Nowadays every school has to have computers. I don't refer to legal requirementbut to perception. Schools are judged on how many computers they have. It would be more to the point if they were judged on their computer-savvy.
I'm a fan of computers; my computer is a vital part of my work. I believe computer literacy is as important for our children to acquire as any other "basic skill". But I'm not a fan of the wholesale introduction of computers into our schools, particularly the junior ones. How many computers a school has is not the issue - the issue is, how do they use them?
In many cases, the answer is: poorly.
The reasons are simple enough. Foremost, the teachers have insufficient training and experience with computers. Relatedly, computers are not yet an integrated part of the school curriculum, and every school and teacher re-invents the wheel, trying to find good software, trying to work out how to fit it into the classroom curriculum, trying to work out schedules to make sure every student gets a fair go, struggling with the lack of technical support. And of course, in many cases (perhaps most), the computers are old, with the associated problems of being more likely to have technical problems, being slow, limited in memory, incompatible with current software, and so on.
The most important problems schools have with computers:
- lack of financial resources (to buy enough computers, up-to-date computers, enough printers and other peripherals, licenses for good software, technical support)
- the inability of teachers to know how to use the computers effectively
- difficulty in integrating computers into the school / classroom curriculum (problems of use, of scheduling, of time)
Using computers effectively is much more than simply being able to type an essay or produce a graph. Parents and educators who deplore the obsession with computers in schools see computers as eroding children's basic skills and knowledge, because they only see computers being used as copy-and-paste and making-it-pretty devices. But computers have potential far beyond that.
Computers can be used to help:
- extend the scope of searches
- retrieve precisely targeted data with greater speed and accuracy
- increase the amount of data held ready for use
- sift relevant data from irrelevant
- turn data into information
The true value of a computer isn't seen until the user can use it not only as a presentation tool (for making work attractive), and as a productivity tool (for producing work more quickly, effectively, thoroughly), but also as a cognitive tool.
Using computers as cognitive tools
A cognitive tool helps you think.
Many people thought computers would revolutionize education by providing individual instruction in the form of tutorials. In particular, as a means of drilling students. Drilling can be helpful to overlearn a skill to achieve automaticity, but it doesn’t help transfer to meaningful problems. That is, you can learn a skill, you can rote-learn facts, but drilling doesn't help meaningful learning - it doesn't teach understanding.
Although computer tutorials have become somewhat more sophisticated, they still only present a single interpretation of the world - they don’t allow students to find their own meaning. They don't teach students to reflect on and analyze their own performance.
“I do not believe that students learn from computers or teachers — which has been a traditional assumption of most schooling. Rather, students learn from thinking in meaningful ways. Thinking is engaged by activities, which can be fostered by computers or teachers.” (Jonassen, p4)
So, the computer itself isn't the issue - the issue, as always, is what you do with it. For example, when the Web is simply used as a source of material that can be downloaded and pasted without thought, then no, it is not of value. But when the learner searches the Web, evaluates the information, finds the gold in the dross, uses that to construct a knowledge base, to develop meaning, then yes, it is a valuable resource.
Computers can support meaningful learning by
- reducing time spent on mechanical tasks such as rewriting, producing graphs, etc
- helping find information
- helping organize information
- making it easier to share information and ideas with others
Related articles/sites on the Web:
A recent news articles on the subject of compulsory laptops at a Seattle school
New York Times articles about computers in education: Technology critic takes on computers in schools ; Making the most of the Internet's potential for education
An Atlantic monthly column: The computer delusion
A Boston Globe column about computers for young children: Computers, software can harm emotional, social development
“Diane Ravitch is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the Founder and President of the Network for Public Education (NPE) and blogs at dianeravitch.net.”
This appeared in EdSurge, December 29, 2017
At any given moment in the day, I am attached to my cellphone, my iPad or my computer. As a writer, I was an early convert to the computer. I began writing on a TRS-80 from Radio Shack in 1983 on wonderful writing software called WordPerfect, which has mysteriously disappeared. I had two TRS-80s, because one of them was always in repair. I love the computer for many reasons. I no longer had to white out my errors; I no longer had to retype an entire article because of errors. My handwriting is almost completely illegible. The computer is a godsend for a writer and editor.
I have seen teachers who use technology to inspire inquiry, research, creativity and excitement. I understand what a powerful tool it is.
But it is also fraught with risk, and the tech industry has not done enough to mitigate the risks.
Risk One: The Threat to Student Privacy
Risk one is the invasion of student privacy, utilizing data by tech companies collected when students are online. The story of inBloom is a cautionary tale. Funded in 2014 with $100 million from the Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, inBloom intended to collect massive amounts of personally identifiable student data and use it to “personalize” learning to each student.
Parents became alarmed by the plan to put their children’s data into a cloud and mobilized in communities and states to stop inBloom. They were not nearly as impressed by the possibilities of data-driven instruction as the entrepreneurs promoting inBloom. The parents won. State after state dropped out, and inBloom collapsed.
Though inBloom is dead, the threat to student privacy is not. Every time a student makes a keystroke, an algorithm somewhere is collecting information about that student. Will his or her data be sold? The benefit to entrepreneurs and corporations is clear; the benefit to students is not at all clear.
Risk Two: The Proliferation of ‘Personalized Learning’
Personalized learning, or “competency-based education,” are both euphemisms for computer adaptive instruction. Again, a parent rebellion is brewing, because parents want their children taught by a human being, not a computer. They fear that their children will be mechanized, standardized, subjected to depersonalized instruction, not “personalized learning.” While many entrepreneurs are investing in software to capture this burgeoning industry, there is still no solid evidence that students learn more or better when taught by a computer.
Risk Three: The Extensive Use of Technology for Assessment.
Technology is highly compatible with standardized testing, which encourages standardized questions and standardized answers. If the goal of learning is to teach creativity, imagination, and risk-taking, assessment should encourage students to be critical thinkers, not accepting the conventional wisdom, not checking off the right answer. Furthermore, the ability of computers to judge essays is still undeveloped and may remain so. Professor Les Perelman at MIT demonstrated that computer-graded essays can get high scores for gibberish and that computers lack the “intelligence” to reason or understand what matters most in writing.
Risk four: The Cyber Charter School
Most such virtual schools, or cyber charters, are operated for profit; the largest of them is a chain called K12 Inc., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Its executives are paid millions of dollars each year. Its biggest initial investor was the junk bond king Michael Milken. Numerous articles in publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post have documented high student attrition, low teacher wages, low student test scores and low graduation rates. Yet the company is profitable.
The most controversial school in Ohio is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), whose owner makes political contributions to office-holders and has collected about $1 billion in taxpayer dollars since 2000. ECOT reputedly has the lowest graduation rate in the nation. The state of Ohio recently won a lawsuit requiring ECOT to return $60 million because of inflated enrollment figures. Studies of cyber charters have concluded that students learn very little when enrolled in them. There may be students who have legitimate reasons to learn at home online, but these “schools” should not receive the same tuition as brick-and-mortar schools that have certified teachers, custodians, libraries, the costs of physical maintenance, playgrounds, teams, school nurses and other necessities.
Risk Five: Money in Edtech
The tech industry wields its money in dubious ways to peddle its product. The market for technology is burgeoning, and a large industry is hovering around the schools, eager for their business. In November 2017, the New York Times published an expose of the business practices of the tech industry in Baltimore County. It documented payola, influence peddling and expensive wining and dining of school officials, which resulted in nearly $300 million of spending on computers that received low ratings by evaluators and that were soon obsolescent. This, in a district that has neglected the basic maintenance of some of its buildings.
The greatest fear of parents and teachers is that the tech industry wants to replace teachers with computers. They fear that the business leaders want to cut costs by replacing expensive humans with inexpensive machines, that never require health care or a pension. They believe that education requires human interaction. They prefer experience, wisdom, judgment, sensibility, sensitivity and compassion in the classroom to the cold, static excellence of a machine.
I agree with them.