Sound the Trumpets! Finally, Statistical Evidence that 1-to-1 Results in Increased Student Achievement

The evidence drought is over! All you data-directed decision-makers take note!

  • In 1-to-1 classrooms – where each student has his/her own computing device – an increase in student achievement has been “undeniably and reliably” observed!

Let’s hear it straight from the researchers’ word processor: 

  • “The most common changes noted in the reviewed studies [of 1-to-1 classrooms versus no computer classrooms] include significantly increased academic achievement in science, writing, math and English; increased technology use for varied learning purposes; more student-centered, individualized and project-based instruction; enhanced engagement and enthusiasm among students; and improved teacher-student and home-school relationships.” (While there are summaries of the article online, the actual journal article is still in press; we suggest you contact Dr. Binbin Zheng at MSU to get a copy of the article: Zheng, B., Warschauer, M., Lin, C.-H., & Chang, C. [in press]. Learning in one-to-one laptop environments: A meta-analysis and research synthesis. Review of Educational Research.)

Background: Virtually all studies of the use of computers in education have shown little to no impact of computers on student achievement. From Education Week’s “Technology Counts” special section from 1997:

  • "Twenty years and billions of dollars since the first personal computers were plugged into the nation's schools, policymakers and the public are finally starting to demand evidence that their investments in education technology have been worthwhile. In particular, they want to know: Is it effective?"

If the data were available in 1997, Education Week would not have started their special issue with that question, i.e., “where’s the beef?” 

Remember when Maine (2002) became the first state in the nation to issue laptops to its students? Well, a 2007 study of the 1-to-1 classrooms in Maine found:

  • “a correlation between one-to-one programs and state test scores difficult to determine…“


Consider now this 2009 finding from a 5-year, multi-million dollar study commissioned by the Department of Education to study the impact of classrooms using math and reading software versus classrooms that did not use math and reading software:

  • “Effects on Test Scores Were Not Statistically Different from Zero”

Allow us to provide an English-to-English translation: From a statistical perspective, while no difference in test scores between the two conditions (using software versus not using software) was observed, one cannot conclude that there was no difference in test scores – one can only conclude that no difference was observed. That’s all very nice, but the bottom line remains:  no difference was observed!

And, literally just the other day, the international “Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development” (OECD) carried out a study (2015) in a number of countries that observed the following:

  • “Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results.”

OMG! The more computers were used in the classroom the lower the student achievement!?!?

These studies don’t help the educators trying to justify the purchase of 1-to-1 Chromebooks. But, not all the empirical news has been bad, however — thank goodness! In 2010, Project RED, a consortium of researchers carried out an extensive study of a number of schools using technology and identified nine factors that needed to be in place in order for technology to have a positive impact on student achievement.  And the 2015 edition of Education Week’s “Technology Counts” reported:

  • “Schools are learning hard lessons about the difficulties of putting in place 1-to-1 computing programs and digital curricula initiatives meant to encourage innovation and fuel academic growth.”

Now: Sound the trumpets: With the publishing (2016) of the Zheng et al. article, the long-sought after empirical evidence for the value of 1-to-1 is in our hands — finally!

Elliot Asks (with a gotcha grin): With all the aforementioned negative evidence, why should we believe the positive evidence put forth by Zheng et al.?

Cathie Answers (with a you-must-be-kidding-me smile): Good point, young man! Here’s why the Zheng et al. study trumps the older, negative studies:

  • Zheng et al. carried out a methodologically rigorous study. After an exhausting literature search, Zheng et alii identified 945 articles that were relevant to their study, but only 96 studies met four key conditions and only 10 studies met an additional five conditions. A meta-analysis was conducted on the 10 studies while the other 86 studies were subjected to a range of analysis techniques. Bottom line: because Zheng et al. conducted a meticulously rigorous study, the education community can feel confident in Zheng el alii’s findings.
  • This is 2016. There are finally enough methodologically sound studies for the Zheng team to study. There simply weren’t enough such studies in 1997 — nor even in 2007.

The impact of their research has not escaped the Zheng team:

  • “With individual laptop computers, such as Chromebooks, now falling below $200 … a growing number of schools are considering implementing individualized laptop programs. Knowing the general impact of these programs can help school districts shape their technology policies.”

“Shape technology policies” is much too modest a vision!  Educators you are fully justified in waving the Zheng-team article in the air, saying “We told you so!” and rolling out, with the utmost urgency, those 1-to-1 classrooms! 

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