Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Study Says Laptops Don't Improve Education

I've written before about computers and their applicability to education. Many consider me a Luddite, but I don't see computers as the Holy Grail of education. A century ago, Thomas Edison thought that movies would revolutionize education. I'll bet he'd still recognize the classrooms of today, only the students (or the teacher, for that matter) wouldn't be as nicely dressed and the boards would have changed from dark green to white.

Put simply, the Holy Grail of education is hard work. There's no "royal road" to geometry, as the old saying goes.

Computers are a tool, nothing more. They are a means, not an end. They are akin to a pencil, a book, a movie projector. Computers have no inherent ability to improve education; how they're used makes all the difference, if there's even a difference.

At a meeting held in my favorite city (cough! cough!) this week, a report given to the American Educational Research Association shows mixed results at best from flooding the education system with computers.

SAN FRANCISCO — Give a kid a laptop and it might not make any difference.

That's the message from research presented here Monday, which suggests that spending millions of dollars to bring technology into kids' homes and schools has decidedly mixed results.

Taxpayer-supported school computer and Internet giveaways are political gold, but studies have questioned whether they actually help student achievement. This research, presented at the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting, confirms skeptics' doubts.

In one study, researchers from Syracuse and Michigan State universities examined a program that gave laptop computers to middle-school students in Ohio in 2003. Preliminary findings are mixed.

"Overall, we don't know if it is a worthwhile investment," says Syracuse researcher Jing Lei.

Why are we surprised? Are we surprised? I'm not. And as much time as I spend on my computer, you'd think I'd be a big fan. And I am a big fan--just not in education.

Here's my idea of how to effectively use computers to support instruction. Note that it's a great use, but it's also limited in scope and very expensive!

As I just reread that post, I almost laughed that I used the same words and ideas in this post. Well, I'm nothing if not consistent!


David said...

Michael Schrage of MIT, a thought leader in organizational innovation, had a good article on this subject in Financial Times. My summary and comments here.

Kate said...

Actually Darren, although I know I am showing my age here. Chalk boards didn't generally become green until about the 1950's. Prior to that they were all black as they were in my grade school, built in 1927.....Kate

Darren said...

Hence the term "blackboard", I guess. Thanks for the info!

rightwingprof said...

Casting Out Nines, math faculty at Franklin, is using his blog for his class. You might want to check it out.

And my ancestors from the era were, I'm afraid, Confederate soldiers.

Darren said...

Somebody had to be from the Confederacy. I don't hold the sons guilty for the sins of the fathers--if being a Confederate soldier is even a sin.

And I *still* think the Confederates had a right to secede. Not too thrilled with slavery, though, but that's an entirely different argument from secession.

rightwingprof said...

I used to belong to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (actually, I guess I still do), but I haven't even thought of being active since I was a kid.

Around here, there are more Revolutionary War enacters than Civil War enacters.

Darren said...

Until they closed down the county park at which the event was held, my son and I used to go to a Civil War battle reenactment each year. It wasn't very realistic--perhaps 50 people on a side, but you'd at least get an idea how loud the rifles and cannon were.

Lillian said...

This study seems to follow the same logic that suggests children would rather play with the empty box, than with the toy that was inside of it. Since we're talking about middle-schoolers, (such a strange and wonderful age)...heck, let's just give them the empty laptop boxes!