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Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren
Last registered on April 29, 2016

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0001185
Initial registration date
April 29, 2016
Last updated
April 29, 2016 4:45 PM EDT
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of California, Santa Cruz
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
University of California, Santa Cruz
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2008-08-01
End date
2010-06-30
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance, and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other “intermediate” inputs in education.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Fairlie, Robert and Jonathan Robinson. 2016. "Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren." AEA RCT Registry. April 29. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.1185-2.0
Former Citation
Fairlie, Robert and Jonathan Robinson. 2016. "Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren." AEA RCT Registry. April 29. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1185/history/8036
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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
We employed a randomized evaluation to assess the impact of home computer use on students' academic achievement. The program took place over two years (two schools participated in 2008-9, twelve schools participated in 2009-10, and one school participated in both years). A total of 1123 students did not have computers at the start of the program and were thus eligible to participate in the program. From this group, 559 students were randomly assigned to the treatment group receiving computers and the rest were assigned to the comparison group.

Refurbished Pentium machines were purchased from or donated by Computers for Classrooms, Inc., a local Microsoft-certified computer distributer. The computers, which cost approximately US$400-500 a unit, came with a one year warranty and Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook) pre-installed. Since the focus of the project was to estimate the impacts of home computers on educational outcomes and not to evaluate a more intensive technology policy intervention, no training or assistance was provided with the computers. In both years, the computers were distributed the late fall (they could not be handed out earlier because it took some time to conduct the inschool surveys, obtain consent, and arrange the distribution).

Administrative data, including grades, disciplinary information, attendance, and standardized test scores, was collected from each school for all students. This information was supplemented by a household baseline and endline survey. The endline survey, which was administered at the end of the school year, included detailed questions about homework time and computer ownership, usage, and knowledge.
Intervention Start Date
2008-09-01
Intervention End Date
2010-06-30
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
- Computer ownership
- Computer usage
- Hours spent on schoolwork, games, social networking
- Grades
- Standardized test scores
- School attendance
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The sample for this study includes students enrolled in grades 6–10 in 15 different middle and high schools in 5 school districts in California. The project took place over 2 years: 2 schools participated in 2008–2009, 12 schools participated in 2009–2010, and 1 school participated in both years. The 15 schools in the study span the Central Valley of California geographically. Overall, these schools are similar in size (749 students compared to 781 students), student to teacher ratio (20.4 to 22.6), and female to male student ratio (1.02 to 1.05) as California schools as a whole (US Department of Education 2011b). Our schools, however, are poorer (81 percent free or reduced price lunch compared with 57 percent) and have a higher percentage of minority students (82 percent to 73 percent) than the California average.

To identify children who did not have home computers, we conducted an in-class survey at the beginning of the school year with all of the students in the 15 participating schools. The survey, which took only a few minutes to complete, asked basic questions about home computer ownership and usage. In total, 7,337 students completed in-class surveys, with 24 percent reporting not having a computer at home. This rate of home computer ownership is roughly comparable to the national average. Any student who reported not having a home computer was eligible for the study and computers were given out to all eligible students. Treatment students received computers immediately, while control students had to wait until the end of the school year. Our main outcomes are all measured at the end of the school year, before the control students received their computers. All eligible students were given an informational packet, baseline survey, and consent form to complete at home. To participate, children had to have their parents sign the consent form (which, in addition to participating in the study, released future grade, test score, and administrative data) and return the completed survey to the school. Of the 1,636 students eligible for the study, we received 1,123 responses with valid consent forms and completed questionnaires (68.6 percent).
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Computer
Randomization Unit
Individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
1,123 students in grades 6–10 attending 15 schools
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,123 students in grades 6–10 attending 15 schools
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
treatment group: 559 students; control group: 564 students
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
UC Santa Cruz
IRB Approval Date
2008-07-22
IRB Approval Number
1231
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
Yes
Intervention Completion Date
June 30, 2010, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
June 30, 2010, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
992 students in grades 6–10 attending 15 schools
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
No
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
1,108 students in administrative data; 1,101 students with grade data; 984 with California STAR test data; 869 with follow-up survey data
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Administrative data: 551 treatment, 557 control Grade data: 545 treatment, 556 control California STAR test: 492 treatment, 492 control Follow-up survey: 440 treatment, 429 control
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Yes
Program Files
Program Files
Yes
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers
Abstract
Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance, and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other “intermediate” inputs in education.
Citation
Fairlie, Robert, and Jonathan Robinson. 2013. "Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5(3): 211-240.