may not hurt kids’ grades, despite Sun reports
by Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Columbia
Front page news, according to April 13th’s Vancouver Sun
hurt kids’ grades”.
The story: giving laptops to school kids may be popular, but overdoing
computer use can “undermine academic achievement”.
Schmidt’s news story reports on a yearlong study of a
“technology-rich” mid- to upper-class Ohio school
provided laptops to 237 grade 7 and 8 students in 2003.
With wireless Internet access throughout the school, kids spent an
average of three hours per day with their computers. According to the
report, students who spent less than that time with computers saw an
average 0.124 gain on their grade-point average, while kids who spent
more than the average time with their computers saw their grade-point
averages drop 0.078.
As well, Schmidt’s story continued, the research by Michigan
State University’s Jing Lei and Yong Zhao noted that the
tools most used by students (a Web browser for Internet research,
Microsoft Word for note taking and word processing, and Microsoft
PowerPoint for presentations) “did not lead to any increase
By contrast, students with higher marks were more likely to do computer
activities such as math software, science probes, website creation, and
OK. What does all this really mean? Does this really suggest that
parents and teachers should pull kids away from their computer screens
because too much computer time “may hurt kids’
Like too many newspaper reports of scientific research, the
article (and particularly its headline) oversimplifies.
Let’s look at the news report’s claims one at a
• Kids who spend more time doing
their computers get lower grades. Maybe. But as a parent and teacher
I’ve noticed that many kids who have to spend a long time
their homework assignments (with or without computers) get lower
grades. Life ain’t fair: smart kids can often get an
‘A’ in less time then it takes many other
(“slower”) kids to scrape by with a
• Web browsing, word processing,
lead to higher grades. When hardly anyone had access to computers or
the Internet, a nicely printed, word-processed document filled with
information was worth bonus marks. But now, according to a Vancouver
elementary principal, “Researching using the Internet and
creating Power Point presentations, as mentioned in the article, are
frankly too universal (allowing the good, the bad, and the ugly). By
analogy, I doubt if "learning to handwrite" or "learning to use an
encyclopaedia" would be correlated positively with increased
achievement --- the data would just be a
• Students with higher marks
software. Yet again, I can’t say I’m surprised. The
who get higher marks tend to be looking for the chance to do more,
whether in the arts, in science and math, and with computers. Those
kids jump at the chance to enrich their education, and computer
programming, building websites, or doing math and science enrichment
activities will appeal to many of them.
There is a sub-text behind the Sun’s story that is probably
accurate. Computers at home and at school aren’t a magic wand
that will make learning happen or make little Johnny or Janie start
bringing home a report card filled with ‘A’s. That
computer will probably get some use researching, writing, and printing
out schoolwork, it will probably be used far more often for game
playing or instant messaging. And all too often, schools get computers
without fully thinking out how they’re going to be used.
Individual parents and teachers will differ in opinions of how much
time (if any) children should spend in front of computer (and TV)
Like any other tool, computers can be used to help create a masterpiece
or to speed up our everyday work. But learning to work effectively with
any tool requires training, practice, and planning. And it still takes
a skilled artist or craftsperson to create a masterpiece.
But we won’t learn that on Page 1 of the Sun.