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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Computers harm learning: German study

Excessive use of them, that is. The study, about the impact of computer use on students' math and reading performance, was huge: It surveyed 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries. It found that their performance in reading and math "had suffered significantly among students who have more than one computer at home," the Christian Science Monitor reports. "And while students seemed to benefit from limited use of computers at school," those who used them there several times a week experienced a significant performance decline in school too. On the other hand, the researchers "also studied the effects of computer use on test scores, and found that greater use of computers in the home impacted positively on test scores," The Register reported. The key problems cited by the University of Munich study's lead researcher, Ludger Woessmann, were overuse of computers and using them to replace "other kinds of teaching," according to the Monitor.

Reactions to the study were, predictably, mixed. Some educators felt the findings show how ed-tech research has come to resemble "conventional wisdom about weight loss, which seems to shift with the tide," the Monitor reports. Others see a "maturing debate," from either total rejection or blind faith in tech to better appreciation of where and how technology is useful in education. The Monitor cites journalist Todd Oppenheimer's survey of research in this field for his 2003 book, "The Flickering Mind," which found that "the most thorough studies have found computers to have little effect either way, although some guiding principles are beginning to emerge." Besides it sheer size and breadth, the other distinguishing factor about the study was its effort "to isolate computers as a performance-shaping factor," the Monitor says. My takeaway: Now that we're settling on a less starry-eyed, more balanced view of tech in the classroom, maybe we can get on with what's much more important: helping our kids develop critical thinking about how they use technology and what they find on the Web.

This news could be another bulleted item in my feature last week, "Family PC: Backlash coming?". Here's a 10/03 Monitor review of "The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom," when it was published by Random House last year.


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