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The Down Side of Computerized Schooling


Q. Our schools have spent so much money on computer infrastructure, they should be helping student achievement a lot. But despite the increased millions spent on technology, our kids appear to be doing worse, not better, in reading, writing and other academic pursuits. True?


Actually, it was $70 billion spent on ed tech just in the U.S., just in the 1990s. But you're right: there's scant evidence that ed tech has improved learning much. It's promising, of course, especially on the secondary level. But results are mixed.


Computers in the classroom are controversial. Schools deal with record-keeping that verges on constant privacy invasion; an overemphasis on computer-assisted curriculum and assessment that minimizes academic content that is not easily quantifiable, and dangerously enmeshed, ethically-questionable relationships between school officials and ed tech vendors.


While many teachers have found constructive uses for computers in the later grades, observers say ed tech has been cynically oversold by political and educational hucksters out to make a buck for themselves. They say high-tech learning is foolish overkill in the early grades, anyway. Interaction with an adult, other kids and a mix of learning tools is best, they say.


Kids today are increasingly distractible; the overstimulating, flickering images of computers in the classroom aren't helping. Kids are having problems building friendships and other relationships, too, and although ed tech didn't cause those problems, it certainly isn't helping.


Then there's the big study published in 2004 out of Munich University, Germany. It looked at 175,000 students, age 15, in 31 countries, and found that those with more than one computer in their homes actually did worse in school than those with only one computer, or no computers, at home. (See this Christian Science Monitor article:


The study found that the more pupils used computers, the worse they performed in school. That contradicts the glowing claims of superintendents and ed-tech vendors, but it rings true. Watch a young person on a computer. You'll see game playing, Instant Messengering, and music downloading . . . but very little constructive academic use.


Ironically, another big educator justification for ed tech expenses - that kids must have good computer skills for the work world - has also been exaggerated. The Munich study said computer skills had no greater impact on employability or wage levels than being able to use a telephone or a pencil.


What's the answer? Hold your horses on ed tech. Use it as the good tool that it can be . . . but don't stampede your common sense over a cliff, and over-do it on the techno toys.


Homework: Book, The Flickering Mind by Todd Oppenheimer.


By Susan Darst Williams Technology 03 2008


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