PhotoAdvances in technology have allowed teachers to bolster their lessons, but a new study is skeptical of how positive the addition of technology in the classroom actually is. 

Researchers from the University of Buffalo have highlighted the ways technology has become productive for teachers, but it also revealed the ways it has hindered learning outcomes in some cases. 

“The critical piece for me is not about being anti-technology, but to emphasize that even with, or especially with, technology, schools must work on the interpersonal things that happen in schools,” said researcher Annahita Ball. “Schools are communities and we should find ways to help teachers understand how technology plays into the classroom; help kids use it in ways that facilitates their learning; and then help parents understand how to work with their kids.” 

The pros and cons of technology in the classroom

Over the course of a four-month study, Ball and her team provided students and teachers from two fourth-grade and two fifth-grade classes in a low-income school district with tablets and WiFi access. One class from each grade was selected to take the tablets home with them to utilize for homework, while the other class could only use the technology while in school. 

The researchers assessed the students’ motivation and engagement both before and after the introduction of the tablets, and they also privately interviewed the teachers and had the students’ parents respond to questionnaires, all in an effort to gauge how the technology affected the students. 

The study ultimately revealed some mixed messages. The teachers’ self-reporting on improved outcomes in the classroom from their students deviated from the statistical tests that the researchers conducted. The discrepancy showed that the students became less engaged and motivated following the introduction of the tablets when it came to their schoolwork. 

However, the students themselves reported having an easier time completing their homework assignments. They also felt more comfortable asking for help in class, and the technology aided them during lessons. Similarly, the parents involved said the technology fostered more communication with their children about what they were learning in school, and it was easier for them to keep track of assignments and what their kids were studying. 

Despite these mixed reviews, the researchers hope that future research continues to explore how technology is affecting kids in the classroom. 

“These technology programs are being rolled out massively and the evidence on their effects is mixed,” said Ball. “Context plays a role, because teachers reported seeing more collaboration among the kids, so there is something that can be leveraged within the learning context to help kids benefit from these tools. We need to do more work to determine what that specifically might be.” 

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