Special Report
Classroom Technology What the Research Says

What We’ve Learned About Technology and Learning in the Last 3 Years

By Lauraine Langreo — March 27, 2023 8 min read
Students attend a coding class at Hampton Street School in Mineola, N.Y., March 13, 2023.
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From research on measuring technology integration to why teachers choose a particular app, studies on educational technology have covered a wide variety of topics and challenges in recent years as the use of technology has expanded in schools all over the world.

That is especially the case in the United States where 52 percent of educators said the quality of research on the use of technology to improve instruction is “good,” “very good,” or “excellent,” according to an EdWeek Research Center survey of 1,058 teachers, principals, and district officials conducted from Jan. 26 through Feb. 1.

Similarly, a majority of educators in the United States (67 percent) said they rely “some” or “a lot” on ed-tech research to inform teaching practices in their classrooms or schools, according to the EdWeek Research Center survey.

To help educators better understand technology’s role in instruction, Education Week is putting the spotlight on four recent and particularly interesting research studies about technology in education published in the last three years:

1. How to clear confusion about what ‘tech integration’ means

“What is ‘technology integration’ and how is it measured in K-12 education? A systematic review of survey instruments from 2010 to 2021"

Study authors: Tessa Consoli, University of Zurich, Switzerland; Juliette Désiron, University of Zurich, Switzerland; and Alberto Cattaneo, Swiss Federal University for Vocational Education and Training

Date Published: Jan. 28, 2023

The term “technology integration” has been thrown around in education for well over a decade, but as it turns out, there isn’t a common understanding of the term, according to this systematic review of 695 studies measuring technology integration published between January 2010 and March 2021. Some researchers use the term as a synonym for technology use, while others use it to refer to the transformation or enhancement of teaching and learning practices through the use of technology.

Besides the lack of a shared definition, the researchers also found that a lot of the research on technology integration so far has focused on measuring it through classroom practices and teachers’ perspectives.

The researchers recommend that future research do a better job explaining what the term “technology integration” means and that new research focus on aspects of technology integration that have so far received little attention, such as student perspectives and ethical aspects.

Because there is no consensus on what technology integration means among researchers, school administrators’ and teachers’ definition of technology integration will likely vary as well, said Natalie Milman, a professor of educational technology at George Washington University, in an email interview with Education Week.

“If teachers are observed or evaluated about their technology integration, it will be important to ensure the stakeholders involved reach consensus as to what technology integration means within their local context,” Milman said.

And teacher professional development around technology integration should also engage stakeholders in developing a shared definition so they have a common understanding of what the term means, she added.

2. How to improve professional development for tech use in education

“Teachers’ exposure to professional development and the quality of their instructional technology use: The mediating role of teachers’ value and ability beliefs”

Study authors: Margaret A. Bowman, Ohio State University; Vanessa W. Vongkulluksn, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Zilu Jiang, Ohio State University; and Kui Xie, Ohio State University.

Date published: Nov. 24, 2020

Offering professional development to in-service teachers is one way to ensure they use technology effectively in the classroom, but oftentimes, professional development falls flat. To figure out how to improve technology-related professional development for teachers, this research study examined professional-development exposure; teachers’ perceived knowledge or skills for integrating technology and their attitude or belief about technology’s usefulness for the classroom; and teachers’ quality of technology use.

The study found that teachers’ perceived knowledge or skills to integrate technology into regular classroom use are directly affected by exposure to technology-related professional development. The study also found that teachers’ beliefs about technology’s usefulness are important factors for how they use it in the classroom.

While most professional development focuses on skills and abilities, the researchers argued that a focus on teachers’ “value beliefs” is also critical to how well they use technology for teaching and learning. PD programs may be most influential when they intentionally recruit teachers with low value beliefs and try to help these teachers shift toward a more positive value belief for technology integration, the researchers suggested.

“Bowman and colleagues’ work is significant in that it underscores why ed-tech PD should not just be knowledge-focused but must engage with teachers’ beliefs about the value of technology,” said Jeff Carpenter, a professor of education and the director of the Teaching Fellows Program for Elon University, in an email interview with Education Week. “What do teachers see as its affordances and challenges? What do they believe technology can and cannot do for their students? What do they believe are the costs of technology use (e.g., time, effort) to them and their students? Such beliefs play an important role in how PD translates (or fails to translate) into classroom practices.”

“Teachers may therefore benefit from different kinds of PD depending on their beliefs regarding the value of ed tech,” he added.

3. How teachers choose the apps they use in class

“Why this app? How educators choose a good educational app”

Study authors: Armaghan Montazami, Heather Ann Pearson, Adam Kenneth Dubé, Gulsah Kacmaz, Run Wen, and Sabrina Shajeen Alam, McGill University, Canada.

Date published: March 31, 2022

When selecting an educational app, which qualities do educators value more? A research study found that preservice and in-service elementary educators are more likely to select apps that have educational benchmarks over ones that feature buzzwords, such as “personalized,” “interactive,” or “hands-on.”

It also found that educators consider some benchmarks much more important than others: They value apps that feature a development team (child-development experts, educational consultants, and subject-specific experts); they also value apps that provide scaffolding by reinforcing skills or concepts taught in class and align with curriculum standards rather than those based on a learning theory (for example, an app that says it’s based on discovery and experimentation) or provide feedback that guide students toward the right answers.

The researchers recommend that preservice and in-service teachers have training programs about educational apps so that they can make informed decisions while selecting and integrating them into their practice. They also said these training programs would be beneficial for curriculum directors, principals, or other administrators who might preselect apps for schools.

It’s also necessary to have a clear standard for quality apps, researchers said, to ensure that they are picked based on a research-based framework.

While these findings could suggest the need for professional development in this area, Carpenter said, “it also begs the question of whether it should be a responsibility of individual educators to evaluate apps. Given how much teachers already have on their plate, it may benefit teachers to be able to collaboratively, rather than individually, evaluate apps, or to be able to pull from district- or professional-association-curated lists of recommended apps.”

4. Whether blended learning is more effective than instruction that doesn’t integrate technology

“Effectiveness of online and blended learning from schools: A systematic review”

Study authors: Keith J. Topping, University of Dundee, United Kingdom; Walter Douglas, the Kelvin Center in Glasgow, United Kingdom; Derek Robertson, University of Dundee, United Kingdom; and Nancy Ferguson, North Lanarkshire Council, Motherwell, United Kingdom.

Date published: May 10, 2022

During the pandemic, many K-12 schools all over the world struggled with delivering emergency online and blended learning. But they learned some important lessons along the way about what works and what doesn’t.

This systematic review of 89 studies of K-12 education in 70 countries, including the United States, examined research conducted before the pandemic and in the early stages of it.

One of the more useful and interesting conclusions of the review was that blended learning—a mix of face-to-face instruction with a teacher and technology-driven learning often done independently by students inside or outside of school buildings—was more effective than online-only learning or traditional instruction that does not integrate technology, according to a majority of the studies reviewed.

“Post-pandemic, while wholly online learning is probably not relevant for most pupils except those in remote areas, blended learning certainly offers promise,” the study concludes. “A system of accessing learning at home during the morning with activities and discussion relating to that learning at school in the afternoon is certainly one schools might wish to experiment with. This could also help to increase engagement and performance in homework activities.”

The study suggests that teachers should be encouraged to develop the digital aspects of their teaching and need more professional development about instructional technology, said Victoria Lowell, a clinical associate professor of learning design and technology for Purdue University, in an email interview with Education Week.

A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2023 edition of Education Week as What We’ve Learned About Technology And Learning in the Last Three Years

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