Evaluation of “Code Clubs”

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) has published the results of a randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of Code Clubs – a UK network of after-school clubs where children aged 9–11 learn to program by making games, animations, websites and applications. Code Club UK produces material and projects that support the teaching of Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. The clubs, which are supported by volunteers, usually run for one hour a week after school during term time.

The evaluation, conducted by Suzanne Straw and colleagues, assessed the impact of Code Clubs on Year 5 pupils’ computational thinking, programming skills and attitudes towards computers and coding. Twenty-one schools in the UK took part in the trial which used a pupil-randomised design to compare pupil outcomes in the intervention and control groups. Intervention group pupils attended Code Club during the 2015/16 academic year, while control group pupils continued as they would do normally.

The results of the evaluation showed that attending Code Club for a year did not impact on pupils’ computational thinking any more than might have occurred anyway, but did significantly improve their coding skills in Scratch, HTML/CSS and Python. This was true even when control children learned Scratch as part of the computing curriculum in school. Code Club pupils reported increased usage of all three programming languages – and of computers more generally. However, the evaluation data suggests that attending Code Club for a year does not affect how pupils view their abilities in a range of transferable skills, such as following instructions, problem solving, learning about new things and working with others.

Source: Randomised controlled trial and process evaluation of code clubs (March 2017), National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER)

Do computers have a negative effect on children’s social development?

A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports the findings from a large-scale randomised controlled trial that explores whether owning a home computer has a negative effect on children’s social development.

The study included 1,123 students in grades 6-10 (Years 7-11) in 15 different schools across California. Students were eligible to take part in the trial only if they did not already have a computer at home. Half were then randomly selected to receive free computers, while the other half served as the control group. Surveys were conducted with the students and schools at the start of the school year to collect data on child and household characteristics and school participation. Follow-up surveys were then administered at the end of the school year, and the data compared to establish any causal evidence.

As predicted, Robert W Fairlie and Ariel Kalil found that having computers at home did increase the amount of time that children spent on social networking sites and email as well as for games and other entertainment. However, rather than being socially isolating, children in the treatment group communicated with 1.57 more friends per week than children in the control group, and spent 0.72 more hours with their friends in person. They also found no evidence that the children who received a computer were less likely to participate in sports teams or after-school clubs, or spend any less time in these activities.

Source: The effects of computers on children’s social development and school participation: evidence from a randomized control experiment (December 2016), NBER Working Paper No. 22907, The National Bureau of Economic Research

A guide to virtual education data

The National Forum on Education Statistics in the US has created a guide to elementary and secondary virtual education data. In the US, the term “virtual education” includes, but is not limited to, digital learning, distributed learning, open learning, online learning, computer-based learning, distance learning, blended learning, and other similar terms. In the document, a Virtual Education Working Group provides recommendations for collecting accurate, comparable, and useful data about virtual education. The guide also provides real-world examples and common practices implemented by state departments, local districts, and schools to modify their data systems and add elements that better reflect the needs unique to virtual education.

The guide was developed to assist state and local education agencies and other education stakeholders, such as policymakers and researchers, as they

  • consider the impact of virtual education on established data elements and methods of data collection; and
  • address the scope of changes, the rapid pace of new technology development, and the proliferation of resources in virtual education.

Source: Forum Guide to Elementary/Secondary Virtual Education Data (2016), National Forum on Education Statistics.

Is technology improving outcomes?

A new report from PISA looks at how education systems and schools are integrating technology into learning experiences, and with what results.

The findings, taken from the 2012 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), show that young people in general have very high levels of access to computers. A total of 96% of 15-year-olds in the OECD countries/economies reported that they had a computer at home, and 72% reported computer access at school.

But has accessibility made a difference to learning outcomes? The findings of this report indicate that pupils who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes; that pupils in countries/economies that have invested heavily in technology showed no appreciable improvements in reading, maths, or science achievement; and that in places where it is common for pupils to use the internet at school for homework, pupils’ performance in reading declined between 2000 and 2012. However, pupils who used computers “moderately” at school tended to have somewhat better learning outcomes than those who used them rarely.

The authors also explore the “digital divide.” They say that as the gap in access to digital media and resources closes, research has started to focus on what people do with it, and this still depends on factors such as reading skills and social support. The report found that in general disadvantaged pupils preferred chat over email. Also, while in most countries/economies there were no differences related to socio-economic status in the use of video games, the influence of socio-economic status was strong when it came to reading news or obtaining practical information from the internet.

Source: Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection (2015), OECD.

Home computer use and children’s academic performance

A paper in the Oxford Review of Education examines the link between children’s home computer use and their academic performance in reading and maths. The study uses data from the nine-year-old cohort of the Growing Up in Ireland survey and a multiple regression model to estimate the effect of home computer use on reading and maths test scores. It finds that computer use is associated with increased scores. This result holds after taking into account other factors that determine school performance, and there is no significant difference in effect for the amount of use.

The study also looks at the effects of different types of computer use. Surfing the internet for fun, doing projects for school, and emailing are associated with higher reading and maths test scores, and children who use the computer unsupervised tend to have higher scores in maths, but instant messaging and downloading music or watching films are negatively associated with test scores. However, while these results indicate significant association with academic performance, the study was not able to establish a definitive direction of causation.

Source: Home computer use and academic performance of nine-year-olds (2012), Oxford Review of Education, 38(5)