Join 3,425 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Kids + Computers = ???
October 5, 2005 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Are computers counterproductive to a child's development? Wittenberg University education professor and former computer teacher Lowell Monke thinks so, and has written a provocative essay arguing that, among other things, computers render children "less animated and less capable of appreciating what it means to be alive, what it means to belong in the world as a biological, social being," and "teach children a manipulative way of engaging the world.” His polemic is partially supported by evidence (.pdf academic paper; BBC gloss here) indicating that, above a certain threshold, computer use is correlated with lower test scores. The latest salvo in the continuing debate over education and the culture of simulation.
posted by googly (46 comments total)

 
As with all things, the purpose of an education is to teach people the self-reliant tools of researching and developing ideas on their own; it really comes down to having others there to encourage them. Once you learn that microfilm can be just as useful as google. Computer's are beautiful quick, however. I heart computers.
posted by Peter H at 11:35 AM on October 5, 2005


arguing that, among other things, computers render children "less animated and less capable of appreciating what it means to be alive, what it means to belong in the world as a biological, social being," and "teach children a manipulative way of engaging the world.”

If children are not raised exactly the same way as I was raised, they will be different from me. That is unequivocally bad.
posted by delmoi at 11:37 AM on October 5, 2005


If we don't raise children to use computers from an early age, who will old fogies like Monke turn to for their tech support?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:40 AM on October 5, 2005


The fundamental message I'm hearing is: We're letting simulations replace reality, and we do so at our peril.

I don't know whether or not I agree with what he's saying, but he makes some interesting observations.
posted by Malor at 11:45 AM on October 5, 2005


Another old coot relishing his 'golden age' of youth, when times were simpler, and family values intact. And we all ate Blue Bell ice cream, like Momma used to make.
posted by NationalKato at 11:48 AM on October 5, 2005


I wonder if the younger generation will connect to each other better through SMS than face-to-face.

The purple swami predicts an exponential rise in the diagnosis (and profitable treatment) of Asperger Syndrome.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:48 AM on October 5, 2005


One thing I believe that we can all agree on is that our world is going to be more and more computer oriented. Today it would be difficult to conduct any type of business in the developed world without the aid of computers, this can only increase. Allowing children more time to become comfortable with the workings of computers can only serve to benefit them in the long run just as teaching them Mandarin and Spanish will.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:51 AM on October 5, 2005


Oh my god, this is a bunch of treehugging hippie bullshit. Yeah, let's not teach kids to use computers. That way, when they grow up, they'll have plenty of time to enjoy "what it means to belong in the world as a biological, social being" since they'll all be unemployed.

My parents bought me an Apple ][e in third grade, and I now make a good living in the IT industry. To be honest, it was one of the few things that they did right.
posted by afroblanca at 11:55 AM on October 5, 2005


It's an interesting article, but by the end I was getting irritated by the information that he was clearly leaving out of his examples. At the end, he talks about a group of smart kids who wanted to do a project about breaking through the school's network security. He says no, they keep on asking, he eventually says yes, and then:

"they trotted off to the lab without a second thought and went right to work—until I hauled them back and reasserted my authority. Once the external controls were lifted, these teens possessed no internal controls to take over."

Uh, what do you expect? You said yes. Exactly what is this 'network security' they are trying to break through? Netnanny? Or hacking into the exam grades? There's a big difference, and I'm sure if the kids were smart, they'd have come up with a good reason and argument for the project. I sure as hell would've liked to test my school's network system, and if my teacher had said yes, I'd have gone ahead with it - not for malicious purposes, as he intimates, but simply to learn. He goes on:

"This is something those who want to "empower" young children by handing them computers have tended to ignore: that internal moral and ethical development must precede the acquisition of power—political, economic, or technical—if it is to be employed responsibly."

So, what, because they'll abuse the power of having computers, we shouldn't give them computers? I don't disagree with some of his premises - computer usage in schools could do with improving (just like every single other aspect of teaching) - but I think he's giving far too much credit to technology for supposedly creating a generation of kids who are much worse than the generation that came before them.
posted by adrianhon at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2005


One thing I believe that we can all agree on is that our world is going to be more and more computer oriented. Today it would be difficult to conduct any type of business in the developed world without the aid of computers, this can only increase. Allowing children more time to become comfortable with the workings of computers can only serve to benefit them in the long run just as teaching them Mandarin and Spanish will.

I'm skeptical. Speaking from personal experience, it's a lot easier to learn how to use computers than it is to learn Mandarin! With languages, it makes sense to start early, because it's easier for children to learn a language than it is for adults. I don't think the same argument applies to learning to use computers. It's just not that hard, so you don't need to spend that much time on it.

Attaining "computer literacy" just isn't as hard as achieving real literacy.

High school, sure. Elementary school, I'm skeptical. As Monke points out, the expense and time required by computers will crowd out other stuff.
posted by russilwvong at 12:11 PM on October 5, 2005


Cliff Stoll makes a much more compelling argument against computers in the classroom. Here's an alright summary.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2005


"Once the external controls were lifted, these teens possessed no internal controls to take over."

Suuuure. They wanted to do something, they bugged their teacher until he said, 'OK, do it!' and then they went and did it. He had to chase them down and 'reassert control?' Whatever. How about 'This teacher was so spineless that he gave in to pestering and complained about it.'

I think the problem/question is an important one, but some of these examples are just stupid.
posted by verb at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2005


I am appalled when I see commercials that promote DVD players in the back seats of cars for family vacations. With the whole world appearing on video, won't the real world just become a fly-ridden, cold or hot, discomfiting location to have to endure, for the video generation? It does not bode well for the Earth.
posted by Oyéah at 12:16 PM on October 5, 2005


Computers are not substitutes for life. But they sure are pretty, and have blinky lights, and sounds! I think Plato's cave allegory has never been more appropriate.
posted by sandking at 12:21 PM on October 5, 2005


Ah, Cliff Stoll. I reviewed his book when it came out, and it's worth remembering the context of his 'enlightenment experience' wrt computing technology. He'd been one of the early generation of hardcore wireheads on the net, and started getting grumpy when the influx of Freshmen, AOL users, and (God save us!) the Prodigy users started transforming the place into something different and less elitist.

He makes some good points, but Stoll's writing is so deeply steeped in the grumpy "I liked it back before all the newbies arrived! Now computers are evil!" mindset of an oldschool unix geek.
posted by verb at 12:21 PM on October 5, 2005


It's not that kids shouldn't learn to use computers. It's that computers don't help kids to learn fundamentals. The history of computers and teaching (I'm talking K-12 here) reads as an amazing list of huge sums of money spent with no educational gain for children whatsoever.

More along these lines in the book The Child and the Machine.
posted by chuma at 12:23 PM on October 5, 2005


verb writes "He makes some good points, but Stoll's writing is so deeply steeped in the grumpy 'I liked it back before all the newbies arrived! Now computers are evil!' mindset of an oldschool unix geek."

That's probably why I liked it....
posted by mr_roboto at 12:26 PM on October 5, 2005


If my experiences with high school and college students were any indication, then it's no problem because most kids don't know how to use a computer.
posted by drezdn at 12:27 PM on October 5, 2005


Eh, my experiances with computers in the class room was less then satisfactory. Teachers view computers with fear, because they don't know anything, and can't control them but (and here's the kicker) the children do.

That said, other then learning the 'boring' computer skills (like how to use a word processor) I don't think there's much value in having computers in the classroom. They are a distraction, they do 'encourage delinquency', and teachers aren't programmers, so it's not like they can just whip-up interactive teaching tools to suit their syllabi.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2005


Todd Oppenheimer wrote "The Flickering Mind" and comes out pretty clearly against computers in schools, other than for administration and teaching typing, programming, cptr. maintenance and things like that.

University professors in Canada are lamenting writing and math levels of a significant portion of new students, who have great social and computer skills but can't put together a decent essay, even though they graduated with high marks and did well on departmental examinations (Globe and Mail article expired).

In the UK, one study found that students who have Internet at home didn't do as well as students who didn't, finding that computers in the home don't seem to get used much for homework and learning (sorry - I can't find the link).
posted by ykjay at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2005


oh, I was also going to say, maybe when teachers are the kids of our generation (which should just be starting) who actually understand and are familiar with computers we'll get some use out of them.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on October 5, 2005


Before computers, it was tv, before that radio, then books. Whatever.

IMHO if your kid doesn't know how to use a computer, he'll be fucked in the future. Just don't make it his only experience.

Can I just say that one of my favorite features of OSX Tiger is the parental controls? They're awesome, and no one ever talks about them.
posted by fungible at 12:39 PM on October 5, 2005


Well, actually. I think there is a kernel of truth on this. Human-computer interfaces suck on a cognitive level: overly complex, inconsistent, with frequent distractions. I think there is a strong argument to be made that the cognitive skills employed in using computer interfaces don't help much in mastering skills that don't involve a computer interface.

The basic result of 20 years of research on this, is that methodology matters. But what do you do about the methodology embedded in the interface?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:55 PM on October 5, 2005


Like any tool, it's effectiveness depends on how you use it.

An hour of Sesame Street will please a child and expose them to useful ideas.

An hour of mindless action cartoons will risk polluting their social skills.

It's not all black and white with electronic tools in the schoolroom, and the effectiveness of the teacher is far more important than any of that.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:59 PM on October 5, 2005


I agree computers made me stupid, wacky and hard to get along with, especially once they're hooked up to the Internet.

Before I got on line I was a brilliant and clear-headed angel whom everybody adored, and my writing style was much spiffier too. Really!
posted by davy at 12:59 PM on October 5, 2005


My four-year-old daughter loves to be on the computer but as with anything, strict moderation has to be adhered to IMHO. If I let her stay on for more than a half-hour, she gets all glassy-eyed and doesn't respond to a simple "Hi!". Then I know it's time for a walk outside away from the machines for a bit and soon she forgets about it . But yeah, I can agree somewhat with what he says.

Agreed, CynicalKnight.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:07 PM on October 5, 2005


verb has described the MetaFilter oldies: I liked it back before all the newbies arrived!
posted by Cranberry at 2:09 PM on October 5, 2005


With languages, it makes sense to start early, because it's easier for children to learn a language than it is for adults. I don't think the same argument applies to learning to use computers.

Isn't it easier to learn ANYTHING if you start young?

It's just not that hard, so you don't need to spend that much time on it.

ha, ha ha, hahahahahahhahaha! You want to come to my office and show people how to back up their Entrourage and Outlook files? If only you were right....

It's that computers don't help kids to learn fundamentals.

Disagreed. Surely I can't be the only person here who remembers Number Munchers! Anything that can make learning math fun is A-OK by me.

(besides, without Oregon trail, I would have never learned how to shoot at make-believe buffalo)

That said, other then learning the 'boring' computer skills (like how to use a word processor) I don't think there's much value in having computers in the classroom.

Disagreed. There is an immense amount of knowledge to be gained from the Internet, if you learn how to filter out the bullshit. Hey, there's a thought - how about we teach kids how to do THAT!

University professors in Canada are lamenting writing and math levels of a significant portion of new students, who have great social and computer skills but can't put together a decent essay, even though they graduated with high marks and did well on departmental examinations (Globe and Mail article expired).

I would say that this has a lot more to do with the Canadian educational system than it does with computers.

On a different note, I would say that there is one situation where computers in the classroom have infuriated me - College Professors' over-reliance on Powerpoint. Seriously. Powerpoint is where education goes to die.

This may have been because I went to a State-run MegaUniversity, but I had several professors and TAs who simply made really exstensive powerpoint slides, and read directly from them in lecture. Very rarely would they answer questions from the class. You could even download the powerpoint slides from the web, and then you wouldn't even need to go to class! Yaaay! Score one for wasting my college tuition!

(Still, this problem isn't necessarily endemic to Powerpoint. A professor who is over-reliant on an overhead projector would be just as ineffective. Visual aids should provide you with a few handy bullet points and maybe some illustrations. They should not provide the meat of the class)
posted by afroblanca at 2:37 PM on October 5, 2005


Mr. Monke will next lament that modern medicine and hygiene practices are preventing us from knowing what it means for a variety of parasitic organisms to be alive inside us...
posted by clevershark at 2:48 PM on October 5, 2005


Isn't it easier to learn ANYTHING if you start young?

Not really, like it's easier to teach an 18 year old html coding or Photoshop than a 5 year old, but a 5 year old would be better at learning Mandarin. The theory is that young children are genetically wired for languge aquisition, see Eric Lenneberg's "Critical Period Hypothesis".
posted by bobo123 at 3:22 PM on October 5, 2005


"His polemic is partially supported by evidence (.pdf academic paper; BBC gloss here) indicating that, above a certain threshold, computer use is correlated with lower test scores."
This isn't really good evidence as too much time using a graphing calculator/spent at foot ball practice/reading for fun can be correlated to poor test scores. What a child is doing instead of studying seems irrelevant.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 3:52 PM on October 5, 2005


Not really, like it's easier to teach an 18 year old html coding or Photoshop than a 5 year old, but a 5 year old would be better at learning Mandarin.

Notice that I said that anything is easier to learn if you START young. I think that an 18 year old would have a much easier time learning HTML or Photoshop if they spent some part of their childhood writing in AppleBasic.

(at least that was true for me)
posted by afroblanca at 4:10 PM on October 5, 2005


I love this stuff. It appeals to the luddite in me. But also it reaffirms my belief that schools can be so much better than they are without spending huge sums. Teaching ecological literacy, which will only increase in importance in the future, can be easily achieved with a small fraction of the budget that computers devour.

I thought the Lowell Monke article was extreme in its lamentations. And I agree that Cliff Stoll makes a more grounded argument against using computers in schools. Here's an excerpt:

"Whenever I point out the dubious value of computers in schools, I hear the comment, "Look, computers are everywhere, so we have to bring them into the classroom." Well, automobiles are everywhere too. They play a damned important part in our society, and it's hard to get a job if you can't drive. But we don't teach "automobile literacy." Nor do we make cars a central part of the curriculum—indeed, many schools are now dropping driver's ed, recognizing that teenagers can learn to drive without intensive schooling.

And yes, computers seem ubiquitous, but that's no reason to bring them into the classroom. Television is certainly omnipresent, but it's been relegated to a fairly minor role in schools. I don't hear politicians worrying about some "television divide" separating those with the tube from those without."

posted by recurve at 5:20 PM on October 5, 2005


I think KirkJobSluder has a very good point above - education and the process of growing up is all about learning cognitive skills. Learning the limited set of cognitive skills needed to navigate today's computer interfaces is a bit of a limited avenue for development, it seems to me.
posted by anthill at 6:46 PM on October 5, 2005


I took a weekend computer class for smart kids from Lowell Monke during middle school, I kid you not. We screwed around with hypercard on some old Macs.
posted by mikeh at 6:55 PM on October 5, 2005


please.

this thread constitutes a much more useful and insightful discussion of the topic than the miserable excuse of an article it links to. the thesis of this piece is essentially that the geeks should get thrown out onto the playground to get beat up and learn the social realities of grown-up life rather than "isolating" themselves in the computer lab.

know what? i spent a good part of my childhood in the computer lab, and right now i earn more than the vast majority of my peers, and i'd venture to say that i'm pretty well-adjusted, too. even if getting beat up on the playground didn't turn me into a sociopath, it sure as hell would have made me miss out on learning all the skills that i need to do my job right now.

i mean, seriously -- what the fuck does the author think computers are making us miss out on? spin the bottle? red rover? been there, done that, no thanks -- you can take your enlightened 1950s culture and all the good it's done you and the rest of the world and cram it up your ass, thank you very much.

don't come crying to me to fix your fucking email, either.
posted by spiderwire at 9:53 PM on October 5, 2005


...computers render children "less animated and less capable of appreciating what it means to be alive, what it means to belong in the world as a biological, social being," and "teach children a manipulative way of engaging the world.”

Ah, who needs social interaction anyway? It's overrated. And what does being alive mean - having a job you hate so you can scrape by on the monthly bills, and maybe even being in a fragile relationship with a temperamental partner with whom you have to struggle just to try and understand them? And what's wrong with teaching children a manipulative way of engaging the world - isn't that how you get ahead in life? After all, you don't become 1337 without PWNing some n00bz.
posted by deusdiabolus at 1:09 AM on October 6, 2005


spiderwire: the thesis of this piece is essentially that the geeks should get thrown out onto the playground to get beat up and learn the social realities of grown-up life rather than "isolating" themselves in the computer lab.

Not really, this piece has little to do with geeks, but what is becoming the standard curriculum.

i mean, seriously -- what the fuck does the author think computers are making us miss out on? spin the bottle? red rover? been there, done that, no thanks -- you can take your enlightened 1950s culture and all the good it's done you and the rest of the world and cram it up your ass, thank you very much.

Well, I thought this question was answered in the article. To use geek speak. Computers offer one type of interface to the world. Playing and observing how things work in the world away from the desk offer another type of interface to the world. Monke's claim is that skills in one kind of interface don't translate well into other kinds of interfaces.

Why does this matter? Well, IMO there are quite a few career fields (many of which are just as geeky as computer science) where you don't get that instant (*) feedback that is highly desired in computer interfaces. Something that comes to mind right off was the recent discussion surrounding the detection of a pathogenic bacterium after anti-war protests last month. People just are unwilling to accept the probability that preparing and culturing samples to confirm identification takes time. With the space program, thinking in terms of plans that span hours, days or years is fairly typical. The compressed time scales of computer simulations introduced to children provides a skewed view of how emprical science works.

Working with systems such as planets, gardens, biological cultures, buildings, rivers, or sick people require understandings of time and efficacy that are radically different from how these concepts are understood with computer systems. The question that we really need to address in using computers in education is how much does time spent learning the rules of computer systems interfere with learning how to interact with other systems?

(*) If the process is going to take longer than 3 seconds, we still want to see the splash screen and/or progress bar. We will still be grumpy about computer processes that take time, but we are more forgiving if the interface provides us with entertainment.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:34 AM on October 6, 2005


Wait a second, are you saying that computers make people impatient, because they are too good at giving instant feedback?

(stifling laughter)

Wishful thinking at its best.

Computers require extreme patience, because they're ill understood and always screwing up. If anything, I would argue that they make us more patient.
posted by afroblanca at 10:17 AM on October 6, 2005


afoblanka: Wait a second, are you saying that computers make people impatient, because they are too good at giving instant feedback?

(stifling laughter)

Wishful thinking at its best.

Computers require extreme patience, because they're ill understood and always screwing up. If anything, I would argue that they make us more patient.


Well yes, think about most computer games. Most strategy games allow you to accellerate time at an enormous pace. In action games you have, if not instant healing, full healing within a few seconds. RPGs, just cast a spell or find a place to "sleep" for 10 seconds.

%99.9 of the time (approximately) the desktop computer provides a response to user actions faster than the brain can perceive. Windows XP by default even has animations to slow down the response of common user actions such as clicking on the start menu.

Even when computers "screw up" the results are immediate. When I was working with biological cultures, a "screw up" almost always took 72 hours to spot.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:33 AM on October 6, 2005


the problem here, IMO, is that the real problem is the school structure, system and curriculum--not the use of computers.

the school day in the US is getting shorter, and classes are being cut. schools spend cash on overpriced hardware and software they got sold by some salesman, but don't spend on teaching the teachers how to use it. kids like the computers, but both teachers and parents are leery of educational games and afraid of the Web (and its people and the information it holds that they don't agree with). class sizes get bigger, and so teachers let kids fritter away their time with a monitor in front of them with little supervision, and then blame it on the computer. oh, and don't get me started about the obsession with test scores as a way to judge how much education a kid is actually getting.

i am so glad to be homeschooling a 9-year old. right now, he's outside playing basketball in the sun with his dad. later, we're going to the library, and then we'll be spending time at iknowthat.com. last weekend, we went to a fur trader/ojibwe reenactor rendezvous so he could learn about the history of where we live. i hope he never goes back to his award-winning school, because more than anything, they treat curriculum and the school day as an ongoing chinese puzzle. (maybe this can go here, but what about this? oh yeah, and now we have to move this.) what a waste of energy.

the point is that computers are necessary. they are a wonderful educational tool. and the school day should have time for everything. and if they don't, blaming computers is only the latest of many scapegoats.
posted by RedEmma at 10:50 AM on October 6, 2005


RedEmma: the problem here, IMO, is that the real problem is the school structure, system and curriculum--not the use of computers.

I would argue that the desire to incorporate computer aided instruction into parts of the curriculum where other media and methods might work better is part of the problem.

the point is that computers are necessary. they are a wonderful educational tool. and the school day should have time for everything. and if they don't, blaming computers is only the latest of many scapegoats.

I didn't read the article as "blaming computers." Throughout this thread, the knee-jerk reaction to the article has been really disappointing. I would argue that the problems with computer-aided instruction is as strongly supported as global warming at this point it time. Teachers and administrators don't appear to be the entire problem. But how dare I or Monke question the power of the magic box?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:08 AM on October 6, 2005


I would argue that the desire to incorporate computer aided instruction into parts of the curriculum where other media and methods might work better is part of the problem.

well, duh. that's obvious. but what about research, streaming video snip supplements, organization of a student's work/communication with parents, math and other educational games (which engage children more than drills, obviously)? schools are being pushed into a lot of stuff with No Child Left Behind, and it seems that a lot of the money is going toward the obsession with testing and spending large sums of cash recklessly rather than actually using it properly. if that's what you're saying, then we agree.

the problems with computer-aided instruction is as strongly supported as global warming at this point it time.

um. okay. i'm not sure what you mean by that. there really haven't been very many long-term studies, and all are being conducted in schools that are for the most part misfunded and misusing tech all over the place. it's just beginning, really. aside from the established truth that says small children are better off with hands-on, it's pretty hard to judge, so far, what's happening. there is a reality to our future on its present course (which is technology all the way, whether because of its enhancement of our lives or because schools/US govt cut back further on ed. budgets and teacher salaries). now. are we going to use it right in the classroom? are we going to acknowledge that it's being used very well in schools and with independent learners all over the world in an increasingly excellent way? Just in the last month or two:

In Massachusetts: ICT "captivate[s] struggling students while engaging those who need more challenges. Standardized test scores have improved and achievement gaps narrowed."

In Finland: Finland is acknowledged worldwide as one of the best school systems anywhere, and they are using technology to do it.

In the Philippines: "absences being reduced to almost zero, teachers becoming more enthusiastic and learning becoming collaborative. Students are also observed to be bonding together discussing their lessons on the corridors..."

In Singapore: Thomas Friedman points out that "its fourth- and eighth-graders already score at the top of the TIMSS international math and science tests," and they are compiling all those best practices into a computer-based, all-access curriculum.

In the EU: students built a satellite via the Net, supervised by the EU space Agency. think they could do that any other way?

In Orange County: they're trying to re-engage disinterested students by creating a technology high school.

the main thing that most people who know something about teaching will tell you is that there is nothing like a computer to engage kids who are bored and ready to say bye-bye. it can keep them focused better than lectures and pencil and paper exercises. (i would think that would be obvious.) no one reasonable is saying that little kids shouldn't have recess or art classes or hands-on science. however, with budgets cut to the bone, schools are using tech to solve all their woes, and it's obviously a faulty path. as i said, it's the function of the system at large that is the problem, not the use of technology.

e-Learning can work very well, both in the classroom and without. (i don't have time to look for studies at the moment, but they're out there, albeit mostly at post-high school level so far.) the point is that students should have access to everything, and the way the study in the FPP will be used is to say, "See, I told you those machines don't work." Nuance is always lost on the masses, it seems.
posted by RedEmma at 1:19 PM on October 6, 2005


RedEmma: um. okay. i'm not sure what you mean by that.

I thought that I made it clear. When you actually take a look through the peer-reviewed research on computers in the classroom, when you look to see what is actually claimed in the "success stories" along with the more objective research studies, the benefits of computers in the classroom are pretty dubious. It does not get much more simple than that. But you don't get that by looking at press relases or AP puff stories.

The evidence just doesn't support the claim that computers lead to better learning.

there really haven't been very many long-term studies, and all are being conducted in schools that are for the most part misfunded and misusing tech all over the place. it's just beginning, really. aside from the established truth that says small children are better off with hands-on, it's pretty hard to judge, so far, what's happening.

Just about all of these claims are false. There are long term studies, and studies conducted in ideal classroom situations and schools. We have 20 years of research on this issue, even more if you consider that the claims made for computer technology today are identical to the claims made by instructional video since WWII (with the same result). There are hundreds of case studies that have been subjected to meta-studies, and in most of those meta-studies teaching methodologies are much more an important than technology, and some have found that, "high-technology" even if managed well is less effective than "low-tech" solutions when you compare across the same methodologies.

the main thing that most people who know something about teaching will tell you is that there is nothing like a computer to engage kids who are bored and ready to say bye-bye. it can keep them focused better than lectures and pencil and paper exercises.

Well, this is a bit of a bad comparison. The computer-assisted learning equivalent to the lecture+homework is just reading a text online and taking a quiz. Adapting that methodology to a computer medium actually tends to do worse than the corresponding lecture because nothing is more tedious than reading a bunch of text and taking a quiz.

Now of course, adaptive drill and practice (math games) is one of the few places where you see an advantage over class based drill and practice, primarily because you've changed the methodology.

Most frequently where you have seen gains, it's not because the computer is some magic box, but because part of the intervention involved a shift in methodology, most frequently from a teacher-centered methodology to a learner-centered methodology. But student-centered methods can be practiced without the computer, and appear to be just as effective without the computer.

A lot of these computer aided instruction studies can show more engagement, but more engagement does not necessarily mean more learning. That's where the payoff needs to come.

as i said, it's the function of the system at large that is the problem, not the use of technology.

Well, this is just plain not seeing the full picture, and is part of the problem. The technology (whether computers, overheads, blackboards, or a stove in the center of a one-room school) is an integral part of the system. You can't talk about the system without talking about the technology embedded in it. You can't talk about the technology without talking about the system it contributes to.

e-Learning can work very well, both in the classroom and without. (i don't have time to look for studies at the moment, but they're out there, albeit mostly at post-high school level so far.)

e-Learning can work well, but so can cognitive appreniceship, inquiry learning, project-based learning, drill and practice, communities of practice, and even lecture-based classes. (The studies out there BTW range throughout the human developmental lifespan.) The problem is, while e-Learning can work well, on average it does not, and in some cases is worse than other instructional methods.

But there seems to be this rather odd magical thinking that whenever a study fails to show that the use of a computer results in better learning gains, it must be a problem with anything but the computer.

the point is that students should have access to everything, and the way the study in the FPP will be used is to say, "See, I told you those machines don't work." Nuance is always lost on the masses, it seems.

Should students have access to computers? Certainly.

However, I work in instructional technology. And I'm increasingly frustrated with the cognitive dissonance of my field that publishes study after study showing little, no or negative significant gains in learning from computer technology, and then turning around to invent yet another e-Learning system. A running joke can be restated as, "computers are the solution, what was your question?"

At this point, it's not really time for nuance. If saying "those machines don't work" forces a hard reboot of our current way of thinking about technology in education, then that is exactly what we need right now. If it takes scapegoating computers to break out of our current view of computers as educational panacaea, then that is exactly what we need right now.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:23 PM on October 6, 2005


TV? Bad for kids? NO WAY!!!!
posted by buzzman at 8:52 PM on October 6, 2005


i can't win for losing, it seems. :) when i put out "scholarly" articles in other threads, i get "oh, like i'm going to listen to those ivory tower academics." and now...

not your fault, KirkJobSluder... i'm just sayin'.

at any rate, i pondered, and i decided to simply concede. this despite the fact that i believe strongly that comparing the technology of even 10 years ago with that of today is silly. and my belief that the problem with education is primarily a problem of the school structure (an industrial model being used in a post-industrial age) and teachers (who overwhelmingly, i think, reject technology because of their age, their already overburdened time, and lack of training), and the problems with methodology.
(i hold these opinions as a former teacher, and someone who has been researching e-Learning and ICT use internationally for nearly 3 years now.)

so, if i concede your point that computers don't seem to work very well in the classroom, can we at least start looking at the Why? and How Do We Fix That?

i mean, just because the Model A doesn't work very well and the roads suck, do we throw out the idea of motorized transport? there is so much good in the overall use of e-Learning's potential: learners having an ability to work from home, better access to school communications, anytime-anywhere education... i think that has to count for a great deal.

how do we find a way to make what is an integral part of our future work in the classroom?
posted by RedEmma at 10:19 AM on October 7, 2005


« Older This is the Zodiac speaking...I am waiting for a g...  |  Welcome back NHL.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments