My brief reflections on the OECD Report: Students, Computers and Learning

OECD Report

So we have just seen the publication of a new report from the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills – Students, Computers and Learning: Making the connection (OECD, 2015). First, let’s mention that this is probably going to be an important document which will not only gain international interest, but will also be a discussion point somewhere in Government. Second, this post seeks to provide some of my own thoughts on what it says. You do not need to agree with me on everything and that is a point worth illustrating. When it comes to technology and learning, the infrastructure (which also includes the teacher and curriculum, etc) is very different from one country to the next. Likewise, so the research differs too. There are many variables at play and as such we often need to look at the smaller detail locally than the big picture holistically. For example, if you are doing something with your class in your school and it works, this does not mean it will work for everyone nor should you stop doing it if someone else says so.

My main point throughout is thus: that the impact of technology on attainment is dependent on effective agency between the teacher and the learner. I would also point out that simply throwing gadgets into schools is not good enough. I am concerned here (and time will tell) that the media will pick up on some of the conclusions and make sweeping statements such as: tablet computers do nothing for learners or schools need to do more reading and numeracy and less IT. That (in my humble opinion) is a load of tosh.

I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in the terminology that we use. The impact of technology on attainment is statistical in nature and fairly easy to map over time. But the impact of technology on learning is far more complex and open. It is experiential and the cognitive process by which a learner engages with technology can bring around new experiences. It is human nature that this will differ from one person to the next but we could use theories of connectivism as an example in relation to driving new skills and information seeking.

On the whole, the authors have done a good job on pulling together the data that sits behind the report… but I also take some of the conclusions with a pinch of salt.

Here is the background:

Are there computers in the classroom? Does it matter? Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection examines how students’ access to and use of information and communication technology (ICT) devices has evolved in recent years, and explores how education systems and schools are integrating ICT into students’ learning experiences. Based on results from PISA 2012, the report discusses differences in access to and use of ICT – what are collectively known as the “digital divide” – that are related to students’ socio-economic status, gender, geographic location, and the school a child attends. The report highlights the importance of bolstering students’ ability to navigate through digital texts. It also examines the relationship among computer access in schools, computer use in classrooms, and performance in the PISA assessment. As the report makes clear, all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century.

  1. The kind of things that are easy to teach are now easy to automate, digitize or outsource. I am not really sure what that means or if I agree with it. It seems to be a random statement made with intent but with little context. Let’s use augmented realities as an example. My premise is that we only make things digital (and I hate using that term too) if there is a need and a recognised benefit in doing so. The benefits of course, should be with the learner.
  2. The comparison between digital literacy and print reading is interesting and worthy of further study.
  3. Access to a computer. It would seem that 50% of participants in the UK have access to at least 3 computers and that this is wide ranging from almost 0% in Indonesia to around 85% in Denmark (lowest to highest) yet there is more equity across the sample countries when one looks at access to a single computer. The scatter diagram is stable for the most part with major variation appearing only where there is lower access to 3 computers but there appear to be gaps here. It does not look to study the type of computer and how powerful/new it is. Between 2009 and 2012, it looks like there has been an upward trend. I would expect this to continue as web infrastructures are developed and the costs of computing become lower. There are many issues of equity on the school online environ that I would like to pursue.
  4. The time spent online has many stories sitting behind it. I could ramble on here for hours but I wont. Too many connections around technology and society but I will point out that a significant whack of online activity will happen in the home or elsewhere outside of school. Given that many devices are now connected to the internet (PCs, games consoles, TVs and even fridges) there needs to be further discussion about what we mean with the term ‘online’. Without a doubt there are many questions regarding the impact of social media technologies. As a society, I’d argue that we are becoming increasingly bored with simply using technology for technology sake and that we are now looking for meaningful purpose.
  5. Now when it comes to attainment we have some sweeping conclusions again. Students who use computers at school only moderately score the highest in reading. Again, the agency and use of the computer is important here. There are many unanswered questions around what, when, where, how and why the technology has been used to support learning.
  6. Students who do not use computers in maths lessons score highest in mathematics. Now, the data suggests that paper-based maths will equate to a higher score but up pops the variables again. The actual score points are very close and we need more detail. For example, how much time is spent on the learning in both contexts, what is the instructional pedagogy? Really, I want to know more – why is there a difference between the two? Is this an equity issue? Is it cultural or are there socio-economic factors at play?

There is a lot to digest from the report and no doubt I will come back and rethink certain aspects over the coming weeks. I do like the fact that the report picks up on emerging technologies, experiential learning and interactive and metacognitive pedagogies. Some of the concluding thoughts are valid and I totally agree that we do need to put more thought into what we are doing with technology. There is a clear role in research informed teaching and this needs to be a local enquiry based approach from one teacher to the next. There must be renewed focus on learning with technology rather than teaching with technology and this is something that I have written about in the past.


OECD, (2015) Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: (last accessed 15/09/2015).



Academic Staff University of Glasgow and Author of Science Fiction

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