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Classic debate on e-Learning – week 11 A1a

April 26, 2009

Over the last several decades, large investments have been made to equip primary and secondary schools with computers and teacher training. Now it is time to examine whether there has been a sufficient return on this investment. Does technology really offer substantive advantages to students? Does technology accelerate or impede real progress in education? Similarly, does technology serve as a teaching crutch or does it offer the ability to promote sustainable change in the world’s classrooms? And if so, is the technology deployed today being used to best possible advantage? What conditions need to exist in schools for technology to have an impact?

Proposal For:

First, we assume too often that technology is the answer without asking what the question was. Successful applications begin with a clear and difficult problem to solve instead of a vague assumption that technology will enhance teaching.

Second, we usually focus on improving existing teaching systems whereas technology is better used to create new learning systems. Enjoining all teachers to become artisans of eLearning is not going to improve educational outcomes.

Third, there is the quest for the magic medium, the ultimate technology that will revolutionise education. Yesterday it was the Internet; today it is Open Educational Resources. But there is no magic medium and never will be. Each technology has its strengths. The task is to use them to create a world where education of quality is abundantly available.


But this is still mostly an aspiration. We are not there yet. Today the motion is true: the continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education.

Proposal Against:

Students who used computer tutorials in mathematics, natural science, or social science scored significantly higher in these subjects compared to traditional approaches, equivalent to an increase from 50th to 72nd percentile in test scores. Students who used simulation software in science also scored higher, equivalent to a jump from 50th to 66th percentile.

Very young students who used computers to write their own stories scored significantly higher on measures of reading skill, equivalent to a boost from 50th to 80th percentile for kindergarteners and from 50th to 66th percentile for first graders. However, the use of tutorials in reading did not make a difference.

Students who used word processors or otherwise used the computer for writing scored higher on measures of writing skill, equivalent to a rise from 50th to 62nd percentile.

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