Computers impact teaching both positively and negatively
Using computers in the classroom does not lead to an i mprovement in the average performance of students in math and science, according to a recent study by the Ifo Institute.
“But the average result masks the fact that the use of computers has opposing effects in different areas”, said Ludger Woessmann, Director of the Ifo Center for the Economics of Education.
“If computers are used to look up ideas and information student outcomes improve; but using computers to practice skills reduces student achievement,” he explained. The Ifo Institute’s study covers the math and science achievement of over 400,000 students in fourth and eighth grade from over 50 countries on the TIMSS international student achievement test.
“The overall ‘null effect’ is sobering, but frequently proven”, noted Woessmann. “What is new about our results is that this null effect arises from a combination of positive and negative partial effects,” he explained. If computers were to be used more to search for information and less for practicing skills, computers could be used far more effectively in classrooms and with better results.
“Many proponents hope that computer-assisted instruction will constitute a technological breakthrough that will fundamentally revolutionise education,” said Woessmann.
“Our findings show that a qualitative improvement in teaching will only occur if we focus on using computers for specific activities where this makes sense and creates real added value.”
However, “its potential effects on the ability to use computers are not investigated,” noted Oliver Falck, Director of the Ifo Center for Industrial Organisation and New Technologies. “Our results are based on how student achievement in traditional school subjects is affected.”
These results are important because a lot of money is being invested in equipping schools with computers and internet access. Proponents hope that computerassisted teaching methods that replace traditional, lecture-style teaching will lead to significant improvements in student achievement. A possible interpretation of the new findings is that using computers for practicing skills takes up time that could be more effectively spent on traditional teaching methods.
By contrast, teaching time appears to be used relatively productively if computers are used to search for information and ideas.