Schoolchildren whose classrooms are filled with computer-aided learning have higher test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, better behavior and are better at solving problems.
Those are among the findings of a new study completed by Boise State University’s College of Education and the U.S. Army Research Institute - the first comprehensive study of its kind since 1991.
“Now we have the groundwork and the data to say, ‘Yes, this works,”’ said Carolyn Thorsen, the BSU professor who helped lead the study.
The catch is, the “computer-rich” environment that brings all of those benefits means one computer for every two to five children, with each child spending 30 minutes per subject, per day using it. And it means teachers are trained to use the computers effectively in the classroom.
Only about 10 percent of Idaho’s classrooms meet that standard, and most of them are experimental or pilot programs.
In Coeur d’Alene, one classroom at every elementary school was set up as a “prototypical classroom” last year, with extra computers.
“It’s more a demonstration site in each elementary school than anything else, designed to train teachers,” said Doug Cresswell, Coeur d’Alene superintendent.
Joe Benner, a fifth-grade teacher at Borah Elementary School in Coeur d’Alene who has one of the “prototypical” classrooms, has only three computers. But he also uses a “PC-to-TV” setup to teach the whole class at once using one computer.
Although students are only guaranteed 30 minutes a week of individual computer time, Benner said, “The kids can’t get enough of them. They’re excited and amazed about what you can do with a computer.”
Idaho lawmakers have funneled about $10 million a year for the past three years into computers for school classrooms.
“Really, this study was in response to them wanting to know if they were spending the money well,” Thorsen said.
The results of the study were overwhelming. “Ninety-eight percent of the data points to the same conclusion,” she told a group of educators, foundation heads, legislators and other policy-makers at a Wednesday announcement.
She added, “We plan on circulating this nationwide. I would say it is a landmark study.”
The U.S. Army Research Institute provided about $40,000 to fund two BSU graduate students’ work on the study. The Army is interested in the findings for the schools it runs for the children of military personnel, and also for their implications as far as the training of soldiers and other adults.
The study analyzed research projects on education in kindergarten through 12th grade, in four core subjects (English, science, social studies and math) and in seven computer techniques or teaching approaches, from word processing to instructional software.
“They were real schools, real teachers, real classrooms,” Thorsen said. All compared the “computer-rich” learning to a control group that used more conventional approaches.
The new study, which analyzes data from more than 200 research studies conducted since 1992, was two years in planning, and took about a year to complete.
Robert Barr, dean of the BSU College of Education, described the study as a “comprehensive synthesis of research” that previously had been too fragmented and specific to point to any broad conclusions.
Other findings included:
Teachers in computer-rich classrooms tend to function more as guides and mentors than as lecturers. They also tend to team up with other teachers and work across disciplines.
Students who learn in the computer-rich environment earn more college scholarships and are more likely to go to college.
Students who are failing academically and are at risk of dropping out of school show some of the biggest gains.
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