Where should we draw the line regarding computers?

As my father would have said in the 1980s, computers are the future of education. He went on to work for Person County Schools in North Carolina promoting the use of technology before I was born, received his masters in education from North Carolina State University, and in the process was promoted to work for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction from which he retired when I was in grade school. He created his own company when entrepreneurship and small business was not common, but had the right idea at the right time and was named one of the top ten education innovators by an education magazine. While he was deeply honored by his inclusion in this category, he was almost giddy over the caricature they drew of him. My father set out to improve education, but not be the best. He saw flaws in the education system and foresaw how it would change with the technology revolution long before most homes had computers in them.

Clifford Stoll, I’m sure, sees the benefits of computers, but my fathers introduction to his TedTalk was that he doesn’t believe computers belong in the classroom. I am torn on this idea. Computers, from laptops to cell phones, are drastically decreasing our ability to communicate with others. But they can also be used to portray problems without bringing in costly equipment. I came up with this happy medium:

Clifford Stoll showed an experiment in his TedTalk about sound and wavelengths. He brought in several large pieces of equipment that would be too costly for a teacher and would require a large amount of storage space. Instead, a teacher can use a computer and project the beginning of the experiment onto a screen. To facilitate experimentation, the teacher then asks the students to discuss what will happen next in groups. The students must then do research to discover the outcome of the experiment. They can use discussion, their bodies, instruments found in the classroom, or even the computer. They will be assessed based on their methods, such as discussion or technology, and, if they use the computer, their sources. They will not necessarily be assessed on their answer, but on how they find their answer.

I believe two things have become too much a focus in education, the answer and computers. The answer is important, but what is most important is how one finds the answer. Those who can do math in their heads may not enjoy this, and this ability should be celebrated, but in the beginning a teacher needs to make sure a student is going through the correct steps. These steps won’t be the same for everyone, but they must be analyzed. Secondly, computers are great for finding information, experimenting, and collaborating. These traits should be taught, but also human interaction and that computers do not provide every answer. If there is a temporary power outage, people need to be able to continue being productive. Skills outside of the computer should be harnessed as well.


One thought on “Where should we draw the line regarding computers?

  1. Excellent ideas. What you seem to be saying is that what’s important is learning and learning to learn. The difficulty for teachers is how to assess process and remain willing to be surprised by something they’ve never seen before. How do you grade method and also invite learners to risk their grade by innovating? It’s tough. But it’s the right thing to do.

    I really like the term, defend. Ask learners to defend their method. Even students who can work math in their heads should learn to describe and defend their process.

    Good Job!


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