Computer-based learning in classrooms: an educational disaster compounded by Covid

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Computer-based learning in classrooms has been a major focus of educational policy in recent years with the assumption that access to learning devices in the classroom would improve educational opportunities, particularly for students in low-income areas and this would help reduce disparities in student achievement.

Schools across the board have embraced “device-based” learning and many encourage students to BYOD (“bring your own device”) to school as part of being ready to learn.

Signs that all is not well with this policy approach have been building for some time with research such as this from Sweden which shows that

“pupils who use computers at school, especially those who use them frequently are found to achieve less that students who never use computers”

This should set alarm bells ringing and resonating throughout our schools, with parents and in parliament.

Backing up this Swedish research are the results of a New Zealand teacher survey released last week. It was conducted by QPEC (Quality Public Education Coalition) last year with the support of the teacher unions. While the main focus of the survey was in relation to covid disruptions and the increase in on-line distance learning from home, questions were also asked about student use of devices (laptops, ipads, desktop computers etc) in the classroom.

Here are some of the key teacher responses: 

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Students are better engaged in their learning on devices in the classroom

 

34% say students are better engaged in their learning on devices in the classroom but 41% say no.

Devices are too much of a distraction to learning

52% of the teachers surveyed agree that “devices are too much of a distraction to learning” – an astonishing result.

Students would learn better with less time on devices

56% of teachers agree students would learn better with less time on devices.

Students already motivated learn well on devices

76% agree that students already motivated learn well on devices. This strong result indicates that already well-motivated students will generally use devices to enhance their learning. This is not a surprising finding as well-motivated students tend to make the most of each learning opportunity whether on a device or not. These students are less susceptible to the “distractions” devices can provide.

 

Less motivated students learn well on devices

49% of teachers disagree, to some extent at least, that less motivated students learn well on devices. It is clear that less motivated students as a whole struggle to learn on devices just as they struggle with learning by other means. This is not necessarily surprising but if we are to make progress closing educational gaps then devices, as currently being used at least, are not the answer and may even provide an additional hurdle to be overcome by less-motivated students.

Students distracted by social media is a constant problem in the classroom

64% of teachers agree, to some extent, that students distracted by social media are a constant problem in the classroom. This is an extremely worrying result with huge implications for teaching and learning in our schools. It demands further investigation and analysis.

It is better for schools to provide devices which are programmed for the work students need to complete

65% of teachers agree, while just 12% disagree, that it would be better for schools to provide devices which are programmed for the work students need to complete. This is a strong result. It suggests that teachers can see the value of devices in the classroom, but the distractions associated with these devices should be much more easily controlled by the school and teachers.

Overall it would be better for students to spend more time on devices

67% of teacher responses disagree that overall it would be better for students to spend more time on devices. Of these 33% strongly disagree. This indicates very high levels of teacher concern that not only are devices not improving learning and engagement of students but they appear to be having a negative impact on the learning of most students.

I think the main themes to emerge from the teacher responses are:

  1. Devices in the classroom are an aid to learning for well-motivated students but are a distraction from learning for less-well-motivated students.
  2. The level of teacher concern about the distraction levels of devices in classrooms is surprisingly high and because of the prevalence of learning devices in classrooms appears to indicate a nationwide crisis in student learning for less-motivated students in particular. A big majority of teachers do not want to see all devices banned from schools but there are very serious and deeply felt concerns that devices in the classroom are more of a distraction from learning for less motivated students rather than a tool to enhance motivation and learning.
  3. There is strong support for schools to provide devices rather than requiring students to bring their own device. This gives the school and teachers better control to reduce distractions to learning associated with devices in classrooms.
  4. It appears the problems are greatest in schools with already educationally disadvantaged students who, for a whole variety of reasons, already struggle with motivation to learn. This is more likely to increase educational disadvantage for those already struggling with learning than help to close these gaps.
  5. The problems indicated in these deeply-worrying teacher responses should not be left to individual schools to tackle. If we are serious about closing the educational gaps then this needs a comprehensive national approach.

Elsewhere in the report it is clear that students learn well when they are face-to-face with their teachers in classrooms. This is not necessarily surprising but it is always important to remember when politicians come under pressure from corporate lobby groups who would love to provide cheaper, computer-based, distance learning for a fat government contract.

Computer-based learning is not the answer to improving education outcomes or improving the engagement of less-motivated learners. In fact the survey indicates the precise opposite is often the case.

I’d be willing to bet that if the huge amounts being spent on computer-based learning were put into reducing class sizes for schools in poorer communities, it would be money much better spent.

You can read the full report here.

35 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sure many who criticise what they call a ‘one size fits all’ approach of schools, call for more use of computerised teaching.

    And criticise the industrial revolution style ‘factory’ classrooms. Sit down … shut up … do this … learn. Of course computers are the modern dream approach doing the same thing. You have less teachers to employ and pay and that’s what they want.

    Those kids, young people not programmed to succeed in that environment? The kids who have difficulty learning? There’ll be some solution to stratify them. And some way to create the best opportunity to make the most money out of kids’ learning.

  2. Online learning is effective and when faced with an unprecedented pandemic, it certainly has been essential. Online learning has worked for many working adults in higher education. Children need to learn in a social environment, it is true, but do not undermine online learning at primary and secondary level – if children fail, the fault lies with the delivery or curriculum – or both. Children are more digitally savvy than their parents and many of their teachers. Delivery may need to be improved, but it is not to be shunned.

    • Nothing wrong with online learning – if schools are providing the computers and laptops with appropriate tech control. The problem is the” bring your own device” mentality. Ban cellphones in schools.

  3. Since people who learned without computers managed to invent computers it seems logical that children do not need computers for most of their education. Learning the basics should be what children focus on with computer learning after that.
    The problem is even bigger than classrooms as giving preschool children electronic devices is a problem also.

    • Bonnie. “ Giving preschool children electronic devices is a problem also.” Yes. Tragically they have replaced books, and children are not learning the pleasure of reading; at home they’re used to keep children occupied. Combined with noisy shared-learning spaces replacing traditional classrooms, and the pc nuttiness of school curricula, pupils failing in basics like maths, science and literacy is unsurprising, and much to their detriment.

  4. I have 6 kids at school and it has been pretty clear to me for some time that the use of devices in the class needs to be scaled back significantly.

  5. Back when it first became widely available, I was a great advocate for electronic programmed instruction.

    However I always considered it to be complimentary to face-to-face lectures and tutorials. Many prefer a pad and paper in such classes.

    After all, nobody was demanding that Oxford or Princeton be redesigned, so that everything would be done over a computer terminal.

    The irony is that as campuses have spent more and more on computer hardware, the test scores for high schoolers have consistently fallen!

  6. It is a very week piece of work John – merely commissioned and designed to try and maintain union influence in teaching. Try again – but in doing do work out how distance learning can work to re-integrate children with school aversion through anxiety and those who have experienced trauma as our schools have the highest bullying rates in the work. Consider also the many children who are geographically isolated (e.g. the Russell Peninsula) who have to spend 4hours+ travelling to school and back each day (and therefore don’t do it). Or the 10,000 kids not enrolled anywhere due to the quality of our schools, teaching and learning. Or the 80% of decile 1 kids who are not fully attending.

    • All your arguments can support having more teachers, smaller classes & a well-resourced school system as an obvious answer to improving education. Long-distance learning would improve if all the students had a teacher with them however that is not a viable use of funds so problem-solving skills need to be used there although we did have a good long-distance learning system (the name escapes me at the moment) so it should be fixable.
      If you are unable to see the problems with electronic devices you need to read the research more.

      • If you are unable to see the change with virtual classrooms over the last three years you need to come up to speed. And yes – the in person schools I am associated with have 15 per class, provide all uniform, stationery and IT and do it out of Operational Funds like all schools could choose to.

  7. Interesting. What is of more concern though is how Labour are hell bent on destroying our Science Curriculum through introduction of unscientific Matauranga Maori and Maori religion.

    We already have serious declines in Maths, Literacy and Science achievement, so their response is to force their idea of Te Tiriti down school kids throats, even when it is clearly not science and contradicts reality e.g. the religious concept of Mauri in chemistry.

    • Sounds like – you are a bit obsessed with Matauranga Maori or whatever being introduced,. A flexible mind from the introducers and the receivers of information would get over this – they are responding to the basis of so many of our medicaments copying plant nostrums or using them, etc. and also the fact that so many ‘native’ scientific skills have arisen from empirical evidence (checked that word on google). So a mixture of MM and academic knowledge and research will aid us all by leaps and bounds. L&B is the way we have to move these days not only to keep up with the speed of computers etc. but to try to catch up on matters we should have conquered last century.

      Anyone watch Red Dwarf? Rimmer is an example of us – footling around pretending to be concerned but needing someone to force us to admit that we have just remembered that we can’t be fecking bothered. Now we have to make up time.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5mqbKs1PoI 4.30m
      or
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d74_5af_Dzs 1.30 m

      But most of all the problem is vastly different than most commenters here would realise, it is that we don’t know what we are, when we find out we don’t know how to tame ourselves to get the best results in our lives, and we can’t make up our minds what we want from life. Sometimes only finding how cleverness is not enough, how Love won’t keep us together despite what Tenille and the Captain* sing, and how we have to aim for simplicity at base and then add the whipped cream and cherry on top if we have some to spare. And that some love, and some punishment applied in the right amounts will help turn us into understanding empathetic people who are entranced with each other and need a balance of work and enjoyment and a few laughs and compassion in small drips.
      * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogPjvEKOEag

      Balance not excess thought but not blinkered academic plaudits. Philosophy Rules OK!!!!!!!!!!!!! But Phil is not our base study which is why we are often base to excess. Science just teaches us new ways to play around with each other, a sort of torture offered by the Gods Tantalus and Midas.

      • Much of your post seems unrelated to the issue here, but anyway, yes obsessed because I have kids and the woke here are determined to introduce myth, legend and religion into science, where it doesn’t belong and violates the education act.

        They are not responding to science trying to prove medicinal benefit to plants etc, they are trying to co-opt science just like evangelical Christians have repeatedly tried to do.

        Yes MM can provide some input into research, but it fails all definitions of science. I suggest you read this as a good example of the rubbish they are trying to introduce, with the Taranaki Council spending $4.95M trying to use a cultural construct (specific to Taranaki iwi) to measure physical water quality:

        https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2022/12/07/more-kiwi-missteps-new-zealand-tries-to-infuse-spirituality-into-chemistry-and-electrical-engineering/

        Yet another example of performative virtue signalling instead of actually solving real problems for Maori.

        • 100% – Portraying Maori myth etc as fact to impressionable kids in schools is no different to teaching them all that the Tooth Fairy is in fact real.
          No problem if you want to pretend that the Tooth Fairy is real in the home but that has no place in a school’s curriculum . .
          There is a real double-standard in NZ at the moment – Christians for example are openly mocked by people such as Martyn for believing in a ‘flying wizard’ but no way a Muslim talking of Mohammed or a Maori openly talking about the existence of a Taniwha in the local river is going to receive anything other than at worst a respectful silence for what they believe . .

        • What science is, is decided by us! Philosophy rules over all. It is in philosophy that we come across the consideration of how everything around us is described by us in a certain way,and therefore we mould and describe our reality. So science is what we have decided it is and then broadcast it so we all look at things the same way.

          A few decades ago feminists were able to break through the idea that there is no bias in science; prove scientifically that there was a bias towards male decisions and male opinions. They tried the old test of putting forward ideas under a neutral or a male name, and measuring response. Then compared to that when put forward under a female name. Not as much consideration for the female input or even dismissal. Scientists showing how unscientific they can be; not pure brains and minds at all.

    • Sounds like – you are a bit obsessed with Matauranga Maori or whatever being introduced,. A flexible mind from the introducers and the receivers of information would get over this – they are responding to the basis of so many of our medicaments copying plant nostrums or using them, etc. and also the fact that so many ‘native’ scientific skills have arisen from empirical evidence (checked that word on google). So a mixture of MM and academic knowledge and research will aid us all by leaps and bounds. L&B is the way we have to move these days not only to keep up with the speed of computers etc. but to try to catch up on matters we should have conquered last century.

      Anyone watch Red Dwarf? Rimmer is an example of us – footling around pretending to be concerned but needing someone to force us to admit that we have just remembered that we can’t be fecking bothered. Now we have to make up time.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5mqbKs1PoI 4.30m
      or
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d74_5af_Dzs 1.30 m

      But most of all the problem is vastly different than most commenters here would realise, it is that we don’t know what we are, when we find out we don’t know how to tame ourselves to get the best results in our lives, and we can’t make up our minds what we want from life. Sometimes only finding how cleverness is not enough, how Love won’t keep us together despite what Tenille and the Captain* sing, and how we have to aim for simplicity at base and then add the whipped cream and cherry on top if we have some to spare. And that some love, and some punishment applied in the right amounts will turn us into understanding empathetic people who are entranced with each other and need a balance of work and enjoyment and a few laughs and compassion in small drips.
      * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogPjvEKOEag

      alance not excess thought but not blinkered academic plaudits. Philosophy Rules OK!!!!!!!!!!!!! But Phil is not our base study which is why we are often base to excess. Science just teaches us new ways to play around with each other, a sort of torture offered by the Gods Tantalus and Midas.

  8. I can see some value in allowing the use of devices locked down to the point where they are effectively just dumb terminals to a remote application in math instruction, however anything else seems extremely doubtful.

    Any sort of ‘computing class’ was already just an invitation to f**k around for 90% of the class time, that hardly should be extended to the rest of the school day.

  9. Glad you brought this up John. Makes me think of The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham who did his original thinking to bring us stories in a genre he called ‘logical fantasies’. The direct connection of mind and written or drawn expression of thought is severed if technology is a necessary entrance point; so tech used like that becomes a barrier to individual learning and free expression of thought, and also a very effective way of spreading hegemony.

    That schools should deny equal rights to students whether with or without computers and devices is mad to my questioning mind. Pencils and paper are basic and then can be improved on, but introducing elaborate and expensive machinery as a prerequisite is bowing to fashionable obsession and prestige beyond education’s actual needs. That’s the means looked at, and what about the effect on the person and the learning, classroom culture and practice.

    Also John Wyndham – “The essential quality of life is living’ the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution; and we are part of it.” Goodreads
    But our evolution has to be a considered one from amongst alternatives and each one’s outcomes, to be effective for us, to result in good outcomes!

    https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/the-midwich-cuckoos-why-john-wyndhams-monsters-are-perfect-for-adaptation/
    …Calling Wyndham’s creations ‘monsters’ isn’t quite right. His Triffids and Midwich Cuckoos are deadly and capable of monstrous acts, but they don’t act arbitrarily. As a rule, their violence must first be provoked; survival, not cruelty, is their aim. Interviewed in 1960 on the BBC’s Tonight, Wyndham took issue with interviewer Derek Hart’s assertion that his stories were about evil creatures from outer space. “I wouldn’t say they’re all evil. The Midwich Cuckoos look very evil in the film but they aren’t so evil in the original story.” Wyndham didn’t consider his novels scary. “Before the war when I was trying to write ghost stories I used to frighten myself pallid,” he told Hart. “These aren’t frightening, I think.”…

    …Wyndham’s ‘monsters’ aren’t his real subject; his fascination appears to be with the destruction of the status quo, with how society and people react when metaphorical bombs are tossed into the heart of middle England. Doubtless, the non-metaphorical bombs of WWII – in which Wyndham served in France – cast a great shadow. His post-war novels all share a kind of shellshock, a disbelief that anything could dislodge the sense of safety once thought permanent.

    The Day of the Triffids’ narrator admits feeling bewildered that the mass blindness, lethal virus and killer plants have happened at home in England and not somewhere abroad, to the English and not to another nation. In The Midwich Cuckoos, the very dullness of the village was considered by narrator Richard as a kind of inoculation from events. “Something has happened here. Here, in Midwich,” he puzzles, “the place where nothing happens.” The novels both mourn for the end of safety and are exhilarated by it….

    • Thanks GW,
      I re-read Day of the Triffids recently, after about a 45 year gap.
      Thoroughly enjoyed it,
      And thoroughly enjoyed your comment too.

  10. So given the capacity and capabilities of the New Zealand educational system, it is becoming clear that the professional, technical, and managerial roles in New Zealand society will be increasingly filled by migrants.

  11. Our schools have the highest bullying rates? Our children are the product of our society. The failure is there.

    As for “10,000 not enrolled anywhere due to the quality of our schools”? Sounds like cheap, political propaganda shit to me.

    Being open-minded I could be persuaded by sound evidence.

  12. Totally spurious response Alwyn. We are talking about children IN THE CLASSROOM.
    Not all the other things that you have raised.

    And Alwyn it is ‘weak’ last time I heard.

    • The problem is Michal that the most needy are not in the classrooms at present so the survey was pretty much a waste of time trying to prop up and aged and ineffective system.

  13. There is nothing wrong with devices in moderation but you get the feeling that the ministry of Education and government think that kids who get given technology will somehow become superstars. Unfortunately not the case especially when the government takes free google classroom as the best way to go which is horrible to use and turns many kids off. Obviously not really worried about why Google gives out this free programme and it’s not really designed for the kids but google promotion and products.

    Having a building system that is totally unproven doesn’t help, such as shared classrooms (disaster – huge noise, lack of stability with the same teacher for younger kids and virus spread).

    Much of the new money for schools went to the building industry for construction not actually teachers and curriculum focus. When you look at the mess of the NHS in the UK, you find that one pound in every six pounds spend on the health system are spent on PPP’s aka funding debts that are taking money away from the health system not helping the sick. Sadly you wonder if the NZ’s government obsession on building schools/hospitals is similar but just a different moniker to PPP.

    Very little focus now on practise of things for children like writing, spelling, maths, basic information, science etc.

    It is all ‘experienced based’ which seems to devolve into kids being given a pail of water and sticks. The concepts are expected to learn and practise by themselves out of thin air.

    Woke led Mātauranga Māori is not helping by de knowledging the NZ curriculum.

    Likewise allowing gender campaigners into schools, more religions and identity, terror lockdowns, more woke think exercises that should be banned from the NZ traditional secular approach with no political interference.

    • Maori woke and Pacifica woke are completely at odds with blue collar Māori and Pacifica that they pretend to help.

      Talk to blue collar Maori and Pacifica and you will find that they are confused and hate the grandstanding woke who are taking millions and millions of dollars in public funding to ‘help’ them. So the logical extension to this. is that the woke mantra in schools supposedly for Maori and Pacifica is just as alienating to them as everybody else!

      Have yet to find any Maori that believe that Mātauranga Māori and Pacific myths and legends, pro nouns and their children learning them ad Nauseum is going to get them out of Burger King of off unemployment. It’s driving them and more kids out of schools via truancy – this shit is less and less real to people with real problems!

      AKA millions spent on the companies surrounding ‘We are indigo’ that receives millions in funding by creative NZ to ‘help Pacifica and Maori’. One of the comments by those doing the course…. is demeaning.

      Possibly ‘real’ artists vs ‘fake’ artists collide in faux digitech, faux start up ….

      What a participant thought of Manaaki courses…. funny CNZ did not take any notice which she labeled infuriating.

      “Ema Tavola – The founder of South Auckland art gallery and creative consultancy Vunilagi Vou was a participant in the programme, and describes it as “absolutely gross to feel demeaned, weekly, by Manaaki staff, who were speaking to us like we were so, so utterly stupid”.

      Tavola summed up her experience to CNZ, saying “as a creative entrepreneur with almost two decades of industry experience, I’ve found this programme poorly designed, inappropriately managed and generally a huge disappointment”. Despite this, CNZ claims to have received “no formal complaints from any member of our Pasifika Creative Enterprise pilot”, a framing of the events Tavola finds “infuriating”.

      The troubling backstory and new legal chaos engulfing We Are Indigo
      https://thespinoff.co.nz/business/10-12-2022/the-bleak-backstory-and-new-legal-chaos-engulfing-we-are-indigo

      Was talking to a friend who was pretty angry when members of the Icehouse brigade that seem to get copious amounts of government funding, were trawling low level IT businesses desperate to find Maori to put on their courses… Maori in suits having coffee now being approached by woke charities in case they are homeless. Serious stupidity and actually demeaning situation out there by woksters with too much money.

      Meanwhile real people could be using the funding, not woke cult mystics trawling for people they have zero connection with, armed with millions of public money that the creative NZ wokesters fail to provide real help to.

      • Totally agree SaveNZ.

        Performative virtue signalling to appease their woke comrades in the Wellington Bureaucracies with rubbish like gender identity confusion and Matauranga Maori mascarading as science, instead of solving actual deficiencies in reading, maths and science, and teaching real skills for real kids.

        The MoE needs to be re-built, as they keep doing this. E.g. their insistence on not following the science of reading and teaching outdated reading approaches that are proven not to work for 65% of students; forcing open plan classrooms on schools even when the evidence shows they harm learning for around 20% of kids and even the business community is getting rid of open plan; and now the introduction of Matauranga Maori into science through religion like Mauri:
        https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2022/12/07/more-kiwi-missteps-new-zealand-tries-to-infuse-spirituality-into-chemistry-and-electrical-engineering/

        Enough of this ridiculous professional managerial class disconnected from the rest of the world – anyone would think they are actually engaging in class warfare and trying to keep kids down.

      • Many thanks for your really interesting comments.

        The private providers used to go to South Auckland and trawl thru the kids and offer them wonderful courses, at a cost of course and kids left school to do hospitality courses and other junk and got into debt to do them. It is outrageous.

      • Thanks savenz – good that you are there with your powerful imperative to get the facts and the outcomes of ‘smart’ ideas examined honestly. Everything new is not better should be kept in mind. Also that our wealth index is built on shaky ground in all meanings which can be applied to that.

      • Agree with almost everything Savenz.
        One thing though, I did manage to log onto my 9yolds Google classroom yesterday, first time I’ve ever seen it. I thought it was good!
        I’m guessing I just don’t know any better tho.

        • If you own a google device Google classroom works fine! But not so much if you don’t have a Google owned device, like their rival Apple!

          NZ schools are effectively selling devices for Google for free by making it incredibly difficult for other devices to work properly in Google Classroom which is the only option!

    • saveNZ. A number of years ago, parents at Waimairi School in Christchurch were successful in having the school rebuilt on tradition single teacher single classroom lines, rather than the counter-productive open plan shared learning spaces. When asked to explain the raison d’être for the latter, the Canterbury Education Board’s response was that “ there is a trend towards it in New Zealand.” That’s all. In other words, its cheap ergo it’s okay, and once again children are suffering because of the fools on the hill.

    • This does concern me. As a Marketing Consultant (a very old one) I focus on upskilling to the latest digital marketing paraphernalia 🙂 There is AI tech which will write everything for you – that is simply dumbing down future generations. However, I remember using a laptop in lectures whilst doing post graduate work in 1997. Also, children are being prepared for the world of work and in most occupations – even labouring – using digital device is required. I am not ignorant of the issues – not at all. We have to learn how to appropriately incorporate digitology (my own word) into schools whilst ensuring students are learning the basics. GPT concerns me. I want to write that which I compose myself! E&OE

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