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Devices for learning - A student voice

"Are devices in school doing more harm than good?" In this article, recently published in newsroom, a data science and finance student writes about her experience of using digital platforms for learning at school, the" potential for benefit and high potential for harm", and what motivated her to move into the tech industry.

"...I have volunteered at a primary school code club and would like to see data science more accessible to young people. More generally, I reckon technology has the potential to make the world more efficient, equitable, and sustainable."

"And yet I worry about the overnight revolution around devices in schools, in particular the fact that the way schools actually use these devices is not well understood. And it seems there’s plenty of research to back up my concerns."

"Let’s start with my own experience. Proponents of the change to devices in schools assumed kids always listen to their teachers and use their devices as intended. In reality, my observation from volunteering in a primary school is ‘bring-your-own’ tablets and computers promotes alt-tab shifting away from schoolwork to dopamine-inducing games and applications the moment children can do so."

"In large classrooms, teachers are often powerless to stop this...."

"The devices to (learn digital skills) are already in our schools. How we use them may well determine the academic outcomes of our students, and perhaps even the future of our country in the years to come."

To understand the impact that using digital devices to learn has on student outcomes, PISA data was analysed in a report by the New Zealand Ministry of Education report in 2021.

This report noted clear trends and gave recommendations for teachers on how devices can be used most effectively for learning, including:

  • The use of digital platforms to learn is related to academic outcomes, and the relationship is not neutral. The conditions of use seem important, particularly who is using the device, and for how long.

  • The analysis showed that devices were most effective for learning when they are in the hands of the teachers, or to a lesser degree, by teachers and students together.

  • When students used devices independently, this was associated with lower academic outcomes.

  • In mathematics, device use was only positively associated with learning when in the hands of the teachers.

  • "Browsing the internet for schoolwork is a good thing, but devices should purposefully be limited to such schoolwork-related activity."

  • Internet use was positively associated with learning outcomes, but all other activities including simulations, learning apps, doing homework, group work and others were associated with poorer learning outcomes. Using email had no effect.

While the way devices are being used in some New Zealand schools needs review, we can also embrace digital technologies as the exciting field that it is, introducing children to skill-based use of digital technology such as coding, robotics, 3D printing, programming, animation, filmmaking.

Computer science can be taught from a young age with

non-digital games and puzzles.

for links to free teaching resources and evidence-based recommendations.

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