What is it?
By digital technology we mean the use of computer and technology assisted strategies to support learning within schools. Approaches in this area vary widely, but generally involve:
- technology for students, where learners use programs or applications designed for problem solving or open-ended learning; or
- technology for teachers, such as interactive whiteboards or learning platforms.
How effective is it?
Studies consistently find that digital technology is associated with moderate learning gains: on average, an additional four months’ progress. However, there is considerable variation in impact.
Evidence suggests that technology approaches should be used to supplement other teaching, rather than replace more traditional approaches. It is unlikely that particular technologies bring about changes in learning directly, but some have the potential to enable changes in teaching and learning interactions. For example, they can support teachers to provide more effective feedback or use more helpful representations, or they can motivate students to practise more.
Studies suggest that approaches which individualise learning with technology (such as one to one laptop provision where students work through learning activities at their own pace, or individual use of drill and practice software) may not be as helpful as small group learning with technology or the collaborative use of technology.
There is clear evidence that digital technology approaches are more beneficial for writing and mathematics practice than spelling and problem solving, and there is some evidence that they are more effective with young learners.
Despite large-scale implementation of digital technology for teaching and learning in Australian schools, there remains a limited amount of research into its impact on student learning and achievement. The available research focuses mainly on the implementation of particular programs within a school or a community of schools, examining changes in student engagement and motivation. A few studies also examine changes in academic outcomes that result from digital technology use. The research results are varied despite some positive impacts observed.
A study published in 2013 used a randomised controlled trial to assess the impact of a computer-based programme on struggling early readers in the Northern Territory. The approach appeared to have a particular impact on the phonological awareness of Indigenous students.
How secure is the evidence?
There is extensive evidence of positive effects across age groups and for most areas of the curriculum. However, the variation in impact and the range of technologies available suggest that it is always important to monitor the impact on learning of any new approach.
The pace of technological change means that the evidence is usually about yesterday’s technology rather than today’s, but average effects have remained consistent for some time, suggesting that the general message of – on average – moderate positive impact is likely to remain relevant.
What are the costs?
The costs of investing in new technologies are moderate but they are already part of the society we live in and many schools are already equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards. The evidence suggests that schools may not take into account or budget for the additional training and support costs, which are likely to make the difference to how well the technology is used. Expenditure is estimated at $600 per student for initial equipment costs and a further $1,000 per class ($40 per student) for professional development and technical support.
What should I consider?
Effective use of digital technology is driven by learning and teaching goals rather than a specific technology: the technology is not an end in itself. You should be clear about how any new technology will improve teaching and learning interactions.
New technology does not automatically lead to increased achievement.
How will any new technology support students to work harder, for longer, or more efficiently, to improve their learning?
Students’ motivation to use technology does not always translate into more effective learning, particularly if the use of the technology and the desired learning outcomes are not closely aligned.
Teachers need support and time to learn to use new technology effectively. This involves more than just learning how to use the hardware or software; training should also support teachers to understand how it can be used for learning.