How Computers Make Your Stupid… Or How Stats Are Used To Mislead?

from the one-or-the-other... dept

There’s a study that’s getting a ton of press today saying that kids who have more access to computers tend to do worse in school, when backgrounds are normalized. If this sounds familiar, that’s because this study actually came out last November when it was picked apart pretty thoroughly. However, it’s being discussed at a conference again this week, so it’s getting a second “pop.” There are a number of issues with the study. First, they’re simply re-analyzing old data where the original interpretations suggested the complete opposite — and said that students with computer access did better. However, the researchers seem to have re-weighted the data to make their point. What they call “normalization” certainly sounds a bit like futzing with the data to prove their point. Still, all this study really does is remind me of all those studies in the 80s and 90s that said IT investment from companies showed no improvements in productivity (or negative productivity improvements). It’s a problem when you look at data in the aggregate. The misuse of technology certainly can cause problems — and when the technology is first being put in place, at the office or at schools, it’s very likely that it’s being misused. Those initial misuses may do more harm than good, but that doesn’t mean it’s the computers’ fault. It just means that the schools have done a bad job implementing the technology. The goal of any change in school should be to improve the education of children — but completely throwing out computers because one oddly done study questions how useful they are as currently implemented, misses the point completely.

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