Home » computer » Do we really know that adding technology to learning works?

Do we really know that adding technology to learning works?

Am I smart yet?

Is it the tool or the technique?

At the Education Rethink blog, John Spencer makes the argument that tech integration in K-12 has been slow because the stakes are too high – teachers do not feel comfortable experimenting with new methods because of pressure to succeed with their students.  I get that and I think he is right to a certain measure.  We do need a more professional environment where teachers are trusted to develop new and better ideas and approaches.  Other reasons are also mentioned, such as the need for PD, the lack of time to learn and a few other legitimate holdups.  I like what he has to say.

But it got me thinking about my own classes and about the teachers I talk to daily.  I responded with what is below and I wanted to post it here so you can pick on me rather than on John’s excellent blog.  Here is what I said over there:

“Have many stopped to think the adoption might be slow because there is little evidence that tossing new types of computing devices and software packages into a classroom is effective at promoting learning? I’ve looked high and low and the research evidence is not there. FWIW, I love technology and use many different applications to get my content to my students – I’m not among the Luddites. But I’ve also taught almost 10,000 first year college students over the past 20 years at a state land grant university that gets the best students in my state and I see performance dropping, not improving. Students who engage with technology for learning only think they are using their time well but in most cases they are spending their time distracted (I know, I’ve measured it – if there are other attention grabbers on their machine, they go there.) For 5 years now I have begged and pleaded with textbook publishers to show me data that says reading on a screen is as effective as a book and they ignore me – which in the world of marketing (to a guy who buys a huge number of books every year) means they don’t have any evidence or more likely, they have evidence of the opposite. I have found a couple studies that show that when all other sources of distraction are removed, reading comprehension decreases the smaller the screen size, and nothing beats a good hard copy text. Thems the facts.

Ask those of us who teach college students in their first couple years – and those paying attention will tell you, our incoming COLLEGE students cannot read. That is the root of most of their problems, even in fields like math – students cannot follow along in a textbook and find how to solve problems. I’m as guilty as anyone – I provide them with videos so they are not forced to read and improve but I do this to get them through my course, not because I think it is best. I know textbooks are expensive so I provide a cheaper online e-version of the textbook even though I know now half my students do not purchase hard copy text and that hurts them. Mea culpa.

This is a complicated problem where in most cases, the answers are not known. But I think that lack of evidence of learning is a valid reason for slow implementation of all things technology. Push for concrete answers.”


3 thoughts on “Do we really know that adding technology to learning works?

  1. Excellent observations. I use expensive high-end computers in the research lab, but when it comes to the classroom, it’s mostly just paper, pencils and hard-copy textbooks for my students. I don’t allow the use of computers in doing homework problems – and when doing graduate level physics homework problems it can be tempting to turn to a computer. But the point of science teaching is to get the students to think, not to teach them how to use a machine to think for them.

    • As I said above, I am guilty of caving in to pressure. I use an online system for homework assignments and I see clearly I am complicit in creating a big problem. Students now sit in front of a screen and answer questions without even putting pencil to paper. I do it because overall, more students do more homework problems and that is the way to learn most sciences like chemistry. But it removes incentive to struggle through a problem and develop certain important problem solving techniques. I do not know the answer to this mess, but I certainly see it.

  2. I know I am a “millennial,” but I went to a broke high school with very little technology and in college, we resorted to a lot of straight up “pencil and paper” mathematics/chemistry calculations. I think that some technology is needed in today’s ever changing science field. Back in the day, I learned how to graph with graph paper and a ruler. That is great and good to do at least once, but in today’s day and age, I think it is MUCH better to teach students to use excel as it can crunch many data points with greater accuracy in short seconds next to someone using a calculator and a ruler. Also, excel can be used in so many different ways in science calculations/graphing in large quantities (equilibrium, kinetics, thermodynamics, spectroscopy… maybe some stoich?) In that case, I think technology works in the best interest of the student.

    But I feel like a lot of the technology in the classroom I have been exposed to (apps on iPads, online science games, etc.) do not have as much efficacy as some of my education professors try to sell to me. I think there is something very powerful to that direct relationship of student and teacher and hands on chemistry. There are not enough websites in the world that can truly connect students to a concept like a hands on lab/demo/activity and having that discussion with the whole class.

    I have limited teaching experience, but I think when students got to hold actual flashlights, mentos+soda, fiber optic cables, etc. it did a lot more for their education than using an apple app, watching a video and writing about it.

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