Lessons from the Technology and High School Success initiative

Among other innovative strategies, using technology to help engage learners and provide them with educational opportunities that meet their needs can help bolster student success. Effective technology use in classroom has the potential to increase student engagement, achievement, and mastery of transferable skills.

As part of a research project, Drs. Michele Jacobsen, Sharon Friesen, and their colleagues investigated the results of Alberta Education’s initiative to promote best practices in classroom technology use in high school. As part of the government initiative, school jurisdictions applied and 24 were granted funding to undertake innovative initiatives that explored the use of technology to improve student engagement and success in high school.

These projects, which took place from 2008-2010, focused on innovative uses of technology-enhanced education to improve the high school learning experience. More than 22,000 students and 420 teachers in over 70 schools were involved in the research project.

Getting started

The research team was interested whether the initiative was impacting student engagement and success, how technology was being used to support student learning, and what lessons were learned from undertaking the project that could be relevant in other high schools. Data was collected from school stakeholders – with students, teachers, school leaders and district administrators taking part.

The results showed that the majority of teachers were in the early phases of adopting learner-centered instructional strategies. Most of their classroom time was dedicated to whole group discussion and teacher-directed activities, rather than peer- and student-directed interactions. Observations in classrooms showed that over 50% of high school students exhibited disengagement, with few classrooms showing students who were intellectually engaged and interested in their work.

The researchers identified three key barriers that impacted the school districts’ abilities to promote effective technology use and to enhance student engagement:

  • Few schools and districts re-examined and changed their vision for technology use. Without a common understanding and clear connection to action, many schools did not accomplish their goals.
  • Little data was gathered by the schools on how the technology was influencing practice, and the opportunity to inform evidence-based change was often missed.
  • Access to quality online resources was limited by filters, firewalls, or Internet speed. This hampered the ways in which the teachers and students could take advantage of the technology.
Going forward

The study highlighted the importance of not just equipping classrooms with technology, but considering the most effective teaching practices and processes to realize that goal. Technology was often seen as a quick-fix, and an add-on to existing practices, rather than a means to changing and improving teaching and learning practices. Effective approaches to integrating technology for meaningful learning in high school requires sustained action to obtain significant results, overcoming these barriers to technology use.

Removing barriers and working to integrate effective technology practices in schools are essential to achieving better student engagement results. Since this study, numerous districts have begun to integrate professional learning, create revised visions for technology in the classroom, and address access issues in their schools. As an ongoing effort, technology leadership and informed direction for teacher professional learning continue to a priority for promoting student engagement and quality technology-enabled learning.


See more from Dr. Michele Jacobsen on her profile

See more from Dr. Sharon Friesen on her profile


Connected Citations

Daniels, J. S., Jacobsen, M., Varnhagen, S., and Friesen, S. (2014). Barriers to Systemic, Effective and Sustainable Technology Use in High School Classrooms. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. 39(4). Available Online.

Daniels, J., Friesen, S., Jacobsen, M., Varnhagen, S. (2012). Technology and high school success research: Final report. Edmonton: Alberta Queen’s Printer. Available Online.