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Archive for June, 2010

Remember the Hole-in-the-Wall experiment in India?  Based on the principal of “minimally-invasive pedagogy,” computers were installed in kiosk walls in Indian slums so that children could teach themselves about technology.  Though the organizers of the project have published a series of very positive reviews over the years, until now I am not aware of any independent reports on the project and its results, other than my own discussion based on a visit to one of the sites.

Now, an article by an independent researcher has appeared, reporting some interesting findings.  It turns out that the two Hole-in-the-Wall sites that she visited both stand in ruins, one closed down within a few months of its opening due to vandalism, the other surviving until it became inactive. According to the article, while the broader Hole-in-the-Wall project still exists, it has evolved from its earlier approach of eschewing relationship with community organizations, schools, and adult mentors, and has now “started to focus more on the building of ties with the school, particularly in regard to using the teachers or others in the local communities as mediators in learning.”   This is a welcome change and reflects the important realization that mentorship and institutional support are important if children are to learn effectively with technology.

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Well, according to this recent study, no, at least in terms of standardized math and reading outcomes. Two Duke economists use large scale data sets to investigate the impact of gaining access to computers and the Internet on children’s test scores in math and reading.  For computer ownership, they use a self-reported measure by students.  For Internet access, they use a proxy variable related to number of local Internet Service Providers.  In both cases, whether via home computer ownership or ISP access, they find a negative impact on individual student’s math and reading scores after gaining more home access to technology. The negative impact is greatest for African-American youth–for other groups, the impact is mixed (sometimes positive, sometimes negative, depending on the measure and group).  The authors interpret their findings as indicating that unproductive uses of computers tend to crowd out time spent doing homework, especially for low-income and minority students who may not have the kinds of social support needed for more productive uses of technology at home.

The differential impact of home technology by different groups is consistent with that find previously, for example, in our recent review of technology and equity among U.S. youth. It provides further evidence that the aim of our educational efforts should not be mere access, but rather development of a social environment where access to technology is coupled with the most effective curriculum, pedagogy, instruction, and assessment.

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