Guidance for Technology Decisions from Classroom Observation

Jul. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Reseach on Technology in Education, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 205–223, 2012
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examined the observed relationships between students’ technology use and the technologies and classroom environments that teachers arrange for them.

Three observers used the ISTE Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT) to record 144 observations of classrooms participating in a variety of educational technology grant programs in the United States.


These results warrant three areas of discussion: interpretation of the correlations, the observation process, and the use of the NETS in evaluation.

Interpreting Results in Context
The data on interactive whiteboards are illustrative.
Teachers told observers they were very appreciative of interactive whiteboards.
As might be expected, given that the boards are a presentation medium, they are positively associated with whole-class instruction by the teacher. They are negatively associated with student-centered, individual, student-directed activities and with student use of technology in general.
Typical use involved teacher lectures and demonstrations, although some classes used them frequently for student presentation of work. Teachers who used the boards invariably cited greater student engagement with material on the whiteboard compared to content presented with conventional lectures and visual aids.

Observers encountered a few whiteboard-equipped classrooms where the teachers turned over operation of the technology to the students and then facilitated group use of these resources. Some of these instances involved interactive slates that allow the board to be operated from anywhere in the room. These experiences suggest that flexibility in teaching with technology can be increased with experience and with more sophisticated tools. Alternative uses require additional technology and/or more energy in terms of classroom management and lesson planning. Educational planners need to be aware of these pedagogical pressures and relate them to their own priorities. A technology implemented in response to one need (e.g., formative assessment by the teacher) may have unintended consequences, such as reduced time.

Observations of Technology-Using Classrooms
The 2 years of observations provided several guidelines for observation practice.
One is that the recording information electronically can greatly reduce total time for collecting and using observation data. Any computer-based observation tool should have the ability to export files that can be opened in common statistics packages. The cost savings can make real-time observations a viable strategy in cases where they otherwise would be unfeasible.

Another guideline is that observation programs should be prepared for the wide diversity in classrooms. The ICOT was designed so that its component sections can be used independently. The ICOT observations suggest caution in this approach. Most classrooms display a wide range of attributes in a single period. Observing a particular attribute during a short slice of time may not be a reliable gauge of practice. Even full-period observations need to be informed by interviews or debriefs so that the context is clear.
That in turn may affect how an observer codes other attributes, such as the need for technology or the attainment of standards.

Observing the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)
Assessing the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) has been a concern since the standards were first published in 1998 and continues to be a work in progress with the revised standards.
The revised NETS∙S, which are used in the current version of the ICOT, elevate creativity and innovation to a standard in and of itself: “Students: (a) apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes; (b) create original works as a means of personal or group expression; (c) use models and simulations to explore complex systems; and (d) identify trends and forecast possibilities” (ISTE, 2007).
In any specific context, the NETS observer exploring this standard may be compelled to make the same type of decisions required in a study based on content frameworks such as the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2011).
Ultimately, NETS-based evaluations will have to make links with content.
One development that would contribute to improving observational studies of ICT in education would be a concordance of the revised NETS with emerging standards such as the Common Core, such that observations coded in one framework have meaning for the others.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2011). Standards for mathematical practice. Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). (2007). National educational technology standards for students, 2nd edition. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education. Accessed October 14, 2011, from

Updated: Mar. 07, 2016


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