This generation in education is going to be remembered as an era of technological leaps. The internet, tablets, and “disrupting” educational traditions with new technologies are all a part of the educational landscape right now, and none of these will be going away.
But the question constantly being asked is, “what value is being added?” Everyone wants to know how technology affects student learning, which is a difficult question to study.
Patricia Alexander and Lauren Singer from The Conversation have reviewed decades of research and conducted their own studies into the matter. Old research and new both agreed on one thing: reading comprehension is better from a print source than from a screen.
There was a curious discrepancy in how students perceived that technology affects learning; their study participants overwhelmingly preferred to read in digital formats and did so much, much faster. They assumed their comprehension as being better from the screens as well, but testing proved that participants who read print media could answer specific questions about it much more regularly. Only general comprehension was unchanged, indicating that students who read the material on screens skimmed well, but not in depth, while students who read in print did so word-for-word.
The study doesn’t indicate that screen-based media has no place in the classroom. We read for many different purposes and not all of them require in-depth comprehension. Additionally, technology affects student learning differently for those with different access levels. For instance, a small group in Alexander and Singer’s study were not used to reading on screens, and when given digital material improved their comprehension score considerably, indicating that being slowed down by a new media benefited them.
Technological advances in our classrooms are inevitable, and should be welcomed and built with enthusiasm. But it is important to look honestly at their benefits, regardless of our excitement for what’s new. And important too not to abandon what is old and tested without objectively weighing it against the latest innovation.
The generation that grew up with new technology in the headlines every week are becoming our teachers now. Alexander and Singer call them and their new wave of students digital natives, and hope their study reminds them to consider how new and old technology affects student learning, and what our students truly need.