Monday, 11 January 2010

What evidence is there suggesting ICT improves student performance?

Political rhetoric, government (or NGO) reports and academic papers have suggested a few benefits that ICT may offer to education. In this post I explore the evidence that supports such promises – what reports and studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the technologies to improve student performance?

First, looking for something positive, I can’t find anything. Nothing.

Stretching the remit to include the opinions of students, perhaps one comment might be:
“Asserting the benefits of cross-cultural working and using new technology have become major themes in business school marketing, and are seen as enticements to students.”
(Smith 1997 in Salmon 1999)

On the negative side though there is quite a lot in the literature – and one frequently cited in this study is Cuban’s “Oversold and Underused” (2001). Whilst working as the Professor of Education at Stamford, Cuban identified a plethora of projects in Silicon Valley designed to deliver improved student learning but consistently fail to deliver their promise – and he looked at every age range, from pre-school and kindergartens to higher education. What I especially like about Cuban’s book is that he referenced most, possibly all of his points. Given that Cuban echoed much of my thoughts about ICT and education, once I had read his book and saw that much of what I felt aligned with what Cuban had written, I felt able to use Cuban’s references to back up my opinions. Note that around one quarter of Cuban’s book is references.

Fuchs and Woessmann (2004) looked at the effect of the availability of ICT equipment at home and in the classroom, and concluded that:
“ … once family background and school characteristics are extensively controlled for, the mere availability of computers at home is negatively related to student performance in math and reading, and the availability of computers at school is
unrelated to student performance.”
Salmon (1999, pp36) reports:
“In the early years (1988 on) the problems were lack of integration into course objectives and processes, tutor workload, technical difficulties and limitations, inappropriate messages, inability of participants to post messages in appropriate conferences, and passive views of learning from students”

Also, Salmon (ibid) comments on the use of CMC prior to 1995 in the OU, saying there were “… very mixed views from stakeholders about its value for learning ….”.

Burns and Ungerleider (2002) looked at the efficacy of ICTs for “ … achievement, motivation, and metacognitive learning” – given that 97% of Canadian secondary school pupils had access to the internet for educational purposes, it was thought a study would inform policy makers. However, in 2006, Sclater et al said of Ungerleider and Burns (2002) work:
“ … (there was) little methodologically rigorous evidence of the effectiveness of computer technology in promoting achievement, motivation, and metacognitive learning and on instruction in content areas in elementary and secondary schools.”
There are many other examples demonstrating the lack of efficacy of ICT against it’s desired objectives; perhaps the sharpest was from the Alliance for Childhood (2000):

"For a relatively small number of children with certain disabilities, technology offers benefits. But for the majority, computers pose health hazards and potentially serious developmental problems."

The (North American) National Science Board, Science & Engineering Indicators (1998) state quite clearly that:
“… cost effectiveness (of ICT methods) compared to other forms of instruction – for example, smaller class sizes, self-paced learning, peer teaching, small group learning, innovative curricula, and in-class tutors has never been proven.”
(North American) National Science Board (1998:8-19)
The UK e-University is widely seen as another spectacular failure. Morrison et al (2006) documents some of the history behind the UKeU teasing out lessons to be learned from the project. They (ibid) also gives counter points that suggest some mitigating factors for the failure – such as a focus on wholly on online provision and impatience of government. On the last point, other commentators such as Driscoll (in MacLeod 2004) states that "It hasn't been given long enough”. It should be noted that similarly sized online businesses (such as many middle tier retailers and medium to larger start ups) are given many times more than the two years the UKeU had to prove their viability.

So after searching through many reports and studies there appears to be no conclusive evidence that ICT (read VLE’s/multi media) has improved student performance. A balanced view, taking perspectives from the champions (Laurillard, Siemens) and critiques (Cuban, 2001;, Fuchs) into account, is that there is no conclusive evidence that ICT (read VLE’s / MultiMedia) improves student performance. In fact, there is a growing literature on the failure of a wide range of technology supported educational initiatives to deliver measurable improvements to students learning.


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