Study Questions Efficacy of 1:1 vs. 2:1 Learning with Devices

study will be presented at the International Communication Association’s 65th annual conference, in which a Ph.D. candidate suggests that students learning with a shared device have better academic outcomes than both students in a 1:1 environment, as well as students with no access to devices. The study, by Courtney Blackwell, suggests the results that students sharing a tablet scored higher than the other groups. However, the initial hypothesis and base methodology may appear to raise more questions than answers about the statistical significance of the study.  

Hopefully this research takes such factors into account, or further analysis is completed before the industry attempts to make generalizations into the efficacy of digital learning for early childhood, or any age.

In her study of 352 kindergarten students, Blackwell compared classrooms between 3 Chicago-area elementary schools. The first school in the study gave tablets to every student. The second school had children share the tablet and in the third school, students had no access to tablets. Student literacy was measured using the STAR Early Literacy Assessment (from Renaissance Learning) as the basis for her findings. She was quoted as saying, “1:1 tablet computers may not be the most effective way to use technology for all grades and from a policy standpoint, we need to rethink what developmentally appropriate technology use is for young children.”

My problems with the “results”

My problem with these findings? Blackwell focuses on the device as the solution and appears to overlook some of the most obvious factors that influence academic outcomes. Some may argue, “Oh you’re just saying that because you work for a company that manufactures tablets.” While HP does make tablets as do other companies, you’ll see from my past articles, as well as my colleagues that focusing solely on the device leads to failed programs. Project RED goes to great length to educate school leaders that selecting a student device is step #568 out of 1,500 steps for successful adoption, but as I shared recently, only 6% of school superintendents are even aware of Project RED so they often repeat these mistakes with high frequency.

Some questions that immediately came to mind as I read the abstract and results (the full report wasn’t accessible due to a broken hyperlink on her official CV):

Curriculum – What instructional decisions were made before the tablets were delivered? How did those instructional choices focus on improving outcomes in literacy?

Pedagogy – How did the curriculum choices impact the teaching style to be adopted in the classroom? Referencing Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, were both schools with 1:1 and 2:1 using the same approaches? Was classroom time spent on more passive learning methods such as reading texts and watching videos, or was classroom time spent in active discussion and teaching others? On the surface, more discussion has to occur when students share devices, but that alone doesn’t suggest that 2:1 delivers better results.

Resources – What specific tools were used on the devices? Were they identical in the 2:1 and 1:1 schools?

Professional Development – How much training did each faculty member receive before handing out tablets?

Student Demographics – If the study compares literacy test results, what pre-study data was used to measure actual improvement in student literacy during the test period, versus the students’ innate abilities?

Reinforcing Learning at Home – Did devices go home with the children to help them reinforce the skills they learned in class that day? If not, then the comparisons made in this study are the equivalent of COWs (Computers on Wheels) when carts of devices were brought into classrooms 5-15 years ago.

I look forward to reading the full study, and welcome the interest and enthusiasm that Dr. Blackwell has for educational technology. Hopefully this research takes such factors into account, or further analysis is completed before the industry attempts to make generalizations into the efficacy of digital learning for early childhood, or any age.

Elliott Levine is Americas Education Strategist for HP. A former K-12 official and regular public speaker, he has worked for and launched start-ups in the education and marketing industries. He is featured as one of three HP employees making a difference opinions expressed are personal and may not represent those of HP. You can learn more about him

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