There are many types of educational technology and many ways to define it. In recent years, educational technology has come to mean computers. Computers have had a profound impact on society, but a lesser one on schools. There is a great deal of concern about the digital divide between the rich and the poor, and schools are seen as the access equalizer. Schools struggle to find the funding necessary to keep up with technological advances. The research on the effectiveness of technology is somewhat mixed, and more studies need to be conducted.
The National Center for Education Statistics (2000, February) states that 95% of all public schools were connected to the Internet by 1999. Merely providing connectivity is not enough. There must be qualified teachers to use the technology and teach students how to use it. The need for qualified teachers is particularly acute in Title I schools. There is concern over the growing digital divide between low-income and middle class families and schools. Irving’s research (1999, November) found that:
- Households earning more than $75,000 are more than 20 times more likely to have home Internet access than those at the lowest income levels;
- Whites are more likely to have Internet access at home than African American or Latinos are to have access from any location;
- Latino households are still roughly half as likely to own a computer as white households and nearly 2.5 times less likely to use the Internet;
- Only 6.6% of people with an elementary school education or less use the Internet; and
- People with college degrees or higher are 10 times more likely to have Internet access at work than those with only some high school education (Schargel & Smink, 2001).
Wong (2000, August) reports on similar gaps in Internet use, particularly between high and low income families.
Educational Technology Is Needed
Educational technology is needed for a variety of reasons. It provides an alternative method of learning for those who struggle to learn using traditional methods. Technology can be used to address multiple intelligences and also to provide authentic learning experiences for students. It helps to prepare students for the world of work. Almost every job today requires some level of computer knowledge and ability. A U.S. Department of Labor Report states, “By 2006, nearly half of all U.S. workers will be employed in industries that produce or intensively use information technology products and services” (21st Century Workforce Commission, June 2000, p. 10). The unskilled positions that were filled by dropouts are quickly disappearing.
Technology can remove barriers to learning and be especially helpful to at-risk students. The use of educational technology can:
- Improve student mastery of content;
- Provide individualized instruction;
- Improve students’ attitudes toward learning;
- Prepare students for the workforce; and
- Increase the cost effectiveness of instruction (Boe, 1989).
Integrating technology into the curriculum is a challenge that is being met by teachers who are comfortable with educational technology. Teachers are manipulating the technology to fit their learning objectives instead of the technology manipulating them. Computers are seen as nonjudgmental, so at-risk students often change their attitudes toward learning and begin to succeed (Bennett, 1999). Technology can provide a wide variety of educational experiences and resources.
Impact of Educational Technology
The full potential of educational technology has yet to be realized in schools. Educators are moving from viewing technology as simple automation to technology as a vehicle for exploration and creation. Technology provides the opportunity for at-risk students to be successful. Technology:
- Builds self-esteem;
- Changes reluctant learners to motivated learners;
- Empowers students;
- Provides multiple and flexible learning opportunities; and
- Creates a psychologically safe learning environment (Wesley, 2004).
Computers can expand the educational horizons for teachers and students. With technology training and support for teachers and students, the full potential of instructional technology can be realized.
* Much of the information above was excerpted with permission from: Smink, J., & Schargel, F. P. (Eds.) Helping Students Graduate: A Strategic Approach to Dropout Prevention. Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, 2004.
21st Century Workforce Commission. (2000, June). A nation of opportunity: Building America’s 21st century workforce. U.S. Department of Labor.
Bennett, F. (1999). Computers as tutors: Solving the crisis in education. Sarasota, FL: Faben, Inc.
Boe, T. (1989). The next step for educators and the technology industry: Investing in teachers. Educational Technology, 29(3), 39-44.
Irving, L. (1999, November). Falling through the net: A report on the telecommunications and information technology gap in America. The U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunication and Information Administration.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2000, February). Internet access in U.S. public schools and classrooms: 1994-1999. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2000-086).
Schargel, F. P., & Smink, J. (2001). Strategies to help solve our school dropout problem. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Wesley, T. (2004). Educational technology: Why and how it counts for students at risk. In F. P. Schargel & J. Smink (Eds), Helping students graduate: A strategic approach to dropout prevention (pp. 186-194). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Wong, E. (2000, August 13). Poorest schools lack teachers and computers. New York Times, p. 14.