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Education Technology

Too Many Computers Hurt Learning 935

An anonymous reader writes "The Christian Science Monitor is running a story on a recent University of Munich study of school children in 31 countries that found a correlation between frequent computer usage and poor academic performance. Having more than one computer in the home was found to be particularly bad news! For those Slashdotters with children, how do you deal with your kids' computer use?"
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Too Many Computers Hurt Learning

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  • Hrmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oculus Habent ( 562837 ) * <oculus...habent@@@gmail...com> on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:29PM (#11013165) Journal
    When I was eight, we had three computers... one in the family room, one in my sister's room, and one in my room. Of course, they were an Apple IIe clone, and Apple IIe, and an Apple II+, respectively. My sister was valedictorian. My grades sucked, but that's because I didn't do homework. :)

    I don't think that multiple computers in a household are patently bad. I think that poor parental understanding and control of their children's using habits is to blame. The key is not too much computer usage, it's too much computer usage doing the wrong things. Half-Life 2 is not a learning experience. How Stuff Works [howstuffworks.com] can be.

    Computer use in the school is still a fairly new tool. We aren't adept at producing good on-screen content for learning, yet. We still try to push everyone along at the same pace , where computer-based learning should preferably guarantee that a student meets the class requirements and has an opportunity to extend their knowledge beyond the "lowest common denominator" teachings.

    Bottom line, computers are still too new to teachers and too unfamiliar to parents right now. Give it some time.
  • i work from home (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:32PM (#11013199)
    when i moved house and didn't have internet access for a couple of weeks i got a lot more done (no slashdot for one!)

    sure the correlation isn't between those with internet access and those without?
  • by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:33PM (#11013205) Homepage
    I bet if kids had to take computer science in elementary school than computers would be shown to be a benefit. However because most elementary scool learning is rote (the stuff a computer is good at) kids rely on the computer for their boring work instead of doing it. I wonder if we took a survey of adults 20 years from now how many of the succesful ones would have grown up with computers. Computers are a large part of our lives, and kids should be exposed to them early.
  • Me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by evilmuffins ( 631482 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:33PM (#11013206)
    Funny, I have not one, but 3 computers in my room, and some how I've managed to keep around a 3.5 in highschool for the last 2 years.
  • Obvious Correlation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eeg3 ( 785382 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:33PM (#11013215) Homepage
    Just look at the performance of the average student in math without a calculator. People just don't know how to do the math, and don't feel the need anymore.

    Computers have become a crutch and a hindrance rather than a tool. Pretty sad.
  • Computer's fault? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:34PM (#11013220)
    I wonder how much of that "frequent computer use" is spent on entertainment instead of educational software?

    For instance, I used computers a lot when I was younger, but it was playing around with Logo and Basic on an Apple 2. I turned out to be a pretty good student.
  • by biryokumaru ( 822262 ) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:37PM (#11013266)
    is the correlation based on grade performance (article doesnt seem to say)? being just out of high school, i noticed that geeky computer guys are super-smart, but get bad grades cuz they just dont give a **** about menial tasks like homework (maybe a realization that most menial tasks would be better done by a computer). also, intelligent teenagers who spend much time on computers tend to care little about the superficial aspects of things, such as formatting and making cardboard displays really pretty, which are both a major part of doing well in high school.

    i note some objectivity here (if not much) as i was not one of the geeky computer guys (i am now).

  • The TV (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hardwyred ( 71704 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:40PM (#11013291) Homepage
    I have a feeling that in those households the computer was looked at much like the TV. A plugin babysitter that keeps junior quiet and out of the way. When used in that manner, yeah the computer can have some negative impacts on your kid. People seem to have forgotten that children need to be stimulated and challenged. TV and the internet can be great tools but can also be pretty mind numbing. My wife and I are about to have our first kid and have been talking about these type of things at length and we both feel very strongly that it is our job to make sure that our son is engaged in things that he finds entertaining but that have more value to them then simply "at least he's quiet". That means we have to actually spend time with our son, in fact, we have to take an interest in his daily life (gasp)! It always shocks me how many parents in our neighborhood either don't know where their kids are and what they are doing or prefer to just sit them down in front of some gizmo instead of getting involved in what they are doing. But hey, we haven't actually had our kid yet, so of course right now I have all the answers and know exactly how it's all gonna work out. Check back in around 10 years.
  • problem=education (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pha777 ( 764875 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:43PM (#11013336)
    The problem is not on computers, the problem is on the methods that are used in education. Today we have access to information that we did not have before, nevertheless the study methods continue being the same.
  • by kyleday ( 645021 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:47PM (#11013367)
    Did they account that the teaching methods in schools as well as the curriculum they teach are still based on 19th century standards? Why do they still teach cursive writing? I was always told that it was necessary to learn for classes in high school and college, though not a single class even accepted anything less than typed work. I never once, not once used cursive. Schools are still based in curriculum that has little to nothing based upon the new educational topics that computers offer (computer science, typing, conversing skills, hand-eye coordination, hands-on hardware and software experience, etc....) I doubt this report takes into account the beneficial and educational leaps that computers offer, instead I bet it focuses on why children won't write in cursive....if you get my point
  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:50PM (#11013398) Journal
    and they are draconian, but tough.

    1. No computer games. Yup. None.

    2. TV has to be PBS, Discovery or History Channel during the week, and no more than one hour.

    3. the computer is used for schoolwork and research.

    4. No TV in the bedroom.

    5. No headphones indoors, no excessive volume indoors.

    6. No TV during Dinner. conversation is encouraged. Dinner is served at the dining table 5 nights a week (Friday is swimming, so dinner is shortened, as we go out for a snack after swimming, and Saturday dinner is often out (and never at a fast food joint.)

    7. One DVD may be rented a week.

    8. books, magazines, and newspapers can be read at anytime except during meals.

    9. Homework is done FIRST. Then play is permitted. Making things with paper, glue, wood, paint, ink, rubber stamps, etc. is encouraged. Puzzles, word games, and other intellectual riddles are encouraged.

    10. Music is always permitted, but at reasonable volumes. Playing music and singing is especially encouraged, and preferred to listening.

    That's the way the house is organised, and mommy and daddy (me) follow the same rules. No exceptions.

    We have 7 computers in the house, but 2 of them (a win2k laptop and an XP laptop) are for my wife's office, three are in my studio (OSX laptop, OS9 tower, SuSe "project" machine), my daughter has a desktop (Apple OS9) and a laptop (OSX). She uses them, but not as much as she reads books. she also likes to make books - she has a good head for narrative.

    She (Elizabeth Spoilsport) is 7, is bilingual in French and English, writes in cursive, and does her times tables. She can recognise 4/4, 3/4, and 5/4 time signatures. She's my little pride and joy, when she's not acting like a spoiled little snot (which only happens when she's tired or grumpy).

    She also feeds the kitties, waters the kitchen herbs, (fresh basil is DIVINE), and when she gets all A's in her work, we give her a small allowance which she then divides up between a savings account, an investment account, a charity account, and a spending account.

    And that's how it works in the Spoilsport household.


  • Re:Hrmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:53PM (#11013431) Homepage
    l337 5p34k c4n 0n1y hur7 gr4d3z.

    My idea (and I'm completely serious, I think this would work if it caught on!) is to get people to use IM and chat room clients that check the grammar and spelling of anything they type, and then refuse to transmit anything that's incorrect. People will over time develop impeccable linguistic skills!

    Then part II: When speech recognition becomes widespread, make the recognition software only recognize clearly enunciated words (and then check them for grammar!).

    Think about it. We could have an entire society where everyone speaks perfectly clear, grammatically precise day-to-day English (or whatever language you speak in your country)!
  • Re:Hrmm (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @09:58PM (#11013487) Journal
    Today's computer usage is a very passive experience. There was a huge difference between the old command line computers, one at a time, and the multimedia computers.

    With the old command line computers, you had to be in control of everything the computer did (games excepted, to a limit; but my statement was even somewhat true for the games of the time).

    As a result, computers didn't hurt academic performance all that much. But even for those households with computers, back then, I found that students who had a computer usually did well in math, but lousy in the English/history/languages department.

    Our school, Harrisonburg High School, really had the ideal computer situation when we came there: one Apple ][+, with priorities being (1) teacher (2) students programming for teacher/entering grades into the homemade grade program (3) 10 minutes at a time for students doing programming (4) students doing other work (5) games. We had a "warn/ then turn off" policy, as well.

    What this did, was make us do our programming on paper, so that we could type during the 10 minutes we had. It made us think.

    With this setup, HHS went to take 3rd in the national American Computer Science League contest. Then we got 2 more computers, and though we were invited to the national tournament [we were good], we didn't place. Then we got a room full of computers, and that was the end of that.

    So I really do think that the key is "too much computers is a bad thing." Hand in hand with that, if you have too much computers, you will also start doing the wrong thing. Supply does create demand.

    So what do we do? Our kids' TV policy and computer policy are the same: ~0 hrs per week, ~1 hr every 3 months, to be more exact.

  • One thing to note: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @10:02PM (#11013514)
    I can read TONS of "but i always used the computer and am still the brightest guy around" posts.
    Sit down, and THINK!

    Back when most here present started their computer use, computers werent entertainment stuff that every grandma owned. Getting into computers needed real attention, technical interest, an open mind to find out how things work, ect.
    Of course, when only nerds use computers, computerusers are smart. But maybe everyone would have been smarter if he didnt spend that much time with the computer.
    I certainly would.

    Nowadays, most "average" users use pcs as an entertainment system, with an added value that they can fool others that they are learning/doing something useful.
    And that certainly doesnt help...
  • Re:Hrmm (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @10:07PM (#11013568) Homepage Journal
    And what about perfectly fine words or costructs that your software fails to recognize? And what about people with speech impairments?

    I think the way Konqueror has it now is best: highlight words it thinks are wrong, but still accept them when you tell it to.
  • I am a teacher (Score:5, Interesting)

    by defishguy ( 649645 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @10:20PM (#11013673) Journal
    I'm a highschool teacher. I teach IT and I can absolutely say that, for the most part, the more CBT that is integrated into the class the lower the level of performance by the students as a whole. I'm not saying all of them suffer, but enough do that I try to limit the contact with the machines to that of the task to be done instead of the task to be learned.

    I strongly suspect that the only thing that most people learn from machines is how to be lonely..... of couse I'm sitting at one... in a room... alone...scratching.....hmmmmmm.

    At any rate, the more time I spend with the students in conversation over the hum of a projector the more the students seem likely to absorb things like IRQ tables and subnetting. The kids really do seem to be more inclined to actively particpate if there is a person leading them.
  • by conradp ( 154683 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @10:21PM (#11013688) Homepage
    The studies are testing performance in educational areas that used to be considered important - reading, writing, arithmatic. So clearly if the kids spend a lot of time on the computer instead of studying math or reading literature, their performance in those areas will suffer.

    But what about their performance in technology-related areas? What about their programming ability, their ability to think logically, their knowledge of and familiarity with computers? Those things will surely improve, unless they're just firing up Half-Life in which case their scores will plummet just as if they had a PlayStation or an XBox. Just because their performance suffers in the traditional areas doesn't mean computers are bad for them - they may in fact be better prepared for 21st century jobs than their schoolmates who get higher grades because their parents make them study the classics and ban them from using computers...
  • Geeks vs. Gamers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by aldragon ( 782143 ) on Monday December 06, 2004 @10:33PM (#11013777)
    Though my computer useage does decrease my productivity at homework, I would'nt know even half of what I know, not to mention the fact that my thinking skills probably would'nt be nearly as good. The thing is that it's computer gaming that tends to cause problems, not so much as other activities. I'm not a gamer myself, and am more of a geek, and my hobbies of linux system administration, programing, and electronics are far more enlightening per a given amount of time than school.
    To summerize my opinion, whether it's a problem depends on how the computer is being used, and the real problem causers are Chat junkies, and (espescially)Gamers, and not geek activities
  • Spellbinding. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @12:01AM (#11014416) Homepage Journal
    Computers can be extremely powerful tools for learning, but only if used in proper context.

    Now there's a thought. My favorite quote from the article:

    consensus holds that more research is needed to know exactly where computers make the most difference in an educational process. "There's this sort of bizarre belief that computers cast a spell over students and teachers and schools," says Christopher Dede, professor of learning technologies at the Harvard School of Education. "Can you imagine what would happen if you had the same in business, asking if computers were interfering with performance? It would be a big joke."

    But it is a big joke. The spell has been cast by salesmen and silly adverts, such as M$'s "we see your potential" series. The same thing has happened in the business world. The result is that general purpose junk has been sold without clear and careful thought about use. Most schools are on the fourth generation of general purpose boxes run by people who have no clue about what real use can be made from them.

    I didn't see mentioned anywhere in the article what types of software these kids were running.

    They did mention that, but I would have liked to see more:

    Academic performance rose among those who routinely engaged in writing e-mail or running educational software.

    This comes as no surprise. People who write, learn how to write. Well written educational programs draw people in so that they spend their time learning. People who spend their time playing games would probably not be doing their homework if they did not have a computer, so the results are self selecting.

    I'd have liked to have seen an OS breakdown. Debian has a wealth of scientific applications for the older kids who don't get the good computer useage the Openhimer group called for. Gperiodic, kstars and the like are excellent for anyone but especially useful for 12 and above. It's fantastic collection of mathematical routines, data manipulation tools, editors and publication aids are great for university level students. Even the Debian junior toys are good for younger students, though I've seen dedicated leaning feedback computers like magic pads that play games that are better for toddlers. My two year old liked playing tuberling, but most often plays with real world toys.

  • by Pollux ( 102520 ) <speter@@@tedata...net...eg> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @12:11AM (#11014483) Journal
    some people don't have to study to get good grades...I couldn't be bothered to spend that much time doing shit I already knew.

    In my classroom I would call you a black hole. Not only do you take the teacher's time and suck it down that deep gravity well of arrogance but you end up sucking the energy from others who don't have that level of knowledge and really need some of it from whatever source they can get.

    And you know what's great? Not only do I fight black holes like you, but I also fight another black hole, Yahoo Games. There are not a lot of people like you and me who are smart enough to absorb information like a sponge and retain it despite our inept study habbits, particularly referring to the electronic form. In the mean time, we end up sending the message to everybody else that drowning your mind in a melting pot of Flash entertainment will not harm our cognative development.

    And the poor kids who have an attention span of a misquito end up losing.

    Your post sounds like a boast of "Education failed me, but hell, I'm a success, and I'll be damned before I stop saying that nobody should give a rat's ass about public education." Thanks. Truth be told, you kinda remind me of roadkill. You think you're so bold when you dash across the highway, but your eyes are so close to the ground, you'll never get a chance to see the car coming before it runs you over.
  • Re:Thank you, but no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rice_web ( 604109 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @12:14AM (#11014503)
    I basically spend the time that I am not working or at school studying. I read Forbes Fast Company, Discover, classic literature, guides to foreign languages, programming manuals, history books, law books, and anything of interest on SlashDot (yes, I do read articles!).

    Yet, I could not pull of more than a 3.0 GPA in high school, despite what I believed was a 95% test average. And now college has rolled around, and I am failing two classes (though I'm easily the teachers' pet, as they are all magnificently puzzled by my habits). I can't stand to do homework, and refuse to do it; it would be wasting time, and that I won't do. I never received my scholarship. And I went to a crappy university, too.

    If I had it in me to do homework, I would, and I would recommend no matter the struggle that everyone try the same. I do not regret not doing homework, for in fact I have learned so many things in the time that I have not done homework. However, I have been greatly disadvantaged by not following the pack and turning in the occasional essay.
  • I disagree. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ghostgate ( 800445 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @12:23AM (#11014558)
    I think it's way too easy to open up a calculator, spreadsheet, web browser, [insert app here] to do things one should be able to do, or at least know how to do, by hand.

    The flaw in your logic is that you still must be able to apply SOME knowledge in order to get the answer that you are looking for. Even if you don't know how the calculations work, you would still need to know why the calculations are important and what they can be applied to.

    Sure, you can use a calculator or whatever to perform calculations on some numbers. But, are these just arbitrary calculations you are making? No, they are likely part of some larger problem. And you must know how these calculations fit into the problem, or what calculations to use in the first place. You still need to know the principles behind what you are doing. If you don't, a calculator (or other tool) will be useless to you, except in doing simple arbitrary tasks.

    In this way, the tools we have available to us save us a lot of time, energy, and sometimes needless frustration.

    I remember some of the more advanced math classes I took in college. A single problem could, at times, take more than 10 minutes of work to solve. And in that time, it was easy to make a small mistake somewhere, even if you were being careful, and ruin the entire thing. Or, you could insert the problem into a computer math program and have the answer in less than a second. Guaranteed correct, if you did not make a typo entering it. As far as I'm concerned, doing such a problem by hand is entirely counter-productive. And you know what? I'm not even sure I want to know HOW it's done. I just want to know why it's useful. I want to know how to apply it to something productive.
  • Re:Thank you, but no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rhakka ( 224319 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @12:39AM (#11014665)
    it's invaluable for a lot of things, being able to do what you need to do even if you aren't "in the mood".

    What would be best though, I think, is look for students like you and I, and give them something they have to work for in high school. These days I can sit down and work 14 hours, but it's because I'm interested in and love what I'm doing. Perhaps if in high school homework was more than simple repitition of things I already knew, it would have been much easier to develope those work habits.

    or maybe not, who knows? Maybe I was just lazy, and lucky.
  • Re:Hrmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by taylortbb ( 759869 ) <.taylor.byrnes. .at. .gmail.com.> on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @12:57AM (#11014840) Homepage
    but grades ain't learning.

    I don't think I've heard a better statement in this whole discssion.

    I am a student still in high school, my grades are ok (80% average, which is typical at my school)( and I am an obsessive computer user, but aren't we all on Slashdot). However, many of my teachers give me poor grades, I don't take notes in class, my assignments are rushed and imprecise. But I'm learning great. I can say I fully understand everything, I am a grade 10 student taking grade 11 chemistry, and I have grade 11 students asking me for help constantly. Marks and learning have no relation, marks are your ability to follow directions.

    My marks could be much better, but I'm lazy, and like to spend all my time on the computer. I will agree that for many computers will lower grades, but the system needs to move past our current grading system. I will pay attention in class and understand everything, but I wont take any notes and I wont get around to doing my homework. My understanding of what we are doing is perfect, I get 95%+ on all my tests.

    The problem is, my homework is 15-25 questions of the exact same easy sutff, there is no way I will ever do that. It is in no way nessesary to do something 20 times to understand it.

    Also, what are the expereinces of others in this area? Most computer obsessives I know have wierd learning styles and are in similar situations. Agree, Disagree? Yourself?
  • Yoda and Word Order (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @01:11AM (#11014942) Homepage Journal
    >think of how weird "yoda talk" seems, even when it isn't technically grammatically incorrect, and understand it just fine you can.

    Speaking as a non-native speaker of english , my language would order verbs in EXACTLY the way yoda does. In fact, English's order of verbs sounds (sounded) alien to me when I was learning to speak. But after nearly 20 years of constant usage, it's my natural language to write with.

    All that said, I did learn to write English first and my mother tongue later - which had more to do with the curves and the 100 odd glyphs involved in my language.

    Ironically, English has become the lingua franca of the modern world . And it's evolving on its own.

  • by darnok ( 650458 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @01:31AM (#11015061)
    I suspect the real issue here is e.g. putting PCs with Internet access into kids' rooms, as distinct from PCs without Internet access.

    This is an issue I'm struggling with now. With 8 computers in the house (including one Linux firewall), do I put a PC in each of the 3 kids' bedrooms? At this moment, I'm inclined to install e.g. Mepis and restrict Internet access to e.g. 7pm-8pm each day on bedroom PCs; that should remove the possibility of endless hours of pointless IM and downloading WM* files, while still letting them get homework done and talk to their friends for a bit each night. If there's some exceptional circumstance, then Mum or I can invoke the "Internet access extension" clause in our contracts...

    Still struggling to work out if this is a good approach or not, amidst the other obvious (e.g. no access, or unrestricted access) and not-so-obvious options. I'd be interested in any other suggestions.
  • Careful.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lysium ( 644252 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @02:08AM (#11015270)
    The language defines what we can think about, and how we think about those things. It is not a good thing to attempt to restrict it, since by doing so we are restricting people's thoughts.

    That's the Chomsky school of linguistics. There are other equally valid theories, so please don't just state it like it is an immutable fact.

  • TV in the classroom (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @03:49AM (#11015675) Homepage
    Decades ago, the TV was hailed as the next greatest thing in education. Teachers would soon be able to record their own lectures and presentations for a much more efficient, effective educational experience!!!

    Hopefully the computer hype will die down soon enough.
  • by cruachan ( 113813 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @04:18AM (#11015779)
    This is nothing new. See if you can find a copy EP Thompson's essay "The Making of the English Working Class" in which he talks in some depth about Saint Monday. To cut a long and elegent essay very short the thesis is that the current 5 day a week regular hours work pattern is not at all 'natural' as humans tend to work episodically for deadlines if left to their own devices. Instead the 'working week' was imposed on us, with a great deal of trouble, in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries so as to make labour meet the raquirements of capitalism.
  • by guidryp ( 702488 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @08:01AM (#11016542)
    We Need to study South Korea, The most wired nation on earth, yet they have among the best performing students on the planet.

    http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/ 20 04/12/08/200412080007.asp
  • by KludgeGrrl ( 630396 ) on Tuesday December 07, 2004 @10:26AM (#11017591) Homepage
    Correctly applied, computers can aid learning. I have absolutely no skill at all at operating a pen. It has the worst user interface ever designed. My grades in English were consistently Cs, with the occasional B. Once we were allowed to use computers to type essays, they shot to A or A* and stayed there (until I dropped English aged 16)

    Ah... I had a similar experience but, given my age, the change came not from computers but typewriters. Typing let me write quickly enough to be coherent. Using a keyboard can be a real boon, and is increasingly understood to be necessary for some students. For example, I had no trouble convincing my department to allow me to type my doctoral comprehensive exams although it is not standard practice.

    As for computers being bad for learning -- I would agree with many posters and argue that it is only bad if it distracts the student from reading (as in novels, not IM). Having taught university in the states the increasing illiteracy of students seems to be the number one problem I saw. They have trouble with reading. Books are "too long," or "too hard." Vocabularies are apalling. It's a sad state of affairs.

"Say yur prayers, yuh flea-pickin' varmint!" -- Yosemite Sam