The Common Denominator: Bridging the Digital Divide - Is technology the answer to improving academic performance?

Several years ago, in graduate school at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, I explored the subject of bridging the digital divide - as it relates to improving academic performance. Do you think we have improved in this area?   Take a look and let me know your thoughts....
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Technology is more and more an essential part of our lives. We rely on technology to conduct day-to-day activities such as on-line banking, business and personal communication, as well as, research and information-gathering. Each year, being digitally connected becomes ever more critical to educational advancement and social inclusion. For this reason, the White House has introduced The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 – Enhancing Education Through Technology.
The NCLB Act of 2001 has provided the framework in which primary and secondary educational institutions are to implement a comprehensive system that effectively uses technology in elementary schools and secondary schools to improve student academic achievement. Moreover, it aims to bridge the digital divide and ensure that every student is technologically literate by the time the student finishes the eighth grade, regardless of the student's race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.
This paper intends to explore the effects of technology on education in the 21st century. In particular, this paper will investigate whether or not technology is a contributing factor to improving student’s academic achievement. First, this paper will investigate how teachers are integrating technology within primary and secondary education. Secondly, this paper will explore test results to determine if there is a direct correlation to technology and a student’s academic performance. Finally, the paper will analyze the result to see if technology provides an advantage or disadvantage.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the primary federal entity for collecting, analyzing, and reporting data related to education in the United States, conducted a survey on how teachers were integrating technology within primary and secondary education. The 2000–01 report indicated that electronic mail was the most frequent use of teacher’s computer (68 percent).
Coming in at a close second to e-mail was surfing the Internet (61 percent), followed by a telephone in the classroom (56 percent), encyclopedias and other reference materials on CD-ROM (51 percent). The items least frequently reported as essential were multimedia authoring programs, scanners, and video cameras coming in at 21 percent, 20 percent, and 18 percent, respectively.
On the contrary, some teachers are using technology to benefit their students in a variety of ways. For example, one school district in Southern New Jersey undertook a ten-month research project to bridge the digital divide and to integrate technology as a part of the total learning process. The project was a formal peer mentoring relationship strictly for the acquisition of curricular-driven technology integration skills.
According to the official results published by Dr. Frank Rudnesky, “the case study provided evidence that teachers who previously did not integrate technology changed their methodology to include this new tool. As they did this, they began to see the value in technology as it brought students to new and higher levels of learning. Teachers can and will change the way they teach when they validate higher student achievement. They can and will create lessons that are infused with technology in a seamless manner. They create an environment in the classroom similar to that of the world around them, which already includes a technological backdrop.”
Another great success story is that of Truman Middle School. Truman Middle School is a technology magnet in Fontana, California. Truman Middle School serves the socially and economically disadvantaged communities that consist of culturally and racially diverse students. Many of these students and their parents are English as Second Language (ESL) and many of them lack a formal education as well. Consequently, only a fraction of the families own or know how to efficiently operate a computer. However, Truman’s outstanding program teaches keyboarding, word processing, database and spreadsheet creation/use, PowerPoint and Hyper Studio presentations, and even basic Web development—in a technology class. All of which have proven to improve academic performance and self-confidence.
Furthermore, the school has implemented programs during out-of-school time that incorporated parents as an integral part of the learning process. According to the report, “this project, as with all of the projects Ken teaches either alone or collaboratively at Truman Middle School, relies on a technology-infused interdisciplinary approach to achieve student gains on many levels.” Truman Middle School aims to integrate English language learning and reading comprehension into a standards-based science curriculum, using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
From this data, it is clear that when emphasis is actually placed on integrating technology to enhance learning opportunities, students will actually learn. In contrast, when the full benefits of the technology are not being applied to enhance academic performance, the opposite is also true. If New Jersey and California are isolated incidents, then it explains the static levels of academic performance amongst most schools in the United States. This point is best illustrated by The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
PISA, an assessment that began its inaugural year in 2000, focuses on 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading, mathematics and science literacy. Their most recent report ranked the United States 15-year-old 24th amongst 29 other nations. The U.S scored a mediocre 483, which yielded 17 points below the average for the participating countries. However, there is good news.
Lawrence Hardy completed a report – Education Vital Signs 2005. The report said “In mid-December, there was some encouraging news about U.S. minority students from the 2003 Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). African-American fourth-graders and eighth-graders and Hispanic eighth-graders improved substantially in math and science between 1995 and 2003. And the achievement gap between black and white students -- while still large -- narrowed for both grades.”

In conclusion, if technology is to improve the academic performance, then it must be properly integrated as a tool to enhance the learning process. This research concludes that most teachers are not well trained on the constructs of technology and its benefits. Teacher training often isolates technology as a separate discipline and focuses on training for specific computer applications, such as word processing and drawing.
Consequently, we can deduce that technological training for teachers must be a part of this process. Teachers must be retrained on the effective techniques, valuable resources and comprehensive strategies that will enable successful integration of technology into the curriculum.
Administrators must do more than simply help teachers embrace technology; it must also anticipate the classroom change that will accompany its widespread use. Furthermore, this notion of bridging the digital divide as throwing computers and Internet access to every facet of the education system has to be revisited. Digital literacy must accompany this hardware.
If the NCLB Act of 2001 is to come to fruition, educators are going to be convinced to change their practice by integrating technology into their teaching; they must see the relevance of technology to what they do in the classroom and make it a part of their everyday activities.

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I didn't mention this before, but I took a sabbatical from Software Engineering in 2005 to teach high school mathematics at Anniston High School (Go Bulldogs!)  During my time as a math teacher, I integrated technology into the classroom and saw an immediate boost in students performance.  In my judgement, the boost in performance was attributed to several things:  interactive learning, group participation, and hundreds of thousands of real-world examples.  Moreover, young people were more likely to engage in activities that they perceived to be "hip" or "cool" (not sure if my choice of words here are "up-to-date" but you get the picture).   Not to mention it was just as fun for me.  So, are YOU or someone you know using technology to improve academic performance.  If so, what have you noticed?


U.S. Department of Education, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001; Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2001

National Center for Education Statistics Computer Technology in the Public School Classroom: Teacher Perspectives; March 2005

Bridging the Technology Proficiency Gap Through Peer Mentoring By Frank Rudnesky, Ed. D.

Truman Middle School, A 21st Century Skills Scenario,

Education Vital Signs 2005, Looking ahead We have seen the future, and it isn’t all we hoped: Lawrence Hardy


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