A review of 1 on 1 laptops in education shows… that much more and better research is needed

At first when I read this new study by Binbin Zheng, Mark Warschauer Chin-Hsi Lin, Chi Chang, I thought based on the abstract that there was finally great news for EdTech in education:

Over the past decade, the number of one-to-one laptop programs in schools has steadily increased. Despite the growth of such programs, there is little consensus about whether they contribute to improved educational outcomes. This article reviews 65 journal articles and 31 doctoral dissertations published from January 2001 to May 2015 to examine the effect of one-to-one laptop programs on teaching and learning in K–12 schools. A meta-analysis of 10 studies examines the impact of laptop programs on students’ academic achievement, finding significantly positive average effect sizes in English, writing, mathematics, and science. In addition, the article summarizes the impact of laptop programs on more general teaching and learning processes and perceptions as reported in these studies, again noting generally positive findings.

But hold your horses, when you start reading the actual article there is sadly enough much less reason to be happy, imho. Check this conclusion, bold by me:

Contrary to Cuban’s (2003) argument that computers are “oversold and underused” (p. 179) in schools, laptop environments are reshaping many aspects of education in K–12 schools. The most common changes noted in the reviewed studies include significantly increased academic achievement in science, writing, math, and English; increased technology use for varied learning purposes; more student-centered, individualized, and project-based instruction; enhanced engagement and enthusiasm among students; and improved teacher–student and home–school relationships. Contrary to Mayer’s argument that educational technology is a neutral tool indifferent to its use (Veronikas & Shaughnessy, 2005), laptop computers have specific affordances that make certain uses and outcomes likely, such as the ease with which they can be used for drafting, revising, and sharing writing, and for personal access of information.

Though our analysis corroborates and extends many of the positive conclusions from earlier syntheses of one-to-one computing, it is far from the last word on this topic, in part because a disproportionate amount of the research to date on this topic consists of small case studies in one or a handful of schools. The number of studies identified that deployed rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental methods was small, making meta-analysis difficult, and making it impossible for us to conduct moderator analyses. In addition, studies on this topic have largely done a poor job of assessing learning outcomes that are not well-captured by current iterations of standardized tests. As the United States and other countries move to more sophisticated forms of standardized assessment, these new measures may be better aligned with the learning goals believed to be associated with laptop use.

The falling price of hardware, software, and wireless access; the increasing digital literacy of teachers, students, and parents; the growing sophistication of educational technology applications; and the rising need for computers to be used in student assessment all suggest that one-to-one laptop programs are going to continue to expand in K–12 schools. This, in turn, should encourage larger, better-funded, and longer studies that can more systematically identify what works, what does not, for what purposes, and for whom in the one-to-one laptop classroom.

Actually I think that the second paragraph makes the first one way too strong. So I do think that the debate between Kozma and Clark hasn’t been decided yet. In itself, this review study is an interesting read also when discussing e.g. inequality.

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