Magazine article Teach

The Key Component of Technology

Magazine article Teach

The Key Component of Technology

Article excerpt

The debate rages over how useful computers and technology are in the classroom. On the far side are the techno-weenies, who are wildly enthusiastic, and talk about "information rich environments," "on-line research," "data-mining," and "computer-literate netizens." On the near side are the compuphobes, who mutter darkly about "proto-nerds," "the loss of basic literacy and numeracy," and "pretty sounds and images, signifying nothing."

In their latest round of counter-attacks, the compuphobes are coming out with learned studies about how primary school children who regularly use computers in the classroom are performing more poorly than those who are in traditional classrooms. The techno-weenies will undoubtedly reply that there is a lot of junk on the Internet, and among "edutainment" programs as well, and that we should no more judge technology based on such things than we should judge the usefulness of books by letting kids just rummage through a jumbled pile of them.

And both sides are right, but most of those who are arguing are missing the key component that makes technology a success or a failure: the teacher.

Computers, and all the technology to which they allow access, are tools, nothing more, nothing less. They happen to be very powerful tools. This means that if they are used wisely and well, they can be very powerful tools for creative, constructive ends. If they are used poorly, then like poorly used bulldozers or cement mixers, they will wreak havoc. Accordingly, both sides in the debate can be right, arid neither will successfully convince the other, because both will be able to point to evidence to prove their points.

The implications of this are that you, the teacher, need to be comfortable in using computers, or find someone who is adept to help you become comfortable. It means the first computer in a classroom should go to the teacher, not to the protonerds who would gladly monopolize it.

But if you're not comfortable or adept with them, why in the world would you bother to become so, especially if you don't like computers? For the very reasons I've already stated: that computers are very powerful tools that can give your students wonderful benefits if they are used wisely. Let me give yon a couple of examples:

I once visited a grade two class at a K-8 school that was about as technologically sophisticated as they come, one where computers were used pervasively and casually. They were never the objects of instruction (other than the obvious parts about how to use them), but were relegated to the role of tools, and used along with books, in-class instruction, field trips, and all the other more usual teaching tools.

All around the room were posters prepared by the teacher about How to Write an Essay, outlining the steps needed to produce a lucid, interesting exposition. I noticed a great many students working with paper and pencil, as well as students lining up to use two entry-level computers. Playing devil's advocate, I asked the teacher, Miss Brown, what possible use computers could be to a grade two student. Her reply was instructive: "You'd be amazed how easy it is to get kids to polish and perfect their writing skills when they don't have to re-write the whole essay, but only the parts 'that need changing." In other words, the computer enabled the student (or, in some cases, the teacher) to do things more easily, and therefore encouraged them to achieve a higher standard. …

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