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The Tally Ho

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Technology Inhibiting Learning?

David passed me on a piece a few days ago that is a great companion to the piece that Trope posted below. G. Jeffrey MacDonald of The Christian Science Monitor latest article "Contrarian finding: Computers are a drag on learning" indicates so. He writes
For all the schools and parents who have together invested billions to give children a learning edge through the latest computer technology, a mammoth new study by German researchers brings some sobering news: Too much exposure to computers might spell trouble for the developing mind.

From a sample of 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries, researchers at the University of Munich announced in November that performance in math and reading had suffered significantly among students who have more than one computer at home. And while students seemed to benefit from limited use of computers at school, those who used them several times per week at school saw their academic performance decline significantly as well.

"It seems if you overuse computers and trade them for other [types of] teaching, it actually harms the student," says lead researcher Ludger Woessmann in a telephone interview from Munich. "At least we should be cautious in stating that increasing [access to] computers in the home and school will improve students' math and reading performance."

With the rise of computers in classrooms, has come a glut of conflicting conclusions about the actual value computers bring to timeless tasks of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. For some in education, these results indicate how thoroughly this field of research has come to resemble that of the conventional wisdom about weight loss, which seems to shift with the tide. Yet others see hopeful signs of a maturing debate, where blind faith in the educational benefits of technology is giving way to greater appreciation for an understanding when computers are useful and when they're not.

My own feeling is that technology can be a valuable aid in learning, but only if the teachers keep up with what their students are exposed to and learn how to us it properly. For example, I can see how blogs can increase an interest in writing and self expression, but unless you are learning how to write at the same time(ie. someone to edit and force rewrites - like those professors that are not afraid to make a thick red line down the whole page), I doubt a significant would be seen. Then there are those of us that love the fact that we can spew poor sentences and paragraphs and not feel bad about it - its only the web! But it is the promise of technology to improve us, is it not?
"The mere availability of computers at home seems to distract students from learning." Computers seem to serve mainly as devices for playing games.

Still, there were a few exceptions: Academic performance rose among those who routinely engaged in writing e-mail or running educational software.

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