Saturday, 30 March 2013

Computers at home--no academic impact?

Having a computer at home produces no identifiable impact on academic achievement--positive or negative--according to a study released in February 2013.  The study was conducted by two professors at the University of California, Santa Cruz--Robert Fairlie and Jonathan Robinson.

Unlike most previous research on the topic, this was a randomized study.  It included 1,123 students in grades 6-10 in 15 California schools.  All students in the study had no computers at home.  Half the students were given a computer to use at home, the other half were not given a computer to have at home until after the study was completed.  All students were able to keep the computers permanently.
About 75% of students in California have access to computers at home; the students in the study were from the 25% who do not.  Access to computers in school is ubiquitous, the authors report, with 15.5 million in US schools, about one computer for every three students.

In their literature review, the authors identify a few studies reporting large positive impact on grades, test scores and cognitive skills.  An equal number of studiesreported no impact or negative impact of having a computer at home.
The researchers found "that even though the experiment had a large effect on computer ownership and total hours of computer use, there is no evidence of an effect on a host of educational outcomes, including grades, standardized test scores, credits earned, attendance, and disciplinary actions...Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even moderately-sized positive or negative effects."

As well, "the pattern of usage is also consistent with a negligible effect of the computers--while treatment students did report spending more time on computers for schoolwork, they also spent more time on games, social networking and other entertainment."

The context is an environment where computers are widely available at school and in the great majority of homes so students may find other ways of carrying out work that requires a computer even if they don't have one at home. 
Similar research on the impact of computers at home in countries where they are not ubiquitous might produce different results.  Several Latin American countries, including Peru, Argentina and Uruguay have undertaken large scale provision of computers to students who can use them at home and at school.

The authors of this study, though, suggest that those in the US proposing to give computers to students for their use at home "need to be realistic about their potential to reduce the current achievement gap."

Reference:  Fairlie, R. and Robinson, J.  (2013).  "Experimental evidence on the effects of home computers on academic achievement among schoolchildren."

The Forschungsinstitute zur Zunkunft der Arbeit-Institute for the Study of Labor that published the study is a German economics research institute.





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