Giving school students access to iPads, laptops or e-books in the classroom appears to hurt their learning, new research has found.
However, putting this technology in the hands of a teacher is associated with more positive results.
These are the findings of a major report by the consulting firm McKinsey on the performance of 15-year-old students across Europe.
It is based on an analysis of data gathered as part of Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment).
The findings may influence a rethink of approaches to technology in schools, as well as ambitious Government policies to boost access to technology in the classroom.
While technology can support student learning outside of school, the report found its record inside school is mixed.
In some countries, adding one teacher computer per classroom had more than 10 times the impact on improving educational performance of adding a student computer to that same classroom
Giving students access to e-books, tablet computers and laptops inside the classroom was associated with significantly lower educational performance in the review.
However, providing access to technology for teachers, rather than students, worked best.
For example, in some countries, adding one teacher computer per classroom had more than 10 times the impact on improving educational performance of adding a student computer to that same classroom.
These results, however, evaluate only hardware, not software, and only describe the impact of education technology as currently implemented.
Nevertheless, the report says European leaders should not assume the impact of technology will always be positive or even neutral.
“Systems should ensure that ICT programmes are integrated with curriculum and instruction and are supported by teacher professional development and coaching,” the report states.
The report also examined teaching approaches and found that students who received a blend of inquiry-based and more traditional teacher-directed instruction had the best outcomes.
Teacher-directed learning is where the teacher explains and demonstrates scientific ideas, discusses questions, and leads classroom discussions.
“Inquiry-based teaching” can include a diverse range of practices, from conducting practical experiments to encouraging students to create their own questions.
McKinsey’s research found that if all students experienced this blend of instruction, average Pisa scores in Europe would be significantly higher, a rise equivalent to more than half a school year of learning.
Supporters of reforms being rolled out at second-level as part of the junior cycle say the changes are aimed at precisely this type of balanced learning.
The study also indicates that student “mindsets” can have more influence on outcomes than socioeconomic background.
It found that students from poorer backgrounds who were focused on doing more than was expected and working on tasks until everything was perfect performed better than students from the most affluent areas who had poor motivation.