June 20, 2010
Home Computers Lower School Performance?

At the risk of stating the obvious: technology isn't an unalloyed blessing. Technology sometimes creates problems while solving other problems. People sometimes respond to new technologies in ways that are harmful to self and others. With all that in mind: A big survey of kids in North Carolina found that home computers and high speed internet cut student test scores, especially among lower class kids.

DURHAM, N.C. -- Around the country and throughout the world, politicians and education activists have sought to eliminate the "digital divide" by guaranteeing universal access to home computers, and in some cases to high-speed Internet service.

However, according to a new study by scholars at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, these efforts would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.

Politicians and professional educators desperately want silver bullets that'll raise test scores, especially for lower scoring minorities. So they look for technologies that'll help. But the problem is that the streets find their own uses for technology. With access to the internet most people do not go searching for lectures on math and physics. Rather, porno, games, movies, music videos, chat, and other diversions are much more eagerly sought.

To make computers useful learning tools for kids the computers would need to have a really controlled set of learning applications and electronic books. The kids using these computers should have to earn access to fun diversions by doing productive learning work first. The learning applications might work better if some of them appeared as learning games. But even ideal computer software isn't going to do a lot to boost the performance of dumber kids or of kids that just don't have much natural curiosity.

What I'd like to know: If the kids were tested for IQ and exposure to computers is there an IQ level at which computer exposure raises performance? Or do computers distract kids of all IQ levels away from school work?

They collected data on 150,000 individuals. They stopped at 2005 in order to avoid the Facebook effect. You can bet that Facebook,Twitter, and the like are pulling kids even further away from books and school work.

"We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren't getting into the Facebook and Twitter generation," Vigdor said. "The technology was much more primitive than that. IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it's been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn't share that perception." Kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, Vigdor added, with clear gender divisions between those activities.

Computers are enabling both children and adults to create environments more closely suited to their desires and not always necessarily to the needs of their intellectual development.

Some evidence points to benefit from home libraries of plain old style books. Though the big collections of books in homes are also a proxy for smarter and more curious parents. Some of that smarts and curiosity is getting passed down to the kids thru genes. Again, studies are needed that control for IQ to measure whether the books in a home really make a big difference. Speaking as a child reading addict the benefit seems likely to be real. If I could go back in a time machine and change my childhood I'd give myself a much bigger and better collection of books to read.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 June 20 10:59 PM  Brain Development


Comments
LAG said at June 21, 2010 6:21 AM:

"Politicians and professional educators desperately want silver bullets..." and that's the problem. There aren't any. Effort (i.e. work, concentration, repetition, etc) is required to learn. But children are told life ought to be effortless. Who can be surprised that there is not learning.

The technology involved is irrelevant. (Except perhaps for high energy physics.)

Clarium said at June 21, 2010 6:35 AM:
I completely agree with that home computers can lower school performance. Computer tools in a useful way of learning for children, computers should really be monitoring the number of applications for learning and electronic books. Children use these computers would be fun to gain access detours through productive work, learning first.

Interesting spambot... completely nonsensical sentence...

Randall, do you think if hypothetical nootropics exists that would enhance general intelligence (let's also assume that the boost would be greater for users who are in the lower half of the population) educators would encourage their universal use (as it would increase absolute performance of everyone and lower ability gaps within a population)?

It would seem that conscientiousness becomes an even more valuable trait with the advent of the Internet, but people with low conscientiousness and high intelligence would also use the Internet to pursue non-academic but intellectually challenging interests which would distract them from their school work.

someguy said at June 21, 2010 5:46 PM:

Anyone remember the digital divide? It had now turned a 180.

someguy said at June 21, 2010 5:48 PM:

Digital divide?

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2010 7:03 PM:

Clarium,

Drugs that boost the intelligence of everyone equally would not narrow the gaps. The "educators" want to narrow the gaps.

Technology certainly widens the gaps. The higher the potential becomes for achievement the more that the most achievement-able will soar above the rest.

not anon or anonymous said at June 22, 2010 11:24 AM:
Drugs that boost the intelligence of everyone equally would not narrow the gaps. The "educators" want to narrow the gaps.

They certainly focus on narrowing the gap, but that's because they expect this to be easier than increasing absolute performance. Nobody would care about the "gap" if the low-performers weren't as abysmal as they are.

David Friedman said at June 22, 2010 1:55 PM:

You write:

"To make computers useful learning tools for kids the computers would need to have a really controlled set of learning applications and electronic books. The kids using these computers should have to earn access to fun diversions by doing productive learning work first."

I can offer two children, currently twenty and seventeen, as striking evidence that that claim is false. Both had uncontrolled access to the internet since they were very young, and they learned a lot as a result. My son, for example, taught himself to touch type at an early age because he wanted to be able to talk to the people he was playing online games with. A little later, he taught himself how to spell because he didn't want people he was interacting with online to think he was stupid. I'm not sure if that was before or after one of his online Starcraft opponents asked him how old he was, and Bill couldn't understand why the questioner didn't believe the answer (I think six or seven). My daughter took a year of college Italian before going to college, and it's still her favorite language. Why? Because a couple she knew online through World of Warcraft were French Canadians who spoke, or at least wrote, fluent English, and she thought if other people were going to learn her language she should learn someone else's. A lot of her writing practice came from writing WoW battle reports to web. As a general rule, people learn more when they are acquiring skills they actually want and have a current use for than when they are learning things someone else has told them will some day be useful and commanded them to learn now.

I could offer a lot of other examples. I agree that access to the internet isn't necessarily educational. On the other hand, an awful lot of things not packaged as "learning applications" are in fact educational—and much of what is packaged as education, online and elsewhere, is not.

jam said at June 22, 2010 4:01 PM:

Strange that the article describes this as a "new" study, as the authors publicized these findings more than two years ago. http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/events/colloquia/Vigdor_ScalingtheDigitalDivide.pdf

Randall Parker said at June 22, 2010 6:01 PM:

David Friedman,

I also wrote:

What I'd like to know: If the kids were tested for IQ and exposure to computers is there an IQ level at which computer exposure raises performance? Or do computers distract kids of all IQ levels away from school work?

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess your kids have IQs quite a bit above average.

My guess is that lower IQ kids are more easily distracted from learning and that they need a more structured environment. My guess is that high IQ minds see so many more patterns around them that they will get much more out of the internet.

More broadly: I bet the internet is increasing the gap in understanding between the smartest and dumbest because when the internet raises the bar of what is possible then the minds most capable of grasping increased amounts of information will soar higher.

Lono said at June 23, 2010 8:17 AM:

Randall,

The internet is practically killing my ability to tolerate ignorance!

I used to have some ability to handle that people were ill-informed - but now - with my peers having unlimted internet access - the gap between our respective knowledge sets is unreal!

In general I am taking in 700% more information a year then I did pre-modern internet - but many of my co-workers are actually taking in LESS useful information as they have given up the little reading they used to do in order to keep up with Farmville/Mafia Wars/Facebook/Celeb Gossip, etc...

It's truly maddening!!!!

As much as I love my ability to better myself - on my own terms - I feel sometimes like I'm in some rediculous nightmare where everyone has become some kind of zombie!

And the few I am able to give some level of new education to invariably draw insanely incorrect conclusions from the new data I have given them!

I can only imagine a truly Human like A.I. will simply have to regard even the brightest among us - at best - as amusing pets...

Let's hope we can give them some reason to have compassion for our inherrent limitations - at least until they can uplift us to their level of awareness!

Friedman,

Your kids be smart and self-motivated - consider having them (and perhaps yourself) join Mensa - we need all the help we can get!

laura de leer said at June 23, 2010 10:28 AM:

is 'tru' a word?

Randall Parker said at June 23, 2010 7:32 PM:

Lono,

I've made my peace with the ignorance of the masses. Thgouh it has taken me many years to appreciate the pervasiveness and depth of ignorance. Even TV political channels mostly display copious ignorance because they've got to appeal to a lower average IQ than the level needed to discuss issues intelligently.

I do not try to talk in any depth with most people. I mean, what's the point?

I just want to know more smart people in my every day life. Outside of work conversations with a few really sharp software developers most of my intelligent conversations are online in some capacity.

The web's effect on me has been to allow me to think research and think thru my views on a lot more topics and a lot more accurately. The web is great for me. But while I know some people I think are as smart as me I know very few people in real life who share my level of curiosity.

Lono said at June 24, 2010 10:02 AM:

"But while I know some people I think are as smart as me I know very few people in real life who share my level of curiosity."

Exactly - and this (to me) is amazingly infuriating - very well said!

ASPIRANT said at June 25, 2010 12:37 PM:

>>join MENSA
Let's all get together talk about how smart we are! That'll solve the world's problems!

Randall Parker said at June 26, 2010 11:14 AM:

Aspirant,

It probably helps the development of smart kids to be able to have smart peers. So grade school age Mensa membership seems like a good idea.

Lono said at June 28, 2010 9:15 AM:

ASPIRANT,

I am always amused at the notion that people join Mensa for bragging rights.

I would say the most common response I receive to people finding out I am a member is defensive/nervous ridicule.

Your post here is a case-in-point.

I would like to see Mensa become more socially and politically active and I - as well as many others - am spearheading reform in that direction - and - as Randall points out - there is little downside to surrounding yourself with challenging and talented peers.

Post a comment
Comments:
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
URL:
Remember info?

                       
Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©