For many technically savvy educators, myself included, the excitement and newness of a recently developed educational technologies are hard to resist. Whether it be true or not, there is usually an expectation that the new technology will perform better than the old. For example, newly released computers and smartphones are invariably faster and more capable than their predecessors. Can the same be said for new educational technologies? The short answer is no. New educational technologies alone do lead to higher student test scores, in the same way that this year’s more capable smartphone does not typically make better voice calls than a previous year’s model even though they may possess new features and functionality.
No Significant Difference Expected
When trying to determine if a technology contributes to the effectiveness of instruction, the issue of “no difference expected” made famous by the Clark, Kozma (1994) debate needs to be addressed. Clark (1994) argued that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction” and that “student achievement [is not influenced by a new delivery technology like video] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22). Kozma (1994) countered that while Clark’s argument is often correct, “if media are going to influence learning, media must be designed to give us powerful new methods, and our methods must take appropriate advantage of a medium’s capabilities” (p.16).
When Clark (1994) defended his argument that the delivery media for instruction usually does not make a difference in, the technological landscape was much different. VHS video tapes were the primary means of watching on demand educational videos. Microsoft Windows 3.11 was the dominant desktop operating system, and dial-up modems using phone lines achieving speeds of 0.028 Mps were state of the art (compared to 2-20 Mps in 2013). At the same time, educational content was just starting to be distributed through relatively expensive multi-media CD-ROM applications for Windows and Macintosh. I suspect that in his era, Clark’s assessment that technology does not improve instruction was close to 100% true. On the other hand, with 20+ years of maturation and significant improvements in bandwidth, hardware speed, and authoring tool usability improvements, technology is now in a position to make a large positive impact in the delivery of instruction by enabling new pedagogical approaches to instruction, like Flipped Classrooms and Problem Based Learning with virtual simulations and collaboration (Becker, 2010).
Pedagogy (Not Technology) Key
While the passage of time has been kind to the pro-technology arguments of Kosma (1994), it is important to remember Clark (1994) was correct in arguing that no matter what new technology we use, if we do not also change pedagogy, the educational outcomes will stay the same (Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006). An example of this is a study that was conducted at the University of North Texas where a comparison of student retention of information literacy skills was measured between sections instructed in a traditional face-to-face class, a blended class, and an online class. In each of the three classes, the instructional materials and pedagogy were kept as uniform as possible. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that there was no significant difference in information literacy skills retention between the three different lecture delivery methods (Anderson & May, 2010).
In the large meta-study conducted by the US Department of education by Means et al. (Means et al., 2010), blended classes were found to have a statistically significantly higher summative assessment scores than face-to-face classes (2010). Given the lack of information about pedagogies used in the hundreds of studies they analysed, they stated that “the observed advantage for blended learning conditions is not necessarily rooted in the media user per se and may reflect differences in content, pedagogy and learning time” (p. xv). Happily for researchers, most post-2010 studies disclose more details about both media and pedagogies employed.
New Capabilities of Technologies Discovered Over Time
Typically, early in the adoption of new technologies, we do not take advantage of all the new capabilities available to us and tend to mimic activities that we are familiar with (Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006). A recent example of this is educators creating instructional materials for Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC) by videotaping complete face-to-face lectures and putting them online rather than taking advantage of the flexibility of the digital medium and dividing it into a number of shorter segments, adding extra audio, visual and interactive elements to enrich the instruction.
Yes, new educational technologies can make a positive difference in instruction, but only when the technology enables new pedagogies. To go back to the smartphone analogy mentioned at the beginning, if we compare the voice quality of a 1970’s telephone and a current iPhone, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. That said, we can do so much more with a modern smartphone that just make phone calls. Indeed some people rarely used their smartphone to make voice calls, but instead use it as a portable computer, camera, e-book reader, video player & communications device. In the same way, implementing a new technology like data projectors, to replace an old technology like overhead projectors, while using the same pedagogy as before, will almost always result in no significant difference for students.
Note: This in an excerpt from my literature review titled, “Does a Blended Learning, Flipped Classroom Pedagogy Help Information Literacy Students in the Long Term Adoption of Research Skills?”, 2013, http://goo.gl/fJ7qlI
Anderson, K., & May, F. A. (2010). Does the method of instruction matter? An experimental examination of information literacy instruction in the online, blended, and face-to-face classrooms. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(6), 495–500. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2010.08.005
Becker, K. (n.d.). The Clark-Kozma debate in the 21st century. Retrieved November 15, 2013, from https://www.academia.edu/462857/The_Clark-Kozma_Debate_in_the_21st_Century
Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29. doi:10.1007/BF02299088
Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning? Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7–19. doi:10.1007/BF02299087
Means, B., Yoyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. US Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf
Oblinger, D., & Hawkins, B. (2006). IT myths: The myth about no significant difference. Educause Review, 41(6), 14–15.