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Joanne Olson, Education, (515) 294-3315
Michael Clough, Education, (515) 294-1430
Cathy Curtis, Education, (515) 294-8175
Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986


AMES, Iowa -- Technology can hinder learning, according to a new study by two Iowa State University College of Education professors. Teachers using technology for instruction often inadvertently bypass student learning by emphasizing entertainment, efficiency, graphics, and ease of use over the habits of the mind and sound teaching practices essential for deep learning.

"Technology has great potential to motivate and engage students," said Joanne Olson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Iowa State, "but it can also change their fundamental ideas about the purpose of schools, potentially to their own detriment. Technology in the classroom often circumvents critical requirements of learning and can hide or even inhibit students' thinking. In addition, evidence of student thinking is often concealed, frequently leading teachers to develop an inflated impression of student understanding."

Olson and Michael Clough, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, co-authored the article"A Cautionary Note: Technology's Tendency to Undermine Serious Study."

When reviewing technology, the researchers say teachers should be wary of using technology too far removed from students' conceptual understanding. Olson and Clough stress that students need to understand the novel concepts introduced by technology and then to link this new information to prior understanding.

Olson and Clough also say that available technology should not determine course content or activities. Too often, the fascination with technology and its increasing affordability and efficiency seduce teachers into adopting it with little or no consideration of how educational goals and learning will be positively or negatively impacted.

The use of technology as "entertainment" or a motivational tool in the classroom is not a defendable goal, the researchers note. Technology needs to accentuate the research-based aspects of effective learning, such as questioning prior ideas, making sense of new experiences, formulating new connections and analyzing whether prior connections continue to make sense.

Consider the trade-offs of technology on learning, they assert. For example, a science project that encourages students to work with other students on the Internet via e-mail may motivate students and lead to learning of intended concepts, but does so to the potential detriment of other important skills such as handwriting, listening and speaking.

Technology should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. Teachers need to openly discuss the implementation of technologies without fear of being labeled as backward.

Current technology education efforts often focus on how to use and integrate technology. These efforts must devote at least equal attention to the nature of the technologyits hidden assumptions and effects, how it changes the way we think and act, and the pros and cons of these underlying consequences.

"Our primary message," Clough says, "is for teachers and administrators to take a critical, but not necessarily negative, perspective toward technology and thus make wiser decisions regarding its use in education."


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