Gates Foundation Research –2000 — My Critique

Research on Computers and Education:
Past, Present and Future

Prepared for the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Jeffrey T. Fouts
Professor of Education
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle, WA
February, 2000


One little caveat: The Author of this work says he does not distinguish between technology and computers. I would prefer that he had. I am trying to make the distinction. A TV can be used instead of several computers.
Everything in this paper is bit redundant and this paper even admits that the research is lacking but still makes conclusions based on the flimsy, or missing, evidence.
“Does it make a difference? It depends…
Research in traditional classrooms has shown that technology can have a positive impact on student achievement if certain factors are present, including extensive teacher training and a clear purpose. In recent years researchers have found that the technology can be an important component for creating exciting new learning environments for students, once again dependent on other factors such as:

[Yes of course it can create new learning environments but once again is it necessary? This question has never been answered.]

Lower student to computer ratio; [Same can be said about traditional methods, that is, low student: teacher ratios.]
Teacher ownership of the reform efforts; [Why must a teacher be a reformer. (S)he is a teacher not a reformer.]
Extensive teacher training and planning time; [Yeah just to integrate technology? I call this brainwashing the teachers. It is also wasteful of their time. They are not computer whizzes.]
High levels of technological support. [Not necessary if you do not have computers.]

Unfortunately, these factors are often missing in school technology implementation efforts, resulting in inconclusive research findings of the effects of these environments on student learning. Sometimes schools make large purchases of technology for classrooms but ignore the accompanying teacher training.” [What makes me suspect all of this research is that if the other research is shown to say computers are bad for education then you just say it was not implemented correctly. You have already concluded that computers are necessary. You ignore any data to the contrary.]

One of the first things I was taught, when designing a computerized system, was to get input from your users, so that they will use the system. So, I agree with the need for extensive teacher training (and for that matter teacher input to the system created—chances are this is NOT happening) if this type of system is going to be designed/implemented/and used effectively. But I disagree with notion that computers are better, therefore teacher training is not necessary. I have yet to see a Cost/Benefit Analysis for the computer usage. Another thing, I believe the first thing, I was taught early on was to know whether or not that the computerized system was better than the manual system. So, in this case, are computers better than traditional teaching methods? Just because it is computerized does not mean that it is better. It could actually be worse. Also, the high levels of technical support can get expensive.

But the key thing here is the statement that the research is inconclusive. Yet we are running headlong into the abyss. Why is this?
“More research is needed to answer several critical questions as technology is thoughtfully [I question the thoughtfulness of it, but yes I agree that more research needs to be done. But I doubt that it can be done.] deployed throughout our schools. Ten critical questions for further study are:

How can technology increase student learning and assist students in meeting the standards? [I guess that the questions are not in order. The next question should have been first. Presupposes that the benefits have been proven, which they have not and can not.]

Do students learn and retain more with the aid of computers? [This the a central question that has not been answered and in my and others’ opinions cannot be answered.]
How does the use of computers affect classroom climate and student attitudes? [Its affects are not important. As positive as they may be, computers are not needed. Early on it may be a positive because of its novelty but by high school it will be old hat and the kids will not be as mesmerized by it.]
What are the conditions that must be in place for technology to effectively improve student learning and especially the achievement of “at-risk” students? [Again, presupposes the effectiveness of CAI (Computer Aided Instruction). Even if good for them does not mean that we should expand computer use to everyone.]
How can technology serve as an extension of human capabilities and cognitive functioning? [Question is, does it at all? Again, an unnecessary question.]
What specific cognitive skills are enhanced by the use of technology for learning? [This is a corollary to the question above and much the same comment.]
How can online assessment be used to enhance student learning and accountability? [Again, does it? Immediate feedback it is necessary. At the Elementary School level little quizzes have been used to determine if they are learning. How can they learn at their own pace if they are constantly being prodded. You leave not time for it to sink in. In high school the lack of time to sink in can be detrimental as the subject matter is much harder.]
What are the effective deployments for a technology rich learning environment? [May be too varied to be of any good to know.]
What constitutes effective and adequate teacher training? [Same answer.]
How can technology improve productivity in all aspects of district, school, and classroom management? [Productivity? You are NOT marketing a product. School is NOT an assembly line for children!]
As researchers begin or continue their important work, their conclusions will provide a guide for educators and others to make good decisions about how to use technology for learning both inside and outside our schools.” [Again the question of whether a computer does any good has still not been answered. These 10 questions, including the second one are superfluous.]

Research into education is too problematic to be valid so most things they say are questionable. So, researchers important work (As given above) is probably is big waste of time.

Yes, I agree that these questions should be answered. But I believe they still need to be answered, even 15 years later.
“How can technology increase student learning and assist students in meeting the standards?”[This begs the question—does technology increase student learning in the first place, over traditional methods? Also, there are no standards, per se. So, it will be impossible for technology help to meet them. Or there are as many different standards as there are school districts, therefore, effectively no standards and the so-called ones (standards) seem to keep changing. Common Core attempts to define standards but they are so loose that they really are not standards at all. Common Core is being pushed by Gates and others.]

“The critical questions for the future:

As educators and researchers look to the future they are no longer asking the question, “Should technology be used in education?” [Actually this is precisely the question that has not been answered and should be asked until answered.] Instead the focus is “How should technology be used to help students achieve higher levels?” Across the country there are fine examples of technology use in scattered classrooms and a few schools, but the challenge is to bring a technology rich learning environment to every student. In the era of new standards and high performance schools, technology must be linked not only to student learning but also the efficient management of schools and districts. Little research is available in this area. The potential of learning anywhere, any time is just beginning to be tapped. Online courses and virtual schools, learning communities, apprenticeships and internships will change the concept of school in this century.”

[The first statement in the above quote makes no sense when considering what was said before. I mean, why is it not still should technology be used in education, when they have said that question has NOT been answered? Again with the little research in those areas.]

“This current research and the questions for the future are consistent with the Gates Education Initiative that seeks to Help All Students Achieve. The foundation will work with leaders in fifty states to assure that principals and superintendents have the knowledge to create rich technology learning environments where all students can achieve at high levels.” [So they are and have been pushing for technology in classrooms for over a decade now and have bribed school districts to use technology by giving grants to the schools if used for technology in the classroom. The Gateses are not the only foundation doing this. DO WE WANT TO LEAVE EDUCATION TO THE GATESES OF THE WORLD—NON-ELECTED PEOPLE?]
“A driving force of these restructuring efforts is the belief that a school system built on a Nineteenth Century industrial efficiency model is inadequate to meet the needs of the society of the Twentieth-First Century that has been transformed by technology. Because technology has transformed businesses and many other components of daily life, many are relying on technology to help transform the nature of the school experience. As the new millennium begins that transformation is still incomplete.”

[Just because something is old does not mean it is bad. Since when did school teach anything about the life after school? You never did teach kids about balancing a checkbook, about driving a car, about how to operate a radio or TV, meaning of life, love or anything like this. Now we must teach them about computers, or teach them with computers? Your logic escapes me!!! This is non sequitur.]

[Actually, the 20th Century was transformed by technology. Again just because business and many other components of daily life have been transformed by technology does NOT mean we must transform education by using computers to teach. Kids will learn to use them in college or at home. They do not need to be exposed to them from birth to death (womb to tomb). Again, radio and TV never transformed education like some thought it would.]
“In October 1999, at the National Education Summit states were asked to fully implement the final stage of their reform efforts by adopting policies that held schools and educators accountable for their successes and for their failures. Results matter, and therefore determining what best produces desirable results is an important part of the accountability efforts.” [Here you are concentrating on outcomes and not enough on inputs—what is actually being taught. Accountability? Teachers should not be penalized if kids do not learn. Education is a two-way street. It is as much the student’s responsibility to learn as it is for the teacher to teach. Accountability in education is like accountability in healthcare. You can have the best hospital and doctors and still not get better.]

“There is evidence that computers and the related technologies1 have made major inroads into the schools. There are now an estimated 10 million computers in the schools with annual school expenditures for technology of about 6 billion dollars. [This is an Appeal to Numbers Logical Fallacy (Argumentum ad populum). Meaning just because a large number computers are in use does not mean it is right.] There is one instructional computer for every 5.7 students and more than half of the nation’s classrooms have been connected to the Internet. A 1999 national survey conducted by Education Week in collaboration with the Milken Exchange found that 97% of all teachers surveyed use a computer for educational purposes, either at home or at school, and 53% use software for classroom instruction. Virtually every state reform plan includes technology as an integral component, and student school access to technology is higher than ever before.” [Again, my question is should it be this way?]

“Virtually every state reform plan . . ..”, includes some use of computers. [Who is to say this is prudent? Just because something is big and getting bigger does not mean it is any good to begin with. Cancer starts out small and gets bigger and bigger. How often do they use the computer and software? If they used it once does this count? I’ll bet it does. Myths do tend to get perpetuated in this country.

This what I am getting at. 1999 saw 10 million computers and $6Billion in expenditures. That is a lot of money for something that research, at this time, has not supported. Imagine what those numbers are today!!!!! Also, it is a bottomless pit that we are throwing are money into. We have to upgrade/maintain these systems costing us even more money and time to learn to use it, for both the teachers and students. We will want to do more and more as time goes on.

We spend 4 times the money to educate each student than we did 50 years ago (more than double the money in the past 30 years—since A Nation at Risk was published) with little if anything to show for it. I believe these number are adjusted for inflation. I do not say that all of the money went to technology but a good portion of it did and continues to do so.

How does a teacher use a computer at home for educational purposes? And educational purposes at school—probably have one on their desktop having grades, attendance, etc., on it. This does not mean use it for instruction. They could be using it as a glorified notebook.]
“In contrast is the view that money spent on technology, and time spent by students using technology, are money and time wasted” (National Research Council, 1999, p. 194).” [I could not agree more and have said so in this paper and others.]

“Yet, many proponents of increasing the role of educational technology in the schools admit that our current knowledge about the educational affects of that technology is rudimentary at best. This is due to the fact that much of the evaluation that has taken place has been in classrooms with mixed or partial deployments of technology with varying levels of training and limited content. Full implementation
has been hampered by a lack of capital budgets and insufficient research and development funds necessary to create fully integrated learning environments.” [Basically this is what I have been saying. At least 15 years ago there was no adequate research. It may take full deployment in order to work but by then you are stuck with it and must may do. The old saying you’ve made your bed now lay down in it.]
“magnetic resonance imaging in humans under similar tasks,” has shown increased brain activity with the use of computers. [Even if computer learning meant more brain activity this does not mean more learning is going on. It could actually mean that it is more of a struggle to learn with the computer. You are having to use more of your brain, longer, to learn?

Also, I have my doubts about any research that uses either human or animal brainwaves (and a lot of research in general where the researcher is in close proximity to those being the subject of the research). Meaning the fact that someone is there measuring responses will affect the response. The researcher’s presence negates (changes the responses) the research being done. This is called the “Observer Effect” (or The Hawthorne Effect), not the Heisenberg (Uncertainty) principle.

I doubt psychology/psychiatry in general. There was a study done whereby someone had say a dozen people go to a mental hospitals complaining of hearing voices and that was the only lie they were supposed to tell. All of them got diagnosed as needing treatment and were given medication. When the hoax was exposed the hospitals told them to try it again, and the hospitals then rejected several people as not needing help. But they did not send anyone to the hospital. So, the shrinks actually allowed some potentially sick people to go untreated. See why I do not trust these people? In fact any real-time research, especially involving live animals (or humans) is suspect in by book. With humans, the way the questions were asked and the possible answers can taint the research.]

So, can the fact that humans do not live in a vacuum. There are way too many variables to consider and to weigh. This is especially true when considering long term results.

Again, if you want to have a visual learning aid a dvd and tv will suffice.

“Through this process they concluded that introducing technology into the classroom results in more student centered learning, cooperative learning, and teacher/student interaction. “ [So what? Is student centered learning necessary? Desirable even? Cooperative learning, again necessary or desirable? Teacher/student interaction—same questions. Why is any of this necessary? Actually I consider this type of education as less student-teacher interaction. For the traditional way, the teachers would lecture for a long time and answer a few if any questions at the end. Granted now kids may ask more questions but this is because of no information imparted to them, so they must find out for themselves. None of this stuff was necessary over the past few hundred years. Now it is?]
“These findings suggest that, technology seems to have the potential to help create classrooms where students experience education rather than schooling, where they understand rather than memorize, where they are active rather than passive, [What is wrong with passive? It is not actually passive. The homework and note taking is the active part. They just do not have to hunt as hard for the information and compared to computer instruction.] and where the learning is connected to the “real-world” rather than isolated and artificial.” [Certain things should be memorized. Why is active any better than passive? People have learned just fine without being active. Yes a computer sure is real world? It is about as artificial as things get. What could be more artificial than a computer?]

“They believe we should be concerned with “how human processing changes in distinct, qualitative ways when an individual is engaged in an intellectual activity using the computer as a tool”(p.392).” [What really bugs me is that there is no comparing/contrasting with traditional methods being done. They are conducting this ‘research’ basically in a vacuum. They already have the preconception that computers are good and will be used into the future.

Even though this paper was not written by the Gateses, it had to be influenced by them. It was written for them. If it had shown or concluded that computers were not good then this report never would have seen the light of day. But then again, that question was never asked let alone answered. Their conclusion was based on incomplete research.]


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