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Is Technology Necessary For Learning?

Is Technology Necessary For Learning?
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It’s hard to find a classroom today without some form of technology. But does investing in technology pay off in terms of test scores? Does outfitting every student with a laptop or iPad necessarily mean they are learning better?

The New York Times takes a close look at the the Kyrene School District in Chandler, Arizona. After a ballot initiative was passed in 2005, the Kyrene School District has spent roughly $33 million on technology. Its classrooms are outfitted with laptops, Smart Boards (like that in the photo above) and software to drill students on basic subjects. Teachers are supposed to be guides rather than lecturers to students who work at their own pace by using the resources of the Internet.

For its efforts, the Kyrene School District was pronounced a model of success by the National School Boards Association, which orchestrated a visit of 100 educators from 17 states to see Kyrene’s innovations in 2008.

But since 2005, Kyrene students’ scores in reading and math have “stagnated,” while scores for the rest of the state have risen.

Pretty Weak” Evidence

Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, acknowledges that data for the educational value of extensive investments in technology is “pretty weak.” As the New York Times says, there simply isn’t much research showing that technology-centric teaching improves student learning.

Many studies have found that technology has helped individual classrooms, schools or districts. For instance, researchers found that writing scores improved for eighth-graders in Maine after they were all issued laptops in 2002. The same researchers, from the University of Southern Maine, found that math performance picked up among seventh- and eighth-graders after teachers in the state were trained in using the laptops to teach.

Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, makes the point that “rather than being a cure-all or silver bullet, one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring — for better or worse.” Teachers who know what they’re doing will make good use of the technology while teachers who don’t will not.

review by the Education Department in 2009 of research on online courses — which more than one million K-12 students are taking — found that few rigorous studies had been done and that policy makers “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness. A division of the Education Department that rates classroom curriculums has found that much educational software is not an improvement over textbooks.

Larry Cuban, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University, said the research did not justify big investments by districts.

“There is insufficient evidence to spend that kind of money. Period, period, period,” he said. “There is no body of evidence that shows a trend line.”

Just having a computer in a classroom is no guarantee of successful student learning and can even simply promote student distraction.

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180 comments

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7:00AM PDT on Apr 4, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:18PM PST on Dec 22, 2012

noted

9:51PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

Thank you.

9:51PM PDT on Oct 29, 2012

Thank you.

6:50AM PDT on Oct 14, 2011

Not absolutely, but helps a lot

8:10AM PDT on Oct 10, 2011

I think so in today's world.........with all the advances and mandatory technological skills needed in school, college, on most all jobs, etc.

6:41PM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

I agree that we are woefully behind - the 19th Century reference was apt - in structuring our educational experience to develop the nation's children for the world that they will face. Technology can help if it is properly integrated into the curriculum. In fact, failing to do that will prove disastrous and force children into a huge waste of time preparing for tests that don't really measure what needs to be measured in this rapidly developing environment. Of course the basics need to be learned, but do they have to write with quill pens and use abacuses in order for it to be considered legitimate? Teachers need more than ever to be constantly updating their skills, both pedagogical and technological, if they are to be relevant. The tools have to be there, and the teachers better be prepared to show how they are to be used.

11:00AM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

Technology is a TOOL. Its effectiveness depends on how it is used. The "new technology" movement in education is putting it to use to tremendous effect to revolutionize the entire process of education in America ... Something that is LONG overdue.

Face it, we are still stuck in a 19th century "factory model" of education, and are preparing students for jobs that no longer exist. We have to break that mould, and create a new paradigm in education that will lead us to making education relevant to today's challenges. Mass customization and modern content delivery systems (both of which are likely to depend heavily on technology) will be a big part of that transformation.

Using modern technology to prop us an outmoded educational paradigm is an exercise in futility. New THINKING is needed, and bold new directions are vital to our nation's future success.

6:54PM PDT on Sep 7, 2011

If a child learns because of interest, that's the important part. If a teacher can make a subject great they have won the battle no matter how the are teaching. There needs to be some action between student and teacher not machines.

12:46PM PDT on Sep 7, 2011

I think people misunderstand the question here. There is learning the technology, and there is learning the content of school lessons in math, history, etc. Give too much time and effort, not to mention money over into learning the technology, and the deficit comes out of some other subject. Kids pick these things up pretty quickly nowadays if they are exposed to them (technology, I mean). I don't think it is necessary to stop teaching everything else and throw all the time in the day's schedule into tech. Nor to spend all the money on it, when it would be better spent in my opinion on paying teachers more and buying things like musical instruments.

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