Computers in the Classroom Research Paper Starter

Computers in the Classroom

(Research Starters)

This article presents information on the introduction of computers in the public school classroom, and follows the progress of classroom computing through the subsequent decades. In the early 1990s computers were rarely used in the classroom, but by 2009, 93 percent of all US public schools had computers with Internet access in the classroom (US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). In addition, the traditional desktop computer of the early 1990s has been replaced with laptops, smart phones, and tablets with wireless broadband connections to the Internet. There is wide recognition today that teacher professional development is an important component of integrating technology into instruction—integrating technology is currently mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Several national studies provide current data on the use of computers and the Internet in schools, and there is a digital divide between traditionally disadvantaged students and more affluent students in terms of computer access at home. Fortunately children's access to computers at school is much more evenly distributed, and disadvantaged students' dependence on computer access at school is a plea to policy makers to continue funding educational technology initiatives.

Keywords Academic achievement; Blog; Constructivism; Computers; Digital Divide; Educational Technology; Handheld Computers; Internet; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Person Digital Assistant (PDA); Technology in Education; Web 2.0

Technology in Education: Computers in the Classroom


There is little doubt that computers have made a dramatic change in the way we live, work, and learn. Computer speed and capacity have increased greatly over the years, and the price of ownership has gone down. In 1981, Bill Gates, entrepreneur and founder of Microsoft, was quoted as saying that "640K ought to be enough [memory] for anybody," which at the time seemed to be more than enough computing power. Although fifteen years later he denied making this often quoted statement, computing power has increased even more than an industry expert like Gates ever imagined.

In the early 1990s computers were rarely used in the classroom, and the student-computer ratio was about 1 student to 20 computers (Wenglinsky, 2005). At the beginning of the 1990s decade, there were two uses for computers in education: to learn about computers and to practice basic skills. Learning about computers later became known as computer literacy and included topics like the history of computers, terminology, computer tools, programming, and uses of computers (Technology Integration, 2004). In the early 1990s, students usually went to a separate computer lab staffed with a technology teacher. Although the students had occasional access to computers, the regular classroom teachers did not. This was an issue for teacher professional development because they were not able to learn about how to use computers or to integrate them into their teaching.

By the late 1990s the status of computers in schools changed dramatically. Most US schools had computers with CD-ROM drives and Internet connections, and the ratio was 1 student to 5 computers (Wenglinsky, 2005). In addition, computers were routinely located in classrooms, or a computer lab was assembled on a portable cart that could be wheeled into the classroom. Gradually, teachers were learning how to use computers and integrate them into learning activities for their students (Technology Integration, 2004).

Seven major uses of computers in education have been identified in the earlier literature:

• Drill and practice,

• Tutorials,

• Problem solving,

• Simulation,

• Inquiry,

• Testing, and

• Programming (Varank, Tozoglu & Demirbilek, 2001).

However, it would seem that communication is an eighth important use now that most school computers have access to the Internet (National Trends, 2007). Despite the increasing presence of computers, there was still much controversy about the impact of computers on academic achievement, and some researchers even reported negative effects of technology on children's academic, social, emotional, and even physical development (Alliance for Childhood, 2004; Bielefeldt, 2005; Gow, 2004).

The International Technology and Engineering Educator’s Association (formerly the International Technology Educator’s Association) reports on regular survey’s for the Technology for All Americans Project (TfAAP) and gathers longitudinal data on how computer literacy is addressed in schools (Moye & Dugger, 2012). Comparing the 2011 and 2007 results, there was an increase in the number of states that require technology education courses (93 percent in 2011 and 87 percent in 2007), yet there was a decrease in the number of technology education teachers. This demonstrates that school administrators believe technology education is very important to the overall learning experience. The increase in specific technology literacy programs and the decrease in the number of technology teachers may simply be a reflection of how much computer literacy is currently embedded in core subject areas, rather than taught as a separate subject.


Internet Access

Internet access in US public schools was the subject of a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report based on a spring 2009 Fast Response Survey System (Gray, Thomas, & Lewis, 2010). According to this survey, 96 percent of classrooms in US public schools have access to the Internet, which is a huge increase over the 3 percent of school classrooms that were connected in 1994. A 2012 report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), however, reported that nearly 80 percent of schools surveyed reported that their current broadband connection was unable to meet their needs, and the same percentage of teachers who used online videos in their classrooms reported problems with and disruptions with streaming (Scott, 2012).

Wireless connections to the Internet are becoming the norm due to faster speeds, more flexibility in network configurations, ease of expansion, and lower costs (Walery, 2004). In addition, this NCES 2009 survey found that the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access has increased from 3.8 students per computer in 2005 (Wells & Lewis, 2006) to 5.3 students per computer. The first time NCES measured this ratio was in 1998, and at that time there were 12.1 students per computer.

Mobile Technology

In addition to desktop or laptop computers with Internet access, other technology on the rise in schools is tablets, which are comparable to computers in that students are able to access the Internet, create documents, watch and make videos, or research web-based material. In the early 2000s, handheld computers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs), were popular and were small enough to be held in one hand (e.g., Palm Pilot™, Pocket PC™, etc.). In 2005, for instance, 19 percent of schools gave handheld computers to students or teachers, nearly double the number of schools who provided them just two years earlier. In 2013, schools are providing students with Apple iPads that are loaded with electronic textbooks and other educational material. Apple claimed that just one year after the launch of the device in 2010, over six hundred school districts across the country implemented one-to-one programs in which at least one classroom in a school provided iPads for each student in the class to use throughout the day (USA Today, 2013). Research has shown that increasing the use of mobile computing in a student’s education can result in higher level thinking, more collaborative work, and greater involvement in the learning process (Bick, 2005).

Another new use of computers in the classroom is called Classroom Response Systems or clickers (Gilbert, 2005). Students are given a remote control device, similar to a TV remote, and then individually and anonymously enter a response to a classroom teacher's question. The results of the students' votes are instantly available, and this allows for more student participation in a large lecture hall or collecting anonymous survey responses to sensitive topics. US schools and universities bought nearly one million clickers in 2004, and that number is expected to rise to 8 million by 2008 (Gilbert, 2005). Most clickers are used in post-secondary institutions.

Online Courses

The presence of online courses has also boomed in recent decades, particularly in the post-secondary sector (Lee & Hien, 2007). In the early 2000s, technology had advanced, and broadcasting video and audio over the Internet allowed students in a virtual classroom to participate together, which then led to the huge growth of online education opportunities. In 2006, over 3.5 million people were participating in online education in one form or another; by 2009, 96 percent of traditional “brick and mortar” universities were offering online coursework with approximately 45 percent of college students participating in at least one online course. By 2014, it is estimated that over 80 percent of all post-secondary students will be taking at least one of their classes online (Rasmussen College, 2011).

Ubiquitous Computing

In early 2002, the National Technology Leadership Initiative (NTLI) held a conference to discuss the effects of ubiquitous computing in education (van Hover, Berson, Bolick & Swan, 2006). The authors reasoned that based on Moore's Law, which says that computing power doubles every eighteen months while at the same time the cost is cut in half, every student will have a computer by the end of the decade. From their discussions they developed seven conclusions about ubiquitous computing, which seemed reasonable at the time. However, in 2006, Bull and Garofalo took another look at these conclusions and their underlying assumptions. They found that no special computer had emerged specifically for educational use, as predicted in 2002. Instead, cell phones had become the machine that combines multiple functions—communication device, Web browser, digital camera, personal digital assistant, and MP3 player. Bull and Garofalo (2006) also point out that more than half of all students create content on the Internet, referred to as Web 2.0 applications. Students today are at ease with posting digital images and videos, contributing to blogs, wikis, and podcasts, visiting social networking sites, and developing Web pages. In addition, students do not carry around a processor as often as predicted in 2002; rather, they carry their documents on flash drives or on tablets.Computers are ubiquitous to students today, but not in the way first imagined in 2002.


The Digital Divide

Several national studies provide current data on the use of computers and the Internet in schools. According to the Child Trends Data Bank (2013), about 80 percent of all children ages three through seventeen live in a home with at least one computer, and about 70 percent have access to the Internet. However, data recorded in 2003 regarding parent’s educational level, household income, and race and ethnicity is troubling. For example, 88 percent of children whose parents have some graduate education have access to a computer at home, and only 35 percent of children whose parents have less than a high school diploma have access at home. Similarly, 88 percent of children whose parents earn $75,000 or more have computers at home, while only 37 percent of children whose parents earn $20,000 or less have a computer at home. When the data is broken down by race/ethnicity, 78 percent of White children, 74 percent of Asian children, 48 percent of Hispanic children, 46 percent of Black children, and 43 percent of American Indian children have access to a computer at home (DeBell & Chapman, 2006).

This difference in access to technology and the lack of skills to use technology is commonly referred to as the digital divide (NTIA, 1999). A Kaiser Family Foundation study on the digital divide (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2011) found that households with higher incomes, parents with higher educational levels, and Whites use the Internet to a greater extent. Interestingly, a 2004 study looked at computer/Internet use by young children and found that only 24 percent of White children 4 to 6 years old had never used a computer, compared to 41 percent of non-White children (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004).

Fortunately children's access to computers at school is much more evenly distributed, unlike the digital divide for access to home computers (DeBell & Chapman, 2006). School access to computers is 78 percent for children whose parents have less than a high school diploma, which is the lowest for all five groups. However, school computer access ranges from 84 percent to 86 percent for the remaining four educational attainment levels—nearly identical percentages. Household income had little impact on school computer access as well, and ranged from a low of 80 percent for families with household income of $20,000 or less, to a high of 86 percent for families in the $35,000 to $50,000 group and families in the $75,000 or more categories. In addition, race/ethnicity accounted for only a 7 percent difference among groups. What is most notable about these statistics is how much students from disadvantaged backgrounds rely on schools for access to computers and the Internet.

The PEW Internet & American Life Project produces reports that explore the impact of the Internet on many different facets of American life (PEW, 2007). Some of the PEW reports are focused specifically on education, but others publish overall data about Internet use in the United States. Interestingly, the PEW general population statistics on Internet use mirror results reported by NCES, which shows the persistence of a digital divide for the traditionally disadvantaged population (DeBell & Chapman, 2006). For...

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