The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has partnered with Learning in the Real World—a nonprofit group that is skeptical about the value of technology in education—to fund new research about the impact of computer use on child development, particularly from birth to age 11.

“In the last few years, the discussion of educational technology in schools across the nation has become a lot more animated,” said William L. Rukeyser, coordinator of Learning in the Real World, based in Woodland, Calif.

A slew of parenting magazines advocate computer use for young children, and professional organizations—such as the American Psychological Association—are holding conferences on the topic, Rukeyser said. Despite the push to get technology in schools, he claims little research has been done on the subject.

“So far, there has been a noticeable lack of research on the impact of educational technology on child development or achievement,” Rukeyser said. “If this was a new drug going on the market, there would be much more research done.”

The two organizations have invited researchers in the fields of child development, and early childhood education to submit proposals for research projects that investigate the possible connection between early and frequent computer use and children’s gross and visual motor development.

“Initially, we’ve got $50,000 for one or more projects,” Rukeyser said. The groups will grant a maximum of $50,000 to a university or research institution for a period of one year, with the possibility of renewal depending on the availability of funds.

While most educational technology advocates agree there needs to be more research into technology’s effects on learning, some are concerned that the AAP has partnered with a group that has a clear agenda against technology in education.

“We are a little concerned at their choice of partner,” said John Vaille, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Since the group that funds the research is responsible for choosing the questions that will be asked, Vaille said he is concerned the AAP’s study will reach a pre-determined conclusion.

Vaille said he would be less worried if AAP had chosen to partner with a group like the Consortium for School Networking or ISTE in addition to Learning in the Real World. “Bring an advocate in so the two of you sponsor the work and both sides are at the table,” he said.

Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking, said he was surprised that AAP chose to partner with Learning in the Real World.

“I don’t think it’s bad that Learning in the Real World is putting money on the table to do this,” Krueger said. But “it worries me that this academic organization would start this [study] off with a group that immediately has a bias.”

Krueger warned educators: Always pay attention to who sponsors research projects. “When we look at research, we should look at who funds it and where it’s coming from,” he said. “The funding source shouldn’t be tied to someone who has already come to a conclusion.”

Dale Mann, professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College and managing director of Interactive Inc., a learning technology research firm based in Huntington, N.Y., said educators should be skeptical of all research.

“All research is partisan,” Mann said, even if it comes from a government agency like the U.S. Department of Education.

“If the American Academy of Pediatrics wants to do research that surfaces negative aspects of learning technology, then so be it,” Mann said. “It’s the process of competition and the collision of ideas out of which a larger understanding grows.”

Rukeyser said his organization would not publish the research results itself; instead, the results will be published in peer-reviewed journals.

“This is such a big field that, obviously, one or two research projects are not going to answer the questions that have to be asked,” Rukeyser said. “It will take many research projects to tackle this field. We hope the bigger foundations and government organizations will be inspired by this and fund more research projects.”

Links:

Learning in the Real World
http://www.realworld.org

American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.aap.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://ww.cosn.org