Too much computer exposure may hinder learning
By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, The Christian Science Monitor
For all the schools and parents who have together invested billions to give children a learning edge through the latest computer technology, a mammoth new study by German researchers brings some sobering news: Too much exposure to computers might spell trouble for the developing mind.
| | Key to the future: In Freeport, Maine, all seventh- and eighth-graders get their own laptop. | |
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From a sample of 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries, researchers at the University of Munich announced in ...view middle of the document...
"You could argue that's the big issue here: People need guidance in how to use [computers in education]," says Dr. Marcia Linn, professor of education and director of the Technology Enhanced Learning in Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley.
In surveying the gamut of research for his 2003 book "The Flickering Mind" (Random House), journalist Mark Oppenheimer found most studies have overstated either the benefits or the drawbacks computers pose in education. The most thorough studies have found computers to have little effect either way, he said, although some guiding principles are beginning to emerge.
Computer technology "is used too much and very unwisely in the younger years, and not wisely enough in the older years," says Oppenheimer. For 15-year-olds, he says, "you'd be foolish not to use the [World Wide] Web" for a research project, but only alongside conventional information-gathering techniques. The big picture goal: help students use high-quality sources.
Against this backdrop, the German study stands out on account of two features: its unusually broad, international sample and its bid to isolate computers as a performance-shaping factor.
Mindful that computers are more common among affluent families, whose children often outperform more disadvantaged ones, the University of Munich researchers controlled for such variables as parents' education and working status.
When those were removed from the equation, having more than one computer at home was no longer associated with top academic performance. In fact, the study says, "The...