In September, the release of an OECD report - Students, Learning, and Computers, added some fuel to the media fire, when it discovered that that high use of digital technologies had a co-relational detrimental effect on PISA test outcomes for 15 year old students in the PISA tests, (research based on 2009 - 2012 PISA test results). Media frenzy, like sharks at the scent of blood in the water, erupted across the world. So we spent all this money on computers and they have a detrimental effect on students?
In short, the answer is yes. However, there is more than meets the eye to this story. If you buy a whole lot of computers and do not spend time investing in changing the way teachers teach, then you have wasted your money.
Innovative teachers in New Zealand have blogged more thoughtful responses about this in great detail, like this blog from Claire Amos. Greg Carroll's comments in the NZ Primary Teachers facebook group pretty much summed up my own thoughts. He said "Read the ACTUAL report. (Rather than the media reports) Even the first 3-4 pages of introduction and the Exec summary. The big point this study makes is about the importance of pedagogy .... like with any tool it is what teachers do with it that matters! Media spin is profoundly unhelpful .... the need for teachers to be effective makes a way less sexy headline than technology being a waste of time and kids failing."
I have spent a bit more time reviewing the report and watching an interview of Andreas Schleicher (head of the PISA assessment organisation) through this webinar. Mr Schleicher is a concise, measured speaker and I have enjoyed listening to him on many occasions. His quote at the end of the webinar - "without data, you are just another person with an opinion" is a useful thing to remember.
The data that PISA has gathered shows a link between screen-time and poor performance in the PISA tests. It also shows that the average amount of screen time that New Zealand 15 year old students were spending in school time was 29 minutes per day. Most student screentime ( on average, 4- 5 times that amount) was spent at home. And, disturbingly, 27% of NZ 15 year olds are spending more than 4 hours online at home. My suspicion is that students who spend a lot of screentime hours at home are chatting, using social media and/or gaming. No surprises that these are the students with poorer PISA outcomes. But without data to support my suspicion, I am just another person with an opinion.
Let's go back to the 29 minutes of computer time in school. What were the students doing during this time? Mainly browsing the internet, but also some communication with other students, a bit of homework, downloading and uploading to the school website, using email, practice drilling, chatting and a tiny 10% of students engaged in play simulation. Hardly inspiring stuff!
The OECD report also showed that while the majority of secondary teachers believe in 21st century pedagogy, much fewer actually practise what they preach. I suspect, again, that many NZ teachers are too focused on raising NCEA achievement to be motivated to spend time investigating how they could be changing their pedagogy.
Which brings me to another item that I read in the Rotorua paper yesterday where a primary school principal is attributed by Rotorua Daily Post reporter Stephanie Arthur-Worsop as having "groundbreaking ideas about digital technologies....". The principal is questioning what effect technology really had on learning and so she should!
The questions the principal is reported to have asked and answered were - "Has it closed the rich poor gap? No. Has it improved maths and English outcomes? No. Has it improved student achievement? No. What does improve all those things is effective teaching".
I wonder where her data on primary aged students is coming from?
The principal goes on to be reported as saying that "reseach is coming through which has found technology to be causing real problems, not just for students but teachers as well. It's a distraction and results in students feeling isolated and lonely." I suspect this statement partly alluded to the OECD report showing that 15 year old students who spend 4 to 6 hours on the internet at home often feel very lonely at school.
OMGoodness! I hope that the principals' group in Rotorua spent a bit more time going through the data from the OECD report in a bit more detail and actually getting out of the report the conclusions that Andreas Schleicher and his team intended, rather than the supposedly "groundbreaking" new ideas reported in the Rotorua Daily Post.
Here are the principal's reported new ideas:-
- Human contact in class is critical
- Parental guidance with homework is still needed
- Digital tools, if unbalanced, are isolating and ineffective
- Classes should have a mix of standing and sitting desks
- Collaboration is possible in a competitive education model.
Jan-Marie Kellow, a colleague of mine, had this to say about the Rotorua Daily Post article, in the NZ Primary Teachers facebook group.
" I don't think any of the "new ideas" are actually new. Any tool used poorly without a sound pedagogical basis will be ineffective or even damaging. I have seen the effects of digital technology used well and the results are amazing. Far from isolating students it connects them globally and the creative results can be awesome and empowering.
As for sitting for long periods, this is certainly not new, just take a look at pictures of classrooms taken in the past, sitting for long periods was certainly the norm then. I would argue that in modern collaborative, innovative classrooms there is a lot less sitting than there ever was in the past. And having devices in a classroom does not mean you can't go outside for PE or sports."
I go back now to Andreas Schleicher's words. Just putting computers into classrooms does not improve outcomes. Investment in technology alone is not an automatic driver of improved outcomes for students. As Schleicher says "The biggest barrier (to improved outcomes) probably is the delivery in the classroom - Intelligent use and effective integration (of the technology) - thats where most of the work is needed."
Look closer at this one of Schleicher's slides. Ways we should be using digital technologies.
And look at this telling conclusion that he makes
And finally, this statement which explains a lot of the resistance/ backlash/ implemetation dip that I have been talking about:-
Enough said, for now.