Friday, 17 Mar 2000

17 March 2000 ACER, in conjunction with Balwyn High School and the University of Melbourne, conducted a two-year case study by asking Year 7 students to use laptop computers across the curriculum. Computers, Laptops and Tools summarises the findings of this program and the impact computers have on education. "There has been widespread encouragement for the use of technology in the classroom, but we need to know more about the complex ways computers are linked to learning," says Dr John Ainley, ACER Deputy Director. A class of Year 7 students, had laptop computers for use across all subjects and were asked to record important school, homework and out-of-school activities in diaries. The main objective of the research was to examine student perspectives on learning with laptop computers. The next year the Year 7 class continued to use laptops into Year 8, whilst another three Year 7 classes entered the study. One of the three laptop classes undertook an accelerated learning program. A set of five codes was developed to reflect the range of perspectives given by students when using computers as a "tool for learning". The students viewed computers as a tool for getting school work done, a tool with its own special procedures to learn, a way to access information and knowledge, a way to present work and for playing games. There were similar responses by boys and girls. In the first year of schooling both sexes spent a significant part of their time learning the tool and identifying special procedures and functions. In the second year computers were used more often to get a task done and to access information and knowledge. A small difference was that girls used computers out of school for presentation purposes whilst boys used them more for recreational use of games. Not surprisingly, students regarded school work and homework activities as less enjoyable than leisure activities involving the computers. Both boys and girls indicated an interest in computers and positive effects when using the tool for learning. As too did the teachers and parents of the students. The use of laptops affected not only student perceptions of their learning but the way classes were run. "We need to follow up these findings with research that will tell us if higher levels of mastery of the tool will free students to get more work done. Will it focus more attention on the potential of computers to access and manipulate knowledge?" asks Dr Mary Ainley, a researcher from the University of Melbourne who participated in the study. Adopting the metaphor that computers are used as a "tool for learning" became a useful framework for investigating the ways that students view their school and homework activities. Diary entries indicated computers were used for a range of tool functions, affecting what the students were doing at school and their engagement with learning. "The findings indicate that there are a variety of ways in which the computer becomes part of and influences how students learn," says Dr John Ainley. The full report is available at ACER Shop Computers, Laptops and Tools.