Computers don’t auto-educate

There have been a variety of recent news reports on the relationship between computer ownership and education patterns around the world. The NY Times article from 9 July 2010, Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality, is one of the many articles discussing the recent studies by economists about class, income, computers, and academic achievement. Duke researchers just released a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper called “Scaling the Digital Divide.” It examined the introduction of broadband internet service from 2000-2005 in North Carolina. Their study examined the simultaneous effects on middle school testing scores in that period. Unfortunately, there were lower math scores as broadband was introduced, and after several broadband providers appeared to serve an area, there was a decrease in reading scores.

The study ultimately suggests that home computers and Internet access may have a negative effect for those already poor, and can contribute to widening academic achievement gaps between groups. Indeed, a study with middle schoolers and free laptops in Texas noted “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with schoolwork.”