Education Opinion

Learning from the Research

By LeaderTalk Contributor — February 15, 2009 1 min read

When do we practitioners have time to read current research studies that can assist us with our daily work? And, why does it seem so difficult to wade through the research terminology (e.g. standard deviation, fixed effect, coefficients, regressions) I recently took the time to read the 2008 paper Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement by Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd and Jacob L. Vigdor. How does someone who is passionate about putting technology in the hands of students and teachers use the results of this study?

The two research questions are:

Do students' basic academic skills improve when they have access to a computer at home? Has the introduction of high-speed internet access, which in theory expands the set of productive tasks for which home computers can be used, caused further improvements?"

Some of the key findings include:

Students reporting almost daily use of their home computer for schoolwork score significantly worse than students with no computer at home."

In terms of students who report lower test scores for students who use their home computer more extensively,

the most plausible explanation is that students who transition into the highest computer use category are using their computers for much more than just schoolwork, and these non-productive uses are actually crowding out productive study time."

In terms of high speed internet access.

Previous studies of home computer use among young adolescents have documented significant disparities in access and use, and have frequently ascribed clear educational benefits to home computer use. Together, these patterns suggest that a policy of broadening home computer access through programs of subsidy or direct provision would narrow achievement gaps. This paper corroborates the existence of sizable socioeconomic gaps in home computer access and use conditional on access, but comes to the opposite conclusion regarding the potential impact of broader access on achievement gaps."

Of course, the “achievement” that was being tested was student performance on statewide testing which may not exactly align with the knowledge and skills that the students are developing using computers. Thankfully the authors acknowledge that students may actually benefit from access to the computers.

While we find no evidence that this access improves math and reading scores, it is possible that computer and internet access improves important skills that are not directly measured by standardized tests in math or reading."

Again, what should we take away from these findings? I’m anxious to hear what others think.

Blair Peterson

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.