Light Offerings

Are computers a waste of time for schools?

Posted by jturner56 on September 21, 2015

Last week the OECD report Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection led to a interesting array of headlines, including “Computers in classroom have ‘mixed impact on learning: OECD report“, “Worldwide Study: Students Who Use Computers Frequently in School ‘Do Worse’ and my favorite from a local Hong Kong newspaper, “Computers a waste of class time.” I still await the follow-up push for practical action if this is indeed the case.

Of course if one looks a bit deeper, say to the interview with the report’s author Francesco Avvisati in “The Global Search for Education: Can Tech Help Students Learn?“, they would have seen that technology can support a culture of innovation in education, that the key elements for success require teachers and school leaders having the vision, and ability to make connections between students, computers and learning, and that the relationship between digital technologies and learning is not a simple, linear comparison. The OECD Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, goes further in the OECD Report Forward, noting that while schools lag considerably behind the promise of technology, technology can enhance experiential learning, cooperation and collaboration, inquiry-based pedagogies, project-based learning and formative assessment. There are weaknesses identified, but no call to go backwards or even stall. Schleicher’s call is to “provide educators with learning environments  that support 21st-century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

This of course does not prevent second-order analyses, such as by Larry Cuban in “Lack of Computers May Be a Blessing” using an Irish Times headline), where he zeros in on three takeaways (lack of PISA score improvements, conventional pedagogies for teaching Internet reading, and that ‘tech can amplify great teaching, but great tech cannot replace poor teaching.‘) I wholeheartedly agree with the third point from the OECD study, but I would have also added “…particularly with limited educational leadership”.

I suppose this just all reinforces the need for teaching critical thinking, for which Peter Ellerton recently highlighted the need to be able to evaluate arguments, logic, psychology (including biases) and the nature of hypotheses, theories and scientific laws.

If we just rely on standardised testing of closed knowledge (where we know all answers before we allow the question) we can continue at best to expect a limited window based on

  • ability to know the answer before the question is put as the only measure of achievement
  • expecting all students to be at the same point in their learning journey at the same time
  • expecting that all students can do the same thing within the same amount of time
  • how students demonstrate learning is homogenous (be it thinking, writing or problem solving).

Why still an issue after 30 years? That’s a leadership question of what is valued and in what ways. Those who adopt narrow perspectives on whatever side of the discussion don’t help.

Me, I’m just a practical guy. As I worked with Grade 6 last week on developing their digital literacy I could see how use of computers helped advance not only this literacy, but also through providing a medium for worthy and visible assessment mechanisms, as well as connecting and developing teacher tasking and advancing student meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). (I have written previously on the research behind this, and the rubric developed). Working with teachers remains where the real action is at. We can only continue to show what is possible and hope values shift to accommodate what learning, working and living in digital domains requires.

Where there is good education there is hope.


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