Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When learning drives the use of technology

A little over a year ago, I looked at John Hattie's meta-analysis about the impact of technology on achievement.  As mentioned in that post about the value of technology, I used to work in a school where the Director told parents that there was no evidence that technology improves learning.  He brought in a consultant, Aric Sigman, to tell parents and students that using technology would make them sad and isolated - in fact one claim to fame Dr Sigman had was to publish an article in the Daily Mail about how Facebook can cause cancer! Thankfully I don't have to deal with this nonsense any more, but I'm always curious to read studies that look at the results of research about the impact that technology does have on learning.

This week, following a discussion of Facebook, I read the article Learning in One-to-One Laptop Environments: A Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis that was published in February this year by Binbin Zheng, Mark Warschauer, Chin-Hsi Lin and Chi Chang from Michigan State University and the University of California, Irvine.  The conclusions of this analysis were that the role of computers is marginal when they are scattered in small numbers throughout schools, but that when each student has access to an individual laptop, the effects of technology on learning are likely to be felt.  As well as this, the report concluded that teachers' attitudes and beliefs, school leadership, classroom management strategies, technical support and ongoing PD all play an important role in the success of a 1:1 laptop programme.

The meta-analysis looks at studies in 5 different subject areas:  English, reading, writing, maths and science.  Several of these studies show that the impact of laptops on student scores occurs after the second year of implementation.  Often in the first year teachers and students need to adapt to a new style of teaching and learning.  The following results were shown:

  • English Language Arts scores were improved among students in both a partial and full laptop programme, compared with non-laptop peers.  Interestingly students who use their computers at home for recreation tend to have higher scores (though this effect diminished when socio-economic status was included in the analysis).
  • In reading, the use of technology for home learning strongly predicted students' reading achievement.  Those who use computers more frequently at home have higher scores.
  • There was a significant impact on students' writing performance when using laptops, both in the area of ideas and content, and organization and style.  There was no impact on writing conventions.  Some studies showed that at-risk students using laptops experienced significantly higher writing score gains than those students who were not at risk.
  • In maths laptop students outperformed non-laptop students on computer based assessments, though there was no difference on paper-based assessments.  More frequent laptop use in the classroom tends to result in higher maths scores for students. 
  • In science laptops were shown to have a positive effect on middle school students' achievements.  Both girls and boys benefitted from this, though the impact on girls was smaller. Again, a more frequent use of laptops was shown to have a greater impact on science test scores than students who reported less frequent use.
The analysis also looked at teaching and learning processes.  In general writing and editing, and gathering information from the Internet were the most common uses of laptops.  Other frequent uses included taking notes, organizing information, completing assignments and homework, reading on electronic textbooks and conducting research.  Many studies reported a change towards a more student centred or individualized learning environment, and that students had more control over their learning paths.  Several studies also showed that laptops fostered more project-based learning.

In classes where all students had laptops, students were found to write more, receive more feedback on their writing, edit and revise their work more often, and draw on a wider range of resources to write, publish and share their work with others more often.  It was also noticed that there were improvements in teacher-student and home-school relationships through the use of communication tools such as email and Google Docs.  Parents were reported as having more involvement with their children's schoolwork and homework after 1 year of implementing of a 1:1 laptop programme.

Students had positive attitudes regarding the effects of laptop programmes on their learning, with a high percentage of students indicating they preferred learning with laptops.  Many studies report higher student engagement, motivation and persistence in 1:1 environments.

Teachers beliefs and approaches are of course crucial to the effective integration of technology in teaching and learning.  Although many teachers expressed initial concerns, these were mostly about their own limited technology skills, lack of tech support, or fear of losing control of the classroom.  Some teachers do experience difficulties creating an environment where the learning drives the use of technology.  The meta-analysis shows that teachers who reacted negatively to the introduction of 1:1 programmes were those who had ill-planned PD.  When training and support were provided teachers became more confident of their ability to solve technical issues and integrate technology into their instruction.  Most studies showed that after a year of use, teachers generally had very positive attitudes towards laptop programmes.

Many studies showed laptop environments promoted learning autonomy, improved collaboration skills and the ability to independently organize their schoolwork.  They also showed that laptops were used extensively for problem-solving tasks, leading to enhanced problem-solving abilities in students.  The reason for this was an increase in research and project-based activities where students used technology to find information, identify approaches to solve problems and present their results to others.  There was wide consensus that the use of laptops promotes 21st century learning skills.

The conclusion of this meta-analysis is that laptops are leading to significantly increased academic achievements in science, writing, math and English, and that they lead to more student-centred and individualized instruction.   The really important thing is that the biggest gains happen when it is the learning that drives the use of technology - and not the other way round.

Photo Credit: ~ l i t t l e F I R E ~ via Compfight cc

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I have been reading your post for a while now and I really like it. Keep up the good work!