Give Computers to Students: Good, Give Computers to Teachers: Even Better!

To answer the question of how much technology has influenced education is a difficult task. Technology has changed dramatically especially with the internet. Thus, studies over the past years may already involved widely different software, platforms and content. The task to measure the effectiveness of using technology inside the classroom is therefore particularly daunting especially if the objective is to pinpoint specifically what aspects of technology really help learning inside the classroom.

In 2011, a team of researchers from Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University and Concordia University took the task of performing a meta-analysis on studies on the impact of technology on learning during the past four decades. Their work, "What Forty Years of Research Says About the Impact of Technology on Learning: A Second-Order Meta-Analysis and Validation Study", is published in the Review of Educational Research. The abstract of this study is the following:

This research study employs a second-order meta-analysis procedure to summarize 40 years of research activity addressing the question, does computer technology use affect student achievement in formal face-to-face classrooms as compared to classrooms that do not use technology? A study-level meta-analytic validation was also conducted for purposes of comparison. An extensive literature search and a systematic review process resulted in the inclusion of 25 meta-analyses with minimal overlap in primary literature, encompassing 1,055 primary studies. The random effects mean effect size of 0.35 was significantly different from zero. The distribution was heterogeneous under the fixed effects model. To validate the second-order meta-analysis, 574 individual independent effect sizes were extracted from 13 out of the 25 meta-analyses. The mean effect size was 0.33 under the random effects model, and the distribution was heterogeneous. Insights about the state of the field, implications for technology use, and prospects for future research are discussed.
The effect size (0.35) is moderate, which supports the use of technology inside the classroom. A similar study has been made by the United States Department of Education. The Department of Education study, "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies", has the following abstract:

A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size. As a result of this screening, 50 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).
To make sense out of these two studies, the research and evaluation team in the Office of Information Technology at the University of Minnesota have provided a short but insightful commentary on these two studies. In this commentary, it is pointed out that over the years the divide between classrooms with and without technology is perhaps no longer useful. What is more enlightening is to figure out which technological adaptations really work. Within the data that have been collected over the past decades, one important thing to note is that with regard to the type of applications, researchers have found that applications that assist instruction have a greater significant effect than those applications that simply deliver instruction. With society today, there is always the emphasis of providing students with either personal computers, laptops or IPads. The research, however, shows that although these may be good philanthropic actions, what could affect learning in the classrooms more is making sure that every teacher has these technology tools. Anya Kamenetz of The Hechinger Report smartly summarizes this finding:

"In other words: student with laptop, pretty good; teacher with laptop, even better."

Elementary school teachers in Paete, Laguna exploring the internet

Along this line, I would like to share an open letter that I wrote in December of 2005, This was addressed to the people of Paete, Laguna, Philippines:
Important message regarding my vision on PAETEch
75% of elementary school graduates cannot read. It is a number that
we cannot ignore....

The summer visit I made was really focused on meeting with the teachers of the schools. The introduction of computer classrooms into the schools can have both positive and negative effects depending on how we use them. The article that I wrote in the Star describes the ways through which Paete may benefit from technology.

The primary objective I had last summer was to bring the technology to the teachers. We cannot afford to bring a computer to each student and I personally do not believe that having one computer per student is a good thing. I also do not subscribe too much on students spending too much time on the computer. For the people who have shared the time I spent in Paete, you would perhaps notice that during the day, I spent most of it with the teachers and parents. There is a reason behind this focus. The computers, in my opinion, could be of greater and better use, if they are tapped to enrich and help instruction. For this reason, I decided during my visit to provide multimedia capability to all the schools. In all of my lectures, what I was trying to do is to illustrate that we, teachers, can utilize technology to help ourselves in teaching inside the classrooms.

The computers do provide educational games and some virtual adventures for the kids. In a way, this is technology trying to respond to the shortage of textbook and other learning materials. However, as I mentioned in my lectures, computers are no subsititute for the games and social experiences that Paetenian kids need to experience. Kids should remain in touch with the real world. They should still play in the streets and the playgrounds of Paete.

The Science Lessons postings in the forum are really addressed to the teachers. The materials in Batang Paete are really designed for the teachers. Teachers are needed to navigate through these websites - kids will not learn by going through them by themselves. The computer classrooms are not meant for independent study - that style will likely fail in elementary education. The children need supervision and guidance as they walk through these websites. That is why I thought the multimedia projector was a must. It is the piece of equipment required so that the kids learn from the web through the mouse controlled by the teacher not by the student. It was the piece of equipment that allowed me to communicate my ideas to the teachers and parents who attended my lectures.

These do require additional effort from the teacher. However, the technology should make it easier to prepare and retrieve the materials. The additional effort lies in the time and energy that need to be devoted in getting acquainted and reading these materials. But true teaching requires that - a daily training. First, we cannot stand still if we are teachers. Secondly, we cannot teach if we ourselves are not willing to learn new things. How can we convince a child who does not know how to read that learning to read is good?

We may take reading for granted but for any child who does not know how to read - it is a new thing. And if we cannot push our own selves to learn something new - how could we serve as good role models for our students. In our classrooms, we need to keep in mind that we are forcing our students to learn something new. And they need to see that we are doing the same - eager and willing to expand our own knowledge.

75% not being able to read is a significant number. In my class, if three out of every four students fail, that will force me to pause. I would have no one to blame, no other circumstances to blame, but myself. I failed. Lack of classrooms, lack of textbook - these can all contribute. But there is only one factor that can guarantee such a dismal failure - a poor teacher.