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Technology        < Previous


The Problem With Computer-Based Curriculum


Q. Is it a good thing that schools are using technology, particularly computers, so much in classroom lessons these days?


Not according to teachers like Clifford Stoll, an astrophysicist and author of engaging technology books including The Cuckoo's Egg and "Silicon Snake Oil. He wrote in a recent L. A. Times op-ed that computers in the classroom are titanic wastes of money, and ineffective and even counterproductive learning tools.


He wrote, "The computer changes the ecology of the classroom. Attention is diverted away from the teacher and toward the magic screen. Electronic media are emphasized at the expense of the written word. Books feel boring compared with their online competitors. As a result, school libraries have morphed into media centers, where Internet feeds and DVDs push aside books and magazines. Increasingly, schools teach the easy stuff: how to change fonts, surf the Web or make a PowerPoint show."


He says that a broad knowledge base, general academics, and human relations skills are much more important for a constructive, happy adult life than computer skills, especially since kids are already O.D.'ed on electronics as it is.


He's among a growing chorus of skeptics who say that computers are a toy, not a legitimate instrument of learning.


"Having judged several science fairs," Stoll wrote, "I notice plenty of projects with professional graphics yet devoid of creativity and individual initiative. Instead of downloaded images from an orbiting observatory, I'd prefer to see a student's hand-drawn observations of the moons of Jupiter as observed through her backyard telescope."


He added, "What was once an exciting novelty in education has become a distraction from learning. It's because our future is intertwined with technology that schools should unplug their computers and develop the fundamental qualities and human skills needed to manage our increasingly techno-centric society."


Concerns go beyond the inferiority of computers compared to teachers, the inaccuracies and quagmires of Internet research, and the detrimental effects on human interactions of what Stoll calls "disembodied network interactions."


A whole other issue, and a disturbing one, is the specter of government control over computer-delivered curriculum and assessment -- excluding parents, teachers, legislators and taxpayers -- and setting the stage for massive and easy brainwashing of children, an entire generation at a time.


Homework: Ironically, through the wonders of technology, we can more easily learn more about what's WRONG with technology as well as what's good about it, and in multimedia format, too. Hear the warnings of Texas education activist Donna Garner on a radio talk show in this audio (note: more than 30 minutes):


By Susan Darst Williams Technology 04 2008


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