For years educators and scholars have debated whether technology aids learning or inhibits it.
In the most recent issue of Education Next, for example, Susan Payne Carter, Kyle Greenberg, and Michael S. Walker write about their research finding that allowing any computer usage in the classroom “reduces students’ average final-exam performance by roughly one-fifth of a standard deviation.” Other studies have shown similarly dismal numbers for student learning when technology is introduced in the classroom.
Yet there are also bright shining stars of technology use—both in proof points and in studies, such as this Ithaka study or this U.S. Department of Education 2010 meta-analysis.
So what gives? Since 2008 I’ve, perhaps conveniently, argued that scholars and advocates on both sides of this debate are correct. As we wrote in Disrupting Class in 2008, computers had been around for two decades. Even 10 years ago, we had already spent over $60 billion on them in K–12 schools in the United States to little effect. The reason quite simply was that when we crammed computers into existing learning models, they produced begrudging or negative results. To take a higher education example, when I was a student at the Harvard Business School, far fewer of us paid attention to the case discussion on the couple days at the end of the term when laptops were allowed, as we chose to instead chat online and coordinate evening plans. In that context, I would ban laptops, too.