The Effectiveness of Microcomputers in Education: A Review of the Research from 1980-1987

Article excerpt

The Effectiveness of Microcomputers in Education: A Review of the Research From 1980-1987

If measured strictly by the articles, attention and popular acclaim directed toward them since their introduction, it would seem that the impact o microcomputer applications on instruction has been substantial. The advent of other technologies--typewriters, film projectors and television--has generated high expectations among educators, but none has enjoyed the sustained interest and growth nor the funding that microcomputers have experienced during the past ten years.

The educational computing literature since 1980 provides ample evidence of some dramatic changes that have com about in education as a result of microcomputer use. Clerical and administrative tasks for both teachers and school administrators have been revolutionized through increased use of productivity tools and other applications software, and students at all levels are learning practical computer skills as preparation for college work and for a life in an information-oriented society.

However, the impact of microcomputer applications on instruction is less clear from the literature. Of critical importance at this time is evicence of the impact on the traditional measures of educational effectiveness: student achievement, attitudes, dropout rate and learning time. A new text to be published this fall by The Haworth Press, which I co-authored, reviews this evidence and summarizes what has been learned from research in this area since 1980. In this article, I'll summarize the main points of the research. The following key questions are addressed in this summary of the book:

* Can computer applications help improve performance in basic skills and other important areas?

* For what specific skills, grade levels and content areas do computer applications seem most effective?

* Which kinds and levels of students seem to profit most from using computer applications?

* Which kinds of computer applications are most effective for which skills and content areas?

* Can computer applications improve student attitudes toward school, toward learning and toward their own abilities to learn?

* Will improved attitudes translate into better performance in school and lower dropout rates?

Why Another Reveiw?

Many reviews of literature have been done in the area of instructional computing, but they have not been very useful in helping school administrators decide how best to allocate their resources for computer uses. Most of them have focused on studies of older, mainframe-type technology that were done prior to 1980, and few of the more recent reviews look at all levels and content areas at once in a comparative way. The current review aims at providing the best information available from recent research and presents it in ways that will be of maximum assistance to decision-makers.

The following features characterize the review:

* Up-to-date information--Studies are all from 1980 to the present, and most are microcomputer-based.

* Comprehensive coverage--All grade levels and content areas in which research has been done are included in the analyses. Measures of both achievement and attitudes related to the use of computer-based instruction are summarized.

* Focus on specific areas--Rather than providing just overall statistical summaries, the review summarizes results for specific content areas, computer uses and target groups. A measure of effectiveness is computed for each of these areas so that the comparisons of effectiveness can be made more easily.

* Answers to specific questions of interest to educators--Based on the findings, the reviewers made recommendations for computer use in several content and skill areas and for certain groups of students. Special emphasis is placed on popular topics such as the use of LOGO to promote problem-solving and creativity, and the use of word processing applications for writing instruction. …