Monthly Archives: September 2015

Students, computers and learning – not such a good thing

The OECD report: Students, Computers and Learning Making the Connection (2015) caused some interesting headlines in the press Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD (BBC, 2015).

This OECD report is not as alarming as a journalist’s headline might wish to make out (BBC, 2015.)

The conclusion of the report is quite obvious: that learning is not enhanced by using ICT. This is not to say that using ICT in education is a bad thing. It’s just that it’s use in schools has to be tempered and analysed like any other educational tool. The report concludes that other skills should be “bolstered” – like literacy and numeracy and skills – so that the student can better navigate the digital world.

Of concern is the detrimental effect that over use of ICT is having on children. The evidence is compelling and I don’t disagree with this.

“Excessive use of the Internet has also been found to be related to various problems among  adolescents, including poor academic performance, family and interpersonal problems,  and even physical weakness (Park, Kang and Kim, 2014). While the causal direction is not  always established, excessive use of the Internet for leisure can harm academic achievement  and health, as it reduces the time available for sleep, study or physical activity. Conversely,  students who feel excluded from school-based socialisation may retreat to online activities.  In these cases, excessive use of the Internet is more a symptom than a cause of their problems.  Acknowledging emerging concerns over adolescents’ use of the Internet for online gaming, the  fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) identifies  Internet Gaming Disorder as a condition warranting more clinical research…” (OECD, 2015: 43).

I would also not disagree with anybody who told me that doing any activity to an extreme and to the exclusion of other activities is not a healthy lifestyle. I would include watching too much TV, obsessing over Jason Beiber, spending lots of hours hanging out in the park with mates as being too much and detrimental. My point is that I don’t regard the act of gaming or social networking as inherently bad. It’s the obsessive over use that leads to a reduction of the time spent on a healthy mixture of other activities that is bad.

There are other issues I would like to look at in this report, but have not had the time to read all of it. In particular I need to read more about the report’s conclusions on “teaching” children better reading and navigating skills so that they navigate and read in digital texts better.


BBC (2015) Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD, BBC, 15 September 2015.

OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing.

Class sizes and teacher effectiveness

I was reading about teacher effectiveness and how it’s the most crucial factor in achieving good student outcomes.

It was alleged that the most important thing in the mix — the mix being all the possible factors that contribute to student performance — are excellent teachers. The example was that of the Californian experiment when the State decided to implement a policy of class size reduction (CSR) as a quick and magic fix for poor quality student outcomes, especially in poorer areas (Imazeki, 2003)

To quickly fill all these new classes, less qualified, and less experienced teachers were hired. The overall effect was that the results were either bad or good. I can find several papers in the academic literature that say it was worse as teacher quality was the greater factor and only one paper from a think tank that said CSR was more important. (, 2012)

So. There you are. My initial reaction is that there is a pressure group out there denying academic study. But I have not had time to read them in depth. What I am really doing is parking this subject here with some sources to come back to later if and when required. I will have to go through this more thoroughly.

Smaller isn’t always better

I did find this pithy summary of the effect of class sizes. It certainly made me sit up when it said that class sizes of less than 10 “lacks energy”. This was my experience with small class numbers in Spain.

“Teachers know that, when it comes to class size, certain thresholds matter. A class with fewer than 10 students lacks energy, and is hardly worth teaching. Seminars — where each student has a chance to participate, share their ideas and thoughts with the rest of the class — work well with up to 15 or 20 students. Above 20 students, it becomes necessary to lecture, but it is still possible to have some group work, and get to know each student individually. With more than 40 students, it is impossible to do anything but lecture.

In lecture-style classes, student numbers are relatively unimportant. A class of 60 is little different from a class of 120. Large classes — 300, 400, 1000 students — can be impersonal, and students tend to sit in the back and whisper. But given a choice between being one of 300 students listening to an engaging and entertaining speaker, or one of 100 students listening to a dull and pedantic one, most students will pick the good talker every time.

This has been known for centuries. Maimonides formulated a rule almost a thousand years ago: when a class has 40 students, it is necessary to hire a second teacher. (Universities today use a similar rule, hiring teaching assistants for classes with much more than 40 students.)” (Woolley, 2011)

Sources (2012) In California, class size reduction led to significant improvements in student achievement, parental involvement, and teacher retention.

Imazeki, Jennifer (2003) Class-size Reduction and Teacher Quality: Evidence from California. IN School Finance and Teacher Quality: Exploring the Connections

Woolley, Frances (2011) University class sizes: Smaller isn’t always better  The Globe and Mail. 4 Nov 2011