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Computer Augmented Instruction: Is it More Than a Passing Craze?
It seems like everywhere you look in education these days people are talking about technology embedded instruction or their school’s 1:1 initiative. This has not been the first change in education or the first "innovation" with the promise of revolutionizing education. When it comes to initiatives or changes to education there are countless theories. Some are well researched and have histories of success, while other solutions rise out of popular notions that may be less scientifically sound, however emotionally convincing. The question is: Is technology embedded education something that is backed by evidence or is it just a flashy initiative that makes for good headlines?
First, it is important to define the topic. This is not a look at whether technological skills are worth teaching. With the changes in the labor market there are few jobs that do not require competency with computers and even fewer when you look at jobs that can support a middle class lifestyle. Universities also have the expectation that freshmen can run a digital presentation, word process, edit word documents and complete other basic computer tasks. It is for this reason that the question is not should students learn to use technology but should it be embedded across the curriculum.
I had not found any good research on this topic but stumbled across some in the final chapter of Visible Learning by John Hattie, which is a meta analysis of research in education on various topics. In the book the author looks at effect size in terms of standard deviations, and ranks them on this basis. For those of you not familiar with standard deviations, John Hattie explains it this way “an effect size of 1.0 would mean that, on average, students receiving the treatment would exceed 84% if the students not receiving the treatment.” This is huge, in fact in the whole book almost no item has an effect size of 1.0 or larger and the author uses anything above .4 as the zone of desired effects, to calibrate here are some of the effect sizes from the book. I have also included the diagram from the book explaining how various effects are classified.
Homework: 0.29 (only this large in upper grades)
Prior Achievement: 0.67
Self Reported Grades: 1.2 (one of the largest)
Personality: 0.15 (Big 5 personality types)
Drama and Art Programs: 0.34
So how does technology fair? Well, it varies. The range is between .2 and .6 and the author gives a summary on the variance and these are some of the trends associated with a high level of positive influence:
A diversity of teaching strategies
Teacher expertise with technology
Providing multiple opportunities for learning (My examples:Khan academy, RTI software)
When the student, not the teacher, is in control of the learning (Khan academy and other self-paced platforms)
When peer learning is optimized (Collaborative learning: Google docs ect.)
When feedback is optimized (Doctopus, Goobric, Flubaroo, Google doc comments ect.)
One of the key findings was that computer based writing not only lead to more writing but also to writing of a higher quality. Part of the finding that relates to this outcome is that students are more likely to make revisions to computer writing. This makes sense to me because a word document can be edited constantly without making a mess and having to rewrite the entire document. The effect size for computer based writing was d=.4 and was highest for struggling students. Another important finding and something that the Common Core has really honed in is the enhancements to education through the ability of technology to enhance and provide for additional venues for collaboration. In fact a study from 2004 looking at 194 effects from 71 studies found that students learning with computers in small groups attempted a greater number of tasks d=.15, used more learning strategies d=.36 and had a more positive attitude to small group learning d=.54. To maximize these effects it is best to have the students in small heterogeneous groups l(small group d=.96, large group d=.39) (heterogenous d=1.15, homogenous d=.51), the author also points out that it is important for the group to be instructed to: cooperate, use cooperative learning structures and use appropriate and varied learning strategies.
With all of this data it seems clear that technology can enhance other subject areas it is infused into. So in creating our perfect education system we can just dump in some tablets laptops and chromebooks mix well and get perfected education, right? Well not exactly, what the research shows is that for technology to be used effectively it requires it to be implemented through a thoughtful lens of curriculum and pedagogy. The expertise of the teacher is crucial to design lessons and assignments that maximize opportunities for challenge and cooperation, as well as allowing students to use the devices to explore multiple ways of solving problems, allowing them to select the software, type of technology or classroom materials to complete the project. The teachers are just as crucial as ever and a technology implementation cannot be successful without them.
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