"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Computers and Learning

When I helped elementary schools in Paete, Laguna acquire computers for their classrooms, my main objective then was to provide access to the internet. It is true that computers in classrooms are required to teach students on how to use word processors and spreadsheets, and create publications and slide presentations. However, I am not quite sure if these skills are in fact appropriate for the early years of education when children are just starting to learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide, as well as how to read and write. Pupils in the elementary years can still work with pencils, crayons, scissors and paper. And there is so much to learn even with these simple tools. The internet, on the other hand, is unique, in terms of the learning resources it provides. There are children books that are online. There are educational videos available with just a click on a mouse. More importantly, the internet is a place where teachers can share and learn from each other. With smart phones, the computer may not even be essential at this point if the purpose is accessing resources on the web.

Still, similar to the lingering myth of "learning styles", there is the belief that computers can enhance learning. And yes, perhaps, technology can, but it is probably in a way so different from what most people think it can. Enyedy of UCLA recently authored a research brief for the National Education Policy Center: ("Briefs published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) are blind peer-reviewed by members of its Editorial Review Board.")


The first paragraph alone of the executive summary is quite loaded and should be taken seriously:
There has been a renewed interest in and enthusiasm for online learning and computerized instruction. One gets a sense of déjà vu when reading today’s educational blogs and policy documents, which are recycling the same arguments for computerized instruction that appeared in the 1980s. But in the more than 30 years since the personal computer and computer-assisted instruction entered K-12 education, not much has changed. Computers are now commonplace in the classroom, but teaching practices often look similar, as do learning outcomes. This raises two questions: What has changed to get people excited about online learning? And is this revival of enthusiasm warranted?
In a simpler graphic manner, the research brief above summarizes what research has found with regard to how much computers have contributed to basic education:


Yes, it is a big fat zero. It is quite ironic and perhaps hard to believe especially with all the excitement that often comes with technology entering the classroom. Unfortunately, the reason why Enyedy thinks that technology has not really catalyzed a dramatic change in education is that computers have just replaced and not really transformed teaching and learning:


Enyedy therefore starts with the assumption that there is something wrong with the following formula of teaching: "I, we, you, where the teacher tells the student something, followed by a worked-out example gone over together, and ending with independent student practice."  There is ample research out there that shows that direct instruction, worked examples, and problem solving are in fact the most effective ways of teaching and learning. The real reason why computers have yet to contribute significantly to learning outcomes is that the computer has not enhanced the traditional way by which we teach and learn. My opinion is that the transformative role computers may play is facilitating the communication between teacher and a student, and among themselves. Concept mapping or tools that help teachers identify where a student is and thereby guides both teacher and pupil on what to do is definitely one area technology can enhance learning in the classroom. Teachers still need to reach out and learn that there are resources on the web shared by excellent educators.

Enyedy does provide a good overview of research that tackles the question of how computers have contributed to instructional efficacy. Most studies do attribute no gain in learning outcomes except for one: blended instruction, which combines online and face-to-face instruction. With this brief, Enyedy correctly reminds us to be especially wary of the "snake oil salesman" who touts the coming computers' (now it's the tablet or smartphone) revolution in education.




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