Light Offerings

Do you believe computers improve learning?

Posted by jturner56 on October 2, 2014

This week I was drawn to a call to ban laptops from the classroom because “research on learning (which) has consistently and overwhelmingly demonstrated that even the proper use of laptops does not further student learning“(1). This was supported by more formal findings by Carrie Fried that “laptop use posed a significant distraction to both users and fellow students“(2).

Yet elsewhere there is strong support for the positive effects from the impact of technology of learning, as reflected by Susan O’Hara and Robert Pritchard that “research literature throughout the past decade has shown that technology can enhance literacy development, impact language acquisition, provide greater access to information, support learning, motivate students, and enhance their self-esteem“(3).

It seems that the reality lies in an understanding of the differences between education and learning (4), and what educators sees as the objectives of education.

A good formal insight is provided by leading cognitive psychologists, Robert Sternberg and David Preiss that reported “computers do not improve academic achievement per se: Their impact depends on a positive confluence of several variable, such as student engagement, group participation, frequent interaction and feedback from mentors, and connections to real-world contexts“(5).

Such complex considerations are not helped by language misuse, misrepresenting intelligence, learning, education, school etc depending on the perspective wishing to be advanced (which includes commercial interests and can extend even into formal research practices.)

But this is not a new question, even if new technologies give the appearance of changing opportunities and needs.

Roy Pea and Midian Kurland in the mid-1980s, when looking at the cognitive effect of computer programming raised concerns that “available evidence, and the underlying assumptions about the process of learning to program fail to address this issue adequately”(6). Pea went on to look at the capacity of computers to amplify and reorganise cognition, concluding that “the cognitive technologies we invent serve as instruments of cultural redefinition (shaping who we are by changing, not just amplifying, what we do), defining educational values becomes a foreground issue“(7).

Yet educational change experts such as Michael Fullan largely ignored the relationship between digital and educational values (8) until more recent times (9). As Fullan notes “the meaning of change will always be “new” because it is a human endeavor that is perpetually dynamic. Educational change has meaning because it pursues moral purpose and does so by bringing best knowledge to bear on critical issues of the day“(10). He also sees “changes in beliefs and understanding (first principles) are the foundation of achieving lasting reform” and that “the keys to successful change is the improvement of relationships.

Therefore if one, or a group, or a school, or a system, is truly committed to trying to advance school education through digital means, a basic understanding of the ecosystems at play (both locally and globally) is a primary prerequisite. As Neil Postman postulated over twenty years ago “technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological” (11).

One part of this relevant for the digital age is appreciating the Cognitive Load (12) that comes with taking on new digital technologies, be they productivity tools, programming constructs, multimedia constructions, web-based information, social media or personal mobile interface. All digital change is demanding and tiring, but then so is all worthwhile education and change.

While there are many, including myself, who can attest to the learning benefits that have accrued from taking on the challenge of digital in education, one should not underestimate the complexity that has to be taken on to extend forward momentum across curriculum teams of diverse views, changing teacher groups, school curriculum’s yet connected across K-12, while taking into account school cultural needs and priorities, changing relationships between home, personal and school computing systems, and the changing impact and relationships on classrooms as traditional learning ecosystems.

King Canute, Icarus and Thamus all have salient lessons for this.

  1. Banning Laptops from Classrooms (updated July 2014)
  2. In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning
  3. What is the Impact of Technology on Learning?
  4. Difference Between Education and Learning
  5. Intelligence and Technology
  6. On the cognitive effects of learning computer programming
  7. Beyond Amplification: Using the Computer to Reorganize Mental Functioning
  8. The New Meaning of Educational Change (1981-2007)
  9. A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning
  10. The New Meaning of Educational Change (2007)
  11. Technopoly: The surrender of technology to culture
  12. Integrating cognitive load theory and concepts of human-computer interaction

Week 1: Bridges
Week 2: Busyness
Week 3: Beliefs
Week 4: Build (1) School Community + Digital Learning Ecosystem
Week 5: Blog (cross posted here)
Week 6: Build Learning Opportunities
Week 7: Balance
Week 8: Beliefs


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: