digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Defenders of the Book

Rather than defending old-fashioned reading, teachers can enhance it with online experiences. Henry Jenkins is the Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC.

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photo of Mark Bauerlein Young people are reading and writing more than ever, but, Mark Bauerlein asks, can online chatting and social networking replace books for learning?


There's conflicting research on the effectiveness of technology in reading instruction. In an exhaustive research analysis published in 2004, Richard Andrews found no evidence that the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to promote literacy learning was superior to non-ICT resources and methods of instruction. In 2009, a two-year Department of Education study on the effectiveness of reading and math software programs found "no significant difference in student achievement between the classrooms that used the technology products and the classrooms that did not use the technology products."

But some programs have shown success. For example, Maine instituted a statewide one-to-one laptop program for middle schoolers in 2002-2003. Although reading scores inititally did not improve, the number of 8th-graders who did not meet standards on the Maine Education Assessments dropped from 18 percent in 2005-2006 to 11 percent in 2007-2008. In 2008, a three-year study of the large one-to-one laptop program in Henrico County, VA, found that laptop use was associated with higher test scores in reading and other subjects.

The discrepancy in research results might be accounted for by the wide range of teaching styles and approaches when using technology. Researchers continue to debate what is actually meant by "educational technology" and how to measure its effectiveness. As Dr. C. Paul Newhouse wrote in 2002, "While it would be convenient to be able to make a direct connection between the use of ICT and learning outcomes, most reputable educational researchers today would agree that there will never be a direct link because learning is mediated through the learning environment and ICT is only one element of that environment."


posted February 2, 2010

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