What impact does the use of technology have on middle level education, specifically student achievement?

What impact does the use of technology have on middle level education, specifically student achievement?

The potential impact of new technologies in our schools is beyond measure. The last decade began with minimal integration of technology in classrooms and ended with entire curricular units taking place online. No one could have predicted the emergence of the Internet as such a powerful tool for education and society as a whole. With the technology revolution taking place, now is an opportune time to reflect and consider the research on what impact technology has on middle level students’ success and achievement.

NMSA’s position paper This We Believe (1995), asserts that developmentally responsive middle level schools provide curriculum that is challenging, integrative, and exploratory addressed through varied teaching and learning approaches. The research on the impact of technology on middle level students mirrors these points as essential elements of successful technology integration.

Summary of the Research

The research on technology’s impact on middle level students can be divided into two areas: cognitive versus non-cognitive outcomes. There is an abundance of research on the non-cognitive, empowering effect of technology on middle level learners (Kulik, 1994; Sivin-Kachala, 1998; Mann et al., 1999). These findings include data on improved attitudes and self-concepts in relation to learning. There is also growing evidence to indicate a positive relationship between technology and student achievement at the middle level (Honey, 1996; Follansbee et al., 1997; Wenglinsky, 1998; Middleton and Murray, 1999).

Years of brain research reveal that middle level age students learn best when they are actively engaged with content. Multimedia approaches can assist learners’ understanding of concepts and relationships not explainable in print text. “Technology-rich learning environments help students to not only learn the basic skills like reading, math, and science, but also to learn the principles that underlie complex data. Technology allows students to make a hands-on, minds-on approach to solving problems that is authentic and relevant” (p. 2). NCREL.

A great deal of importance has been placed on two improvement strategies in middle schools including increasing the use of instructional technology and integrating content across the curriculum, specifically mathematics, science, and technology (James, 2000). In comparable research on technology and learning, Cradler and Bridgforth (1996) maintain technology is related to increases in student performance when interactivity and other significant aspects of instructional design are applied to its use. “Teacher preparation, follow-up staff development, and technical assistance are critical prerequisites for effective technology applications. Planned integration of technology in education that directly involves teachers consistently allows teachers to engage students in meaningful educational experiences and allows more time for individualized instructional opportunities” (p. 5).

Teacher capability was also important in research by Wenglinsky (1998). Using the technique of structural equation modeling on data from the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), he conducted a study analyzing the relationship between educational technology and student achievement in mathematics. His findings indicate that for eighth-graders, “when computers are used to perform certain tasks, namely applying higher order concepts, and when teachers are proficient enough in computer use to direct students toward productive uses more generally, computers do seem to be associated with significant gains in mathematics achievement” (p. 32). Wenglinsky also found that the frequency of home computer use was positively related to academic achievement. An interesting finding indicated that using computers to teach low-order thinking skills (drill and practice software) was negatively related to mathematics achievement.

In a study of educational software, IESD (1999) found the teacher’s responsibility is of primary importance in “creating an effective, technology-based learning environment, an environment that is characterized by careful planning and frequent interaction among students and the teacher” (p. 3). Middleton and Murray (1999), in a study investigating teachers’ perceptions of their levels of technology implementation, found that the level of technology used by the teacher did have a significant impact on math and reading academic achievement of fifth grade students attending middle schools in a South Carolina school district.

A national study examining the role of online communication in schools was conducted by the Center for Applied Special Technologies. The study consisted of 500 elementary and middle school students from seven large urban school districts who were assigned projects in an interdisciplinary unit on civil rights. Out of 28 participating classes, 14 experimental classes used online resources and 14 control classes did not have online access. In this study, Follansbee et al. (1997) found that students in the experimental classrooms received higher scores in all nine of the established learning measures. Out of the nine measures, five of the higher scores were found to be statistically significant including being more effective in their ability to, “present their work, state a civil rights issue, present a full picture (who, what, when, where, why, how) bring together different points of view, and produce a complete project”(p. 18).

Hennessy et al. (1995) conducted a study of the conceptual changes of middle school age students concerning force and motion when using interactive computer simulations half of the time and associated practical activities the remaining half. The findings indicated “the students displayed more sophisticated reasoning on immediate and delayed posttests than their counterparts in comparison classes” (Weller, 1996, p. 469).

Christopher Columbus School in Union City, New Jersey, a predominately Latino, inner city community began implementing a technology trial in 1993. In partnership with Bell Atlantic and the Education Development Center, 135 seventh grade students and their teachers were supplied with computers at school and in all students’ homes as part of an improvement plan with the goal of producing a curriculum that supports the development of thinking, reasoning, and collaboration skills throughout the disciplines. Results of this reform project indicate “students are systematically performing at or above national averages. Reading and language arts are in the average to best range. Mathematics is in the above average to best range” (Honey, 1996, p. 3). In addition, the students consistently outscored other urban and special needs districts in New Jersey by approximately 27 percentage points on the reading, writing, and math scores of New Jersey’s Early Warning Test.

In research on educational technology and software, an IESD study unequivocally proclaims, “educational technology has demonstrated a significant positive effect on achievement. Positive effects have been found for all major subject areas, in preschool through higher education and for both regular education and special needs students” (1999, p. 3).

In a related summary of current research findings regarding technology in education, Cradler (1994, p. 1) found research that shows technology:

  • Increases performance when interactivity is prominent.
  • Improves attitude and confidence, especially for “at-risk” students.
  • Can increase opportunities for student-constructed learning.
  • Increases student collaboration on projects.
  • Significantly improves problem-solving skills of learning handicap students.
    Improves writing skills and attitudes about writing for urban LEP students.


Implications for Practice

The research on the impact of technology in middle level schools is congruent with what we know about developmentally appropriate programs for middle level students. For technology to have an effect on student achievement at the middle level it must be challenging and focus on higher order thinking skills. Computer software that makes use of cognitive strategies such as drawing analogies, inferences, and cognitive mapping addresses this need. Technology must be integrated into the curriculum so that it is a seamless component of instruction and evaluation. Technology can also help bridge the gap in curriculum integration. Powerful thematic software programs can be used to integrate cross-curricular learning objectives such as mathematics problems and scientific concepts in an historical or cultural perspective.

The exploratory nature of technology is of utmost importance when utilized with middle level students. Young adolescents are investigating their world to help define themselves and their future. Technology, such as the Internet, that assists them in this endeavor is a highly motivating and authentic use of instructional time. The Internet can be used to explore career interests and conduct research on topics that open new doors and possibilities for students.

Likewise, for technology to make a lasting impact educators must use a variety of teaching and learning approaches when utilizing technology in their classrooms. Time and again, the research comes back to the teacher as the most influential component of a successful technology program. Teachers must be given the time and resources to attend professional development opportunities on utilizing technology in the classroom. Schools should make the most of teachers who are “resident experts” that can offer on-site development opportunities and be used as one-on-one tutors for other faculty members.

“What matters most are not the machines and the wiring themselves, but what teachers and students do with them… a constructivist approach toward learning, in which students work in rich environments of information and experience, often in groups, and build their own under-standings about them – taps into the computer’s greatest strengths” (Archer, 1998, p. 12-14).

  • Archer, J. (1998). The link to higher test scores. Education Week, 18 (5), 10-21.
    Cradler, J. (1994). Summary of current research and evaluation findings on technology in education. San Francisco, CA: Far West Laboratory.
  • Cradler, J., & Bridgforth, E. (1996). Recent research on the effects of technology on teaching and learning. Policy Brief. San Francisco, CA: WestEd Regional Educational Laboratory.
  • Follansbee, S., Hughes, R., Pisha, B., & Stahl, S. (1997). Can online communications improve student perfor-mance? Results of a controlled study. ERS Spectrum, 15 (1), 15-26.
  • Hennessy, S. et al. (1995). A classroom intervention using a computer-augmented curriculum for mechanics. International Journal of Science Education, 17(2), 189-206.
  • Honey, M., & Henriquez, A. (1996). Union city interactive multimedia education trial: 1993-1995 summary report. CCT Reports, Issue No. 3. New York, NY: Center for Children & Technology.
  • Interactive Educational Systems Design, Inc. (IESD). (1999). 1999 Research report on the effectiveness of tech-nology in schools: Executive summary 6th edition. Report commissioned by the Software & Information Industry Association. Washington, DC: Software Publishers Association.
  • James, R., & Lamb, C. (2000). Integrating science, mathematics, and technology in middle school technology-rich environments: A study of implementation and change. School Science & Mathematics, 100 (1), 27-36.
  • Kulik, J. (1994). Meta-analytic studies of findings on computer-based instruction. In E. L. Baker and H. F. O’Neil, Jr. (Eds.). Technology assessment in education and training. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Mann, D., Shakeshaft, C., Becker, J., & Kottkamp, R. (1999). West Virginia’s basic skills/computer education program: An analysis of student achievement. Santa Monica, CA: Milken Family Foundation.
  • Middleton, B., & Murray, R. (1999). The impact of instructional technology on student academic achievement in reading and mathematics. International Journal of Instructional Media, 26 (1), 109-117. National Middle School Association (1995). This we believe: Developmentally responsive middle level schools. Columbus, OH: Author.
  • North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (1999). Hands-on, minds-on learning. ParenTech: Parenting in a Digital Age. Oak Brook, IL: NCREL.
  • Sivin-Kachala, J. (1998). Report on the effectiveness of technology in schools, 1990-1997. Washington, DC: Software Publisher’s Association.
  • Weller, H. (1996). Assessing the impact of computer-based learning in science. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 28(4), 461-486.
  • Wenglinsky, H. (1998). Does it compute? The relationship between educational technology and student achievement in mathematics. Princeton, NJ: ETS Policy Information Center-Research Division.

The authors of this research summary are Dr. David M. Quinn, assistant professor at the University of Arizona and Dr. Jerry W. Valentine, professor at the University of Missouri.

Manuscript Review Process

Manuscripts prepared for this Research Summary Series are reviewed by scholars with expertise in the summary topic. This review/referee process provides the opportunity for authors to receive feedback for manuscript refinement, and provides the editor with information necessary to determine the professional quality of the manuscript and the appropriate-ness of the manuscript for publication. The editor wishes to thank Dr. Royal Van Horn, professor at the University of North Florida, for serving as an external reviewer of this research summary. Dr. Van Horn, contributing author of the “Technology” series for Kappan, provided valuable comments that lead to the refinement and final preparation of this manuscript.

Research Summary Coordination/Preparation

The staff of the Middle Level Leadership Center (MLLC) coordinated the development of this research summary. The mission of the MLLC is to provide research and service to middle level educators. To accomplish that mission, Center staff members work with national organizations, such as the National Middle School Association, to disseminate research information about middle level education. MLLC is a center within the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Research Summary Development and Submissions

The Research Committee of the National Middle School Association, working in conjunction with NMSA staff, determines the topics for the NMSA Research Summary Series. Inquiries about future topics and interest in manuscript preparation should be made by e-mail to Professor Jerry Valentine at ValentineJ@missouri.edu. Research findings that will enrich existing summaries are always welcome. Individuals with information should contact Dr. Valentine at the above e-mail address..

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