General: Is educational technology really worth it? Is there any evidence of its usefulness?
The situation IN MSD at OXFORD
In Oxford’s teaching environment, where face to face and small group teaching are the norm, the main roles for educational technology are probably:
- giving students control over their learning - where, when, how and what e.g access to self-test quizzes from home, access to MedLearn while waiting for a delayed consultant, access to those slides that they didn’t have time to look at in the practical class, access to recorded lectures to have another go at understanding that tricky bit in the middle.
- simulating situations not available in the real world - too difficult, costly or dangerous
- making learning fairer e.g removing marker variability through online assessment, alternative means of access to material
- facilitating collaboration/communication – audience response, group work, peer marking, etc.
- reducing administrative burden
GENERAL EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY
However, there is a considerable body of research out there on the efficacy of educational technology.
In a meta-analysis of 25 meta-analyses with minimal overlap in primary literature, encompassing 1,055 primary studies, Tamin et at. (2011) found that educational technology led to a mean 12% higher in attainment vs controls but that:
“effect sizes pertaining to computer technology used as “support for cognition” were significantly greater than those related to computer use for “presentation of content.” Taken together with the current study, there is the suggestion that one of technology’s main strengths may lie in supporting students’ efforts to achieve rather than acting as a tool for delivering content.”
Higgins et al. (2012) carried out a similar meta-analysis of 48 meta-analyses. Although it was based on research in schools, its principles are equally applicable in HE. They were more cautious about the general impact of educational technology:
“the correlational and experimental evidence does not offer a convincing case for the general impact of digital technology on learning outcomes”
But did find evidence for the benefits of certain approaches to the use of educational technology:
- Collaborative use of technology (in pairs or small groups) is usually more effective than individual use, though some pupils, especially younger children, may need guidance in how to collaborate effectively and responsibly.
- Technology can be as powerful as a short but focused intervention to improve learning, particularly when there is regular and frequent use (about three times a week) over the course of about a term (5 - 10 weeks). Sustained use over a longer period is usually less effective at providing this kind of boost to attainment.
- Remedial and tutorial use of technology can be particularly practical for lower attaining pupils, those with special educational needs or those from disadvantaged backgrounds in providing intensive support to enable them to catch up with their peers.
- In researched interventions, technology is best used as a supplement to normal teaching rather than as a replacement for it. This suggests some caution in the way in which technology is adopted or embedded in schools.
To support these more general studies, several studies have looked at the impact of individual technologies.
Higgins, S., Xiao, Z., and Katsipataki, M., 2012. The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Education Endowment Foundation. University of Durham/Education Endowment Foundation. 52pp.
Tamim, R. M., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovsi, E., Abrami, P. C., & Schmid, R. F., 2011. What Forty Years of Research Says About the Impact of Technology on Learning: A Second-Order Meta-Analysis and Validation Study. Review of Educational Research, 81(1), 4–28.