University of Tübingen: Digital media in the classroom: quality over quantity

Whether students benefit from the use of technology in the classroom depends less on how intensively digital media is used and more on how it is used. If their use stimulates thought or, for example, to discuss results, they certainly have the potential to positively influence students’ willingness to learn. Scientists from the Hector Institute for Empirical Educational Research at the University of Tübingen and the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media were able to show this in a study. They examined whether the use of digital media can positively influence the willingness of students to learn and whether changes in learning behavior are related to both the frequency and the quality of use.

It made a difference in which subject the digital media were used. In mathematics lessons, the students’ willingness to learn increased both in the short and long term if they perceived the use of digital media as cognitively activating – regardless of the frequency of use. In the German subject, on the other hand, the decisive factor was how often the digital media were used. The more frequently the students used tablet computers, the more positively their willingness to learn changed.

In the study, around 700 schoolchildren in 28 seventh and eighth grades at 14 secondary schools in Baden-Württemberg were given tablets. The teachers were asked to integrate these into their lessons, but they were not obliged to do so. Over a period of 16 months, both the teachers and the students were asked about their perceptions of teaching with tablets.

To find out how willing the students were to make an effort, they answered questions such as: “…I tried as hard as I could” or “…I tried to learn as much as I could”. . The quality of the lessons was assessed according to how much the students perceived their lessons as cognitively activating. They were asked, for example, whether their teachers sometimes let them go astray with their own assumptions in class and let the students recognize these wrong paths themselves. With regard to the frequency of use in mathematics lessons, the research team did not find any positive correlations with the change in the students’ willingness to learn. However, the more cognitively activating they perceived the lesson, the more positively their willingness to make an effort changed. In addition, the change in willingness to learn was more positive in girls than in boys.

“As with any other medium, the crucial question regarding the use of digital media for teaching that promotes learning does not seem to be whether digital media are used in the classroom or not, but rather in what way they are used to ensure high-quality teaching design,” says Tim Fütterer from the Hector Institute, the first author of the study. The fact that the frequency of use proved to be more important for the learning effort in German lessons could be due to the fact that the novelty effect comes into play here, since digital media are used less frequently in this subject. The novelty effect increases attention for a short period of time, but is not permanent. “A possible explanation for the differences in subject could also be that mathematics teachers are more tech-savvy – we see that in our data. Another explanation could be that there are more suitable software applications for mathematics lessons,” adds Fütterer.

“Sustainable effects with digital media can only be achieved if their learning-related potential is exhausted. For example, dynamic-interactive visualizations in multimedia learning environments can illustrate phenomena in such a way that they are processed more deeply,” explains Professor Katharina Scheiter from the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media. Multi-perspectivity is also an added value of digital media. This means that topics can be examined from different perspectives, for example from science, journalism or from contributions to discussion forums. In addition, it is already possible to respond individually to the needs of individual students with digital learning opportunities.

But Germany is still lagging far behind when it comes to the digitization of schools in an international comparison. As recently as 2020, nearly 10 students shared one digital device, compared to less than two in the US. In addition, the teachers feel that they are not sufficiently prepared for teaching with digital media. “However, a didactically high-quality use of technology in the classroom requires that the teachers have technological and pedagogical knowledge,” says Tim Fütterer. This knowledge must therefore be incorporated into the professional training and further education of teachers to a much greater extent than has been the case up to now.

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