Vol 5 . . . No 4 . . . December, 1995

"Did anybody learn anything?"


Ever since microcomputers came ashore around 1980, schools have been scooping them up by the millions as if they represented some great panacea to resolve the dozens of crippling issues raised by A Nation at Risk and countless other critical reports.

Fifteen years and millions of dollars later, what evidence can we present to justify the investment?

"Did anybody learn anything?" is the essential question. Has this just been another great educational bandwagon or boondoggle? Or has the introduction of new technology made a substantial difference in the learning of students?

The most substantial research into student learning with technologies has examined performance on lower order tasks and basic skills. And much of that research was highly biased and seriously flawed. In all too many cases, the findings were generated by vendor contracts and the research failed the independence test. A careful review of professionally conducted research provides little evidence that growth in skill persists beyond the initial "gadget stage." The impact of technology upon such skills is rarely contrasted with alternative strategies such as training teachers to be more effective teachers of reading. Given several hundred thousand dollars, what's the best way to provoke dramatic student gains?

Too little work has been done measuring gains in higher order skills. We have few studies which explore the growth in student group problem-solving skills, for example. How does the power of student communication improve when they are taught to compose essays with a word processor - when they are taught to wield the computer as an idea processor rather than a glorified typewriter? How well can they "crunch" data in order to gauge relationships between variables? Can they conduct explanatory research rather than mere descriptive research? Or are they simply more powerful word movers?

How do new information technologies enhance student learning? Does e-mail make for stronger writers and communicators? Does access to the Internet encourage a global perspective? How well can our students manage info-glut, info-garbage, info-tactics and cyberporn?

For decades now, many educators have shied away from measuring progress on essential learning tasks. Recent attention to "student outcomes" has brought the challenge to center stage, but much of the early work has been either frustrating to teachers or seriously flawed. Those who have pushed for standards and assessment of outcomes have often found themselves on the defensive as various groups have launched assaults (Example: Go by Web to Kossor Newsletter - http://www.voicenet.com/~sakossor/pe1_3.html) against the movement.

The premise of this article is that "deep" assessment is central to both program growth and student progress. Time has come to measure results. We have the tools and the models. (Example: an abstract of the article, Computer-Mediated Collaborative Learning: An Empirical Evaluation, MIS Quarterly, (18:02), June 1994, pp. 159-174, written by Maryam Alavi, College of Business and Management, University of Maryland - http://www.bmgt.umd.edu/Business/AcademicDepts/IS/Learning/misq1802.html) Now we must "face the mirror."

Remember what happened to the mirror in Snow White! Asked by the Queen who was the fairest of them all, the mirror erred in telling an unwelcome truth. Assessment which is deep and authentic can also be disheartening, threatening and embarrassing. Go by Web to Snow White story. (http://www.uni-frankfurt.de/~fp/Disney/Tales/SnowWhite.html).

On the other hand, if we cannot look at reality, we will be left with virtual success, which tastes, when all is said and done, about as appetizing as virtual lunch.

The Sad and Sorry State of Technology Program Assessment---Hypotheses for the Sad and Sorry State---Why Bother? What's the Pay-Off?---The Centrality of Clear Goals and Outcome Statements---Assessment for Navigation---Self-Assessment Instruments---Performance Assessment Instruments---When all is said and done---Resources

Return to December, 1995

Copyright Policy: Materials published in From Now On may be duplicated only in hard copy format for educational, non-profit school district use only. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted.
FNO is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.

times since December 28.