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RE: When Classroom Technology Impedes Student Learning #EdTech

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Link to Education Next Article on the Study

Those that know me best better believe that I have a strong opinion about this article.

After doing some research on this study here are some of the details of the study and conclusions I have based on the findings.

The Study - Question: Does technology impede learning?

The People - College Sophomores Enrolled in Economics

The Place - West Point

Time Frame - 2014–15 academic year and the fall semester of the 2015–16 academic year

The Experiment - 3 different classes used differing levels of technology and were compared by test score on how much they learned.

Conclusion - ...we do not claim that all computer use in the classroom is harmful. Exercises where computers or tablets are deliberately used may, in fact, improve student performance. ...our results relate to classes where using computers or tablets for note-taking is optional. 

Conclusions - Answer: When used incorrectly, Yes!

I do NOT have a problem with this study. In fact I find the conclusions brought by the authors to be very valid.

However, I DO have a problem with the EdWeek blog article written about this study. The author suggests that technology is too much of a distraction for the learning environment and applies this to "children".

After all, children are masters of distraction and students have always found ways to tune out their lessons.First, this study was not conducted with children. The average age of a college sophomore is 19-21. Using U.S. law as a standard, this past the legal age of adults. Unless this study is duplicated in a setting of K-12 then these conclusions cannot be applied to children.

Second, the teaching methodology of the college professor was not discussed in great detail, but from what I gathered this was mostly a lecture/discussion with technology use being optional but not required. In my experience, technology without a purpose can be a huge hindrance to learning and often can lead to a distraction. The same can be said with a pencil and paper. Students can doodle and drown out a lecture just as easily as browsing social media.

Lastly, the study notes in its conclusion that the study does not indicate that all computer use in the classroom is bad. It seems that either the blog author skimmed over this before drawing the conclusions listed in the article. Here is an excerpt from the study.

From the study conclusions
Further, it was beyond the scope of our study to identify how computer and tablet access lowered test scores. Was it because students’ note-taking was worse? Were students distracted by e-mail, social media, or other websites? Did instructors teach differently when students were on their computers? As computers in the classroom become more prevalent, research focusing on these areas is clearly necessary.
I do agree with the blog author  that this study should give teachers pause to think before blindly adding technology to lessons. As with any tool, technology in a lesson with no purpose is dangerous to the learning environment. I personally like to think that most educators are aware of this point, but case studies like this one are a great reminder of why we use technology in our classroom.

My big concern is that today's frenzied enthusiasm for computer-assisted "personalized learning" will lead us to heedlessly charge into some all-too-predictable pitfalls, fueling one more cycle of ed tech faddism and disappointment. Here's hoping the champions of ed tech instead give findings like these the attention and reflection they deserve.
Link to Education Next Article on the Study


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