Do Computers Aid Learning?

This guest post is written by Garry Froehlich of Jellybean Tunes who publishes the weekly App Friday App Report. Garry addresses the latest findings from an international study analyzing the effects of technology in the classroom, and provides commentary about the results. Garry is also a long standing member of the Know What’s Inside program. 

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released more results from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), finding that more use of information and communication technology (ICT – they do love their acronyms) in schools does not improve reading or math scores on the PISA test for 15 year olds. The actual report runs 204 pages and has a lot of information, which the media is already spinning, but what are the actual results? From the report itself:

“Overall, the evidence from PISA, as well as from more rigorously designed evaluations, suggests that solely increasing access to computers for students, at home or at school, is unlikely to result in significant improvements in education outcomes.”

In many ways, “Do computers aid learning?” is the wrong question to ask. Technology is a tool like any other, so we shouldn’t expect that more computers equals better grades. The more important question is how to make effective use of the tools (technology) we have.

“The report leaves many questions unanswered. The impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal, because we may overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, or because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware. In fact, how many children would choose to play a computer game of the same quality as the software that finds its way into many classrooms around the world? Results suggest that the connections among students, computers and learning are neither simple nor hard-wired; and the real contributions ICT can make to teaching and learning have yet to be fully realised and exploited.”

“Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.”

The OECD concludes that a new approach is needed for the use of technology in schools.

Fortunately, these results are from 2012 and the changes are already happening. Teachers, companies, developers, and parents are all involved in the creation of new models and new ideas. Technology (or any new tool) is best used when it allows us to do things that were difficult or impossible to do before. They require us to take a step back and see what we are trying to accomplish, and then to decide how, or even if, to use the tools at our disposal (see also the SAMR Model ).

With computers, and especially mobile computers like phones and tablets, the benefits are going to come from the ability to easily communicate and collaborate, access information, monitor and provide feedback, and interact with problems in new ways. Ideas like the Global Read Aloud Project, collaboration and creation of a digital book with different grade levels and classes in different parts of the country, giving kids access to iPads to monitor and improve their reading, interacting with the forces that shape the earth, continually updated textbooks, learning math skills through games with immediate personalized feedback, and of course the numerous apps we feature every week are all enabled or improved in the right ways by technology.

It’s an exciting time.


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