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As a fourth year doctoral candidate, in addition to having completed comprehensive examinations and prospectus and working on the dissertation, my thoughts are also turning towards the job market and securing that first academic position. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle the trials and tribulations of completing my Ph.D. and finding that first job.

Monday, June 06, 2005

How computers make our kids stupid

I was scanning Darren Cannell's Teaching and Developing Online, which usually serves as sources of inspiration for my entries on my Virtual High School Meanderings blog, and came across this entry "How Computers Make Our Kids Stupid". Anyway, the entry made reference to an article that appeared in the June 06, 2005 edition of Maclean's.ca entitled "How computers make our kids stupid: There's growing evidence that too much cyber-time dumbs down our children" by Sue Ferguson (see - http://www.macleans.ca/topstories/education/article.jsp?content=20050606_106930_106930).

Ferguson describes how

It's never been easier for kids to get their fingertips on a keyboard or to cruise cyberspace. Statistics Canada reports three out of four households with school-aged children regularly access the Internet, and a growing number of users are turning to high-speed connections. Our schools now have about a million computers, 93 per cent of which are online. Although we already boast a 5:1 ratio of students to computers (compared to an average of 8:1 in the developed world as a whole), the push is on in many districts to equip each middle- and high-school student with a wireless laptop. With homes and classrooms crawling with mouses and modems, anyone resisting the digital impulse seems either hopelessly naive or in a state of downright denial.
With this reality, it seems that we have a growing body of evidence that is starting to suggest that this may not be the best for today's students and their learning. While I don't have the citations handy, there was a study or two that came out of Britain recently that suggested that students using computers performed lower on standardized tests than students not using computers. Granted, I have to wonder about these types of studies, as it seems to me that teaching with technology is inherently different than teaching without technology and would thus make any control group suspect - but that's probably a topic for another entry.

Something that is slightly more convincing to me, however, was the study reported by Ferguson in this article. It didn't deal with experiment and control groups, but looked at student performance and their reported behaviours outside of school.

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence for taking a more critical view is a broad-reaching and rigorous study published last November. University of Munich economists Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann analyzed the results of the OECD's PISA international standardized tests. Not only did they tap into a massive subject pool -- 174,000 15-year-olds in reading, 97,000 each in math and science from 31 countries (including Canada) -- but they were also able, because participants filled out extensively detailed surveys, to control for other possible outside influences, something remarkably few studies do. Their results, which are only now starting to make waves among pedagogy experts, confirm what many parents have long intuited: the sheer ubiquity of information technology is getting in the way of learning. Once household income and the wealth of a school's resources are taken out of the equation, teens with the greatest access to computers and the Internet at home and school earn the lowest test scores.
With this type of information, I'm wondering if people like Larry Cuban and Todd Oppenheimer may be right... Maybe using technology in the formal schooling environment isn't the way to go? Or maybe the way that we use technology in the schools isn't effective based upon how we are using that technology (see my entry at Virtual High School Meanderings on Do Today's Students Think Differently? for more on this thought)?

So, which way does this equation run? Is it the technology that is failing us? Or is it that the way kids learn these days is just different and formal schooling, with or without technology, has yet to catch up?

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