While the findings are quite complex, the take-out message from a recent OECD study is:
- On average, in the past 10 years there has been no appreciable improvement in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education.
The bad news does not end there, according to Manfred Spitzer in the New Scientist. An earlier study found that students aged 15 performed worse at school if they had a computer in their bedroom.
- In Israel, researchers found performance declined in elementary and middle schools with computers, and in Romania it has been reported that poorer children whose families received money to buy a computer performed worse in school than those without computers.
It seems that learning from screens tends to cause shallow processing of information in the brain, preventing memory encoding. Information online is less likely to be encoded in memory than that in books or journals.
Elsewhere US researchers found that taking lecture notes by longhand resulted in better learning than typing onto a laptop. In California students prefer reading from paper rather than an e-book by a wide margin.
Back in the first-linked OECD study:
- Students who use computers moderately at school tend to be somewhat more skilled in online reading than students who rarely use computers. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in reading, even after accounting for students’ background.
I’m sure proponents of the new technology will protest that computers need to be integrated intelligently and appropriately into the learning process, and that this is commonly not the case. Nevertheless, we should be aware that the simple supply of the technology to students in the school setting will do little if any good and may do harm.