Do students learn better with technology?

by Steve Randall16 Sep 2015
In developed countries many schools have embraced the use of technology in lessons but a new report questions whether the investment warrants the returns.

The Organisation for Co-Operation and Development (OECD) says that schools are failing to take advantage of technology to tackle the digital divide and provide students with the skills they need in the connected world.

In fact, the report has revealed some interesting findings and reaches a conclusion that overall the focus should be on the quality of reading and maths skills, which will create more equal opportunities for students than access to high-tech devices.

Over the past 10 years, the report shows that there has been no appreciable improvement in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science, on average, in countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education.

In 2012, in the vast majority of countries, students who used computers moderately at school had somewhat better learning outcomes than students who used computers rarely; but students who used computers very frequently at school did a lot worse, even after accounting for the students’ socio-economic status.

In Australia, using 2012 data, the OECD found that students have access to computers that is greater than much of the world with 93.7 per cent of students using them at school; 80.8 per cent also used devices for homework. Regardless of socio-economic status, students in Australia spend about 2 hours and 30 minutes on line every weekend day, on average – more than the OECD average.

Students in Australia perform significantly above the OECD average in digital reading (521 points on the PISA digital reading scale). However this was not the case in most countries suggesting that Australian schools are developing online reading skills through targeted practice.

Mean performance in Australia is above the OECD average in the computer-based assessment of mathematics (508 points on the PISA mathematics scale). Furthermore, fifteen-year-old students perform slightly better in this assessment when tasks require them to actually use the computer to solve a mathematics problem, such as sorting data or creating a chart, than when the computer only serves as a means to enter an answer.

The study shows that simply adding technology to classrooms is not in itself effective; and can have a negative effect if it is not correctly used. It would seem that a balance between using effective teaching methods complemented by technology where appropriate could bring the best overall results.