By Susan Pinker, The New York Times, 1/30/15
Technology works best when deployed by a terrific, trained teacher.
[In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address] there was one thing he got wrong. As part of his promise to educate American children for an increasingly competitive world, he vowed to…“extend [the Internet’s] reach to every classroom and every community.”
More technology in the classroom has long been a policy-making panacea. But mounting evidence shows that showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices will not shrink the class divide in education. If anything, it will widen it.
In the early 2000s, the Duke University economists Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd tracked the academic progress of nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students against the dates they were given networked computers. The researchers assessed the students’ math and reading skills annually for five years, and recorded how they spent their time….
“Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” the economists wrote…. What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest. When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff….
Many kids used their networked devices not for schoolwork, but to play games, troll social media and download entertainment….
Technology does have a role in education. But as Randy Yerrick, a professor of education at the University at Buffalo, told me, it is worth the investment only when it’s perfectly suited to the task, in science simulations, for example, or to teach students with learning disabilities.
And, of course, technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific, highly trained teacher…. To the extent that such a teacher can benefit from classroom technology, he or she should get it. But only when such teachers are effectively trained to apply a specific application to teaching a particular topic to a particular set of students — only then does classroom technology really work….
Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist and columnist, is the author, most recently, of The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter.