Technology's impact on student learning

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I found an interesting article in the Chronicle today titled "Is Technology Making Your Students Stupid?", a short interview with Nicholas Carr, a Colorado writer.  Overall, it's an interesting read.  Carr has a psychology background, and comes at the topic from the school of thought that the brain is malleable and adaptable through life experiences, something often referred to as neuroplasticity.  Carr sites many observations regarding the use of technology in learning contexts, focusing primarily on studies and anecdotes that found things like multitasking and using laptops in classrooms hurts student learning.  One very interesting finding he mentions is the use of online archives for academic journals.  Carr points out that, in some instances, this is hurting academia, mostly research, as a whole.  The idea is that we, as researchers using online search to find journals, are increasingly led to the same citations based on popularity.

"...we become so dependent on search, and the results from searches are determined by popularity of one sort or another. And the risk of using search for online research is that everybody gets led in the same directions to a smaller number of citations which, as they become ever more popular, become the destination for more and more searches."

The article touches briefly on social media, where Carr simply wants to make sure educators aren't making assumptions that all social media is good for education.  This leads me to some numbers we've uncovered with our research into the use of blogs@PSU. We ran a cluster analysis on the the student blog data, which led to three distinct groups:
  • Infrequent users
  • Comment-dominant users
  • Entry-dominant users
When we begin to examine the GPA of these users, we see that infrequent users average a 3.21, comment-dominated users a 3.38, and entry-dominant users a 3.56.  Now, this isn't saying that blogs lead to better GPAs; rather the reverse.  People with high GPAs tend to post more entries in the blog space.  We took a smaller sample from this data, examining students using the blogs that were admitted to PSU in Fall 07. We then examined when these students began blogging, placed each student into one of the above 3 groups, and examined their GPA curve over time.  We haven't completed the analysis yet, but it does appear that entry-dominant users, from the time they start blogging, start to see positive gains to GPA. 

We're working on a report now that details some of this information as well as data on the use of PSU's wikispaces. Stay tuned for the release of the first draft towards the end of the summer.

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