Being Mobile Blog

New OECD Report Slams Computers — and Actually Says Why They Can Hurt Learning

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) just released a comprehensive study of the use of computers in the classrooms in 70 countries. The data in the study looked at the performance, in 2012, of 15 year-olds on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test. The test asks questions in science, reading and mathematics. Answering these questions requires thinking and problem-solving — not just memorization of facts.

Buzz killer: The results of the OECD study are not ones that educational technology advocates want to hear. Here's a key finding: “Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results.”

OMG! More computer use results in lower test scores?

We already knew that computer use did not lead to improved student achievement. The New York Times, in their series of articles entitled “Grading the Digital School,” reported on study after study that found no improvement due to use of technology. Now the OECD has done the NYT one better by finding that increased computer use results in lower test scores!

The findings are the findings, but what is really interesting is a statement that Andreas Schleicher, the director of OECD, made as to why the impact of technology is negative. In the foreword to the OECD report, he writes, “…adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching."

WOW! In this one sentence, Schleicher names clearly what he sees as the root cause of the lack of technology’s impact on student achievement. While the NYT’s articles danced around the issues, Schleicher doesn’t pull any punches: The reason computers are not having a positive impact lies in the use of outmoded teaching practices that do not truly exploit the opportunities that a 1-to-1 classroom affords.

For example, using a computer to present a video lecture of a talking head or using the computer to drill on content is not the sort of teaching practice that makes the best use of a computer. Indeed, those practices are aligned with the 20th century pedagogical practice called direct instruction (otherwise known as "tell students stuff.")

By contrast, in an inquiry pedagogy, students use a computing device to seek relevant information on a question. Or students, each using her or his own device, work together on a concept map that reflects their understanding of the water cycle. Oh, and the students are not co-located, but rather each is in her or his home. Read that sentence again carefully, please. 

Schleicher is not saying anything negative about teachers — he is just commenting on the teaching practices that teachers were exposed to when they were students and the teaching practices they were taught in the methods courses at the university. And, as we have said over and over again: Asking teachers to “integrate technology into their lessons” is putting teachers in an impossible situation. Teachers can’t be expected to understand how to exploit technology and change their instructional practices to more effectively exploit that technology — while under pressure to increase test scores and deal with the 30+ students, some of whom have learning disabilities, some of whom come to school hungry, etc.

In a much-too-understated manner for our tastes, the OECD report does go on to suggest that more professional development is needed. More PD alone is not going to change teaching practices — we all know that!

Relax; breathe; relax; breathe.

Okay. Let us thank Schleicher for what he did say: It is outmoded teaching practices, not the technology and not the teachers that are responsible for the lack of technology’s impact on student achievement. 

Let’s focus, then, on fixing that issue!   

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.

THE News Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.