Education | The benefits of smart devices in teaching are praised, even if the evidence is not enough – negative results are harder to bring up

According to a Finnish researcher, the so-called positivity bias plagues studies that deal with the use of technology in education.

Smart devices useful in teaching, studies may create a too open picture.

Critical observations don’t want to come out because research in the field is plagued by the so-called positivity bias.

The concept means that positive results are emphasized in studies.

For like this the result was assistant professor Pekka Mertala with colleagues in fresh in his research. Mertala works at the teacher training institute at the University of Jyväskylä.

The group analyzed two hundred studies from the highly cited field of educational technology.

A considerable number of studies report positive results. They confirmed the researchers’ assumption that technology has some kind of benefit for learning.

According to Mertala, this indicates a positivity bias.

Up on the other hand, such results are not achieved where benefits are not observed or technology is harmful to learning.

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The reason is that such null or negative results are more difficult to get published in scientific journals.

According to Mertala, it is difficult to say how much the positivity bias distorts the general picture of what the evidence shows about the benefits of using technology and applications in teaching.

In any case, the problem is that the phenomenon is given a too one-sided positive image.

Researchers themselves may paint a positive picture of the technology even when their results speak against it.

Mertala mentions an Australian study that investigated the benefits of tablet computers and learning games in teaching young children.

“A quarter of the children benefited, and these were the ones whose learning abilities were already good,” says Mertala.

For the majority of children, the experience was neutral, but for children with weak learning abilities, the use of tablets was only a nuisance.

“For those who had learning challenges, gaming was just a beeping entertainment that took the attention away from what needed to be learned. It disturbed those who were already having a hard time.”

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Education from the point of view of equality, tablet teaching was therefore a bad idea.

Still, the Australian researcher stated in his conclusions that he is by no means against tablets. He believes they have unparalleled potential as effective learning tools.

“The way of thinking about technology as a force that drives learning forward is so deeply anchored that even if the data shows otherwise, the vision will not be let go,” says Mertala.

Mertala does not knock out the use of technology, but uncritical expectations of it.

“The idea that technology automatically develops learning is dangerous. Sometimes it is useful, but sometimes it is harmful or gives zero results.”

Mertala emphasizes that the benefits of technology largely depend on how the teaching is organized.

For example, the benefits of Ekapel, which was developed in Finland and helps learning to read, come to the fore in a high-quality educational environment.

“Ekapel is useful in situations where other language education is also of high quality and it is combined with other high-quality teaching that promotes reading. The game therefore enhances the already good teaching, but does not compensate for the shortcomings of the teaching.”

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Technology according to Mertala, the benefits come to light, for example, in some mechanical exercises.

With the help of technology, distance education can also be organized for people who otherwise find it difficult to get into the scope of education.

In his opinion, it is always necessary to separately weigh why and where technology is needed at any given time.

The study by Mertala and his colleagues was published Learning, Media and Technology – science journal.

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