Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Child Left Offline

Is there a better way to spend all the NCLB money the government is currently funnelling to testing companies? A recent study published by the American Psychological Association (APA) Online suggests that putting a computer and free Internet service in the home increases GPA and reading test scores for low income students:

"Does Internet use affect children's academic outcomes?
A considerable body of research has examined the effects of computer use on academic outcomes. However, reviews of this literature typically conclude that the results are inconclusive (e.g., NSF Report, 2001; Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordon, & Means, 2000; Subrahmanyam et al., 2000). Although benefits of computer use have been observed, they typically depend on a variety of factors (e.g., subject matter). The only cognitive outcome for which benefits have been consistently observed is visual-spatial skills. Computer gaming contributes to visual-spatial skills, at least when these skills are assessed immediately following the computer activity (Subrahmanyam, Greenfield, Kraut, & Gross, 2001).

In the HomeNetToo project we obtained children's grade point averages (GPAs) and scores on standardized tests of reading and math. We then examined whether Internet use during the preceding time period predicted these academic outcomes. It did. Children who used the Internet more showed greater gains in GPA and reading test scores -- but not math test scores -- than did children who used it less (Jackson, von Eye, Biocca, Barbatsis, Zhao, & Fitzgerald, 2003a). Latent linear growth curve analysis supported the conclusion that Internet use leads to improvements in academic performance.

There are important caveats in interpreting these findings. First, HomeNetToo children were performing below average at the start of the project. Mean GPA was about 2.0, and mean percentile ranks on standardized tests of reading and math were about 30%. Whether similar benefits of Internet use will obtain for children performing at or above average is a question for future research. Second, the gains we observed, though statistically significant, were modest in magnitude. Mean GPAs and standardized test scores were still below average at the end of the project. However, even modest gains are encouraging, particularly in light of the fact that HomeNetToo children were not required to use the Internet in order for their families to participate in the project.

Why might using the Internet lead to improvements in GPAs and reading test scores? One explanation lies in how HomeNetToo children used the Internet. Recall that Internet use was primarily Web use, not e-mail use or use of other communication tools. The Web is primarily text. Thus, more time on the Web means more time spent reading, which may explain the increase in GPAs, which depend heavily on reading skills, and in standardized tests scores in reading."

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