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Editor’s Note
: This is results of a two-year study to investigate the influence of distance learning activities in eighth-grade language arts classrooms on student attitudes. Technology was used to build unique learning relationships in an information rich learning environment.  The project developed cognitive and affective learning and targeted higher-order thinking skills for Macbeth and A Separate Peace.

Improving Attitudes of Eighth-Grade Students
toward Language Arts Education through
Distance Learning Projects

Christopher H. Tienken and Scott Sarraiocco


Self-concept plays a role in student attitudes because student expectations and attitudes toward learning are related to self-concept.  If a student views himself as a successful learner and believes others see him that way, he is more likely to persevere and attempt to engage in deeper learning and understanding of content.  This article presents the results of a two-year study conducted to investigate the influence of distance learning projects on the attitudes of eighth-grade students toward learning in language arts class.  A description of the distance learning projects is provided.  The aggregate posttest mean score for the students’ attitudes toward working with others, learning new language arts content, and using technology in the classroom environment showed statistically significant (p< .008) improvement by the end of project.

Keywords:  Distance learning, distance education, student attitudes, technology infusion, informating, automating, special education, educational technology, student empowerment.


Technology and its impact on student achievement are popular issues in the current education environment.  In the United States, K-12 spending on technology exceeded seven billion dollars during the 2003-2004 school year.  School districts spend thousands of dollars each year purchasing new hardware and software and school boards of education want results.  Because few replicable empirical studies exist demonstrating the link between technology use in the classroom and student achievement, district leaders must proceed with a clear plan and model for implementation to ensure effective and efficient use of resources.

This article presents: a) The influence of implementing technology infused projects in a middle school classroom on student attitudes toward learning, b) the underlying concept for the way technology was used in the classroom during the study, and c) explanation of the projects implemented.

Underlying Concept for Technology Utilization

November (2001) wrote that it was unlikely that technology will improve learning without a specific plan for its use and without skilled teachers assisting students to go beyond traditional expectations of achievement.  Yet district leaders across the United States continue to invest taxpayer dollars on hardware and software without a strategic plan for their use.

Automating, and informating (Zuboff, 1988; November 2001) are examples of uses for technology in education settings.  The aim of using technology to automate is to help teachers and students accomplish their basic tasks more efficiently.  Electronic grade-books and attendance systems represent examples of technology used to automate work.  Typing a term paper using word-processing software is an example of one way students use technology to automate.  Simply stated, automating encompasses using technology as a work tool instead of a learning tool, communication tool, or empowering tool.  November (2001) stated, “When an organization automates, the work remains the same, the locus of control remains the same, and the relationships remain the same.” (p.xix).

Aims of informating are to impact student achievement and shift the locus of control from teacher-centered to student-centered.  Teachers use technology in an infor-mated environment to: (a) Empower students by teaching them how to access high quality, and primary source information, (b) build unique learning relationships with other classes, teachers, and schools around the world, (c) help students become information connoisseurs and learn to manage the large amount of information they encounter everyday, and (d) increase their learning capacity.

Others in the field identified similar uses for technology and computers.  Taylor (1980) grouped computer use by schools into three categories: a) Tutor, b) tool, and c) tutee.  When used as a tutor, the computer functions like a surrogate teacher.  The most common example of this is math computation software.  Students solve problem after problem in drill and practice mode.  When students use the computer as a tool it executes the tasks assigned by the student.  Computer programming is an example of the computer in the tutee role.  Means (1994) identified four categories of educational technology use: a) As a tutor, b) to explore, c) as a tool, and d) to communicate.  Bruce and Levin (1997) built upon prior research and Dewey’s (1943) ideas and created four categories of educational technology use as media for: a) Inquiry, b) communication, c) construction, and d) expression.  When compared to Taylor’s (1980) ideas, one can see the progression from teacher-centered, passive use of technology to student-centered and active engagement.

During this study, teachers and students used technology in the learning environment in two ways: a) communication for educational relationship building and b) empowering students to take ownership of their learning.

Informating and Student Attitudes

Student attitudes towards school, teachers, peers, and the subject matter have an impact on learning outcomes (Hoy & Forsyth, 1986).  In fact, there is a connection between student attitudes toward teachers, peers, and school to learning subject matter.  The awareness of these connections is not new.  Over 70 years ago it was accepted that attitudes produced from social situations and interactions with peers impact student motivation to learn specific subject matter (Waller, 1932).  Positive social interactions in the school setting can produce attitudes toward subject matter that help students personalize learning.

Self-concept plays a role in student attitudes because student expectations and attitudes toward learning are related to self-concept.  If a student views himself as a successful learner and believes others see him that way, he is more likely to persevere and attempt to engage in deeper learning and understanding of content.  Teachers can foster positive self-concept and attitudes by decreasing negative competition, structuring positive learning relationships, and increasing opportunities for students to excel (Shavelson, et al., 1976).

The ideas embedded in informating promote positive attitudes and improved self-concept.  The Information management aspect of informating implies that students can control parts of the learning sequence.  They have choices and can exercise independent thought.  Building learning relationships creates social situations and fosters communication with peers and teachers in which students investigate and learn subject matter together.  The third facet of informating is autonomy.  Autonomy as fostered in an informated learning environment is based on empowering students to take responsibility for their learning, shifting the locus of control from teacher to student.


The project took place over a two-year period and was conducted to investigate the influence of informating, in a ongoing education environment (the classroom), on regular and special education eighth-grade student attitudes toward:  a) Learning unfamiliar language arts content, b) using technology as a learning tool, and c) learning with academically diverse students.


Participants were students and teachers from intact classes.  There was no attempt to randomize selection as this was a study conducted “on the ground” in an ongoing, real-life education setting. 

The two-year project included two eighth-grade teachers and 44 students from a middle school in New Jersey, USA.  One teacher taught students in the school’s Gifted and Talented program and the second teacher taught in the special education program.  During the 2001-2002 school-year two teachers and 22 students participated; 15 students from the eighth-grade gifted and talented class and 7 eighth-grade language arts special education students.  During the 2002-2003 school year the same teachers and 22 new students participated.  There were 15 students from the eighth-grade gifted and talented class and 7 eighth-grade language arts special education students.


The gifted and talented and special education classes learned together, in the same room during the study.  The teachers facilitated structured and deliberate interactions among the diverse group of learners to help dispel stereotypes and ignorance caused by labeling.  The gifted and talented and special education language arts classes traditionally did not work together in this school.  They have different curricula and program goals.  For this project the teachers combined the classes for instruction an average of one 45-minute period a day for approximately four weeks to instruct the students and develop a working relationship.

All special education students who participated read at least two years below grade level and met criteria based on standardized test scores and other measures used by the school district’s special education child study team.  Students in the gifted and talented class met or exceeded district criteria for placement into the class.  Criteria included: a) Scores exceeding two standard deviations above the mean on the verbal and non-verbal portions of the commercially prepared Test of Cognitive Abilities, b) superior writing ability as measured by pre and posttest writing assessments, and c) four consecutive marking periods of exemplary grades in all subject areas.  Table 1 contains descriptions of each class during the two-year study.

Table 1
Class characteristics during 2001-2002 (A) and 2002-2003 (B) school years

Teacher           Years               # G/T                # Spec. Ed.

ID                    Teaching             in class             in class             Male                 Female
                        A         B          A         B         A         B          A         B         A          B

1                      7          8          15         15         0          0          7          5          8          10

2                      3          4          0          0          7*         7          5          5          2            2

Total                                                                                      12        10        10        12

Note:* One special education student was also limited English proficient as Spanish was the student’s primary language.  A= 2001-2002   B= 2002-2003

Total Class Size was N = 22 for Each Year’s Project

The first project, conducted during the 2001-2002 school-year, was called Shakespeare on Trial.  Teachers used technology as an informating tool (Zuboff,1988) to facilitate students’ access to high quality information and to build critical learning relationships within and outside of the school.  The project targeted the needs of learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, limited English proficient, and gifted and talented students. The diverse group of middle-school students worked cooperatively to study the works of Shakespeare.  Specifically, they studied Macbeth.  The students interacted via distance learning with 10th grade students in an Advanced Placement (AP) class from a neighboring school district.  The groups conducted a videoconference trial of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth as a culminating activity. 

The students read Macbeth and learned about the trial process prior to conducting a three-day videoconference trial.  Students assumed the roles of the prosecution team, witnesses, and members of a jury.  Students conducted organized Internet searches to gather information.  The teachers taught the students how to analyze websites and web addresses to determine fact from fiction and quality information from disinformation.

The class conducted a series four videoconference sessions with Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, England as one method of learning about Shakespearian literature.  The Globe Theater is world renowned for its productions of Shakespeare’s works.  The education director of the theater provided lessons on interpreting Macbeth and other works by Shakespeare.  The students, under the direction of the Globe Theater’s education director and the classroom teachers, conducted character and plot analyses.  The students studied how the characters’ traits and actions impacted the plot and outcomes.

The same eighth-grade teachers repeated the project during the 2002-2003 school using the book, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles.  They followed the same format and time-line.

Data Collection

The teachers created surveys to gather data on students’ attitudes in three areas.  Students responded to 20 questions using a 5-point Likert scale with 1 indicating a strong negative response and 5 indicating a strong positive response (See Appendix A).  A survey was given prior to the teachers telling the students about the project (pre) and again at the conclusion (post).  These students never participated in a videoconference session prior to this project and they were unfamiliar with the videoconference process.

Data Analysis

A two-tailed, paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare the means from the pre and post-project survey results.  A two-tailed t-test was used because little replicable, empirical research demonstrating positive impacts of technology use on student attitudes is available.


2001-2002 School Year

The means of the total score for the students’ attitudes showed statistically significant (p< .008) improvement in all three areas of the survey by the end of project.  The mean for the pre-test survey was 72.55 and the mean for the post-test survey was 92.36. There were 100 points possible for each survey.  Table 2 shows the student scores and Table 3 summarizes the results.

Table 2
Individual Student Scores on 2001-2002 (A) & 2002-2003 (B) Pre and Posttest Surveys

ID           Pre                   Post                          ID           Pre                   Post 
              Score               Score                                       Score               Score

            A         B          A         B                                      A          B          A         B

1          80         63         95         76                     12         77         78         94         90

2          63         70         88         79                     13         78         77         91         90

3          72         76         90         81                     14         77         82         93         92

4          58         88         89         83                     15         76         69         93         94

5          88         76         96         84                     16         74         73         92         94

6          59         75         79         87                     17         68         70         95         94

7          72         71         98         88                     18         82         79         90         95

8          73         69         88         88                     19         64         75         88         95

9          70         80         89         89                     20         73         75         95         95

10        75         81         90         90                     21         71         68         83         96

11        76         78         90         90                     22         70         82         82         96

Note: 100 points possible. Scale 0-100.  

Table 3
Aggregate Results from the 2001-2002 Pre and Post-Project Surveys



















Note:    All three sections are included in the results.
100 possible points from three sections. 

Scores for the individual sections of the 2001-2002 survey indicated statistically significant growth (p< .000).  Significance levels were calculated for the mean scores of each section on the pre and post-project surveys.  There were 35 points available for the Social section, 40 points for the Content section, and 25 points for the Technology section of the survey.  The total points available were 100.  Table 4 summarizes the results.

Table 4
Results for the Individual Sections of 2001-2002 Pre And Post-Project Survey




Mean per Response




Social Pre 







Social Post







Content Pre  







Content Post     







Technology Pre    







Technology Post







Note:   35 points possible for 7 questions from the Social section
40 points possible for 8 questions from the Content section
25 points possible for 5 questions from Technology section.  

2002-2003 School Year

The students’ attitudes overall showed statistically significant (p<.000) improvement. The mean for the pre-test was 75.23 and the mean for the post-test was 89.36.  Table 5 shows the individual student scores and Table 6 summarizes the results.

The scores for the individual sections of the 2002-2003 survey indicated statistically significant growth (p< .019).

Table 5
Aggregate results of pre and posttest surveys  for the 2002-2003 project



















Note:  All three sections are included in the results.
100 possible points from three sections.

Table 6
Individual Section Pre- and Post-Project Survey Results for 2002-2003




per response




Social Pre







Social Post







Content Pre







Content Post







Technology Pre







Technology Post







Note:   35 points possible for 7 questions from the Social section
40 points possible for 8 questions from the Content section
25 points possible for 5 questions from Technology section.


The multi-faceted project emphasized the development of the cognitive and affective domains.  Teachers created technology enriched activities targeted at higher-order thinking skills (Bloom, 1956). They used complex literary works, Macbeth and A Separate Peace, combined with technology integration via videoconferencing and accessing the Internet to motivate students to analyze texts and apply knowledge.

Just as technology played a meaningful role in the project, combining classes for instruction had a real-life purpose for the students.  The diverse group of students learned and worked together toward a common goal.  Technology facilitated communication among the middle schools and between the students, high school students, and the Globe Theater.

The technology infused projects had a positive impact on student attitudes toward: a) The subject area of reading and the content of the particular literature class, b) peer relationships with unfamiliar and academically diverse students, and c) working in a technology rich environment.  All measures showed statistically significant positive differences (p<.05) between the pre and post-project surveys.  Some measures showed significance at the p<.000 level.  Using technology as an informating tool can improve students’ attitudes toward learning, peers, and technology use.

So What?

The ideas embedded in the informating model are congruent to ideas that would improve student attitudes toward learning content and interacting with diverse peers.  Students used technology to informate when they strategically searched for, created, shared, and managed knowledge and skills on their own terms.  November (2001) stated, “Informating requires thinking about opportunities that could not be achieved without the technology.” (p.xxii)   In an informated learning environment students can create instead of just imitate. They can become persistent learners.  Those who traditionally did not have access or control, the students, were more empowered during this project.

Could student attitudes improved without using technology?  Possibly, but what would that project have involved?  Would the students have been able to interact rapidly with international experts in the field of Shakespearian literature without the technology?  No.  Technology was used to build unique learning relationships.  Would the students been able to conduct autonomous research on Shakespearian characters, plan defense strategies, and prep witnesses without technology?  Sure, but they would not have had access to the same amount of information easily without using technology.  Would they have been able to access the same quality information easily?  No.  Would students have the same sense of empowerment without the technology?  Considering the scope and reach of the project: No.


Using technology to informate instead of automate made a positive difference in the learning experiences of the students.  The students responded positively and the survey results supported the conclusion.  It is important to note the difference between informating and simply placing computers in classrooms and hoping something happens.  Schools and teachers must plan comprehensive learning sequences and lessons to create an informated environment.  Technology can be an effective tool to inspire students and expand learning horizons.  The opportunities are limited only by one’s creativity and persistence.  The project continues today and was recognized as a Best Practice by the New Jersey Department of Education in 2003.


Bloom, B. (Ed.). (1956).  Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. (Handbook I).  New York; Toronto: Longmans, Green.

Bruce, B.C. & Levin, J.A.  (1997).  Educational technology: Media for inquiry, communication, construction, and expression.  Journal of Educational Computing Research, 17(1), 79-102.

Dewey, J. (1943). The child and the curriculum /The school and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hoy, W.K., & Forsyth, P.B.  (1986).  Effective supervision:  Theory into practice.  New York: McGraw Hill.

Means, B. (1994). Introduction: Using technology to advance educational goals. In B. Means (Eds.), Technology and education reform: The reality behind the promise (pp. 1-21). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

November, A. (2001).  Empowering students with technology.  Arlington Heights, IL:  Skylight.

Shavelson, R., Habner, J., & Stanton, G.  (Summer, 1976).  Self-concept: Validation of construct interpretations.  Review of educational research, 407-411. 

Taylor, R. P. (1980). The computer in the school: Tutor, tool, tutee. New York: Teachers College Press.

Waller, W.  (1932).  The sociology of teaching.  New York: Wiley.

Zuboff, S.  (1988).  In the age of the smart machine.  The future of work and power.  New York:  Basic Books. 



Attitude Toward Language Arts/Reading Content

  1. I am motivated to read and think in language arts class?

  2. I like to read outside of school.

  3. I gain valuable information from novels assigned in language arts class?

  4. Knowledge of details and characters is critical to successfully understand a story?

  5. Guest speakers who speak to our class about literature related topics get me interested in reading.

  6. I learn valuable information from guest speakers that help me understand the literature I am reading?

  7. It is important to understand the underlying content or subject matter of a story.

  8. I possess an understanding of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Attitudes Toward Students Different from Themselves

  1. I work with students who have diverse learning styles and abilities often.

  2. I feel comfortable collaborating with students who have different learning styles and abilities?

  3. I think working in mixed ability groups is productive.

  4. I am not apprehensive about interacting with older or younger students.

  5. I enjoy performing/speaking in front of students I do not know.

  6. I find it easy to verbally communicate with other students who are not like me.

  7. I think conducting collaborative projects will help me better understand students who are different from me.

Attitudes toward technology

  1. I am familiar with the distance-learning/videoconferencing lab.

  2. I am comfortable working in the distance-learning/videoconferencing lab.

  3. I think it is important to incorporate videoconference experiences into language arts and reading lessons.

  4. I think it is important to use the internet to conduct research.

  5. I frequently use the Internet for research.


About the Authors

Christopher H. Tienken, Ed.D. is Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction for the Monroe Township School District in Monroe Township, New Jersey-USA.  He is a part-time professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education.  Correspondence should be sent to: 1104 Ocean Road, Spring Lake Heights, NJ 07762 USA. Email: goteach1@hotmail.com.

Scott Sarraiocco, MCSE, is the Director of Technology for the Absecon School District in Absecon, New Jersey-USA.

The authors would like to thank the teachers who created and implemented this project

Ms. Barbara Horner and Ms. Kathleen Schurtz.

Their hard work and dedication made a difference in the lives of their students.

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