Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Computer use can harm student scores, says US -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Computer use can harm student scores, says US researcher

Simon Lauder reported this story on Sunday, September 20, 2009 12:16:02

PETER CAVE: A visiting US researcher has delivered a warning about relying on computers to deliver
an 'education revolution'. Putting computers in front of school students is a major plank of the
Federal Government's education policy.

But a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, Jacob Vigdor says that giving
students access to computers can actually damage their academic performance. Professor Vigdor has
examined a 10-year database of one million public school students in North Carolina.

He spoke to Simon Lauder.

JACOB VIGDOR: So we are able to track students who initially report not having a computer and then
acquire it at some point and what we found is that at the point that they acquire the computer,
their test scores on math and reading decline significantly.

SIMON LAUDER: Is there any way of knowing why?

JACOB VIGDOR: Well, I think the way to think about a computer is that it is tool that can be used
to be productive and it is a tool that can be used for entertainment and the question of whether
the computer is beneficial or not, hinges on whether the students are using it for beneficial
purposes or whether they are just using it to goof around.

And I think what we find is that on the balance, the students are using their computers, they might
be using them for email or for communication or to play games but they are not using them for
productive purposes.

SIMON LAUDER: Does that mean they are spending less time doing their homework than students who
don't yet have a computer at home?

JACOB VIDOR: I think that what you need to understand, what everyone needs to understand is that
you can't just put a computer in front of a 10 or 11 or 12 year old and expect them to start word
processing or using spreadsheets. The first instinct that they are going to have is to try to have
fun with the computer.

If you want to use computers in a way that actually benefits the students, they need to be coupled
with supervision, with instruction and at home in the environments of these children that we are
looking at in North Carolina, they just don't have access to that kind of supervision and
instruction that would actually allow them to use these home computers to learn more.

SIMON LAUDER: What does this say about our understanding of the place of computers in education?

JACOB VIGDOR: I think what it says is that the computer is a potentially a useful tool but it is
also a potential distraction and for those who would argue that students need greater access to
computers, they need to be very careful about the context in which that access happens.

If you give a student access to a computer in a classroom environment or an environment where there
is a parent who knows a lot about computers and can assist their child, then I suspect it actually
can be quite beneficial but if you put the computer in front of the child in an unstructured
environment, you can't just expect them to magically come up with something productive to do with
it.

SIMON LAUDER: When the Australian Government says it wants to give every student in Years 9 to 12
access to a computer at school by the year 2011, what are the pitfalls there, do you think?

JACOB VIGDOR: I think you have got to be a little bit careful about just assuming that access to
the computer is all it takes in order to improve a student's education. There have been many, many
experiments and studies of computer access at school and in general what these studies find is that
there aren't very strong impacts at all on the educational performance of these students.

So while, on paper, computers look like a great thing - they can be used to conduct research, they
can be used to help you become a better writer, they can be used to help you get better at math but
they can also be used for a lot of other things as well and you have got to take precautions
against some of these negative impacts if you are going to try to use them universally.

SIMON LAUDER: So does this mean putting computers in schools could actually be a waste of
taxpayers' money that might damage the education of some students?

JACOB VIGDOR: You have got to think twice before making a very large investment in computers at
school.

One analogy that I give to people is for those of us who were educated more than a decade ago, we
probably attended schools where there weren't very many computers around at all and to assume that
computers improve instruction and learning dramatically would be to argue that today's students are
doing quite a bit better than those of their parents' generation and we just don't find the kind of
evidence over the long term that that is really true.

SIMON LAUDER: You are visiting Australia at the moment. Do you think the accompaniments necessary
to make the computers in schools useful rather than counterproductive are being put in place in
Australia?

JACOB VIGDOR: I haven't gone to any schools in Australia but I would imagine that based on so many
of the studies that I have seen of children in the US is that even when you have proper safeguards
and those sorts of things to make sure that computers aren't used unwisely, they still aren't
providing a whole lot of benefit relative to the type of instruction that you would ordinarily have
just by having a teacher talk to you and teach you about things the old-fashioned way.

PETER CAVE: A professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, Jacob Vigdor speaking to
Simon Lauder in Melbourne.