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Weekly News Roundup 2nd October

This week’s newsletter looks at criticism of the recent OECD report on education and technology. We also consider research on how mobile devices can have an impact on our conversations and how the US aims to tackle the ‘homework gap’. 

Is technology killing conversation?
Technology has had a significant impact on our ability to have conversations, to empathise and to be alone according to Sherry Turkle, Professor of Social Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a blog for the New York Times. Turkle describes how mobile devices have enabled us to be connected at all times, to have conversations or consume information anywhere and anytime. For her most recent book Turkle interviewed teenagers who described deliberately having light conversations with friends because this enabled them to dip in and out to check their phones. Turkle argues that the mere presence of phones during a conversation affects how connected people feel and the topics they choose to talk about. These changes are not however irreversible according to Turkle. She encourages both young people and adults to find spaces at home and at work that are device free, in order to focus attention on conversations with others and with ourselves.

Academics criticise the OECD’s evaluation of technology and education
A recent report by the OECD stated that computer use in school has not led to improvements in attainment levels but is in some cases associated with a negative impact on academic performance. Professor Mark Brown, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning at Dublin City University however argues that the PISA tests, which the OECD report draws its attainment evidence from, have been criticised for their narrow scope. Last year, 80 academies worldwide wrote an open letter asking for the PISA tests to be stopped because they were seen to distort educational outcomes. Brown argues that it is time to critically evaluate what role schools should play in the 21st century and whether tests such as PISA sufficiently evaluate this. Read more here.

US schools aim to address the ‘homework gap’ with data plans at home
The ‘homework gap’ refers to students who have access to technology at school but lack wifi at home and who are therefore not able to complete projects that require this. According to government officials this is the case for 30% of US school children. At a primary school in San Diego half of all students lack wifi at home. The school used tablets to offer a more personalised approach to learning but teachers quickly realised that the students without internet access at home were not reaping the full benefits of the technology. The school then entered into a trial programme with Samsung and the telecommunications provider QualComm. Students in the trial received a personal tablet with a data plan, enabling them to use their device at home as well as at school. Teachers in the trial reported that having internet access at home put these children on ‘a level playing field’ with their peers. Government initiatives in the US are currently working to increase home wifi penetration in low-income households to promote equality of access. Read more here.

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