Damian Bebell at email@example.com
There are few modern educational initiatives that have been as far-reaching as placing computer-based technologies into American classrooms. Believing that increased use of computers will lead to improved teaching and learning, greater efficiency, and the development of important skills, educational leaders and policy makers have made multi-billion dollar investments in educational technologies. These investments have had a dramatic impact on the presence of computers in schools. For example, between 1997 and 2003, the percentage of American classrooms connected to the Internet grew from 27% to 93%. In 1997, 50% of schools that were connected to the Internet used a dial-up connection to connect to the Internet and only 45% had a dedicated high-speed Internet line. By 2003, less than 5% of schools were still using dial-up connections while 95% had broadband access. In a relatively short time period, computer based technologies have become commonplace across all levels of the American educational system.
As increased access and more powerful technologies have permeated the American classroom, the variety of ways in which teachers and students use computer-based technologies has expanded. Whereas instructional uses of computers was limited largely to word processing and computer programming during the early 1990s, by the late 1990s classroom technologies facilitated the use of multi-media presentations and computer-based simulations. With the introduction of the Internet into the classroom, teachers were also able to incorporate activities that employed resources available on the World Wide Web. Outside of class time, software for record keeping, grading, and test development provided teachers with new ways of using technology to support their teaching. In addition, the Internet allowed teachers access to additional resources when planning lessons and allowed teachers to use email to communicate with their colleagues, administrative leaders, students, and parents (Becker, 1999; Lerman, 1998; O'Dwyer, Russell, & Bebell, 2004; Russell, 2006).
Emerging research exploring the role and effects of computers on teaching and learning suggests a wide variety of potential benefits including increased student engagement, increased efficiency, and the potential to increase student learning. However, for any effect to be realized from educational technology, the technology must be actively and frequently used. Understanding this, there is a continually growing area of research dedicated to exploring what factors and conditions are necessary that allow different technology uses to occur (Mathews, 1996; Becker, 1999). A more recent study of over 4,000 Massachusetts teachers revealed that students' and teachers' use of technology varied widely across classrooms with some teachers and students incorporating technology into their daily routines and other classes ignoring technology completely (Russell, O'Dwyer, Bebell & Miranda; 2003). An exploration of what factors related to teachers' frequency of technology use revealed that access to technology played a major role in teachers' adoption and professional use of technology. Although highly intuitive, research data now confirms that the ease of access to technology is a statistically significant predictor of teachers' technology use.
The current study aims to conduct an empirical research on the potential effects of a new Office of Instructional and Informational Technology program that will provide laptop computers to all of Boston Public Schools' (BPS) 5,100 teachers. Building upon their past work, researchers from Boston College's Technology and Assessment Study Collaborative have developed a one-year evaluation plan that will empirically examine the extent and variety of teachers' technology use across all grade levels as well as statistical analyses of the survey data to determine what factors (technology access, pedagogical practices, attitudes and beliefs, etc.) impact teachers' decisions to adopt and use technology. The evaluation team will use mandatory teacher surveys to document teachers' baseline use of technology as the project is first being implemented (Spring 2008). In addition to providing a valuable look at how different teachers' use of technology across an urban setting, the data collected in Spring 2008 will provide a valuable baseline for future data collection efforts showing the impacts of the four-year BPS Laptops for Learning Initiative.