Students, computers and learning - making the connection

Students, computers and learning: making the connection is the latest 2015 OECD report from PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment)

Do computers in schools support student learning - or not? This was the question raised on national news reports on 16 September, the day after the latest international PISA study was released by the OECD.

Selective quotes from the report stated that “frequent use of computers in schools was more likely to be associated with lower results.” What’s more,“education systems which had invested heavily in information and communications technology had seen ‘no noticeable improvement’ in PISA test results for reading, mathematics or science… Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results.” – Classroom technology fails knowledge test (a BBC report aired by Radio New Zealand)

What was your first reaction on hearing this news report?

Such statements sound startling, and unexpected – but let’s look more closely at when this study took place, and what it found.

The OECD report, Students, computers and learning: making the connection, analyses results of a 2012 research project investigating computer availability and use in schools and at home by 15-year-old students, across some 70 OECD countries.  New Zealand is in there.

The evidence certainly shows that more time online does not equate to better learning. It also shows that the skills that underpin digital literacy need to be taught, so that students are able to find and critically evaluate online information.  Time online in and of itself may well be time poorly focused and unproductive. It also shows that literacy (as in reading) is as essential as digital literacy.

Scroll through this great infographic which summarises the findings of the report in a very accessible way.

So, how did they generate the data? “PISA 2012 created a simulated browser environment…in order to assess not only students’ reading performance, but also their web-browsing behaviour. Not surprisingly, the report finds that it is not possible for students to excel in online reading without being able to understand and draw correct inferences from print texts too.” Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and skills, OECD (blog post, ‘Students, computers and learning: where’s the connection?’ in EducationToday: global perspectives on education and skills.

In countries where students demonstrated high quality web-browsing behaviour, they were able to decide on which links to follow before clicking on them, and follow relevant links until they could solve the given reading problem.  By contrast, in countries where students showed far lower level skills, one in five students were far less focused, visited more task-irrelevant pages than task-relevant ones, and were described as being ‘digitally adrift’. 

Here’s a slideshare illustrating some of the findings.

Schleicher warns that “students who have not acquired basic skills in reading, writing and navigating through a digital landscape will find themselves dangerously disconnected from the economic, social and cultural life around them.”

At the time this research was conducted (2012) 96% of students surveyed had computers at home, sometimes several. Only 72% reported they had access to a computer at school.

In NZ, initiatives such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) were in their infancy. The Ministry of Education’s 2006-2010 e-Learning Action Plan, Enabling the 21st Century learner, and subsequent e-Learning Strategy, have led to huge strides in teacher and student use of ICTs to support learning.

Those of us who’ve observed student search strategies would be first to agree that there’s plenty of room for improvement, and digital literacy is a huge area for further attention. 

This PISA report undoubtedly makes many interesting points. But 4 years is a long time in this context.  The education environment continues to evolve, MLEs and BYOD initiatives are creating new opportunities for teaching and learning, and ICTs play an integral role.

Claire Amos, DP at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, blogged in response to the PISA report and the media reporting: "What does concern me is that the vast majority of the reporting is misleading and completely overlooking the real value of tech in the classroom." Integrating the use of technologies into teaching and learning is essential - and its purpose is not merely to improve test scores. Claire says: "the way this report has been summed up by most news agencies really does miss the point about why it is is so very important that tech is integrated (effectively) into teaching and learning across the board. The advantages of tech integration is rich and varied. Most importantly it is about providing young people to the opportunity to develop the skills they will need to thrive in the 21st Century. There are many reasons for integrating tech (which have little to do with test results) and quite frankly if we ignore these we potentially short change an entire generation of young people."

Take a look at the findings, and let us know what you think.


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