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This article was published 14/09/2015 (3072 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A major international study released Tuesday raises questions about the effectiveness and limitations of using computer technology to improve student learning.
Tell us something we don’t already know, responded a wide variety of Manitoba educators.
The Louis Riel School Division, which has a pilot project in which all the students at Dakota Collegiate and Collège Béliveau use a device in class, said technology is a complementary tool that can never replace good teaching.
“Their impact on student performance is mixed at best,” found the study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Using a smartphone to copy and paste an answer does nothing to help a student understand the question, said the report released in Paris.
“Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics,” the OECD found.
In 2012, when the OECD conducted its most recent random testing of tens of thousands of 15-year-olds in math, science and reading, the OECD collected data about computer access and use by the students. These are the infamous tests in which in which Manitoba students have finished at or near the bottom in comparison to other Canadian children, but have done quite well in comparison to children in many major industrialized countries.
Said the OECD: “The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT (information and communications technology) for education. And perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
“Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services. If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society seconded that motion. “It reaffirms that you can’t really replace the human element of the teacher in the classroom. It’s very refreshing,” said MTS president Norm Gould.
The MTS has no problem with school divisions providing technology to kids, if it’s used properly, Gould said. “I applaud the divisions that take those initiatives. You have kids on a level playing field, you don’t have kids feeling ashamed because they can’t afford that.”
The society believes businesses are pushing software they claim can replace the teacher. “In Third World countries, many edu-businesses are doing exactly that,” Gould said.
The OECD said greater research must determine just how skilled teachers and students are technologically, and there’s no easy way to check just how good the classroom tech is in dozens of countries.
Dakota Collegiate and Collège Béliveau students are examples of Winnipeg youth who now use electronic devices in class.
Louis Riel School Division superintendent Duane Brothers said he agrees with most of the OECD’s conclusions.
“Technology cannot be a ‘golden ticket’ to solving all of the classroom issues with regards to learning,” Brothers said.
“We don’t put that same level of expectation on calculators in a math class. Any tool, whether it is a pencil, textbook or a laptop, and its usefulness in a classroom solely depend on the relationship between a teacher and their students and what types of pedagogical strategies are being used in that classroom,” said Brothers.
At Dakota and Béliveau, the projects aren’t to “fix” literacy or math issues, Brothers said.
“We want to enhance learning with the use of technology in a way where students have a dramatic increase in access to knowledge,” he said. “Our message to our teachers at Dakota and Collège Béliveau has always been to focus on pedagogy first. The core to achieving a successful technology-infused classroom is to always put curriculum first before technology.”
“It’s consistent with other research and evidence that technology in and of itself doesn’t guarantee an improvement in learning,” said Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Brian O’Leary. “Coupled with good teaching, it can be a great tool. In the absence of strong teaching, it’s not.”
Manitoba School Boards Association president Ken Cameron agreed.
“Technology is a tool in the same way textbooks and pens are tools. On its own, technology is neither good nor bad. Like any other tool, it needs to be used effectively if it’s going to have a positive impact on student learning,” he said.
The full 200-page OECD report is available here.