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Report: Students’ tech use remains infrequent

An analysis of digital tool and technology use reveals students aren't using classroom technologies to full capacity

Students’ use of digital tools and other learning technologies remains relatively sporadic, according to a new study.

Based on direct classroom observations of 140,000 K-12 classrooms across 39 states and 11 countries, the study by the school improvement organization AdvancED found there are still relatively few classrooms in which the use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience.

The findings come from an analysis of three years of data from AdvancED’s learning observation environments observation tool, eleot, which measures and quantifies active student engagement through learner-centric classroom observations, to determine how extensively technology is being used to engage students in learning.

Three eleot items focus specifically on students’ use of digital tools and technology for a variety of purposes:
1. Students use digital tools/technology to gather, evaluate and/or use information for learning.
2. Students use digital tools/technology to conduct research, solve problems and/or create original works for learning.
3. Students use digital tools/technology to communicate and work collaboratively for learning.

More than half of classrooms included in the study (52.7 percent) showed no evidence of using technology to gather, evaluate, or use information for learning. Roughly two-thirds of surveyed classrooms showed no evidence of using technology to conduct research, solve problems, or create original work, nor to communicate and work collaboratively for learning.

The lowest average rating (1.76) based on 142,585 observations was students’ use of digital tools/technology for the purpose of communicating and working collaboratively. Given that students are constantly using technology to communicate through chatting, blogging, emailing, texting and gaming, it is surprising that this routine part of students’ daily lives is not being leveraged for learning in their K-12 classrooms. Or maybe this should not be at all surprising.

The report cites Richard Freed, a clinical psychologist and the author of Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age, as saying that “high levels of smartphone use by teens often have a detrimental effect on achievement, because teen phone use is dominated by entertainment, not learning, applications.” (Barnwell 2016).

But perhaps this is a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” dilemma, the authors noted. Teens were never asked or charged with using smartphones for learning, so their lived experience and reality command a different use. Well-orchestrated and deliberate learning applications for smartphone use in classrooms could change this, they suggested.

The study looked at data gathered in 20-minute observation periods during which specially trained observers conducted student-centered classroom observations in randomly selected classrooms, lessons, and schools at the beginning, middle, and end of class.

Dr. Ludy van Broekhuizen, chief innovation officer for AdvancED and author of the research study, notes that increasing student engagement may be a far more powerful learning tool than technology itself.

“When students are genuinely engaged in their learning around topics that connect to their lives and interest them, they are much less inclined to engage in off-task behaviors with or without access to technology,” he noted. “It is when students lose themselves in their learning that we have accomplished what we set out to do for them in the first place.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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