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Another Study On Schools Providing Students Home Computers Finds The Obvious Results

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Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren is the title of a new study finding that schools providing computers to students for home use resulted in no academic gains:

Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other “intermediate” inputs in education.

The researchers provided computers to over 1,000 students and compared their academic results with those of another thousand in a control group (to the researcher’s credit, the students in the control group also received free computers at the end of the year-long study). The summary of the study is available for free, but you have to pay five dollars for the entire paper (which I did).

As I have stated on numerous occasions, I’m no believer in technology as a panacea. However, as I’ve previously stated in critiques of papers like these (My “Take” On Recent Study Saying Home Computer Usage Can Lead To Lower Test Scores), I believe researchers are really missing the boat.

Here’s what I wrote in that previous post:

I’ve always had questions about programs that give home computers to households with minimal training or accountability. Our school’s family literacy project of providing computers and home internet access to immigrant families resulted in huge academic gains because it combined training for parents and students and weekly monitoring and accountability. Without training or accountability, it doesn’t seem to me that schools should put much effort into getting technology into the hands of students at home.

And there are many other ways the idea of training and accountability can be implemented. I spent time showing students plenty of potentially engaging ways they can use the Internet at home to gain extra credit (since a sizable number didn’t have it at home I really couldn’t require it as an assignment and, instead, they had other ways to get extra credit), and many do so. Though I’m not that familiar with one-to-one laptop programs, I assume the training and accountability are integral to their operation — at least, in the ones that work.

Of course, students, parents, and teachers need to receive training to make all this work.

So, of course the researchers got the results they did. It would have been more useful if they had compared a control group without computers with a group that had that kind of support and accountability, which is what we did (you can read more about it at The Best Resources For Learning About Schools Providing Home Computers & Internet Access To Students.

It’s not clear in the study if individual classes were divided into halves, with one half receiving computers and the other not. I’m assuming that was the case, which even reinforces how obvious the results were going to be — teachers then couldn’t incorporate lessons that the whole class could do at home.

I sometimes wonder how much consultation researchers do with educators to help determine how useful a study would be before it’s done….

Thanks to Morgan Polikoff for the tip on the study.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. ‘Though I’m not that familiar with one-to-one laptop programs, I assume the training and accountability are integral to their operation’ – you would hope.

    Not sure if you are aware but Australian had the Australian Digital Revolution which provided funds for every high school student from year 10 to 12 to have a one to one device (paid for both public school and private school kids). Each school was provided the same funds per device and were left to make decisions on what was purchased, how they were managed and the level of teacher training.

    Most schools gave the students the devices which they took home each night; high breakage and issues was a problem for most.

    Now in my son’s second year of the program he has gone from having his own device that he took home to the school taking all devices back and having sets that teachers have to request to use. Last year they used the devices this year they hardily ever use. Did access change teaching practise? Not from what I observed; they just replaced writing notes to using MS products and better access to Google.

    Could it have worked? I’m sure it has at some schools but it really needs a clear focus on what you are trying to achieve supported by good training of teachers and thinking of the needs and support of students.

    Lol my anti spam word is bed blurb as I type my food for thought in this comment.

    • Sue,

      I suspect that there are all too many similar stories in schools around the United States.

      By the way, why do YOU have to use the spam word? I guarantee approval of any comment you ever leave :)

      Larry

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