A report published by the Nuffield Foundation finds that computer use in schools does not on its own boost pupils’ digital literacy or prepare them for the workplace.
The report, written by Angela McFarlane, examines how digital
technologies are used in schools to enhance learning, and identifies research
questions to inform better practice and policy. It examines ten years of
existing evidence on the effect the use of digital technology has on learning
and finds that:
- Putting computers into schools is no guarantee
that there will be a positive impact on learning outcomes as measured in
high-stakes assessments or on the development of digital literacy.
- How digital technologies are used is as
important as whether they are used.
- There is no shared picture of what effective
digital skills teaching looks like.
- Teachers may not have opportunities to develop
the skills they need to make effective use of technology.
- The current use and knowledge of computer-based
technology in schools and at home is leaving many young people unprepared for
the world of work.
Source: Growing up digital: What do we really need to know about educating the digital generation? (July 2019), Nuffield Foundation
An evaluation published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis evaluates the impact of the Digital Conversion Initiative on pupil outcomes for one US school district in North Carolina.
The initiative provided laptop computers to every pupil from the fourth grade (Year 5) upwards, while also providing teachers with training on how to best use the technology in their lesson plans.
Marie Hull and Katherine Duch used administrative school data from 2005 to 2013 to determine the programme’s impact on maths and reading achievement for pupils in grades 4 to 8 (Years 5 to 9), as well as the impact of the programme on pupil behaviour. They compared the district’s data from before and after implementation, as well as data from neighbouring school districts without one-to-one programmes to determine the short- and medium-term effects.
Their results suggest there is potential for one-to-one laptop programmes to help improve pupil outcomes. They found that:
- Maths scores for pupils improved by 0.11 standard deviations in the short term and 0.13 standard deviations in the medium term.
- No significant change in reading scores in the short term, and mixed evidence of improvement in the medium term.
- Time spent on homework stayed constant.
- Pupils spent more of their homework time using a computer.
Source: One-to-one technology and student outcomes: Evidence from Mooresville’s Digital Conversion Initiative (September 2018), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
During the past 30 years, thousands of articles have been written about technology’s effects on pupil achievement. In order to quantify technology’s effects on maths achievement, Jamaal Young at the University of Texas conducted a meta-analysis of all of the meta-analyses on the topic during the last three decades. His second-order meta-analysis was comprised of 19 meta-analyses representing 663 primary studies, more than 141,000 pupils and 1,263 effect sizes. Each meta-analysis that was included had to address the use of technology as a supplement to instruction, use pupil maths achievement as an outcome measure, report an effect size or enough data to calculate one, have been published after 1985 and be accessible to the public.
The author found that all technology enhancements positively affected pupil achievement, regardless of the technology’s purpose. However, technology that helped pupils perform computational functions had the greatest effects on pupil achievement, while combinations of enhancements demonstrated the least effects on pupil achievement. The author found that study quality and the type of technology used in the classroom were the main influencers on effect sizes. The highest-quality studies had the lowest effect sizes, which he attributes to their more rigorous analysis procedures. The high-quality reviews gave an overall effect size for the use of technology of +0.16 (compared with +0.38 for low- and +0.46 for medium-quality reviews).
Source: Technology-enhanced mathematics instruction: A second-order meta-analysis of 30 years of research (November 2017), Educational Research Review, Volume 22
Dr Jennifer Morrison and colleagues from the Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) are evaluating a technology-integration initiative for Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland, US, called Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.). The initiative began in the 2014-15 school year with 10 pilot elementary (primary) schools and has since expanded to all elementary schools, middle schools and selected high schools. CRRE is conducting a mixed-methods evaluation of the initiative, including classroom observations, interviews, focus groups, surveys and an examination of pupil achievement data. The evaluation is taking place over five years.
CRRE recently completed the third year of the evaluation, and results revealed continuing changes in teacher practice, perceptions of increased pupil engagement and positive trends in achievement for pupils in grades 3 to 5 (Years 4 to 6).
In a previous edition of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on a review of the research literature on the infusion of technology into the school curriculum, also completed by CRRE. Multiple studies in that review reported higher engagement of pupils with their coursework when involved in one-to-one laptop programmes, which produced two key benefits: a development of a deeper level of understanding and an increase in pupil achievement. However, our researchers pointed out that, “Just as buying a professional-looking mixer will not make you a better cook, technology alone will not make pupil learning better. If the teacher, though, introduces new methods of teaching requiring different uses of a computer rather than to simply present information, then we are likely to see an improvement in learning”.
Source: Students and teachers accessing tomorrow – year three evaluation report (September 2017), Center for Research and Reform in Education
New educational technology programmes are being released faster than researchers can evaluate them. The National Bureau of Economic Research in the US has written a working paper, Education Technology: An Evidence-Based Review, which discusses the evidence to date on the use of technology in the classroom, with the goal of finding decision-relevant patterns.
Maya Escueta and colleagues compiled publicly available quantitative research that used either randomised controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs (where pupils qualify for inclusion in a programme based on a cut-off score at pre-test). All studies had to examine the effects of an ed-tech intervention on any education-related outcome. Therefore, the paper included not only the areas of technology access, computer-assisted learning and online courses, but also the less-often-studied technology-based behavioural interventions.
Authors found that:
- Access to technology may or may not improve academic achievement at the K-12 level (Years 1–13), but does have a positive impact on the academic achievement of higher education students (ES=+0.14).
- Computer-assisted learning, when equipped with personalisation features, was an effective strategy, especially in maths.
- Behavioural intervention software, such as text-message reminders or e-messages instructing parents how to practise reading with their children, showed positive effects at all levels of education, and was also a cost-effective approach. Four main uses for behavioural intervention software emerged: encouraging parental involvement in early learning activities, communication between the school and parents, successfully transitioning into and through higher education, and creating mindset interventions. Research is recommended to determine the areas where behavioural intervention software is most impactful.
- Online learning courses had the least amount of research to examine and showed the least promise of the four areas. However, when online courses were accompanied by in-person teaching, the effect sizes increased to scores comparable to fully in-person courses.
Source: Education technology: an evidence-based review (August 2017), National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No. 23744
Comprehension Circuit Training (CCT) is a programme for teenagers designed to improve reading comprehension through a set of circuit-like exercises in pre-reading, reading, and after-reading to improve foundational reading skills and text-processing abilities. A recent randomised study investigated the effects of CCT delivered electronically via tablet on the reading comprehension of struggling teenage readers.
Three schools in Texas in the US, involving 3 teachers and 228 struggling sixth- to eighth-graders (Years 7–9), participated in this study. Using a within-teacher design, middle school teachers’ reading intervention classes were randomly assigned to electronic CCT (n=9 classes, 112 pupils) or business as usual (n=7 classes, 116 pupils). All pupils had failed to score at the “proficient” level on the prior year’s state reading assessment, and no significant pre-test differences were found between the two groups. CCT pupils received 39 e-CCT lessons in word reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension that were organised into ten levels delivered in a standard sequence. Each 50-minute lesson contained four video-instruction components – an Opening Comprehension Circuit, WarmUp Station, Reading Core Station, and Knowledge Flex Station – delivered three days a week via Apple iPad. After video instruction, pupils partnered to practice lesson content, with teacher-led assessment occurring in the Knowledge Flex Station.
Results showed statistically significant effects in favour of the experimental group on post-test measures of reading comprehension, vocabulary, and silent reading efficiency. Pupils who entered with lower-level reading comprehension showed the greatest gains.
Source: Impact of a technology-mediated reading intervention on adolescents’ reading comprehension. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Vol. 10, 2.