from successful partnerships that have productively engaged educators, researchers in the learning sciences, and industry in powerful models of using IT to improve learning and teaching. A report on this workshop was issued in 2002 (National Research Council, 2002b).
In the second phase, the steering committee was augmented with additional experts in the field of cognition and learning, education practice, information technology, community building, and the technique of roadmapping. For this second phase, the project’s statement of task called for the committee to help develop the roadmapping process, to help build
a community of experts devoted to improving education through creative and research-based applications of information technology, and to plan future activities in this area.
The enlarged committee held a meeting in summer 2001 to explore the issues surrounding the building of a professional community concerned about ways to develop, market, and utilize IT to improve K-12 education. The committee then conducted a workshop in December 2001 to build additional ties to the larger community of stakeholders and to further develop the roadmapping process. The results of this road-mapping exercise suggested two primary themes, which the committee describes below as “transformations”:
integrating cheap, fast, robust computers into instruction for every student in the United States, and
combining advances in the science of learning with IT capabilities to dramatically improve student learning.
The first transformation deals with the infrastructure that will be required to integrate IT into education for all students. This infrastructure is construed broadly to include not only the development and support of hardware and software by the IT industry, but also ongoing professional development for teachers to assist them in implementing classroom use of technology, equitable access to software that can fundamentally change the ways that teachers and other educators think about and develop curriculum, and mechanisms for providing students and parents ready access to such resources outside the school environment.
The second transformation deals with the research and development efforts that will be required to mine the scientific literature on how people learn and apply it to all aspects of the development, implementation, and professional development that will be part of the next generation of educational and learning technologies. As suggested by a number of reports (e.g., National Research Council 1997, 2000, 2001b), this next generation of technology could improve learning by such means as supporting deeper conceptual learning and providing more useful, individualized formative assessment to guide instruction.
The committee met again in June 2002 for intense work on the roadmapping process. In January 2003 the committee convened a final workshop involving the larger community of stakeholders to explore in greater depth the two transformations that had emerged from its preliminary roadmapping. This workshop included a discussion of the types of activities that would be useful to pursue to advance the appropriate and effective use of IT to improve K-12 teaching and learning. This report describes the outcome of the January 2003 workshop, along with an overview of the work that preceded it.
The goal of the committee has been to work toward bringing together insights and findings concerning effective conditions for learning and teaching with IT in the learning sciences, the pioneering work of innovative educators, and the developments of learning technologies provided by the industrial sector, including hardware, software, publishing, service and professional development supports. The committee’s efforts in this regard can help to foster a community across the sectors of learning sciences research, education, and industry to articulate and achieve a vision for strategically improving learning with information technologies. Such a community would work to monitor developments in technology, learning research, and classroom practice to help inform local district decisions about how to use education technology, governmental decisions about the research agenda and financial support in education technology, industry decisions about how to supply the market for education technology, and researcher decisions about how to design studies that address the pressing questions, challenges, and opportunities faced by today’s educators with respect to information technology (e.g., National Research Council, 1999a, 2001a).
ISSUES AND THEMES
Despite the promise and demonstrated success of information technology, the effective use of IT in education continues to fall far short of what is possible in improving education for all learners. The committee’s work uncovered a number of requirements for IT to be broadly applied to improve learning. These requirements emerged as recurrent themes in the committee’s workshop discussions and roadmapping exercises. The later sections of this report provide more detail about those discussions and exercises; the following list is a guide to them:
The importance of focusing the use of IT on improving the teaching and learning of academic skills, content, and higher order thinking rather than on learning how to use the technology.
The importance of providing a one-to-one student:computer ratio to enable IT to be fully integrated into teaching and learning.5
The importance of providing reliable and easy-to-use IT that both maximizes the time students can spend using the technology to learn and minimizes the support cost to keep that technology operational.
The importance of teachers understanding the benefits of fully integrating IT into their work compared with current approaches and tools in the classroom. The most important benefits from embracing the new technologies would be improved student learning and superior work flow management—from standards-based lesson planning and media use, to implementing and supporting student learning activity customized to needs, to assessment and next-step responsive teaching.
The importance of providing easy ways for teachers to locate appropriate software for IT that provides high-quality learning and teaching experiences.
The importance of addressing the disconnect in the educational hardware and software markets between the products currently developed and offered by industry and the kind of products that teachers could use effectively to improve student learning. As technology continues to develop, it may become practical and appropriate to develop IT hardware specifically targeted to the needs of the education market.
The importance of addressing IT-related change with systemic approaches that better align and integrate curriculum, instruction and assessment, and appropriate teacher development.
The importance of investigating the possible use of hardware and software developed for consumer markets, such as cell phones and gaming systems, for supporting learning and education applications as well.
The importance of exploiting the significant and still unrealized opportunity to employ emerging evidence from the learning sciences to improve the effectiveness of IT applications.
The importance of defining and investing in long-term research to develop and test new approaches for improving student learning with IT that can be replicated and adapted for use by many student audiences. It is also important to bring them to a scale of use that would benefit students and educators in many more educational environments than happens traditionally by means of government-sponsored research activities.
The January 2003 workshop resulted in a number of suggestions for key enablers of the two transformations in the use of information technology to improve learning. These suggestions are listed in Box 1-1 and are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3. The workshop also included a discussion of the next steps the National Academies might take to help bring about the two transformations. The categories of suggestions are listed in Box 1-2 and are presented in more detail in Chapter 3.
BOX 1-1 Key Enablers
The First Transformation: Integrating Cheap, Fast, Robust Computers into Instruction for Every Student in the United States
The Second Transformation: Combining Advances in the Science of Learning with IT Capabilities to Dramatically Improve Student Learning
BOX 1-2 Next Steps for the National Academies
ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT
Following this introduction, Chapter 2 provides background information about the committee’s workshops that occurred in January 2001 and December 2001 and about the committee’s experience using the technique of roadmapping as a tool for strategic thinking and planning. Chapter 3 is a detailed summary of the discussion that occurred at the January 2003 workshop. Appendix A consists of personal statements by committee members regarding next steps to encourage the effective use of IT in K-12 education. Appendix B provides the complete set of key enablers for the two transformations that were developed by the breakout groups in the January 2003 workshop. Appendix C provides the agenda and the participant list for the December 2001 and the January 2003 workshops. Appendix D provides biographical sketches of the committee members.