Friday, April 14, 2006

Do computers in classrooms help learning? 

A recent study says maybe not.
About 37% of the children say they stare at the screens for more than three hours a day; a few report more than five hours a day. Parents help kids with homework more often and students' grades benefit slightly, but teachers report more classroom distractions as students check e-mail. And students actually feel distracted: In the first year, their grade-point averages rose modestly, but when Lei and a colleague asked them to estimate their GPAs, students actually believed they dropped.

"They felt that time is not used as effectively as before," she says.
I've sat in the back of college classrooms doing peer reviews and watched students on their own laptops. These students largely are using their computers to look at class materials, even though wireless internet is available. Put them in a networked classroom however -- as I often do for my forecasting course -- and checking email and IM'ing are common.

My moral: If the student bears the cost of the computer, s/he will only choose to bring it to class if it actually helps them learn. Buy one for them that they would not have bought otherwise, and you've got a recipe for electronic inattention.