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Do Computers Trump Learning?

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In a recent article, English teacher Alan Warhaftig argues that the emphasis on technology in the classroom harkens back to an earlier era of vocationalism in schools and threatens "to divert attention from academic content." A technology-infused curriculum, he argues, may weaken students' intellectual skills and, ironically, jeopardize their ability to thrive in the global economy.

What's your view? Do computers in the classroom detract from deeper academic learning? How should technology be used in schools? What skills, vocational or otherwise, do today's students need to learn, and how are they best taught?

26 Comments

At a point in time when one has such a difficult time trying to get an electrician, plumber, carpenter, mechanic, or any other tradesperson to do some renovations or new construction this idea put forth by Warhaftig is out of touch with the real world.

I truly fail to understand how a technology-infused (or vocationally focused) curriculum may weaken intellectual skills.

I also have difficulty in understanding how the use of technology in curriculum may jeopardize the ability of students to thrive in a global economy.

It is through mastering technology that we may develop our intellectual skills and then determine to apply it toward a vocation.

I would agree somewhat that when the focus and responsibility for instruction is relegated to the technology, quality education may indeed be compromised. However, this is no different than placing the responsibility for the teaching of reading or mathematics on the teacher's edition. If we would all just concern ourselves with being the best teachers possible, all of these other concerns would not have to clog our own thinking and take up endless pages of editorial commenting. Good teachers always use the tools at their disposal and hone their own skills to help them improve their craft and their students' learning.

It's a 'no-brainer' that students need to be comfortable with computers these days, just as they need to be able to write and use a calculator. I'm glad to be able to write this response on a computer where I can make changes and corrections before I send it on its way. But technology is seductive, especially when it hooks up witha profit-driven marketing system.

And I do give Apple credit for developing an operating system (later copied in Windows) that made it easier for people to interact with computers and for their early introduction of computers into schools. But they need to remember that computers, even Apple computers, are just tools.

Computers make it easy to research almost any topic, but they don't help students learn to analyze what they see or to discriminate between propaganda and important information. It's just as easy to find inane drivel as important ideas on the Internet, and they both may look equally credible at first glance. Google may pull up hundreds or thousands of references, but it can't tell you which ones are useful, and there's still a lot of important information that is not on the Internet at all.

Computer programs also make it easy to put ideas on the screen, so anyone can now 'publish' their own ideas. (One reason why there's so much nonsense available on the Internet!) And many programs (e.g. Powerpoint) tend to constrain thinking and expression to fit their formats; they tend to favor a reductionist approach and oversimplification.

Tool -- pencil & paper or laptop computers -- can never substitute for critical thinking. People need learn to think critically and holistically and to present their own thoughts carefully and creatively. If they don't, they will be marginalized -- whether they go to college, technical school, or try to start their own business.

Computer 'literacy' is important, and computers can help students and teachers to be productive -- but they're just tools. I think Warhaftig is correct in warning that they can distract us from what's really important.

It depends on the technology. I have found that assigning power point presentations as an assessment of knowlege is a poor educational strategy. Kids spend more time "beautifying: their presentation than adding depth in content. On the other hand I have some "probeware" computer technology that is specific to scientific principles and laws. They are much more effective than a text or lecture in creating a depth in understaning of content. In short, the more specific the technology to the idea or concept you are teaching, the more effective it is.

It is not the technology that is the issue anymore than you can blame the introduction of ball point pens in the 50's for a decline in writing skills. It is how the technology is used in the classroom. The use of the technology at the right time, for the right reason is the point to consider. Its not the tool, but the use of the tool that counts.

If all we are using technology solutions for is to have our students create multimedia presentations, than we are misinformed about how to integrate technology to enrich our curriculums. Our use of information technology must be a focused use of communication tools. That means analysis, writing and communicating need to be the center of our technology use.
We are not training our youth for the jobs of today as they probably will not exist (as we know them) in the American society tomorrow.

Educators have a difficult job. Teaching in the MTV generation is a challenge when so much the students interact with is doled out in sub-second cuts at a time...fast moving images and data that are intended to end and change before attention span is lost. That makes the education process, so dependent on practice, drilling, reptition on the hierarchy of skill sets...seem protracted and boring to kids...both advanced and borderline. The use of technology can help bridge that, but only if used in the context of the learning process as a tool...especially to facilitate the teacher-student interaction, quicker feedback, and reduction of time-consuming tasks not related to the learning process (time spent having to learn the technology, grading of work, etc.). I remember when calculators were first allowed to be used in class, many thought this would hurt the kids abilities to actually do math. In cases where the drills weren't learned, it is probably true...but illustrates the point for technology in classroom. Mastering the learning process is the key...then using the technology to apply those things. Thats how we need to help facilitate the wonderful and challenging work that teachers have set before them. Technology to advance the student-teacher learning process, not for the sake of technology alone.

Diverting from academic content is not the same as turning kids into illiterates or denying kids an education. Personally, I'm all for tracking students into a technical path if academic content turns them off. They still have to read, write and do math for technical jobs. If one wants an technical education, let em. Not everyone wants nor needs an "academic content" lifestyle. Just who will fill technical jobs anyhow? They require analytical thought to maintain and also pay bills thus offer security in the global economy (got to have money to buy that foreign car). We can offer tracks to our students and still make them critical thinkers by just doing our job: teach. It is NOT our job to tell them what jobs they should fill.

Diverting from academic content is not the same as turning kids into illiterates or denying kids an education. Personally, I'm all for tracking students into a technical path if academic content turns them off. They still have to read, write and do math for technical jobs. If one wants an technical education, let em. Not everyone wants nor needs an "academic content" lifestyle. Just who will fill technical jobs anyhow? They require analytical thought to maintain and also pay bills thus offer security in the global economy (got to have money to buy that foreign car). We can offer tracks to our students and still make them critical thinkers by just doing our job: teach. It is NOT our job to tell them what jobs they should fill (vocational or white collar).

Once again one of the strange splits of American education raises its head. One must wonder why, in this age, there must be a conflict between “academics” and “vocational” Are they or must they be mutually exclusive?

Technology may in fact assist in breaking these barriers, we as educators should look at technology not as an assault, but as a tool that may enhance our mission. It is up to the teacher, do you teach the student how the pen works, or how to use the pen. The same applies to application software….

As a higher education researcher and instructor of distance education, I have found that the current quality of online-course materials is so inadequate that I have to agree with Alan Warhaftig that we have been diverted from what is important in education. Because of poor quality online-content, I believe students are being "reved up and dumbed down." Poor quality materials require more time to read through. Onliner learners scan material, look for concepts, and rarely notice images. I admit that I am guilty of being impressed with technology skills higher education students demonstrate. Now that the technology frenzy has quited down somewhat, I have to question whether the content of those student products was approppriate for the multimedia. We are still in the pioneer stages of online instructional design that renders interfaces as pleasant as a well-written book.

It's an age-old lament - "What's the matter with kids today!?" Even Plato is quoted as having said something similar. The kids' technology is a communication environment that flows like water over and around them. Into that fluid environment, teachers can convey all kinds of important content. Kids do learn differently now than we did. The communication multitasking they do is efficient and effective for them. For example, music helps to shield learners from distractions from boring lessons - with music they retain more. Video images help convey a broader "pipe" of information - "a picture is worth 1000 words." We adults should note that those who stay close to young people tend to live longer, richer lives. If we learned to swim in the media-rich environment they thrive in, rather than standing on the shore critical of their methods, we might find out that the water's warm!! Who knows, we might find out they are learning things we never imagined! The complicated whole-world multiparty on-line games they play are the best political science immersion teaching technique I could have imagined. Took me a long time to understand how cool a learning tool those games can be. Wonder what else we don't know about what the kids are up to today?

Coming from a college that has laptop classes, I think that technology should be in the classroom. But the question remains, how do we as educators incorporate technology? There is no easy answer.

The key is balance. There needs to be a balance of computer/technology education as everything else. I think that technology should be seen for what it is, a tool for communication and information. Teachers have to be careful not to substitute technology education for other areas of the curiculum (ex. handwriting) that are equally important. The difficulty lies in how do teachers today teach more material in the same amount of time?

The comment by Peter Crownfield 1/5/06 hit the nail on the head. Computers are an essential part of our world and deserve a place in each child's education but this place should not be one of priority especially at the elementary level. Children need a foundation for all learning and that learning takes place by seeing, hearing, practice and reinforcement within a social environment and interactions with both peers and the teacher. Can this all take place on a computer? Some may say yes, most of it but I hope I never see it in my lifetime. Computers are a tool and can be a means to an end but as a carpenter relies on various tools, our children must be equipped with a variety of resources within the necessary social arena.

English teacher Alan Warhaftig argues that the emphasis on technology in the classroom harkens back to an earlier era of vocationalism in schools and threatens "to divert attention from academic content." A technology-infused curriculum, he argues, may weaken students' intellectual skills and, ironically, jeopardize their ability to thrive in the global economy.


What's your view? Do computers in the classroom detract from deeper academic learning? How should technology be used in schools? What skills, vocational or otherwise, do today's students need to learn, and how are they best taught?

Technology in the classroom is the most important teaching/learning tool teachers can utilize. Student learning increases, retention is greater and assessment scores are higher. Academic content is not ignored or lost by when technology is used properly. Teachers have technology instructinal standards to follow and when lesson plans are created properly computers in the classroom can be one of the greatest learning tools available. However, the essential element in technology(computers) in the classroom is teacher classroom management. The teacher who know little or nothing about integrating computers into the classroom based on the national technology standards will have less success at integrating the technology and will HARM THE STUDENTS EDUCATION. These teachers are only integrating computers into their lesson plans because they have been either given a directive, or are "attempting" to impress their administrators with computer usage. It is my experience that the teacher who has poor classroom management in their everyday teaching will also have poor or worse classroom management when using computers in the classroom. The standards are not followed by these teachers. However the teacher who has appropriate classroom management skills will more than likely have better teacher computer skills and will manage the class and teach to the proper technology standards.

Computers are used in all classrooms in the middle school where I teach. Students learn a variety of tasks and career skills using the computers. Computers open up the door to students who otherwise cannot focus in a traditional lecture/task environment. Computers provide another avenue to reach all the intelligences of learners. Yes, it is important that students have the basics, reading skills, writing skills, math skill, but computers also help to enhance these and advance student learning. TEACHERS, YOU MUST GET USED TO THE FACT- COMPUTERS ARE HERE TO STAY - if teachers are unwilling to become literate and use computers to enhance learning, then they need to move on and out of education.

I just read a quote by Alexander Luria written back in 1928 that aptly applies to the use of computers today. "Man differs from animals in that he can make and use tools. These tools not only radically change his conditions of existence, they even react on him in that they effect a change in him and his psychic condition." As teachers, we need to learn how to incorporate the new tools of technology into our curriculum, because, like it or not, our technology-immersed students' conditions of existence, as well as their psychic conditions, have radically changed and will continue to change in ways that we cannot, as of yet, even perceive.

I agree with Alan Warhaftig that the digital age has swooped down so quickly that it has taken us by storm--forcing reflection and reassessment of what our educational priorities should be. Kathy Melendez nails the problem with technology when she states, "The teacher who knows little or nothing about integrating computers into the classroom based on the national technology standards will have less success at integrating the technology and will HARM THE STUDENTS EDUCATION." I have seen far too many multimedia presentations with excessive special effects sounds and visuals and superficial content. These students are missing out on academic learning when the time that should be spent on reading and learning is spent on clicking on transitions and downloading music. Many students spend disproportionate time creating their presentations with dazzling effects and snappy itunes, and little time in actual research, planning, drafting and rewriting scripts. But I have also seen too many academic projects that do not use digital technology that also miss the mark with glitz and hype and fail to incorporate a thoughtful thesis and supporting evidence that documents thorough academic research and learning. Without more training in curriculum integration and project methodology, the hallmarks of good teaching are cast aside. With the accessibility of digital technology, mediocrity prevails in the majority of classrooms where many educators do not know how to pace tech projects and most have not themselves learned the fundamentals of design and layout of multimedia presentations or the tenets of scholastic journalism in this era when anyone can be a desktop publisher. Another issue that roils the tech landscape is the elitist attitude that only teachers trained in graphic communications and media should be teaching students tech production. Perhaps more of us should be elitist for the general academic welfare of our students. Bring back increased funding for the vocational education courses our students so desperately need to continue to meet the digital demands of our future workforce. Let adequate learning time be spent on assimilating content in the academic disciplines without distraction of digital technology if the students or teachers have not demonstrated the ability to meet the academic or tech standards.

As a technology teacher in an elementary school, my philosophy regarding the usage of technology in the classroom is that technology should be used as a tool to support other academic objectives not replace them. Just as technology can be used to enhance everyday life, it cannot replace everything we do. Email is great, but it can't replace the benefits one derives from intimate contact with the people we love. On line shopping is convenient, however, sometimes we need to have contact with the items or the retailers we are purchasing from. Computer-based tutorials cannot replace the benefits derived from instruction from human teachers.

I think appropriately implemented network-based technology can contribute significantly to many benifitial aspects for learners of EFL . They can tackle a huge amount of human experience , thier motivation will be increased , they can use various resources of authentic materials , interact with classmates and others ..etc .
AS we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century , we realize that techology as such is not the answer to all our problems . What really matter is how we use technology . Computers can/will never substitute teachers but they can offer new opportunities for better language practice . They may actually make the process of language learning significantly richer and play a key role in the reform of a country's educational system .The next generation of students will feel alot more confident with IT than we do . As a result , they will also be able to use the INternet to communicate more effectly , practice language skills more thoroughly and solve language learning problems more easily .

Like most innovations, computer technology is not the panacea many want it to be. While it does offer a universe of information at our and students' fingertips, it also requires TEACHERS as well as students to be more clever if it is to truly make a difference. For example, we cannot simply assign a "research paper" without giving the assignment parameters that encourage critical thinking. If we don't, the result is "cut and paste" plagiarism. Happily, that same technology offers services that can detect plagiarism at the press of a key! Technology is just like any other convenience, if you use it well and correctly, your life is enhanced; if you use it as a crutch for unimaginative teaching and unegaged learning, it, like the television before it, will add to the dumbing down of our "post-literate" society.

I can remember when I was in elementary and throughout high school when there wasn't as much emphasis on technology integrated lessons. Even though I had exceptional teachers, I must say a little background information on technology would have aided me during my first years of college. I believe that well-resourced teachers are the key to student success; however, living in a world where technology is widely used and valued why not prepare your students before they reach that avenue. Allowing students to explore information in books, educational films, internet, etc… only helps develop their intellect. I do not think it lessens their ability to think critically, it gives students a broader outlook on educational facts.

I'm currently attending school online. This does not limit my ability to think critically. Those who are responding to this discussion are using a computer and I presume that they are using critical thinking when they choose to respond.

Computers are tools. I have not had to long hand a paper in quite some time. This does not mean that I don't think about what I am writing and that I do not do multiple drafts. The editing tools make this an easy task to do, but thinking about what they say are still needed.

Students should be taught to research on the net and to distinguish what is a good reference and what is not. These are things that should be taught.

There is more that can help students when it comes to technology and the way we can use it to help them with thinking skills that are necessary in any part of life.

Computers in the classsroom is a too narrow perspective. Learning takes place everywhere - at home, in libraries, in boys and girls clubs, and many more places.

Portable video devices are prevalent today. They can be carried with you in a vehicle while traveling, on the beach, while walking in a park, etc.

Video game platforms like Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) and others are designed for quick interactivity. They are ideal for learning. More than a hundred million have been sold in the US, but not in schools for educational purposes

For example, the PSP has triggers to quickly replay what you have just seen or done, to step forward to the next chapter or frame, or to freeze frame at any point so you can study a graph, a picture or whatever. The student is in control.

Test requirements for high school graduation purposes are known or else tests couldn't be developed for that purpose. Since the content is known for graduation, basics can be programmed and targeted to meet those requirements. In math, one must know that 4 + 4 = 4 before you can go beyond that basic. Similarly for English and other subjects. Computer assisted learning has been in use since the 1960s and, it is used extensively today throughout business, industry and higher level educational institutions.

Applications can be programmed easily into portable devices like the PSP so people of all ages can learn the basics and beyond and do it outside of the classroom. Also, they are good for review of subject material at any age - Pre-K and beyond.

Interactive Automated Assisted Learning (IAAL) should be used for Student Centered Learning (SCL) rather than for Teacher Centerd Models (TCM). DVD and video game technologies have advanced to the point where they are cost-effective. Some home video game platforms cost less than $150 whereas the portable PSP costs $250 and, they can connect to the Internet using wireless technologies.

Game platforms can and do keep score since this is inherent in the software and the devices; so this can fulfill the needs for NCLB accountability. Since scoring is at the student level, accountability can be used in many ways throughout the education system at all levels for many purposes defined by administrators.

Handheld portable devices like the PSP video game platform should be used to teach the WHAT of a subject while teachers should be used to teach the HOW to learn a subject. This will give teachers more time to concentrate on those students who need help while others can move forward at their own pace.

"Any time, any place, any path any pace" is a Florida Virtual School motto.

Video game devices are ideal for the education system to fulfill this motto.

Regards, Stan Doore

Computers in the classsroom is a too narrow perspective. Learning takes place everywhere - at home, in libraries, in boys and girls clubs, and many more places.

Portable video devices are prevalent today. They can be carried with you in a vehicle while traveling, on the beach, while walking in a park, etc.

Video game platforms like Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) and others are designed for quick interactivity. They are ideal for learning. More than a hundred million have been sold in the US, but not in schools for educational purposes

For example, the PSP has triggers to quickly replay what you have just seen or done, to step forward to the next chapter or frame, or to freeze frame at any point so you can study a graph, a picture or whatever. The student is in control.

Test requirements for high school graduation purposes are known or else tests couldn't be developed for that purpose. Since the content is known for graduation, basics can be programmed and targeted to meet those requirements. In math, one must know that 2 + 2 = 4 before you can go beyond that basic. Similarly for English and other subjects. Computer assisted learning has been in use since the 1960s and, it is used extensively today throughout business, industry and higher level educational institutions.

Applications can be programmed easily into portable devices like the PSP so people of all ages can learn the basics and beyond and do it outside of the classroom. Also, they are good for review of subject material at any age - Pre-K and beyond.

Interactive Automated Assisted Learning (IAAL) should be used for Student Centered Learning (SCL) rather than for Teacher Centered Models (TCM). DVD and video game technologies have advanced to the point where they are cost-effective. Some home video game platforms cost less than $150 whereas the portable PSP costs $250 and, they can connect to the Internet using wireless technologies.

Game platforms can and do keep score since this is inherent in the software and the devices; so this can fulfill the needs for NCLB accountability. Since scoring is at the student level, accountability can be used in many ways throughout the education system at all levels for many purposes defined by administrators.

Handheld portable devices like the PSP video game platform should be used to teach the WHAT of a subject while teachers should be used to teach the HOW to learn a subject. This will give teachers more time to concentrate on those students who need help while others can move forward at their own pace.

"Any time, any place, any path any pace" is a Florida Virtual School motto.

Video game devices are ideal for the education system to fulfill this motto.

Regards, Stan Doore

I have taught school for 27 years and was one of the first teachers to get actively involved with computers in education. Over the years, I have become increasingly disappointed with technology. I now believe computers have caused a crisis in education. We have allowed students to use spell check and calculators to the point that a disturbing number of them can not spell simple words or do basic multiplication and division. We have created a monster that is now killing our youth.

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