Research strikes another blow to computer use in lessons

People often raise a sceptical eyebrow at education research. One study does not a trend prove, they say.

So, as though to prove a point, this week two entirely separate studies have shown that pupils whose maths lessons involve consistent use of computers perform worse in tests than those who are taught using more low-tech methods.

The latest research, conducted by Tom Macintyre of the University of Edinburgh, suggests that this shows that schools do not think carefully enough about how best to incorporate computers into lessons.

Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development reached similar conclusions about the use of technology in lessons, based on tests given to 15-year-old pupils.

Dr Macintyre examined data of nearly 7,000 Scottish 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds, drawn from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

His findings, presented today at the annual British Educational Research Association conference, showed that those 10-year-olds who often used computers during maths lessons scored significantly worse than those whose lessons never involved computers.

Among the 14-year-olds, those who often used a computer for maths schoolwork both in and out of school scored significantly worse in maths than those who did not use computers.

Dr Macintyre, who often visits schools to assess student teachers, said: “It’s what people do with the technology that matters.

“Often, in schools, there is investment in hardware, but without a clear rationale as to how the equipment is to be deployed, and how it can be used most effectively to enhance the learning process. Is it being pursued genuinely to enhance teaching and learning, or is it a bit of a gimmick?”

Dr Macintyre also found that the use of computer technology in science lessons had a similar effect on pupils’ scores in science tests.

His research also revealed that 14-year-old pupils who were given a quiz or test during maths lessons scored worse in subsequent maths tests than those who were not given tests. Dr Macintyre found this noteworthy, as tests and feedback are generally seen as vital parts of the learning process.

“There’s been a big push on assessment, feedback and using tests and quizzes to make sure that feedback is meaningful for learners,” he said.

“Again, this raises the question as to whether teachers are just ticking a box in terms of feedback. Are they just going through the motions in setting quizzes, rather than using them more carefully to inform what happens next in lessons?”

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