A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al.

, and Miller and Robertson


A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al., and Miller and Robertson Brian Farrell University of British Columbia

A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al., and Miller and Robertson


Much has been written about the impact of educational technologies on children, and I have found that many studies have come to generally positive conclusions about the role that technology can play in a child's classroom. For this critique, I have examined three articles that have all come to this conclusion; that is that educational technologies have inherent benefits in a child's learning and development. Unfortunately though, I have found some of the research methodologies in some of these studies to be less than adequate. Natalie Beck and Tony Fetherston examined the impact of word processing technology on the writing ability of eight to nine year-old students in their 2003 work "The Effects of Incorporating a Word Processor Into a Year Three Writing Program". Leslie M. Miller, Heidi Schweingruber and Christine L. Brandenburg (to be referred to as L. Miller et al.) studied the perceived divide in the adoption of technology between boys and girls in their 2001 article entitled "Middle school students' technology practices and preferences: Re-examining gender differences". More recently, David J. Miller and Derek P. Robertson have added to study around the impact of gaming with primary school children in their 2010 article "Using a games console in the primary classroom: Effects of 'Brain Training' programme on computation and self-esteem". Beck and Fetherston began by examining relevant literature on their subject, which they found to be lacking in discussions focused on their particular age-group focus. They then used a convenience sample of seven students to survey in an unstructured format during the students' regular class writing time. Student work was evaluated against a pre-established assessment rubric, and led Beck and Fetherston to several conclusions. The study authors found that incorporating word processing technology

A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al., and Miller and Robertson


allowed students to focus on the quality of their writing rather than on the nuances of legible handwriting, and that this focused behaviour led directly to an improvement in the quality of student writing. L. Miller et al. also conducted a literature review before undertaking their survey work. This review was somewhat brief, and focused on a small sample of relevant research. The group then embarked on a large survey of some 512 students that were representative across a range of socio-economic status. They developed a series of preestablished survey questions to ask their subject group, and conducted sessions to attempt to gauge students' perceptions of technology. L. Miller et al. came to the conclusion that the perceived divide between males and females in their attitudes towards and acceptance of technology has largely diminished to the point where it is no longer relevant. Miller and Robertson undertook a thorough review of relevant literature, highlighting both older pedagogical studies, as well as more current research focused on emerging technologies. They then created three study groups to examine; one that would use a commercially available brain training software platform, one that would undertaking other non-computer game based brain training activities for a similar period of time, and a third class that would go about its normal routine and serve as a control group. The study authors then developed a timed test based upon a recognized math curriculum to measure students abilities, and additionally employed a modified version of the Burnett Self Scale to measure students' self-esteem. Miller and Robertson found that working with a brain training software program contributed to improvements in students' computation abilities as well as their self-esteem. All three studies begin with a review of previous relevant research, and Miller and

A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al., and Miller and Robertson


Robertson do the most thorough job of this. Beck and Fetherston's research review does including multiple sources, but they rely on research that is quite old, and perhaps now irrelevant given the evolving nature of their study topic. L. Miller et al. suffer from this same problem of relying upon studies that are quite dated, and have the added problem of focusing quite heavily upon one particular research study for their comparisons. In contrast, Miller and Robertson include both older, but still relevant literature in their review, as well as more current research that better reflects the evolving nature of games technology. The studies conducted by each of the three research teams are laid out explicitly in their writing, and they vary somewhat in their approaches. Both Miller and Robertson and Beck and Fetherston use sample sizes that are quite small, although Miller and Robertson are quite clear about acknowledging this limitation. In fact, Miller and Robertson go so far as to include a section in their report dedicated strictly to the limitations of their study, and make reference to a larger, more comprehensive study now underway. L. Miller et al. employed a much larger sample size of some 512 students, which lends greater credence to some of the generalizations that they purport in their writing. Both the Miller and Robertson study and the Beck and Fetherston work incorporate specific pieces of software that could figure directly into their findings. Miller and Robertson devote some time in their research to discuss the origins and development of the software that they have chosen, but Beck and Fetherston do not explicitly do so, and this creates some questions about why a particular tool was chosen. I felt that Beck and Fetherston were simply employing a tool of convenience; that is,

A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al., and Miller and Robertson


they were using a piece of software that was readily available to them, but I found it unfortunate that they do not specifically acknowledge this. The evolving nature of technology means that research can quickly become outdated or irrelevant. I feel it particularly important then that researchers recognize this, and that they attempt to focus on previous research that transcends individual technological tools. While there are some general findings that I would find transferable from Miller and Robertson and Beck and Fetherston's work, I would be careful to avoid larger generalizations since they did not allow for any variance in the tools being used by their subject groups. I found L. Miller et al.'s work encouraging in that it focused on the elimination of false perceptions around the adoption of technology. I was disappointed though that they were not able to present their findings in a more convincing fashion. L. Miller et al. could take a lesson from the work done by Miller and Robertson in that it thoroughly evaluates a wide body of previous research, and explicitly acknowledges potential limitations of its findings. It is encouraging to see that, as mentioned in Miller and Robertson's work, larger studies are being conducted into the impact of educational technologies. Technology tends to evolve at an extremely rapid pace, but if researchers are able to reach more general conclusions about how technology can benefit the education of children, we should be able to better harness these tools in the future.

A Critique of Beck & Fetherston, L. Miller et al., and Miller and Robertson References


Beck, N. & Fetherston, T. (2003). The effects of incorporating a word processor into a year three writing program. Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual, 2003 139-161. Retrieved February 3, 2010 from ETEC500 Course Site.

Miller, D., & Robertson, D. (2010). Using a games console in the primary classroom: Effects of ‘Brain Training’ programme on computation and self-esteem. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 242-255. doi:10.1111/j.14678535.2008.00918.x.

Miller, L. M., Schweingruber, H., & Bradenburg, C. L. (2001). Middle school students' technology practices and preferences: Re-examining gender differences. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 10(2), 125-140.

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