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Are Computers in Classrooms Bad for Learning 378

Sideshow Vox writes "Evidently a number of experts in the education field see more harm than good in exposing young children to computers in the classroom. The article raises some good points about the darker side of the current fashion of computers in every classroom." I don't know when I would have found the time to write Slashdot during college if we didn't have computers in the classroom ;)
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Are Computers in Classrooms Bad for Learning

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  • This article should be considered "a reasonable sound of an alarm" and not a wholesale debunking of pre-fourth grade use of computers.

    If teachers were adequately compensated and trained, then the proper use of computers would enhance every facet of learning. It is time to place a higher tax distribution emphasis on paying and training teachers, this includes the proper use of computers.

    Dumb, poor (read:underpaid) teachers are the enemy, not computers. Fix the system that allows teachers to have no incentive to be the best and to be compensated as the best. Pay good teachers well, pay excellent teachers better and pay phenomenal teachers gargantuan salaries. Put bad teachers out on the street.

    Keep the computers in the classroom and have the teachers/students learn how to use them constructively.

    Now is the only moment you have complete control over. Use now wisely.
  • ...looking up stuff about Roszak and came across this quote-for-the-ages:

    "Both Oppenheimer and Roszak feel much of the problem rests with computer companies, who have tried to persuade schools to buy computers by citing flawed studies showing improved academic performance among students versed in computer technology."

    "With this in mind, Roszak's advice to educators is straightforward: "Find out what Bill Gates wants schools to do and don't do it."

    Let's re-write that to:

    "Let's find out what Bill Gates wants to do, and don't do it!"

    Sorry. Couldn't resist...

    I think not; therefore I ain't

  • There are some very good tools on computers these days. But, these tools have potential to destroy the learning process if used incorrectly. So long as teachers work from the bottom up while teaching the kids, all is well. It's the minute that the teachers bring out the calculator BEFORE the little cubes to teach addition that things get messy. Use the tools, use the computers, but be clear that there is no dependency on them, that they're used because they're more efficient, not because our kids don't know how to do it any other way.

  • > A lot of the so-called educational software is a joke

    I can't help but think computers are replacing televisions as the "electronic babysitters" of the 21st Century.

  • Well if the children had too much information:
    People would have to treat kids with respect instead of bulls****ing them

    We couldn't dominate them by keeping them locked up, lying to them, etc.
    We would have to come up with a system of education based on the fundamentals of human communication
    We would have to educate them based on the realities of the world instead of our agenda
    We would have to brainwash them hard and fast, instead of having the luxury of taking our time.
    We would have to teach them how to evaluate data (on the basis of the old Garbage In, Garbage Out theory)
    It is too much effort to make the effort for individual education
    We would rather spoon feed them our junque in large rooms with small windows.
    We don't want to take the blame for getting caught with our pants down.
    we do not want to be the outsiders in their world
  • You are mostly correct.

    I would say that people with an aptitude might learn the technical skills of computers from exposure. I've seen countless classmates go into a computer class and learn:

    A) Nothing.
    B) How to type a report in Write or Word.
    C) How to play solitaire.
    D) How to pay me in order to get anything productive done on a computer.

    Unfortunately, most instruction is either too simple, or too advanced for most people. And, unfortunately, most people seem to fall into a trap of making the machine too difficult to use. I'd like it if people were taught how mail works rather than how to use AOL/Pine/Mutt/Outlook only. But it just doesn't seem to work that well. Maybe because I'm dealing (and have dealt) with older people (by that meaning those who have graduated high school:) and the same thing doesn't carry over for kids who have had more exposure and don't automatically have an image of a computer in their mind that it is "impossible to learn how to use".

    But on the other point, you are 100% correct. I've seen several schools spend tons of money on computers only to have the teachers say "what the hell am I supposed to do with this?" Especially at the elementary level, computers just add another degree of frustration and instruction. Teaching a child to read with a book is simple. Open. Flip back and forth. Same with writing: put pointy stick to paper. Move stick.

    Now, of course, there are good teachers who can teach with computers at the lower levels, and there are students who learn better with them, but in my experience, teachers, administrators, school boards, and legislators have yet to figure out how to put the pieces together.

    And on another rant: What is the deal with every school being wired? I'd have been happy if we had history books that talked about how the gas crisis turned out (the one in the 1970's, young'uns:). (And yeah, sure, you might find that information on the web, but either "Sponsored by Shell" or "the gas crisis was a conspiracy to track down the militias/tree-huggers/"those-of-us-living-in-fear- of-black-helicopters")
  • True, although the computer can only provide so much help. There is no provision for teaching kids to ask the teacher for further assistance. If the computer provides all the help needed, the student quickly learns that his/her teacher is not needed and is of minimal assistance.

    Not to mention the fact that as we can see in this thread, most teachers are idiots [] with regard to technology. Students learn to respect the computer more than their teachers in classes where technology is overused.

  • Just because you slap a computer in a classroom doesn't make it useful. Just because you put what goes up in the blackboard into a webpage doesn't make it more informative. If the computers are actually used in some way, they are useful, but usually all I see on the computers in most HS classrooms is crap. I have also taken classes that are hard to teach without computers. Classes with 300+ people are definately more suited to overheads and presentations than to a chalkboard. At any rate, I've seen useful things done with them, and useless things done with them, but if they are just there because supposedly you are learning better by reading text off a screen than copying it off a blackboard, that's just silly. At least copying it off a blackboard you have to pretend to pay attention.
  • by pb ( 1020 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:44AM (#956011)
    Testimonial time:

    If it wasn't for that Apple ][ I saw in 3rd grade, I might never have gotten my C64 or my PC's, or learned to program, or majored in computer science...

    I have no idea what I'd be doing if I hadn't become a programmer. Math? Bleh.

    So tell me: what could possibly be bad about introducing computers to kids? If they don't like them, they don't have to use them, but I have a feeling they will all have to know what they are, and most of them will have to know how to use one...

    The only possible cool slogan I could think up for such uneducated luddites would be "Fight the Future!"
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Like any other educational tool a computer is what you make of it. I teach mainly computer oriented classes such as Computer Science and Webmastering, but I've also taught several science classes and special education classes as well.

    In each one of those classroom environments there was a time and a lesson that was better delivered using computers and technology than with any traditional methods. Of course the technology oriented classes are taught in labs and the need for computers in that environment should be obvious, but there are times that I don't even allow the kids to use them. I have found that, at times, it helps the design and reasoning out process if they don't just sit down and begin trying to work. It's all about how you use them.

    Now for the bad news. A computer in every classroom is one of my school's main ideologies, but few teachers know how to correctly utilize them in an educational environment. They are wonderful for interactive science demonstrations that couldn't be done in a lab due to safety or cost issues. They are good for illustrating some difficult concepts in math. They are good for interactive geography lessons. They are a good tool for almost any subject you can think of.

    The problem is many educators and administrators want to use them as a replacement for tried and true educational practices. They should be a supplement, not a replacement. I've seen too many otherwise fine educators turn into incompetent ones by placing kids in front of a computer and using it to baby-sit and placate.

    Hopefully this will get better in the future as more and more technologically savvy teachers enter the profession. The answer is not to get rid of the computers, but to better train teachers in how to use them as effective tools.

  • Computers are useless without computer teachers.

    Give a child any of the myriad of pieces of babysittingware out there (read: most "educational" software), add a teacher to maintain decorum, and you will have achieved the functional equivalent of dropping a kid in front of Barney for an hour with a parent in the other room.

    Give a child a calculator to do his math and a word processor to typeset his documents without a teacher who understands how to program the calculator or how to use a word processor as more than a typewriter and you have achieved nothing more than can be done with paper and pencil. In some cases, you have achieved less, as your student now knows a little less about how math really works than he would know otherwise.

    Give a child a programming language (even a simple one), let them use the computer as a tool to achieve their means -- and have a teacher who understands this tool completely -- and you have achieved education.

  • Because otherwise I'd have had nothing to teach my teachers

  • Isn't it a little more challenging to type than to turn a page?

    I don't think so. Think about what's involved in typing... you're just making small movements with your fingers and pressing.

    To turn a page is an extremely complex motion. You have to:

    1. find the edge of the page
    2. reach out
    3. make a fine motor movement to take a single page (your tactile feedback is critical to this)
    4. move your entire hand/arm over while moving your other hand (that's holding the book) so the page can close

    To put it another way, which would be more complicated... to build a robot that types, or a robot that turns a page?


  • by Staciebeth ( 40574 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @10:23AM (#956030) Homepage
    Some idle thoughts...

    1. Last time I checked some of the schools in our public school system needed better roofs and asbestos removal, and, whatever-deity-makes-you-happy help us, up to date text books. Spending money on computers isn't, or at least shouldn't be, a priority for some school districts.

    2. What are schools going to do when the computers break? Hire a bunch of network admins and techs? Maybe in wealthy districts, but those kids probably already have computers at home, so the "digital divide" will morph into "rich kids have working computers and poor kids have broken computers" Great. That's a real improvement.

    3. How many teachers will realistically use the machines for more than busy work? It will take a person with the energy to learn a new skill while working a full time job that often includes running the drama club, the chess team, or the yearbook on top of classroom work.

    Our public education system is in many ways a nightmare. Teachers are underpaid, as a profession it doesn't rank up there even with VB Developer in the eyes of many people and thus doesn't always draw the cream of the crop, classrooms are overcrowded, in outdated buildings. Success is increasingly measured in test scores...

    Wait -- I've got it -- schools can use the computers to more efficiently drill students for standardized exams! Because it's much more important for a person to do well on achievement tests than anything else...right...

  • Right, you learned a lot about computers from having been exposed to an Apple ][, but did you learn more about history, politics, science, art, or other areas of human endeavor because of it?

    I think it is very clear that people learn the technical skills of computers from exposure to them (I got my first taste on an Apple ][ back in second grade). But what else do they learn? Computers are being crammed into the schools as the solution to all of the system's problems, but there's no evidence that this works.

    My impression has been that if you put computers in a classroom, but don't invest in teachers who know how to use them AS A TOOL OF LEARNING, then they are of little benefit outside of learning the technology itself. There's nothing wrong with learning the technology itself, but let's not kid ourselves that by simply dumping computers into a classroom we will magically help children learn better.


  • on computers in school. I remember only one class (well a series of classes) in my time in public school that I took a computer class and actually learned something, by an amazing stroke of luck some computer classes I took in highschool were taught by an actual real life geek (he was a Mac geek but hey that's good enough) I had already been using computers for a few years (a Commodore 128 and later a 286 DOS box) by the time I took his first class, but this was my first exposer to a GUI and related software. In addition to being a full fledged geek, Mr. Tryon was also a very good teacher which meant that he was able to teach the norms the basics while not boring the real geeks in the class. I took two of his Mac classes my freshman and sophmore years and feel better for it, even though what I learned directly from his classes is no longer very signifigant the ideas he imparted are still with me. One saying in particular that I have always liked is something he called Tryons Maxim: "I don't mind typing anything once" this is of course in reference to saving your work and not trusting the computer to do the thinking for you. Anyway I was hoping to paint this as an example of how a highschool type computer class should be taught. I've also had some utterly useless "computer classes" in grade school that consisted entirely of playing Oregon Trail (BTW i really miss that game, does anyone know if there is a Linux port out there?)

    I do think that computer classes can be very useful even in grade school if taught by someone who both understands computer and knows how to teach, sadly this seems to be a rare combination. Even worse good teachers in any subject seem to be a rarity, and perhaps that's the real root of the problems found in this study. Bad teachers misusing a potentially good tool. I'll agree completely that computers have no place in the classroom until 4th or 5th grade, however I think that if parents have a good understanding of computers exposing young childern to them (in small doses) is much better than sitting them in front of the TV or buying them Pokecrack cards. It all comes down to balance and proper use.

    Basically if competent teachers can be found, and rational lesson plans devised I think computers in the classroom can be invaluable learning tools, but in absence of either of the above conditions computers will at the best have no benefit to learning and at worst actually cause harm to the learning process. I guess it's like that with any powerful tool though, if taught and used properly they are very good things, otherwise they are useless or even dangerous (can you imagine fleets of untrained bulldozer operators roaming the streets ;-> ) Just my thoughts, if you have something to add, let me know.

  • God, I am so sick of the label "Luddite".

    Does someone dare to criticize the Holy Grail of silicon? He's a Luddite. Does he intelligently assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet? He's a Luddite. Does he write an article about how not everyone is one of the converted? He's a Luddite.

    Science has dismissed its critics as Luddites with a lazy wave of the hand for years, completely ignoring the fact that new technologies have always brought negatives with their positives. Antibiotics bred superbugs. Radio enabled facism. TV enabled consumerism. The Internet is firmly dividing the world along a technological fault line - technologically savvy and comfortable West on one hand and utterly impoverished and technologically inept Third World on the other.

    Holy cow, so computers and the Internet aren't the be all and end all for education. They can do almost everything better than traditional media, but some researchers dared to point out where there is still room for improvement in the media, or where computers will never be able to help. So what? No media is perfect. To the knee-jerk reactionaries, though, detractors are not concerned parents and impartial researchers out for the best bang for their educational dollar, they are damned Luddites out to tear the whole thing down. How dare they point out weakness. We only accept blind faith in this technocracy.

    Down with healthy skepticism! Down with pragmatism! Out with logic and rationality! Newer is better. Faster is better. More is better.

    Don't ever doubt it, sonny. You might see the Emperor has no clothes.

  • I'd say that computers are neutral compared to the damage that forced education does to children. This may be a bit off-topic, but I think it's something that people should learn more about.

    Check out stuff by authors such as A.S. Neill, John Taylor Gatto, and Alfie Kohn. In fact, Alfie Kohn has a website [] devoted to his work, and the school started by A.S. Neill (Summerhill School []) also has it's own website.

    We all need to realize where the idea of public schools and everything involved with them (forced education, splitting the day into one hour segments, age separation, bells, assigned seating, raising your hand) originated, and it did not originate in the idea of creating a free-thinking society. John Taylor Gatto has an essay [] that deals with just this subject.

    Here's an excerpt:

    The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon's amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous "Address to the German Nation" which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders.

    So the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:

    1.Obedient soldiers to the army;

    2.Obedient workers to the mines;

    3.Well subordinated civil servants to government;

    4.Well subordinated clerks to industry

    5.Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

    Other things to look into are schools such as the "Sudbury Valley" [] schools, and even Montessori (although I don't find Montessori schools to be nearly radical enough in their teaching methods).

    The whole idea of these schools (usually called "free", "democratic", or "modern" schools) is that children do not need to be forced to learn. Teachers should play a supportive role, and should involve themselves only when children initiate learning.

    A lot of people say, "But then children won't learn anything," but that's not the case. Children are, by nature, very curious and willing to learn. If you've ever observed students going from 1st to 2nd to 3rd grade you see an incredible transformation from being absorbed by learning, to actively resisting it. This is because they're being forced to learn subjects and in ways that they're not comfortable with.

    Before the Spanish Civil War, a lot of the anarchists (which totalled around 3 million out of Spain's 20 million) were strong advocates of modern schools as put forth by Francisco Ferrer (who later was killed by the Catholic Church), because they were opposed to the authoritarian methods that the Church used in their schools (which were the only ones available to poor children).

    To summarize, authoritarian learning is not really learning, but instead obedience mixed with memorization. Libertarian learning, on the other hand, is much deeper, because it is based on what a child wants, and not what teachers and by extension, the state, imposes on them.

    In other words, computers in the classroom are the least of these children's worries.

    Michael Chisari
  • Very good point! Essentially it seems that people are trying to use computers as an alternative to a qualified instructor. I think computer based quizzing can be useful, but it has to be intended as an aid to the teacher. For example, having each child work at their own pace is good, but the hints and multiple guesses does more to harm than to help.

    So, what might work better is a system that logs how long each child takes, what questions they got right, etc. Then it can provide the information to the teacher. Part of this might include nice graphs to help them see where the children are doing relative to each other. Is one child falling behind? Is one child excelling? Is one child getting the right answers but taking a long time to do it? That information is useful and can be a tremendous aid to a teacher.

    It seems that somebody needs to sit down and fundamentally rethink the position of the computer in a child's education. There is a reason we have teachers, and until AI gets to the point that it can replace us humans as teachers, it's best to keep them as tools.


  • My high school physics teacher used Apple ][s with homemade photogates for our experiments in class. Three years later in college I saw Pentium 200s with expensive photogates doing the same thing with only one more digit of precision. I could only chuckle at how a Pentium had became an expensive stopwatch, especially when something as simple as an Apple ][ could have done just as good of a job.

    IMHO K-8 should be without computers. They aren't necessary for learning that needs to be done, like grammmer and basic math.
    I didn't need a calculator until Trig/Pre-Calc, and even then rarely, and it wasn't until a year and a half ago (1 1/2 years of college) that I needed a powerful computer so I could run Mathematica. In High School typing classes should become mandatory, and all you need to learn how to type is a typewriter, not a pentium. I agree that beginning programing classes should be with BASIC and with tools like QBasic.

    We should be concentrating more on making sure that those who go through school come out literate, creative, independent people. Take the money to update "outdated" computeres and pay the teachers more. We would get better teachers if we payed them a decent wage, none of this $29,000-$3?,000 for starting wages.

    The big question is: Teachers or Computers, which are more important to teach our children? Should be an easy question to answer, right... ... right?
  • The problem that arises is when children are taught at the elementary level that computers can do all the work for them. Case in point: why would we ever need to know mathematics when we can pull out a calculator and have it do all the work for us?

    Yes, and we should also remove all table saws from the shop class. Students are bound to say, "why should we learn to drop chalklines and use a hand saw when a good tablesaw will make a nice, even, level cut for us?"

    Metronomes should be banned from music classrooms. If Bach had to find a tempo the hard way, so should our young musicians of today.

    And isn't it sending the wrong message to have a custodial staff? I mean, sure, they will probably have access to janitorial services out in the workforce, but that doesn't mean they should need to rely on them.

    We need to stamp out this kind of intellectual laziness, and if higher math and other fruity, pie-in-the-sky classes need to suffer for the sake of emphasizing the basics, so be it!

  • Well, I'm sure my experience with computers in the classroom is a similar one to many others here.. If it weren't for my librarian (Brenda Sand, Prairie Elementary School, circa 1979-1984) wheeling a giant old black & white Magnavox TV into the room hooked up to an Apple II, and teaching us the bare essentials of BASIC programming when I was like 6 or 7, then I probably would never have had anything in life I could really latch onto and enjoy for as long as i've enjoyed computers.

    I used to stay after school and play around with the Apple II's until the damn janitors kicked me out at 5:30. I was lucky, tho, I only lived two houses away from the school, and I knew how to cross the street without getting killed. :)

    Having 3 measly underpowered personal computers hooked up to black & white TVs gave me a truse sense of awe among other things..along with it, a sense of responsibility, creativity, logic, respect, and imagination, and power. I was the youngest kid in the neighborhood growing up, and having that sort of thing to pour my time and energy into was unbelievably important to me, in retrospect.

    Taking computers out of schools is like saying "Screw books! We have television!".. not the smartest strategy when it comes to education. Schools should be places where truckloads of information are available in a wide array of forms. Im pretty sure I was the only kid in school who understood what BLOAD meant, but it didn't matter. I learned 10x more with computers in schools as I was growing up as I would have learned without them.

    A good thing -- Because with that knowledge, at the age of 26 I can pretty much choose where I live and choose what I do with my life. Many people with educations less comprehensive than mine don't have that luxury.

    Information isn't evil. However, the teachers--the people who control access to that information are largely ignorant when it comes to computers. When you have that sort of situation, where the access to information is controlled by people ignorant about the technology involved (as many teacher's will readilly admit to being) THAT is the problem. The people in charge, not the computers. Computers are just tools, like chalkboards, overhead projectors or books. If you dont know how to use them, the information they hold never sees the light of day.

    My $0.02,

    Bowie J. Poag
  • So the problem is the teachers, eh? That they tend to plunk kids down in front of useless "educational" software as a break from managing them?

    So whose fault is that? Maybe the fault lies in the fact that anyone with the skill to teach computers prefers to make the $$$ in the world over giving anything back to teaching?

    Back in the early 80s, my junior high school didn't have Apples or TRS-80s... a (very bright) bunch of administrators put out some money and bought a PDP-11/34 and a handful of terminals. We got a teacher who KNEW computers and for a few glorious years, programming was taught. And yes, 60-70% of the teaching time was spent AWAY from the computer, learning algorithms (well, mostly PRINT statements for the first year, but the thought was there). We learned. That is, until we discovered that account cracking was a good way to pick on our more muscular classmates ;-)

    Anyway, the program died by 1985, when:

    1: The PDP-11 was replaced with Apples with "educational" software.
    2: The computer teachers were hired by industry and the school couldn't pay anyone good (at computers) to replace them.

    Two lessons here:

    1: Is the purpose of computers to teach programming or to be used as a library tool? If the former, take away "educational" games and use text. If the latter, put them in the library.

    2: If you want to complain about the quality of the teaching, ask: why aren't you doing it? If the answer is "because I make more money doing what I do" then the question is: which part of the system is broken?

  • how much does it cost to get large coporations to donate their old XT's and apples to your school? (hint: they're dying to use this as a tax writeoff).
    Would that it weren't so, but those XT's are pretty damn useless in an educational setting. Oh, sure, if you have someone who knows how to work with them and it willing to put a ton of time into getting them set up, then sure, XT's might be slightly better than trash. But not much. 386's are worth more, but not much. 486's are passable if you can't do better. And it's not because the computers don't have fast hardware, but because used computers aren't a good investment of time.

    In an institutional setting maintenance is really important. Working with discarded and eclectic equipment is painful and time-wasting. Educational organizations don't have lots of skilled people who can spend lots of time dealing with these things. They have a small numbers of people with usually very limited computer knowledged.

    Some of the things schools have latched onto only make things more difficult. Using CDs in a lab is a bad idea. Using MacOS or Windows 95/98 with a lab can be quite difficult (RevRDist is great, but few schools seem to know about it). Having everyone with their personal floppy disk isn't great either. The technology is very flashy with absolutely no substance, and as a result computers aren't functional. And these are new computers, at that.

    OpenClassroom [] (a Linux distribution aimed at education) could help a lot of this -- Un*x is much more appropriate for a situation with shared computers even at very young ages. But schools don't even really use more conventional tools that exist.

  • by Farq Fenderson ( 135583 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @10:28AM (#956072) Homepage
    Thank you! I've been trying to get the point across for years that GUIs inhibit learning.

    First a small rant.

    I learned most of what I did because things were hard, intellectually. Now all anyone ever says is, "You'd make a lot of money if you could make ____ easier." Finally, someone said that about the install process for linux... I was mad. If I didn't install linux when there were no GUIs to help you... I'd be useless to my employers right now. I learned more in 50 hours (without sleep) than the entirety of school has taught me about computers.

    It's apalling when EUs (end-users) who think they own the world complain about how difficult _____ is, and how every tech they know should go about fixing it.

    What if we did eliminate every challenge in computer operation? If there's no challenge, there's no point.

    Now, for the point.

    In my opinion, computers shouldn't be marked unfit for the classroom, rather, I believe that most teachers should be marked unfit to teach a classroom full of computers. The assumption that computers inherently have a good or bad effect on learning is naive. If you put a capable teacher behind them, on the otherhand, you'll have more realistic results.

    script-fu: hash bang slash bin bash
  • My experience with educators seems to corroborate your own. I know far too many teachers who know not a thing about computers, and have no real interest in learning. However, I'm less quick to blame this on individual teachers as administrators and politicians.

    For example: my own aunt is an elementary school teacher in a public school in downtown Philadelphia. She knows not a thing about computers, despite having a nephew and a neice who are IT professionals. And why should she? Her principal dropped a single computer into her classroom and said, "Here, now you have a computer." No software, no recommendations on how the computer should be integrated in the curriculum, and barely an hour's instruction on how to make the computer run. If I were in her place, I'd be angry and resentful too.

    Meanwhile, my own manager recently went to an educator's conference on technology in Harrisburg. A school administrator there informed him that she'd solved her school's Internet connectivity problems with an incredibly simple decision: she'd purchased a line of HP Pavillion computers, each of which have little "Internet" buttons on their keyboards. Unbelievable! Broadband connectivity to our schools, solved with the touch of a button!

    In my own line of work, I hear a lot of tripe about "the wired classroom," and how "putting computers in the classroom" is the first priority for our "public servants," but precious little analysis as to how computers can be used positively in the classroom. Until someone can tell me - and the teachers - why the computers are there at all, I'm going to try not to get too upset at the teachers for being reluctant to waste time on them.
  • She began with a favourable attitude toward educational computing but came reluctantly to the conclusion that computers stifle learning and creativity and may cause damage to both vision and posture.

    To read the article I had to lean forward in my chair and squint to compensate for the micro-font they used. When this became painful I no longer wanted to learn about how computers don't help learning, but couldn't think of anything else to do, so I posted this.

  • First of all, this story is merely this guys opinion so don't go mistaking this for scientific fact just because he is a big name in education.

    This is just another example of the Luddite drivel we've all seen from so many people who fear the internets encroachment on their happy little lives. Anyone in a position to be affected by the internet(journalists, managers, teachers, etc.) while at the same time not being able to understand it is likely to be opposed to it.

    I think the last sentence of his article says it all: "It's about acquiring knowledge and learning to think, in which case libraries, pens, and paper are the clear winner, hands down."

    Exactly how are libraries, pens, and paper the clear winner in teaching someone how to think? They are not. They are merely tools, and as far as tools go, the internet and computing are far better ones.

  • by barleyguy ( 64202 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @12:33PM (#956087)
    I agree with you on this. It's become common practice where I live to divert book money (both library book and text book) to buy either new computers or new software. Sometimes I think this is a really bad decision. Books are cool for lots of reasons. In the case of library books they don't ever need to be upgraded. The computer or software that is purchased instead may only have a life of a few years, and may not get fully used during that few years because of training issues.

    I know of one particular junior high school that spend over $30,000 on routers, switches, etc. because they were going to do their own internet connectivity. It never got installed because no one knew how, and they wouldn't sub it out because they wouldn't admit their ignorance. Then the local phone company hooked them up with DSL at a discounted rate a couple of years later. As far as I know, all of that equipment is still rotting in a closet.

    I believe that limited exposure to computers in the schools is a necessary thing. But I also believe that staying on the bleeding edge of technology at the cost of other budget items is a bad idea.
  • give a 15 year old 2 hours of homework a day for a subject, and see how much he learns. then set a 15 year old down at the computer for 2 hours a day, help him build a variety of contacts online, give him links to interesting sites like this (the equivilant of giving them books) and see who learns more:-) justathought....
  • by 11223 ( 201561 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:47AM (#956099)
    The problem here is that teachers pay way to much attention to the computer. Way, way too much attention. If they had the kids in front of the TV as much as they do the computer, parents would be screaming and shouting. But nobody realizes that the computer is educationally equivalent to the TV, and should be treated as such. Stop paying so much attention to it, and get on with the education! Stop making big splashes about the computer in education, and just do what needs to be done.


  • 1) One pentium III running Linux and a bunch of WYSE text terminals that went for $100 a decade ago. With Linux you have your choice of (free) programming languages. I'd go for python first, probably, to get the kids into an OO framework early.

    2) Oregon Trail must have been after my time. My high school classes consisted of BASIC, Advanced BASIC, PASCAL and I've I'd stuck around for my senior year at that school, an AP class where we would have been writing recursive descent parsers in PASCAL.

    3) What do you expect? No one with the computer skills to pick up a 50 to 70 K job in the IT industry is going to spend their time teaching. Our children are our future, and from what I can tell, we don't value our future at all.

    4) They're throwing away 386 and 486 machines these days.

    5) I wouldn't be teaching them assembly for a couple of years, if at all. I'd think assembly would be something you'd teach them if they decided to go for a career in CS. Does the average person really need to know about that?

  • by Nemesys ( 6004 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:48AM (#956102)
    Here are a few reasons why I'm still skeptical about computers in the classroom:

    • Education is not just about transferring information, and isn't improved by transferring it more efficiently
    • Kids will always know more than the teachers. This will inevitably lead to huge conflicts. The teacher in charge of computing is often the one who wasn't any good at anything else.
    • Computers aren't programmable. Not anymore. They used to come with BASIC interpreters. Now you just get Windows on the home PC, or a Mac. Kids can't learn as they play.
    • A lot of the so-called educational software is a joke, rewarding little kids with visual stimuli too easily, leading them to fire at the programmes at random. Some studies have found that a lot of the educational software for very young kids discourages rational thought and promotes trial and error.
    • Multiuser systems in schools tend to be run on an utterly fascist basis, due to admin cluelessness and underfundedness.
    That really was an unordered list.
  • When i was in high school we got a new computer lab full of Power Macs with DOS cards (these replaced the Apple IIs). The teacher that was hired to do the computer classes was nearly as clueless as most of the students. The only things we did were follow directions on what to click and what to make.

    I was able to not do the assignments and instead assist other students with assignments and help the teacher with the lab.

    Most of the people that came out of those classes knew nothing about computers. The took an entire semester to learn how to open Office and write a paper with some graphics. There was no mention of how they worked or anything about doing anything else with them.

    This was probably a bad experience for most and detrimental at worst. A lot of students probably felt that they had wasted an entire semester doing nothing or something that a typewriter could have done.

    Luckily I was in the Gifted program through elementary and got exposed to computers and computing concepts early. Sure we were using Apple IIs and BASIC but alot of that is still with me. Not to mention how to calibrate an Apple joystick for MS FlightSim ;)

    So, as per my experience computers in the classroom were a waste of time for most of the student body.

  • by Dungeon Dweller ( 134014 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:48AM (#956109)
    I think that the emphasis on having computers in the classroom is a bit too high. I think that people go out of their ways to find ways to put computers in every classroom. If there isn't really a reason for the computer, I don't see a reason to put it there. That's the case in most high schools. Some colleges dump ethernet jacks into every classroom. Sometimes this is useful, sometimes it isn't.

    One interesting thought. I'm a computer science major. Most of my lectures are taught in rooms without computers (at least, not ones that we are really using). They get the concepts along fine without them as well. True, that means that I have to spend a few hours a week in a computer lab to get my assignments done, but what use would the computers be? If I'm in a math class learning Big-O notation, I could see a computer demo helping with the concepts (graphs and such), but if I'm a computer science major, and don't find it NECESSARY, I can hardly see how it is even applicable in most high school classrooms. I can see computers helping out a LOT, I can see how my classes are MUCH improved by their use, but when people are just saying, "Yeah, and we need a computer because computers are cool." It's kind of pointless.

    Also, teachers should concentrate on actually teaching their students what they need to know. If computers are helping this, cool. Don't just have them sit and chat on ICQ during your lecture though, it's not productive. The only thing that that might help is the students who need a little distraction during your lecture. They might as well be reading a newspaper and ignoring you completely.

    Anyways, just a few thoughts, use them if you can, but don't force it if it's useless.
  • I mean know one should be exepected to spell perfectly or add large numbers together, but there should be some basic competance.

    Please say you were trying to use humor to make your point when you wrote "know" and "competance".

    My point was that the presence of computers and calculators != no basic skills learning, and that "basic skills" have become much more of a sacred cow than they ought to be. When I need to divide 4578 by 13.762, I reach for the calculator, even though I could do it on paper if I had to.

    The kids in your psych class prove my point. Calculators were surely banned from elementary classrooms when those kids were in 3rd grade, yet they still can't (or won't) do basic math... even with a calculator in their backpack. What have they gained?

  • "Use the right tool for the job." If the job is composing an essay, than a computer word processor is better than paper an pen (IMO.) If the job is finding information, than all sources have advantages and disadvantages, the Internet included. But if the job is teaching, than no computer can replace a good teacher. Teaching children to use computers is a good thing. Using computers to teach children is not necessarily so good. In short, I disagree that computers are inherently bad for children, but agree that they are misused in today's educational system.
  • This seems to be just a narrow-minded group of Psychologists complaining about "instant knowledge" that comes about through the internet. They say
    [the Internet] discourages study, reflection, and observation
    I say that it encourages reflection by forcing the student to NOT just mindlessly repeat the information that they are given.
    To be honest, this reminds me of the arguments for why young students should not be allowed to use calculators while doing math problems. IMHO, young students should not learn to only use calculators; they should learn the fundamentals before learning how to punch numbers. But with the Internet, what's the big deal? Let's say the homework is to find the first 4 presidents of the U.S. Whether a student looks the information up in a book or on the internet makes no difference whatsoever. They will still read the information, they will still have to study it to learn it for an exam, they will still have to put up with teachers who just want the blind facts mindlessly repeated to them, etc. The Internet is a source of not only information but ideas, and THAT is what should be taught in schools, not blind facts.
  • Clifford Stoll, a self proclaimed "hi-tech heretic" has written a book by that same name, and he discusses the problems with having computers in the classroom.

    I agree with Cliff, in the sense that learning takes place when a student absorbs knowledge from a book, paper or teacher. Anything that distracts from that communication (ie computers, tv, purty pictures, other students, etc.) is an obstruction to learning and should not be there.

    I was Homeschooled, and had a computer in the "Classroom" from the age of 11 onwards. I can tell you that I learned much more useful information from reading than I ever did from the computer or TV or Internet.

    Computers are a tool just like a calculator, they don't help you learn, they help you get work done. They are an intellectual crutch, or stepstool, which ever you like. When a child's mind is still growing, you shouldn't give him a crutch, but let him reach as far as he can without it, and when he can go no farther, give him the stepping stool.
  • You are too preoccupied with the computer programing and computer science aspect of computers. There are other issues which are probably more important and what the the educators in the article are more responsive to. More like McLuhan's "the medium is the message" idea.

    Consider drawing a circle, for example. If you draw it with a pencil on a piece of paper, you involve a large part of your nervous system. You use your visual system to guide your hand and judge the quality of your progress. You use your proprioceptive system to organize and co-ordinate muscle movements at spinal, brain stem, cerebellar, thalamic and cortical levels. Your auditory system hears the scratching of the pencil on the paper with the change in pitch as the direction changes continuously. Your sense of touch feels the pencil and the changes in forces on the pencil as it traverses its circular trajectory and the texture of the paper beneath the hand. In addition to drawing a (probably very inacurate) circle, there is a subliminal learning experience of "roundness" as experienced by many neurons at many levels.

    Most computer drawing programs do a better job of drawing circles, but the experience is impoverished sensually. You pick a shape class from a menu and then click the mouse over where you want to draw it. THen you drag the mouse to adjust the size and you are done. Its so simple a blind person could do it and you learn almost nothing from the experience.

    No, draw a square. With a pencil on paper, its almost an entirely different experience. Abrupt changes in direction, etc. With a computer its exactly the same. The only difference is that you choose a different shape category at the begining.

    The person using a pencil and paper learns to distinguish circles and sqares at all neurological levels. The person using a computer only sees the difference at a higher, abstract level; a small subset of the understanding that the pencil-user experiences. To a mature person, this probably makes no difference, but to a formative mind, where neural circuits are still being laid down, such as k-5, this can make a big difference. Once a critical period of development has been passed, it can never be revisited.

    I think that the educators are right, keep kids away from computers for the first few years of schooling. THEN you can use it as a tool, after they have a healthy, roundly experience brain in their head. At least for production work. I would think that a coumputer would still be acceptable for searching for things and some elementary programing/logic exercises.

  • I think that for children who have a knack for it, programming at a young age is a big advantage.

    I learned to program in BASIC at age 7, and started in other languages (COBOL, then FORTRAN, then C) at age 12. Some of the stuff I got to write at that age had some really original approaches that I may not have used in high school when my mind was less open. (I have tried hard to regain that openmindedness as an adult, but that's a completely different topic.)

    For both myself and one of my fellow programmers who started at about the same age, learning early has been a huge advantage. One comparison I could make is baby swimming classes. I was fortunate enough to be in an infant swimming class, and I just naturally knew how to swim at an older age. It sounds stupid, but fundamentals of certain things are easier to learn young than they are when you are older.

    Not everyone needs to know how to program. People who are going to use computers to order a pair of shoes on the internet don't need to know how things work. But anyone who is planning a career in computers should have at least a basic knowledge of programming. If you have no idea how computers are programmed, you are more likely to react with frustration and anger when they don't do quite what you expect them to.

    And though programming != computer literacy, I believe that the better your general knowledge of how computers work, the faster you can learn to operate them well.
  • Computers are an awesome learning tool. So are DVD players and, when I was in middle school -- laser discs.

    The problem is that teachers and schools often forget that you actually have to structure some sort of educational plan around them. You can't throw a kid in front of a PC, DVD, library of educational laser discs, like their parents do with the television, and expect them to gain anything from it.

    The benefit to the Internet, specifically, is that a student can expedite their gathering of information. If a student is given a chance to learn not only at their own pace, but in their own reas of interest, chances are they can make great use of the technology. Whoring the technology as a just another expensive piece of equipment to teach typing on -- or sitting kids in front of them and telling them "learn about birds" is rediculous and counter-productive.

    Yet, this is how teachers taught when I was in school. This is how I see many teachers teach, today.

  • by Skald ( 140034 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @01:06PM (#956141)
    I'm going to guess and say that Dr. Healey hasn't much of an idea as to what a computer actually is.

    Which is understandable, and very common. As a geek, I (and likely most of you) run into this sort of thing all the time. Most people don't understand what the internet is; they understand what a web browser is. And it's darned hard to explain to somebody, "no, I can't show you Linux." I can show you Windowmaker, and I can show you a Bash prompt, but you have to understand what Linux itself is.

    A computer is, in a sense, the universal machine. It can become a calculator, or a watch, or an artist's canvas... hypothetically even a brain. Now to say that a windows machine doesn't belong in the classroom, that's plausible. You can make a case, too, that kids don't need to be researching their Julius Caesar report on the web. But to say that computers stifle learning and creativity, and that young children should not be allowed on them for any reason at all? Oh, please! Even if you can't find any better use for them, you can't tell me filling a scan-tron sheet is more educational than clicking radio boxes.

    Of course, then there's the other extreme: computers are the greatest educational tool since the guidance counselor (most of whom are real tools...). Any kid with the unhappy fate of going to school without one is doomed to misery, probably as a useless minor bureaucrat in a public school.

    People were getting damned good educations before computers. Often better ones, in fact. Hell, in the late 19th century, 1 Englishman in 5 was a Dickens reader... enjoying grammar that would snap the poor minds of most folks today. And a kid with a good grounding in symbolic logic, even if he's never seen a computer, is going to be better suited for IT work than one who spent 13 years pointing and clicking his way though most schools' pseudo-educational crap.

    Computers aren't necessary to a good education, but they're probably useful in providing one. How they may be useful doesn't seem to be well-understood by our teachers just yet, and they (the computers, not the teachers) doubless do much more harm than good when misused.

    My somewhat off-topic opinion? In the US we've not even been able to settle on a curriculum that works, much less an approach to computers. A centrally orchestrated, one-size-fits-all approach develops as poor an educational system as an operating system. Separate school and state, let schools create their own computing policies, and watch the effective ideas propagate through the system. There's no sense in trying to figure out the best educational use of computers a priori. I think I might do a better job of it than Dr. Healey, but surely nowhere near as well as would a healthy system of creative competition.

  • This is an example of something that happens to everything new in education.

    Someone comes up with a new idea or a new tool -- outcome-based education, computers, open schooling... It becomes very popular, and there is pressure for schools to do something with it. So schools implement this new idea without really caring, without having any skill in it, and with only a small amount of practical information on how to make it work.

    Surprise, surprise... it doesn't work well. The kids aren't learning. Maybe it's even harmful to them. But usually it's a waste of time, and the idea is becomes a reflection of the true values of the school system.

    We can find, looking at computer education, that the values of the school system are to keep kids busy and occupied, and to help them pass tests. But it's hard to blame the school too much -- even if they really did want to do the right thing, it would still be hard. They still wouldn't have the personel. There still wouldn't be enough material for teachers to work with.

    Perhaps computers are being pushed into schools somewhat prematurely. Or, at least the expectations are too high. Computers can't teach children, and they won't be able to anytime soon. But paper can't teach children either, but we aren't condemning the use of paper in schools.

    That said, I think the idea of keeping computers from children until the 7th grade is a bad, highly reactionary idea. I also think keeping kids from reading until they are in third grade is a bad idea. More ideas and more stimulation can't be a bad thing. If computers are keeping children from ideas and stimulation that they really need to have, then that's a problem. But it's not computers' fault, it's the people who are defining the priorities for the children.

  • OK, I respect your opinion, and you've successfully persuaded me to ditch the work "Luddite" from my vocabulary(I assume this is your intention, no?).

    However, re-read the last sentence of the article and tell me that its not crap. What gives him the right to claim that pen and paper are superior to computing in a learning environment? And even further, why should I allow that type of opinion to prevail when the educators are setting policies for public schools?

  • BASIC was my first language as a child, but I think that it may be counterproductive to teach it as a first language today.

    I agree that C may be a bad choice, because it is just as loose as BASIC and harder to understand. But BASIC, though it is easy to learn, is a sloppy language that may teach bad habits. It doesn't even enforce the use of procedures/functions, like every other language does.

    I don't want to get too deep into theories of what to use as first language. I'm still trying to figure this out. I'm planning to start my nine year old daughter on programming as soon as she shows an interest in it.

    I think Python may be a good choice. Though I personally don't like Python for myself, I think it is a good language for teaching. It is based heavily on classes and objects, and it makes you indent properly. This makes it difficult to write sloppy code.

    Then again, I've also thought about Perl. It has a loose format, scalar variables, and a combination of low level power and high level power. It may make things less intimidating, and she can pick up proper style later.

    I'm not sure what the right approach is - teach comfort early and correct the style later, or teach proper style early and hope frustration doesn't become a problem....
  • Maybe in your school system, but they still keep calculators in junior high around here, and the idea is for the kids to use them for the mundane, but time consuming tasks that they should already be capable of (like dividing 37.6 into 42965.4, for example), so that they can concentrate on the important part, which is learning the algebra. (Or trig, or calculus, whatever level they're at)

    I still could write a paper without a word processor, but it'd take me longer, and I'd edit a lot less. (and it'd be hard to read. my penmanship has gone to hell in the last six years, since I hardly ever write anything of any length by hand anymore...)
  • by mwalker ( 66677 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:52AM (#956161) Homepage
    for years, we've been told that the "computer gap" or "technology gap" between underpriveleged students and white, middle-class students is going to leave the poor out of the lucrative technology jobs.
    the solution is to get modern computers into schools, and to allocate massive federal funds to implement the solution.


    some questions for the slashdot audience:

    1) which would you teach programming to a middle school student with:
    a) an apple II with logo and BASIC.
    b) a pentium III running Microsoft Visual Studio.

    2) how many of you had computer classes in school that consisted of playing "oregon trail"?

    3) do you think that computers in classrooms are being used to teach computer skills, or as glorified slide projectors?

    4) how much does it cost to get large coporations to donate their old XT's and apples to your school? (hint: they're dying to use this as a tax writeoff).

    5) do you need a pentium III to teach assembly to a child? will an XT do? might an old XT or an apple be better?

    when i was 14 i designed a robot that would sweep a photocell across my room, detect intruders, and alert me via a modem. when i was 16 i used the same system to control an optical fiber-measuring test gear for a science fair. it was an apple II. i haven't seem a more accessible computer since.

    -food for thought, and my 2c.

    "The Internet," Roszak recently told The Dallas Morning News, "offers electronic graffiti. The idea that they should be swimming in a sea of information is idiotic. The essence of thinking is mastering ideas."

    well i'm all for keeping 10-year-old third graders off of slashdot. we've got too many 30-year-old third graders already.
  • by generic-man ( 33649 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:52AM (#956165) Homepage Journal
    When I was in kindergarten, I had already learned the basics of reading before my classmates. So my teacher, in her infinite wisdom, sent me up one day a week to practice reading with the 3rd graders in the school's computer lab. The procedure was simple: I was given a color-coded disk (different colors meant different levels) which contained a story to read and then some comprehension questions. That way, students could read on their own and get instant feedback on their progress.

    The program worked well, even given the basic hardware specs (Apple II's or XT's). There was no problem with me understanding the material -- even illustrations and hyperlinked definitions of "hard words" were available. However, the comprehension questions were a different story. Students who gave a wrong answer to the multiple-choice questions were prompted with a reassuring "Try Again!" and a chance to choose from the remaining options. Although the total score went down as a result of second-guessing and the usage of "hints" (eliminating incorrect answer choices a la "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire"'s 50-50) the teachers rarely paid attention and merely were on hand to dispense disks.

    What does this teach children? If you're asked a question, choose any answer. If you're not correct, don't worry -- the computer will guide you in the right direction. The computer does all the processing, while the students exist to push buttons. Anything requiring cognition and thought, or (gasp!) an answer in some form other than multiple choice, is neglected completely. Of course, the lack of human interaction and group thinking also come into play.

    Bottom line: computers are certainly very useful in education, but they should not replace teaching methods that involve more than just pushing buttons and getting responses.
  • ``Just a fact: they teach kids to count, add, subtract, multiply, and divide with a calculator now.''

    OK. McDonalds has to have cash registers with a button for each kind of hamburger rather than requiring the person behind the counter actually enter the actual price. Wonder which came first: students who didn't know math requiring McDonalds to install the idiot cash registers? Or did McDonalds install the new cash registers so the schools decided that students didn't really have to know much math after all. Those automated change dispensers attached to cash registers pretty eliminated the need to know any math. Subtraction is so hard.

    Children will learn more through the interactivity of the classroom than by the solitary process of plopping down in front of a PC with a crappy piece of ``educational'' software. My girls will be learning their math on the computer (unless it's numerical integration and that probably won't be until high school).

  • if computers weren't in our classrooms I wouldn't have become the incredible Marathon [] player that I am today. Nor would I have become the great strategist playing Myth []. So there is definitely a plus to having computers in the classroom.
  • Computers, while possessing the capability to enhance education, aren't used that way. Either the school takes a vocational approach (we'll teach you word processing because you need it in the workplace), it is used by students independently (in grade school I managed to get computer study, and played games for a few hours), or is totally misutilized by teachers not trained in their proper use.

    A lot of time was lost when I was in school by teachers trying to figure out what was wrong with the machine, etc.

    While computers can be used to assist education, merely throwing expensive distractions into classrooms doesn't provide anything.

  • by davebooth ( 101350 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:54AM (#956192)

    Big surprise.. NOT! Sitting a kid in front of the WWW isnt going to teach them anything any more than sitting them in front of daytime TV. As the article said, education is about teaching children to handle ideas and think creatively and coherently for themselves, not about feeding them data in the hope that they can someday connect it all into a body of knowledge. My kids access to the net is the same as access to the TV - restricted, monitored and controlled by mom & dad. If it has neither educational value nor acceptable standards of entertainment quality it doesnt get watched, whether its a TV program, a computer game or a www site.

    Why is it such a shock to discover that pouring nothing but data into kids minds doesnt teach them to think about it?
    # human firmware exploit
    # Word will insert into your optic buffer
    # without bounds checking

  • Education should be about how to think, not what to think.

    It should be, but it's not. 90% or so of what American public education teaches are things that are products of our society. You learn about the government, about money, about the current emphasis of our culture and our technology. You don't learn about how to survive on the planet Earth in a natural state. You don't learn about the fundamentals of languages of other cultures. You may learn how to sail the boat, but you definitely are not taught how to rock it.

    In recent years, schools have gotten rid of English phonics, they have gotten rid of Latin, and the emphasis in Science class is placed on things of our society like recycling, not things of the Earth. Not only that, but unacceptable topics, such as Hemp, are stricken from the history books completely.

    I agree that education should be about the fundamental processes of thinking. But curriculums are often chosen for political reasons by school boards. Latin, phonics, and hemp don't make good politics.

  • by mr_klaw ( 103631 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:55AM (#956200)
    So this doesn't mean that computers don't belong in the classroom, just that they're mismanaged. I agree that computers are handled horribly in schools, that 75% of the admins are morons, and that they're use is usually abused; but I if used properly, I think that they can augment the learning process. Learning games probably aren't a good idea, since the computers in classrooms are designed to give information, not teach, but if they are used for informational purposes (perhaps a history or science lesson) they may be useful. Also, as you said, computers used to come with BASIC interpreters, and they should again. If basic algorithms are taught along with mathematics, that would be useful as well. I don't think we need to automatically say that computers are evil in classrooms, we simply need to rethink the way that they are handled.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @11:40AM (#956205) Homepage Journal
    I've been involved off and on in education for some years as a volunteer and as part of non governmental organizations concerned with education. The contrarian blowhards have been beating the anti computer drum for years (for example the Waldorf school people, or Fritjoff Capra of Tao of Physics fame).

    Now, I'm a contrarian myself, but I have two problems with the way these people think. The first is the straw man argument. They like to hold up a particularly feckless attempt to use computers in education as a model for the whole, rather than searching for the best (e.g. Seymour Papert's Logo work). The second problem is one of false dichotomy -- you really should be doing X (for example lab work) rather than computers -- as if "doing computers" should be a subject matter that displaces something else.

    For example, take Cliff Stoll's observation in the article [the instant gratification involved in downloading information off the Internet - to which 94 per cent of America's public schools are now connected] "discourages study, reflection, and observation". Note the heavy paraphrasing from the article, to be fair to Mr. Stoll.

    Sure, downloading somebody's unsubstantiated opinion is not going to do anything for a student's intellectual ability. But look at how bad biology texts are -- we are perilously close to that situation with textbooks today. Perhaps they would be better off downloading an essay on evolution by an eminent biologist []. Like the open-sourcers say -- use the source. Go back to the Federalist papers and see what the founders actually thought. Read Milton on free speech, Jefferson on the problem of slavery, Einstein's letters to Roosevelt on the atomic bomb, or find out how a dictator thinks by reading Mein Kampf. You can get it all on the Internet.

    I'm not an expert in educational systems, but I see two great possibilities for using computers, both of which are hobbled by fatal flaws in our educational values.

    (1) The Internet. Criticizing the Internet for having educationally valueless content is silly -- the same can be said for your local library. However, sending children off to do assignments on the Internet without training in critical reading and thinking is folly. Unfortunately, kids are trained in the mechanics of reading more than the philosophy and art of reading -- questioning the provenance of an idea, going to original sources, detecting rhetoric and logical fallacy.

    (2) The computer as a creative tool. The fact is, all kinds of creative activities such as art, music or computer programming are given short shrift. How can the computer be used as a creative tool if the student doesn't have outlets for creativity?

  • I agree with that... but you left out one big point. With tv, you just sit there and hope that some corporation decides that educational programming will make them rich... which is not often, hence the lack of real educational programming (besides the discovery channel).

    But with the net you aren't just sitting on the reciving end. you go out and get what you want, instead of hoping someone just gives it to you. TV would only be like this if there was like 538594353768353945306473^43930323020302 channels.

  • D) How to pay me in order to get anything productive done on a computer.
    Isn't that just the truth? I ended up being a copy editor on my eight grade newspaper because I was one of the very few people who had the knowledge to run our Mac's word processing program well enough to edit with it. I ended up making money from the other student reporters to type up their work for them that I had to edit anyway.

  • Ok, this kinda compliments my first post. I meant to say this as well...

    In elementary school, my class learned BASIC on Apple II's. It was a great experience (and an easy A for me since I already knew BASIC).

    This is what I mean by using the computer to teach. If you are teaching something on the computer, then it is good. If you are telling the kids to play Oregon trail for an hour, it's more like recess than any kind of lesson.

    Critical thinking can be taught with computers, but you have to make sure that you are teaching the thinking, not just how to query search engines.

    There are also lots of reasons to get kids away from the terminal, but that doesn't mean keep them away from it, it just means, maybe they should have some social development time, and science time and such. Watching a chemistry experiment on laserdisc was never as fun as doing it for real. I am sure that it is the same with DVD...

    As far as posture and eyesight are concerned. Staring into books all day isn't great for the eyes, and kids already have bad posture. I would think that looking up at a monitor instead of down at a desk would actually help. I had private education as a kid, and we were actually taught good posture. Perhaps more public schools should go this route. If you want kids to behave like proper little adults, teach them to be that way. I think that the posture argument was completely invalid.

    Besides, if computers were bad for kids, I wouldn't be the social/intellectual butterfly that I am now *VBG*
  • Not just that... I think a lot of basic skills are left out too. I love my good ole computers, but what good is using a computer if you lose out on important skills, like math and grammar and what not?

    Sure the kids have really good C grammar, but when it comes time to write a research paper, printf("blah\n"); isn't going to cut it.

    Maybe that was a bad example... who knows.

  • how many of you had computer classes in school that consisted of playing "oregon trail"?

    Dude, that game changed my life. One summer my family drove out to Oregon with nothing but the clothes on our backs, a shotgun, 1000 bullets, and a cooler that could hold 2000 pounds of freshly shot bison.
  • At age five my father gave me my first exposure to a computer when he started teaching me to program. It changed my life, defined my mode of thought and my way of approaching problems, taught me to probe and experiment, and taught me that solutions can be obtained by ordering a problem properly. These are the fundamentals that we need to be teaching our children, not how to surf the web for pages about monster trucks and pokemon, and not how to make web pages by drag and drop. Children need to learn how to organize their thoughts and approach a problem, and at the same time need to be stimulated to develop procedural thinking. Exposure to knowledge is an end, not a means.

    These "experts" are correct in that if we use computers to simply give children exposure to the huge knowledgebase of the web, they gain nothing, and probably lose out on time they could spend doing other things. But they are completely wrong in saying that is all computers can provide for children. Children need to learn how to think in an orderly logical manner, and how to process information. What can do this better than a machine that does nothing but process information in an orderly logical manner? Don't give children a web browser, give them a programming window. You'd be surprised how much programming is like playing with legos when you learn as a child.
  • I heard an interesting theory one time that too much computer usage for very young children could be damaging to their motor skills. His theory was that playing physical games and using real markers, etc helped develop 3D spacial skills. Since computers are really only 2D viewing, then coordination could suffer. Even books, while a 2 dimensional surface, requires reaching out and turning pages, moving the book around, allows reading in different body positions, etc.

    As I thought about it, it seemed to make a lot of sense.


  • Look at a graph of computers/head in the classroom vs. educational standards across countries around the world. Given the incredibly low educational standards we see in the US and the high standards in countries with only a basic information technology infrastructure I think it's pretty clear that there is a negative correlation (I don't have references to hand - check out many newspaper articles and Scientific American over the last year or two).
  • Teaching children at an early age to follow instructions without questioning them and to instinctively look to an expert/web browser for expertise are possibly the most valuable job skills we can give them.

    I know you're playing the devil's advocate here, but this still needs refutation. This attitude, which far too many people hold, is how the Psychic Friends Network gets such great business and evolution gets banned in schools. Gullibility is never good.

    I think that kids should be required to take a critical thinking course. I don't mean it like those pointless "critical thinking" questions you find on the SAT now--"Explain multiplication to an alien that knows no math"--but the sort of reasoning necessary for making rational decisions in everyday life. It should cover the following areas: logic--not necessarily symbolic logic, but how to follow a logical argument, and to spot holes and logical fallacies; statistics--the different kinds of averages and what they mean, what statistical significance is, etc.; and the scientific method--amazingly, in my experience science classes tend to either gloss over the method at the beginning of the course or ignore it entirely.

    A suggested "reccommended reading" list for such a course:

    • _The_Culture_of_Fear_ by Barry Glassner. Why so many people are so afraid of such rare, freakish, and sometimes downright mythological things (e.g. razorblades in Halloween candy) and the damage it does to society.
    • _How_to_Lie_With_Statistics_ by Darrell Huff. Not really a how-to, but more of a how-they-do-it and how-to-avoid-getting-suckered manual.
    • _Why_People_Believe_Weird_Things_ by Michael Shermer. This would probably be the most controversial, since it slaughters a lot of sacred cows. I'd prefer this to a book by The Amazing Randi (although Randi is fun reading), because Shermer is much less holier-than-thou.

    Zardoz has spoken!
  • I think that this is what these researchers were seeing... If 6 and 7 year olds are spending a large portion of their time learning to use the computers in their classrooms, what are they spending less time learning? Basic math? (my sister, and many of her 4th grade classmates can't multiply or divide _at all_) Reading & Writing (I don't mean lit, I mean the ability to actually write words legibly)?
  • This article doesn't say we shouldn't teach kids to use a computer. Fourth through Twelfth grades seems plenty of time to me. I do quite well with computers and I didn't even use one until my dad brought home an Apple IIGS when I was in sixth grade. The point the article makes is that kids should be given a few years to develop their real world communication and thinking skills before we enable them to rely on the computer. Considering the number of "pleas email mee info on painters lik michael angeloe" I get from my two cousins, I don't think this is a bad idea at all.

    The computer is a wonderful tool, but it is not a substitute for critical thinking, english skills, or the ability to so actual research (in a *gasp* library). Computer skills are based on real world skills, not the other way around...

  • Have you ever heard of Quake?
  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @09:59AM (#956267)
    Modern society in general discourages study, reflection, and observation.

    As James Glieck points out in Faster, we used to wait weeks between lettered discussions and conversations -- even in professional fields. With the advent of typewriters and the enhancement of the postal service, this was reduced to days. Still, days of contemplation and reflection are good. You have time to think about things before you comment on them or reply to them, while waiting for a response.

    In this instantaneous age, you have seconds, minutes or hours. I fire an email off to a customer, student or friend and can often receive an immediate response. Not much thought there. Or, if there is a lot of thought, certainly not much pause for reflection and contemplation before hitting the send button. We would consider minutes to be sufficient time for thinking these days.

    Political polls are the same. What used to be a matter of days and weeks to form opinions now is, literally, seconds. Ten seconds after a politician says something, it is regurgitated on the news in sound-bites and immediately, opinions which have not been codified and split-second polls are returned and broadcast. Shazam -- you now have material to form your ill-understood opinion on.

    Let's not just blame this on computers and the internet -- or short attention spans of children. Processing of information has grown greater than exponentially. If we're going to blame anything, blame TV Dinners, 22-minute news-casts, 10 second commercial jingles and minute-rice.

  • It shouldn't matter HOW a child learns, as long as they learn. Discussions twenty years ago focussed on how TV was a developemental destructive force. Yet somehow we and our parent grew up and went to have normal lives.

    As a 41-year old fart, I can relate a parallel. In the late 60s early 70s, educational TV was a big thing. Schools were "wired" with coax and educational TV programs were shown in the classrooms. We the students generally loved this time because the room was darkened, we got to kick back, and sleep or doodle. The only memorable thing I can remember from those programs was watching the movie "Flowers for Algernon." I don't know what it taught me, but it stuck in my mind.

    As for us "leading normal lives," perhaps young people don't see it, but the baby boomers are a bunch of really fucked-up emotional cripples who are seeking happiness through how much they can aquire, yet are too wrapped up in themselves to spend time with their kids or spouses. Compared to people I know in their 60s and 70s, yeah, I think a lifetime of TV *has* had a negative effect on my generation. It's taught us to be greedy little selfish assholes.

    (As you can see, I'm disturbed in slightly different ways! :)

  • I actually work for a company that's pushing computers in the (and as the) classroom as an idea, and so I was intrigued by this article. It has some good points (though, it's quoting Clifford Stoll....) The basic premise that under 4th grade, kids aren't ready for computers seems interesting, and I'd be willing to entertain it (I'm a computer professional who didn't own his own computer until high school).

    The thing that I don't like about the article is it makes sweeping blanket statements about computing in schools with no distinction for:
    • What grade-levels it's talking about
    • What sorts of courses it's talking about
    • Where the problem is one of teacher learning curve vs. the inappropriateness of the computer

    Thus, I have to come to the conclusion that this article is meant less to be informative on the issue than to scare up some good sound-bytes ("computers are bad, mmOK?").

    Here's some ways in which I think computers in the classroom are inappropriate:
    • At low grade levels, kids should master other skills first. Learn to write and read, and THEN learn to use a computer.
    • Don't have a kid sit in front of a computer all day long. The cited impact to posture notwithstanding, I would worry about social interaction mostly
    • Never think that a computer IS the teacher. I don't want to be a sales droid, but one of the things that I think my company does right is that we allow the teacher to work THROUGH the computer, instead of trying to get the computer to teach the students.

  • The problem I have observed is that some teachers expect the computer to do their job for them. They'd just march the kids down to the computer lab and show them how to log in and drift off into cruise control. Some of the early educational software was simply the electronic equivalent of flash cards. Those same teachers would never have handed out stacks of flash cards and expected their students to teach themselves, but somehow the computer was supposed to work that magic for them. While software has improved, the attitudes of some educators has not.


  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @10:00AM (#956275) Homepage Journal
    Is that teachers aren't properly educated as to what's going on in the world of computers.

    These teachers go to school for 4-5 years learning what? How to teach! The teachers themselves can barely understand what's going on with the computers.

    I do tech work at a school district in a Pittsburgh suburb, and if what I've seen is typical, then it's completely understandable that kids aren't learning anything more than button pushing in school.

    I've had teachers fill out work request forms for their computers and when I go to take a look, the problem is that THE KEYBOARD IS UNPLUGGED! Or the power cord is not plugged in! Or the monitor isn't plugged into the computer.

    The teachers who have no clue come in many different varieties, the ones which I detest most are
    1. The 'pretty girls'. They have this "I'm just a girl, tee hee" attitude and don't care how ignorant they are.
    2. The almost retired. They have the "I'm outta here in 5 more years so screw this learning new stuff crap." attitude.
    3. The administrators. "I make $100,000 per year so I don't need to understand a fucking thing."

    The people in charge of the school can barely turn the computers on and use them, how in the world do you expect them to be able to teach kids how?

  • by seligman ( 58880 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @10:00AM (#956277) Homepage
    what could possibly be bad about introducing computers to kids?

    It serves no purpose and doesn't teach children anything?

    Don't get me wrong, if your going to attempt to teach children something about computers, then, by all means, but a computer in each class room, and install Logo, or BASIC, or something.

    But, don't do what was done to me. In the school district I grew up in, every grade (small schools too) had it's own computer room, which consisted of about 40 computers. So, once a week, we would join up with another class, and go to the computer room to learn.

    This consisted mainly of three actives, in order of use:

    1. Playing learning games. Absolutely useless. You learned how to play stupid games that were supposed to teach you grammar and math. Almost always the edutainment games seemed to be below our learning level. I can never once remembering a game that reinforced some just taught lesson. It seems to me that this was just done to give the teachers a break from teaching us.
    2. Writing essays and such. Mildly useful, but still pointless. Perhaps if they had instructed us on how to use a word processor, it would have been good, but instead most students would hand write their essay, and edit it using pen and paper techniques. Then, in one shot, type it into the computer, and this was the preferred way, since it kept the children out of the teacher's hair (they often knew very little about how to actually use the word processing program)
    3. Actual instruction on computers. I had one class (the only one ever offered to me) on programming. It was in Pascal, and this was only in high school. They should have done this more often.
    Perhaps it's just a bad experience, and I had lazy teachers, but I don't think it's that abnormal. Computers were just used as gaming devices, in a bizarre attempt to ease parents concerns that we would be ready for the coming technology age.

    All of my knowledge of programming (I took the final for the Pascal class the second week and didn't have to take the class) came from my self-teaching, by reading books and the like. So as a result, I tend to think I would have been better off (merely because my teachers would have been forced to teach me more) if our schools didn't have computers. And that coming from someone who makes his living as a "Software Engineer".

  • There's always a stink about "my goodness, we need more computers in the classrooms!" but IMHO, there are a lot of other things that should be addressed first, regardless of whether the computer can be a good learning tool (which is a whole other topic...)

    My wife taught in a public high school in Austin for 7 years. What was she missing?

    She had kids sitting on the radiators for the first several weeks of class while they waited for desks to be brought in.

    She had kids sharing textbooks because they were short.

    She didn't have a phone in her room, or even a working intercom or panic button. If an emergency came up, she had to send a kid tearing down the hall to the principal's office.

    Needless to say, having a computer sitting on a desk in the back of the room was not a high priority...

  • That reminds me, most of the computer lectures I have sat in where everyone sat at a computer, the lecturer had to forbid everyone from using the computer while he/she was lecturing. The computer was too much of a distraction and most people could not leave it alone and concentrate.
  • Agreed 100%, Seumas. People are far too quick to act and not contemplate. There is, of course, the obvious exception of a Democratic government; they "decide" 10 seconds after Columbine that gun control is necessary, and here we are, over a year later, and nothing noteworthy has happened, to my knowledge, aside from the voluntary Smith & Wesson gun-lock deal. This is also evident here at Slashdot; people are so damned concerned about getting the "First Post" that they don't even bother to consider WTF they're doing. Plus, this new crop of spammers... but I'm getting off-topic.

    I ask you, what can be done about this? To me, I think that the change has to happen at a more spiritual level. People in the U.S. are constantly concerned about how much time something will take, and so on. But really, in truth, what does it matter how long something takes? If I have to wait an extra minute because the traffic signal changed, SO WHAT?!?!?! I'm not sure where I'm going with this, so I'll stop now. But what can be done to change the current point-and-click attitude? I have no solutions...

  • yeah, you know, even my old Atari BASIC had functions. I can't think of a basic I've seen that doesn't. I've never really used QBasic much.
  • Here's an article [] at the NEA [](one of the 2 major teacher's unions) site about tech in the classroom.


  • by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Thursday July 06, 2000 @05:16AM (#956299)
    Damn Right. In my middle/high school we had a computer network. Guess what? It was only used to play pirated network games, experiment with virii, BIOS passwords, and other nasty stuff, and just generally give the poor underpaid admin way to many headaches. The computer is only needed in the classroom as far as it can be a supplement. Just like a pull-down map. It can be a learning aid. But people shouldn't pretend that it is the teacher and subject itself.
  • You represent a minority. You found that you have a talent for coding. One of the few truly creative things that you can only do on a computer. Most people are as likely to write a program as they are an opera.

    Learning to use a computer doesn't take long. It certainly isn't something that needs to be taught at age 5. They do have their disadvantages though. A computer is essentially designed to think for you - an oversimplification I know, but I mean that you don't need to learn to spell. A computer can do that for you. You don't need to knw how to write. You don't need to know how to format a letter. You don't need to know how to count.

    My mental arithmatic improved tremendously when I stopped using a calculator. My ability to walk long distances improved when I stopped using a car. A computer makes finding things out too easy. It stops people from working things out for themselves.

    This doesn't mean I'm a luddite. Computers are useful. The same can be said about cars and calculators. There's no way I'm going to try and work out the square root of 37.6 in my head. Nor am I going to walk 50 miles. Just don't think that they are always a goiod idea.
  • She began with a favourable attitude toward educational computing but came reluctantly to the conclusion that computers stifle learning and creativity and may cause damage to both vision and posture.

    So, if I understand this correctly, she is upset because computers are supposedly edging their way into the monopoly on stifling creativity and damaging posture (remember those crappy chairs and desks when you were a kid?) that schools currently hold?

  • As usual, polotics in the school system have managed to screw it all up. About 5 years back, there was a push for "Four computers in every classroom." Of course, very few teachers really could use four computers in class, but that was irrevelent. It was still great PR... and a huge expense.

    Plus, for some reason they decided that normal disk drives shouldn't be used (probably some brilliant plan to prevent students from loading software). Instead they loaded strange little boxes that contained disks that looked like CD's (picture a big minidisk). Downside - try updating them or adding a new piece of software. The computers were only useful for running the software that came with them. Besides that, they were piece of junk computers anyway. None of this really mattered though, because no one really needed them.

    It's all getting straightened up now. They gave up on trying to keep four in every room. They just starting distributing the ones they already have to the new rooms. Of course, they were outdated five years ago... I haven't seen those funny drives in a while. I think they just trashed them. My high school just put new motherboards and processors in those same computers (cost a pretty penny, and the computers were running DOS anyway...). This is after they bought new computers for the labs that actually need good ones.

    What it comes down to is that they put thousands of bad computers all over the place. It was fine that they were lousy, because they weren't in use. Now they're buying good computers for the rooms that need it, but are still updating the old ones that are running simple software and don't really need to do anymore at this point. Why? I don't know. I think every move made in the "Computers in the Classroom" movement has been motivated by public relations.

    What schools need is a few nice computer labs for classes that actually need them. Outside of that, what's the point?
  • Just a fact: they teach kids to count, add, subtract, multiply, and divide with a calculator now.

    Computers also are a poor forum for teaching reading and writing, much as they may try. After spending time reading on a computer screen, your eyes tend to hurt, don't they? It's not the same as a piece of paper. Now, I couldn't write a paper without a word processor, but kids learn how to write better when they can use paper to sketch out their ideas.

  • Webster Groves Computer School [], a public elementary magnet school where I got my 1st thru 5th grade education, has just put 30 new Dells (complete with full, high-speed Internet access) running Windows 98 (hey, you can't have everything) in each of their 3rd, 4th [] and 5th grade classrooms. As it turns out, my own 4th grade teacher, Sue Gibson [mailto] is still teaching there and I had the opportunity to hear about her experiences with the new equipment (as well as letting me play with the new toys).

    The students are eating it up! Which causes the teacher to just plain love it. Remember when we used to do reports on posterboard with magazine cutouts pasted to it? These kids are putting together Powerpoint slide shows that look better than what I see at work. Heck, their class website [] is more interesting than any college classes I've taken.

    And these aren't the select district Poindexters, either - they're just regular kids. The method for getting in the school is based on a lottery rather than test scores.

    Now, it's not all peaches and cream. There are problems with kids going to "unauthorized" (read: PORN) sites, but from what I understand, it's only from students who are otherwise known for getting in trouble. In other words, the kid most likely to check out is the one who got in trouble last week for bring his dad's pocketknife to show off.

    The way I understand this, it's all about guidance and supervision. Remember Star Trek? The prime directive was not to interfere with "primitive" races because a radical change in technology could seriously screw up their values. The same goes for computers in the classroom. You can't just plop a 10-year-old in front of a PIII and expect him to become Linus.

    Computers are a teaching tool. There was math class before there were calculators, or slide rules for that matter. There was school before there were books. There was school before there was even paper! Ancient Roman schools had children writing on wax tablets. Then came paper and children used it to take notes on and store. Then books allowed us to store, read and recycle information. Computers are simply the next big teaching tool, and hence, belong in EVERY classroom, along with the propper guidance.
  • After expounding on all of the problems that can come with extended computer use at a young age, the article states, "Unfortunately, America's parents are also sold on the benefits of computers." The important distinction here is the difference between the ideas that (A) computers are inherently good for children (in and of themselves) and that (B) computer literacy is good for children.

    Computers can aid in the learning process [I'm talking an educational environment here; let's leave off for a minute the value of computer training ten more years down the road, when these kids are entering the workforce] just as blackboards, books, libraries, and glue can-- more so, as they can be more powerful and flexible tools. Giving a blackboard to someone who doesn't know how to write isn't useful. Sitting a child down to browse the web isn't educational, not in the way that public schools are supposed to be. Teach a child how to use a graphing program, though, and perhaps (s)he will understand math a bit better. Show a child how to find and perhaps he will benefit even when he is miles from a library.

    Computers aren't inherently good or inherently evil, though a lot of people want to make them out to be. They're (most of them) not built for small hands and short bodies, and adult keyboards can do bad things to kids fingers and postures. Playing computer games instead of socializing is just as bad (worse) for children socially and emotionally as it is for adolescents and adults. But teaching kids how to use these tools to their educational advantage would be immensely helpful in schools. It's a shame that few schools have properly implemented the technology.
  • Another thing to add to that list is that computers are comparatively expensive to buy and maintain. Yeah, some of the stuff sounds great in theory, but when my wife's school (in a good area, BTW) runs short on funds for buying pencils, for god sakes, you have to wonder why they are spending multiple thousands per classroom for something that most teachers don't know how to use.
  • There is more to teaching than just a educational program that learns so that it can teach a student better. There is the whole issue of role models, compassion, and social interaction. I believe that we would need to create a world like what Asimov dreamed about before a computer could take the place of a human as a teacher and source of education.

    It wasn't just my introduction into physics that caused me to love it and persue it, it was my high school teacher. His dedication, and passion for teaching, his ability to draw the love for physics out of me is why I believe that it will be a long time before anything can match a human for education.
  • But the curiosity to start this dissection of free knowledge needs to be spawned somewhere. That is the importance of teaching children...
  • It shouldn't matter HOW a child learns, as long as they learn. Discussions twenty years ago focussed on how TV was a developemental destructive force. Yet somehow we and our parent grew up and went to have normal lives.

    I think it's important to remember there isn't too much for kids on the internet though, but plenty of software.
  • >Your eyes tend to hurt only if you have your
    >refresh rate too low, or you have a cheap

    Yes, but very vew of us can afford 300dpi monitors with a 300hz refresh rate . . .

  • Please don't flame me about problems you have had with PLATO® [], because I have nothing to do with its development other than going to lunch with a couple of folks on that end of the building...

    I do tech support for their educational/instructional software. I think it's an excellent option in classrooms where teacher-led instruction is not the most practical. When you have a classroom of students with widely varying skills, or just a few students that would benefit from remedial/advanced instruction, it's great for the school and for the kids.

    The people responsible for computers in the classroom need to know what the hell they're doing, just like any other tool. Unfortunately, most schools can't afford quality IT, and have "lab managers" that are simply glorified hall monitors/lunch aides. This opens a Pandora's box to trouble when they go up against a 13 year old with the skill and/or motivation to raise hell, or to simply steal the balls from a few mice. In a school with a skilled IS person/staff and the proper equipment, computers and education work quite well together.


  • Well, first of all let me say I've used computers in my classes for a long time, I was one of the privledged few that got to play with the apple 2 in first grade (I owned one before that) and I have to say that I'm a pretty good student, and I've always been a bit ahead of my class (back when grades weren't necessarily socially inflated).

    I've been a TA to 3 teachers (English, Math, and C programming) that used computers. And my assessment is that the more the teacher knows about computers, and the application of computers in the the class's subject matter, the better compuers are.

    The English teacher knew nothing about computers, and basically had kids watch powerpoint presentations about grammer. It sucked, and kids used the darkened room as a way to sleep through class.

    The Math teacher was not very good with computers in general, and origially had a huge number of powerpoint presentatins to show. I managed to talk her out of it and instead we got her hooked up to a nice graphing caclulator program which was really classy. She only used the computer when introducing the students to 3-dimensional equasions and pre-calculus (like basic derivatives) and it seemed to help a lot. She would let the kids experiment with different functions, but she made them try and explain what the curves the computer would graph should look like, and why. All the kids said it was usefull.

    The C class was a different story. That teacher knew a lot, but he insisted on using the computer for everything. I am a college student and I have attended some pretty stellar classes on various pogramming subjects, and none of them involved powerpoint. The class was difficult for the students to understand, and they didn't do too well. It was sad, because the teacher wouldn't listen to me when I advised him to try some new things (like letting the kids USE a computer :P)

    So careful use of the computer, applied to the subject matter is good. Just dropping kids on the internet is dumb, unless they have the drive to learn about it like some of us did. Maybe it's Powerpoint's fault. Everyone uses that program way too much.
    - Paradox
    Man of the C!!!
  • Mod'd to 'Funny'? Hmmm....

    I'll answer these from the perspective of watching what's going on in middle school (K12 in general) now, since there were no computers in schools when I was in school...

    1) which would you teach programming to a middle school student with:
    a) an apple II with logo and BASIC.
    b) a pentium III running Microsoft Visual Studio.
    Are those the only two choices? Between them, a), but then, what about word processing? Spreadsheets? These are the primary focus of most schools, these days. I don't know of one that teaches 'programming'. I reccomend unix workstations running X even at the elemetary school level. They're cheaper than DOS/Win boxes now, too. Let the kids learn gcc or perl -- or any of the any other myriad languages avaiable for *nix -- if they want to program....
    2) how many of you had computer classes in school that consisted of playing "oregon trail"?
    Never even heard of it. Probably after my time.
    3) do you think that computers in classrooms are being used to teach computer skills, or as glorified slide projectors?
    I think they are used like alphabet blocks, only not as effectively. The slide projector-type usage seems to have died pretty fast, since it's *boring*, and kids don't tolerate boring very well. Mostly they sit there to gratify parents and administrators, and server no practical purpose whatsoever. Some of the kids are learning to do basic word processing on them, tho.
    4) how much does it cost to get large coporations to donate their old XT's and apples to your school? (hint: they're dying to use this as a tax writeoff).
    Well, I know when I was in college Sun and ATT donated us some unix boxen, and the administration locked them up behind steel fire doors to keep the CS students (me) away from them. They were in the process of pursuiing a grant for several hundred IBM PCs running Windoze. They got the grant, and now allow only M$ and IBM Mainframe (COBOL) stuff (I don't know what happened to the Suns, I never went back).

    Donated equipment is great. If you can get the administration to let them use it, the kids love it.

    5) do you need a pentium III to teach assembly to a child? will an XT do? might an old XT or an apple be better?
    You're being facetious, right? Give them a box, and let them program the CPU in hex. Put LEDs on the box. They'll love it. Then let them try it on the Apple/C64/Xt/whatever. Show them the relationships. Pentium whould be .... childs play ... ahem.
    well i'm all for keeping 10-year-old third graders off of slashdot. we've got too many 30-year-old third graders already.
    I have been encouraging 11-year-olds to read and post. They started out saying that they "didn't want to look stupid", but I dispelled those fears by showing them some of the posts.... I find your average 10- or 12-year-old is capable of a lot more incisive commentary than about 50% of the posters you see here.

    I think the single most important computer skill children should be taught is how to use a text editor. Everything else can build on that.

  • Dude, that game changed my life. One summer my family drove out to Oregon with nothing but the clothes on our backs, a shotgun, 1000 bullets, and a cooler that could hold 2000 pounds of freshly shot bison.

    ya dude, it's all about the bison. nail those puppies! the best part is they were rendered using microsoft TrueType sub-pixel rendering... 15 years ago!

    progress rules.
  • Who are you going to replace them with?

    The root of the problem is that few people with the technical knowledge to really use and maintain computers correctly aren't going to accept a teacher's salary.
  • by Mr Z ( 6791 ) on Wednesday July 05, 2000 @10:37AM (#956349) Homepage Journal

    I read through this article, and I have to agree with these educators: Bringing the cutesy video-game world of Windows and the MTV-esqe Internet (not the meaty content that experienced surfers go for, but the eye candy kids will gravitate to naturally) would be little better than having kids watch cartoons all day in class.

    I got a computer of my own for my eighth birthday. Prior to that, I had used other people's computers to program, both at school and at friends' houses. I learned quite a lot on that machine, because it was a machine that did little on its own. It was raw clay, and I got to learn how to sculpt. How could you deny that that's valuable to a child?

    Sure, there were game cartridges, and yes, I played them. (Moon Patrol anyone?) But kids have N64 or Dreamcast or PS2 or whatever nowadays, and so don't need the computer for that. Most of the value I derived from my computer was learning how to make it do things. It was like a box of Legos, only the building blocks were program statements and the structures I built were on a TV screen.

    Today's computers aren't like that. Rather, they're like TV. Force feed eye candy. They exist for "wow" and "fluff." I personally had started falling into that trap in the PC world. I got pulled out of that trap when I went to college and learned Unix. Now, whenever I go to use a PC running Windows, I feel like I'm watching MTV or something. It's all so uselessly flashy and relatively devoid of content compared to its volume.

    It's really sad.

    I intend to keep my Apple ][e's, Commodore 64's, TI-99/4A's, and so on, to give my kids machines to learn on. When they're old enough, I'll give them logins on my Linux network and start teaching them C or some other structured language, before BASIC's brain-rot sets in too heavily -- you're ok if you catch them by puberty.

    Sitting a kid in front of a web browser does not teach computing. Showing a kid how to make the computer do things it's not already trained to do (ie. program) opens the door for true creative exploration.

    No comments about posture though... (as I slouch heavily into my chair).

  • Quake is not 3D. It is 3D surfaces projected onto a 2D surface, creating an optical illusion of 3D. That does absolutely nothing for your 3D spacial skills.

    Not to mention that twitching a mouse and pressing some keys are not going to develop skills for reaching and handling 3D objects.


  • Yeah, I mean. No BASIC's have f unctions. []
  • Agreed. The only purpose of computers in the classroom would be to teach how to use computers which require a knowledgeable instructor. As it stands, computers are being used as teachers--a panacea to the overcrowding of classrooms. Computers cannot tailor course work and cannot help the advancement of students. In the end, the software reaches so few students (since the one way to teach philosophy is at the heart of computer assisted learning--repetition).

    I would go so far as to say CBTs do not work as well as instructors for most people. As a software engineer, the only problems in the real world solved by computers are:

    they can add numbers very quickly in a complicated way unerringly

    they can regurgitate information very quickly. Whether or not it is useful information depends on how well the user can interact with the computer

    None of these are qualifications for human teachers and computers have about the same place in classrooms as calculators.


Last yeer I kudn't spel Engineer. Now I are won.