New technologies in pupils’ learning: friend or foe?
Alessia Cadamuro & Elisa Bisagno (UNIMORE)
Using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in school and other educational environments is becoming increasingly widespread and their employment is, even more, a hot topic, during the COVID-19 emergency. But are ICTs really useful in supporting pupils’ learning? And, if the answer is yes, how so? What is the role of transversal skills in smart learning environments?
ICTs is an extensional term that underlines the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications and computers. According to some studies, ICTs offer new approaches to design learning environments where many factors can influence learning: materials, activities, and more importantly students’ motivation, learning styles, and self-regulation (Ligorio et al., 2010).
Technological tools can determine a significant impact on transversal skills such as metacognition (that is, “knowing how to think and how to learn” (Bjork & Yan, 2014)) and self-regulation (that is, “monitoring, directing, and regulating actions toward goals of information acquisition” (Paris & Paris, 2001)). Indeed, on one hand, high-tech learning environments can assist students in using self-regulated learning strategies, while, on the other hand, learning in a high-tech environment requires self-regulatory skills to organise and compare information (Azevedo et al., 2004).
For instance, Kramarski & Gutman (2006) compared a “simple” e-learning environment with one associated with metacognitive training and revealed how the e-learning & metacognitive combined activities led to better mathematical problem-solving. Similarly, a recent study with high school students (Hsu & Lin, 2017) tested their decision-making (DM) skills, showing that e-learning programmes can improve DM and self-evaluation skills, especially when enriched with a metacognitive training. Cadamuro and colleagues (2020) studied the impact of a teaching session with the use of the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) on knowledge performance of primary school pupils, finding an advantage of IWB use in learning achievement. Notably, the increase in learning outcomes only occurred among pupils with low metacognitive skills, meaning that IWB offered support for those who needed it the most. Another study by Cacciamani and colleagues (2012) suggested that opportunities for metacognitive reflection on the students’ participation strategies during an online course are amongst the best practices for fostering epistemic agency.
In general, a tied relationship between a beneficial use of ICTs in pupils’ learning and the role of transversal skills has been found in a review by Cadamuro and colleagues (2019): indeed, working in technology-mediated contexts foster the development of metacognitive skills which, in turn, lead to better learning outcomes. On the other hand, metacognitive skills are fundamental to take advantage of web-based training. More importantly, the combined use of e-learning and metacognition seems to produce the best learning outcomes.
To conclude, ICTs are friends when they are accessed by pupils in a metacognitive and self-regulated way, that is that they are not passive receivers of information, but they are supported in exploiting the affordances of these tools to become more competent learners.
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