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Reviews | Screens are everywhere in schools. Do they really help children learn?

A few weeks ago, a parent who lives in Texas asked me how much my kids were using screens to do their homework in class. She wasn’t talking about personal devices. (Smartwatches and smartphones are banned in my children’s schools during the school day, which I’m very happy about; I find any argument for allowing these devices in the classroom ridiculous.) No, this parent was talking of screens which are school. sanctioned, such as iPads and Chromebooks issued to children individually for educational activities.

I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t answer his question because I had never asked it or even thought about asking it. Partly because the Covid-19 era made screens imperative in an instant — as one edtech executive told my colleague Natasha Singer in 2021, the pandemic “accelerated the adoption of technology in education.” ‘education of five to ten years easily’. In the early Covid years, when my oldest daughter started using a Chromebook to do homework in second and third grade, I was mostly relieved that she had excellent teachers and seemed to be learning what she had need to know. By the time she was in fifth grade and the world had returned to normal, I knew she took her laptop to school for class assignments, but I never asked for details about how the devices were in use. I implicitly trusted his teachers and his school.

In New York State, education technology is often cited as an equity issue – and for good reason: At home, less privileged children may not have access to personal devices and the internet broadband that would allow them to accomplish their digital homework. But in our learn-to-code society, in which computer skills are seen as a meal ticket and the humanities as a ticket to unemployment, there seems to be less debate about whether there is or not ways to learn to code. many screens in our children’s daily educational environment, beyond lessons specifically focused on technology. I’ve rarely heard details about what these screens add to our children’s literacy, math, science, or history skills.

And screens really are everywhere. For example, according to 2022 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about 8% of public school eighth graders reported that their math teachers “never or almost never” used computers or tools. digital devices to teach math, 37% said their math teachers used this technology half or more than half the time, and 44% said their math teachers used this technology all or most of the time time.

As is often the case with rapid change, “the speed at which new technologies and new intervention models are coming to market has far exceeded the ability of policy researchers to keep up with their evaluation,” according to a dazzling and in-depth study of education research. technology by Maya Escueta, Andre Joshua Nickow, Philip Oreopoulos and Vincent Quan published in The Journal of Economic Literature in 2020.

Despite the relative lack of research, particularly on the use of technology in the classroom, Escueta and his co-authors have compiled “a comprehensive list of all publicly available studies on technology-based educational interventions that report results of studies following one or the other of the two research models. , randomized controlled trials or regression designs with discontinuity.

They found that increasing access to devices did not always lead to positive academic outcomes. In some cases, this only increased the amount of time kids spent on their devices playing games. They wrote: “We found that simply providing students with access to technology yields largely mixed results. At the K-12 level, much experimental evidence suggests that giving a child a computer may have limited impacts on learning outcomes but generally improves computer skills and other cognitive outcomes.

Some of the most promising research focuses on computer-assisted learning, which researchers have defined as “computer programs and other software applications designed to improve academic skills.” They cited a 2016 randomized study of 2,850 Maine seventh-grade math students who used an online homework tool. The authors of this study “found that the program improved the mathematics achievement of treatment students by 0.18 standard deviations. This impact is particularly notable, given that treatment students used the program an average of less than 10 minutes per night, three to four evenings per week,” according to Escueta and his co-authors.

They also explained that in the classroom, computer programs can help teachers meet the needs of students at different levels, because “when faced with a wide range of student abilities, teachers often end up teaching the curriculum basic and adapt the teaching to the intermediate level. class.” They found that a good program could also help provide individual attention and develop skills for children at lower and higher levels. There are computer-based reading comprehension programs that have shown similar positive results in Anecdotally, my oldest daughter practices her Spanish skills using an app and writes Spanish vocabulary words by hand on index cards. The combination seems to work well for her.

Although their study was published in 2020, before data on our large distance learning experiment was available, Escueta and his co-authors found that fully online distance learning did not work as well as hybrid or in-person school. I called Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, who said that in light of previous studies “and what we’re beginning to understand about the long-term effects of the pandemic on learning, this highlights for me that there is a social dimension to learning that we ignore at our peril. And I think technology can often take that away.

Yet Dee summed up the whole educational technology topic for me this way: “I don’t want to be black and white on this. I think there are some really positive things that come from technology. But he added that these were “meaningful supports at the margins, not fundamental changes to how people learn.”

I would add that the implementation of any technology is also very important; any teaching tool can be great or horrible, depending on how it is used.

I am neither a technology evangelist nor a Luddite. (Though I haven’t even discussed the potential implications of classroom teaching with artificial intelligence, a technology that in other contexts has considerable destructive potential.) What I want is the most effective educational experience for all children.

Because there is such a backlog in data and a lack of granularity in the information we have, I want to hear from my readers: If you are a teacher or parent of a current K-12 student , I want to know how you and they use technology – the good and the bad. Please fill out the questionnaire below and let me know. I may contact you for a more in-depth conversation.

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