Glass orb with reflection of the landscape in it

Stephen Downes has written an article reviewing a recent BBC report that suggested “Students who use computers a lot at school have worse maths and reading performance” . The BBC article was reviewing a CESifo sponsored report, which studied school performance in several European Countries, evaluating the influence of many factors, of which only 1 was the impact of access to IT at home/ school. Downes considers the whole report, and concludes:

Probably this: that a computer, all by itself, considered independently of any parental or teacher support, considered without reference to the software running on it, considered without reference to student attitudes and interests, does not positively impact an education.

Stated thus, the conclusion is not surprising, nor even wrong. It is like saying that, without the Earth, the Moon orbits the Sun. But it ignores the mcuh more complex reality.

Unfortunately, such fine distinctions are missed in the reporing of results. Hence we read, “computers don’t help people learn” and “computers amke people dumb.” even flawed and skewed as it is, the study reaches no such conclusion; and when the biases are taken into account, it is hard to draw any conclusions at all from the study.

The population as a whole – let alone legislators – is ill served by such studies and such reporting. It is indeed hard not to conclude that the conduct of such research is intended, not to assist, but to skew public understanding of such complex subjects. Insofar as it is the purpose of the press to correct misunderstandings in the public mind (and one wonders these days) a more thorough and critical analysis of such work would be strongly recommended.

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