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Tech Qualms


"Computers will eventually play a significant role in K-12 instruction, but the what, how, and when have yet to be determined," writes Alan Warhaftig in a recent Classroom Tech article. In the meantime, he argues, educators must resist the efforts of "technological utopians who denigrate nondigital learning and vendors who shamelessly hype potential not evident in actual products. ..."

What's your view? Are some educational technologies being pushed on schools before their instructional effectiveness has been demonstrated? How can technology be "sensibly integrated" with instruction?


I haven't seen any software that can effectively teach a child how to read, how to write, and how to compute. Computers at the k-5 elementary level are entirely useless, and for those educators who push it -- and many do -- demonstrate so little appreciation for the importance of the teacher. I recall visiting one of the local elementary schools in allegedly esteemed Long Island where computers were introduced into every elementary classroom. In a 4th grade classroom the teacher was entering data into an excel spreadsheet while the children watched on a big screen monitor. What a lost opportunity to have the children really understand a graph by plotting the points on graph paper. In another classroom, the children rotated on the computers with headphones for a reading program. The children would read a story and answer questions at the end. Do we really need expensive computers and software to do what the RSA's did when I was a kid. Seems like an awful waste of money.

The technology companies that have effectively marketed their products to schools aren't interested in whether children learn, they are only interested in making a profit. They are like drug pushers. Once they have you hooked, you have to continually feed your habit with new versions of the software and hardware while the companies secure a steady revenue stream.

It's also the same scourge that is destroying curriculum: the book publishers need to continually change the approach to sell new books. I truely believe that capitalism is bad for education. We've sent man to the moon, but we haven't mastered the techniques to teach reading and math. Of course we know what they are, but if the educators stay with the approaches that work, the book publishers couldn't continually increase revenue at the rates their shareholders desire.

I'm amazed at how educators have bought into the entire technology line. My generation and the earlier ones who are predominantly responsible for creating all this wonderful technology, never had computers in the classroom. How did we do it? We did it because we mastered the skills of reading, writing and computing. As someone who works in the technology business, those skills are just as important today, and they are most effectively taught by a good teachers with a good curriculum and motivated students.

I was a technology "sucker" during the early years of my teaching career. I would have to agree with Bill somewhat - a lot of the edutech stuff out there is about making business. I got my degree in edtecch, so I can ramble about it on and on... but as a educator, I've finally made my piece with technology in my classroom.

Technology is pretty much like the textbook, paper, project, pencil or whatever tool you use in your classroom to help you bring meaning to the content to your students. When I am properly trained on a piece of technology, heck, I can go all the way with it. But between the grading and curriculum developing, who has the time? I noticed that technology that works in the classroom for me are technology I've chosen to truly adopt into my life, literally. Email, ichat, desktop printing, TV, VCR.... they are easier to use cause I am confortable with them. Its great that the companies want to sell us all this great equipment - but people, invest more money in training teachers how to use those things! Invest in the research that monitor and refine their success. Technology that has been used repeatedly by educators, followed up with research (have you checked out Easy Grade Pro?)... are always much more successful than any fly by night gadget (remember those apple emates?)

Teachers should NOT be forced to use technology in their classrooms 'cause the fad says so... teachers and school should use technology if the tool will serves a need, and the support is available to make the technology sustainable in the community. If only this was so easy......

I am a special education resource teacher in an elementary school amd use computers in my classroom on a regular basis. I agree with Bill that they cannot replace the teacher. However, they can be used to in a positive and productive manner to supplement/reinforce what has been taught. I urge Bill to investigate the following programs:

Fasttmath -Tom Synder Productions
SIO- www.donjohnston.com
Wordmaker - Don Johnston
Write Out Loud
Working Phonics
Edmark: Let's Go Read

Go To www.hprtec.org and check out Trackstar

These are the programs that I use in my classroom to provide practice for my students. I am particularly impressed with SIO, Wordmaker, and Fasttmath. In fact I am doing my Doctoral Dissertation on the use of computer assisted instruction to improve math fluency. Students enjoy these programs and it provides necessary practice and review of concepts presented previously by the teacher. I hope that Bill will keep an open mind and investigate these programs.

I have been teaching chemistry for many years and have always been looking for new ways to convey difficult concepts to students. I have been using powerpoint for about 7 years and really like it. My presentations include animations, 5 minute films from discs and the internet,as well as my own tutorials on problem solving. It took a while to do all this, but student response and achievement has been great. Another good point with technology is online texts. The one I use includes animations and tutorials. Students that use it really like it. In physics and biology there are sites where students can do experiments on line. The teachers that use these sites say that students learn from them. I draw the line here. There are also sites on the internet to do virtual labs in chemistry, but I believe that we learn best by getting all our senses involved. So I don't use them. Our math department uses tutorials in their math labs especially for preparing for state testing. They say they are good as well. So technology can be used effectively, but it is just another tool in a teachers toolbox. You still can't ask it questions or have it show you the same concept but in a different way. Until you can, you will still need a teacher.

Technology is a powerful learning tool in the right hands. I use the Internet, smart interactive whiteboards, and handheld computers in my elementary classroom on a daily basis with real impact upon writing, research, and math concepts. I cannot do the same quantity or quality of instruction without these tools.

That said, I have to agree that schools and classrooms using such tools without proper training and development are likely to be wasting their time and educational dollars.

Finally, I have to add that I use all of this technology as a result of grantwriting, begging, borrowing, and..you get the picture. Ultimately, the time I spend on "funding" may not really be worth it to me or the students.

If technology continues to be a "requirement" from the perspective of the populous, then it should be properly funded on an annual basis. Unfortunately, once the funding is dedicated, chances are good much will be wasted on inappropriate technologies or technologies that come without proper staff development. Shame. Seldom is the classroom teacher actually asked for his or her advice on the subject.

I'm a college professor with a Master in Education Technology Application. I used to be a Fashion Designer in NY. Teaching with technology (CAD) is helping my students get better jobs opportunities in the fashion field, and that's
the purpose for any type of instruction. We have to remember that using technology in the classroom should not precluded knowledge of the subject matter. I try to interject both and it works.

I am a big fan of teaching the students about technology and computers. They need to know how we got the information we now know. They need to know how to use the computer and understand how it works.

This does not mean to teach all the lessons on the computer. Every student needs to know how to do things the 'long' way by pencil and paper in order to comprehend just how technology helps us. They also need to know what to enter in the computer for the spreadsheet to compute and the typed letter to look its best.

While computer programs help students in many ways, the students still need the hands on practice with manipulatives and the science lab just to experience things first hand.

A strictly computerized classroom just does not cut it.

I am a researcher trying to understand the theoritical underpinnings of inservice teacher training. It so happened when my daughter was using a particular software, to solve mathematical problems. Those concepts like addition and sultiplication which were already familiar to her made her to explore forther. here it was more or less consolidation of concepts. How ever she and a few of her friends did not find it interestiong to work on fractions untill they learnt those concepts through direct interaction with their teacher. This a sort of puzzled me. Do we need computer for first hand learning or for consolidation of the already learnt concepts. Hence all of the above comments I feel go parallel to each other. There is that benefit of using computers for teaching and learning certain concepts( say using google.earth to understand certain aspects of geography which was hither to very abstract) and those which need only hands on experience( say dissecting a cockroach, smelling esters) and interactive discussion in a group led by teachers or seniors. how ever I feel it is most urgent to clearly list out all those which essentially need copmputer aid and those which can never use computer. Secondly it is also worth while to make a distinction on whether to use computer first and then hands on experience or first hands on experience and then use computer to probe further.

Some fair points have been made in support of computers, but I would still argue that it's a poor use of capital and the returns on investment just aren't proven. Yes, we ought to teach students about technology. That's a good thing, but that's different than using technology to instruct. Sure vocational training where computers are used is also good, but to teach reading, math, science, or history, I'm unconvinced of it's benefit.

My most memorable teachers, were ones that had mastery of the subject, and could clearly communicate there knowledge in an engaging style. But what made them most memorable was the give and take during the instruction. I could ask a probing questiong, get an interesting answer that stimulated further questions and other students then began to be stimulated to ask intersting questions. I've never seen that kind of interaction where computers were heavily used in the classroom. If we give that up for computers in the classroom, it's a sad day for education.

People learn from humans. A child struggling to learn a concept with a teacher is helpless with a computer. Only a human can probe the failures to grasp a concept and create novel ways to educate the struggling student. Computers are a poor substitute -- no comparison really. From my experience, the weaker students derive less benefit from the computer.

Computers start to become useful in the higher grades. I believe the right software in a lab setting can really help a student understand concepts. In this I'm thinking of simulation software that allows a student to see how variables in a system relate to one another. This is not easily achieved without computers.

But really, I have to go with my own personal experiences. Being in the hi-tech industry, I've had the opportunity to work with many Indian professionals. None of these people have seen computers until college level, yet they have mastered difficult concepts and are now winning our jobs while the US students have had the luxury of all this great technology for well over a decade now, but yet it seems to give them no competitive advantage in the new hi-tech economy, and I'm finding that the US students just don't have the creative analytical savy of early generations of American engineers -- not all of course, but less. Sorry folks, computers are a distraction that diverts our attention away from what is necessary to improve the quality of education in this society.

As I see it, we need to get back to the basics. This is what they do in India. Students have a firm grounding in the basics at an early age. Second, drill and killl works in the early grades. This is what allows young learners to master crtical concepts that allow for the ability to grasp more complicated concepts in the later grades. We're not setting a sufficient foudation in the early grades. Computers can help with drilling, but they mostly aren't used that way in schools because it's gauche.

Third, lets finally accept that learning is sometimes painful and difficult. Ask anyone who has achieved some level of mastery and success in an area, and they will all describe the hard work and pain it takes to get there. Ask an accomplished athlete, and he will tell you about the many hours of drill and kill to develop his skills to the point of mastery. He will tell you about the pain of attending practice daily and to exhaustion. Yet in spite of all that, the successful athlete persists to accomplish great feats. The effort to make learning easy and fun is watering down education.

Let's use our own experience. I know for me, while I was a good student, getting good grades took work and I didn't always want to do it. I liked learning, but I didn't like studying, I didn't like the homework, and I hated the research papers. But this effort was required to learn, to master, and finally to accomplish goals. Computers are offered as the elixer for these barriers to learning, but it just isn't. Computers just don't solve the problem of student discipline and motivation, which is a key barrier to learning and mastery at the elementary and secondary grades.

In conclusion, educators will continue to advance computers as the wonder drug while students become dependent on the drug to do the things they shouldn't ever require the tool to for, like calculate the change at a checkout counter -- have you noticed how many young kids today are helpless in this area without the computer? All the while, we will debate this subject never really addressing the barriers to higher levels of learning and mastery.

Let me clarify my objection. I believe the computer is a poor instructional aid for teaching the subjects of reading, writing, arithemetic, history, and science -- especially at the early grades, and their use in those areas, which is predominatly advocated by educators, is a waste of money and detracts from helping children to master those subjects while contributing to making them ill prepared for middle school and high school.

I tend to agree with Bill (above). Students need to be aware that the computer is one tool to assist in learning and publishing of work, but it is not possible to allow it to replace the basic learning necessary to have understanding of the skills needed for academic success. It should not be the obligation of the elementary schools to teach all the basic foundations for every subject and additionally teach topics that require analytical thinking and synthesis, too. It seems that true "education" has been ruined by thoughts of having students better prepared for the work world at an earlier and earlier age. When is it going to stop?

I have been working in this district for 11 years and have been a member of the tech committee for most of those years. Our state has a Technology Standards Manual and the tech committee has developed long range tech plans which have been difficult to implement or maintain. Certain teachers do things in isolation rather than as a grade level. We had some "training" but it was left up to our own initiative to take it as far as our interest and time would allow.

Now we are working on integrating the tech standards into other areas of the course of study. It is a daunting task. Many teachers don't quite have the skills to implement these ideas and are bogged down by the idea that we must integrate so much into the curriculum at the kindergarten level.

The difficulty lies in the amount of time it takes to get everyone "up to speed" and the manner in which we have been trained. We have been given optional courses on 4 nights which cover coursework for 4 complete tech courses. We are then expected to understand all this because we have been "trained." The only way to become good at this is to spend many hours outside of the classroom figuring out how to use the tech tools. Many teachers don't have the time to do this. Many have second jobs to help make ends meet. Many have young children at home or elderly parents to take care of.

In any case, we have been forced to accept that technology is essential to the everyday classroom (K - 4 in our school, K - 12 district wide)even though we have one lab in our school for 650 students, and we have 5 computers per class (which usually aren't all in working order). And we have varied computers in our rooms, so some aren't compatible with many of the features needed to have full use of the internet (downloads for streaming video, javascript, updates for Adobe Acrobat Reader, etc.) The computers crash in the midst of lessons, too.

The expectations seem to be that all teachers will be willing to embrace technology and teach themselves how to do all that is necessary for implementation, accepting that proven methods from the past aren't effective, and accepting that unproven tools are "better."

The point is, we have more and more demands in this state to meet NCLB standards which are not designed for the average kids or the lower kids to grasp. There is not extra time in the school day for additional instruction, so we need to integrate.

Another issue that I have run into, particularly when using the internet in a lab, is the fact that when 30 computers hit a site simultaneously, the site runs more slowly, and students become impatient with the lessons. This happens in teacher training, too.

I suppose I believe that technology can be a good thing, but it can't take the place of having a human being teaching the individual students to deal with the actual world instead of the virtual world. It just seems that it hasn't been proven to be more effective than delivery by a live teacher. I see it more as an alternative means of teaching, gradually exposing students to the fact that it is an available tool for teaching and learning. It is not a replacement for teachers.

It must also be recognized that there are some students that need one on one attention with the use of the computer as well as with paper and pencil activities. Some students will spend 30 minutes typing something that they could have written in 3 minutes. There are more students with that difficulty than those who will type faster than they can write.

And while simulations are useful at times, they aren't necessarily superior to videos followed by actual experimentation. Of course, simulations of weather phenomena are one example of excellent learning opportunities.

If money weren't an issue and every student could have a computer at his/her personal disposal, the usage of technology could thrive. (Colleges require students to buy their own these days.) I don't see parents providing their elementary-aged children with personal computers for class! Until that happens, or until it is possible to have the same access for all students and all classrooms, full implementation will be difficult.

I realize that I ramble here. It is a hot button topic for me. I have tried to learn as much as possible and utilize as much as possible, but as the other demands of teaching continue to increase, there is less time to do the things I used to do with technology! And, now they are asking for us to do more!

When we aren't sure of our classroom assignment until August, it isn't easy to design lessons during the summer, either. I just don't think that the people in charge of making sweeping decisions have any idea of how difficult it is for teachers to do it ALL, do it NOW, and do it WELL. We need things packaged in a manner that we can be sure that we have utilized tech accurately and effectively, without having to spend hours and hours figuring out how to get it all integrated.

Teachers don't know who to go to in order to let them know we need to have the tools there for easy usage, not a menu of ideas that will cause us to have less and less time for a life outside of the classroom. Technology changes too quickly and this creates constant needs for changing the tools. Schools funded by the property taxes of homeowner (as we are unfortunately bound to in our state) do not have sufficient monies for funding replacement for obsolete computers as is needed every year.

I wish someone would tell me how sacrificing the time and energy it takes to learn, understand and appreciate Shakepeare to, instead, sit in a computer lab and download "artifacts" that prove proficiency into a digital portfolio, will at some point in their futures benefit my students. I think that technology in the classroom is a wonderful theory, but how does it fit? It seems to me that our exponentially demanding system of education in this country now expects more than student and teachers can produce. Here is why I think this.

I work in an middle-upper class suburban high school that houses both a traditional high school and a vocational school. We have close to 2000 students enrolled. We have less than one computer per classroom, and two student computer labs of thirty computers in each. In addition, we have a dozen or so laptop computers called a "portable lab." Despite the lack of student-available computers, our school has recently implemented a "Student Proficiency Portfolio" in which each student is required to submit (upload) at least two "artifacts" from each course he or she is taking per year. These "artifacts" are meant to represent a students' proficiency in a course expectation, redubbed a "targeted achievement" (Is anyone else tired of the people who sit around and make up these terms?). These portfolios are meant to demonstate student mastery in each grade in each subject area, and a student supposedly will not be allowed to advance to the next grade without having done this. I know this is not easy to follow if you are not familiar with these digital poprtfolios, but they are a lot like a senior portfolio, only it is kept for all four years of high school. Therin lies the first problem we as teachers of writing have found. Very few 9th, 10th and even 11th graders can demonstrate proficiency in writing these days. As a matter of fact, in comparing samples from this academic year and an 11th grade CP class just four years ago, the depreciation in skill is dramatic. So, what do we as teachers do with students without writing skills to meet expectations? We teach them, and teach them, and edit and revise and edit and revise, until proficiency is leanred. But in one year? Not possible? And what has happened in the past few years to produce such poor writers? Standardized testing and poor-time consuming integration of technology.

English teachers are not the only ones with trouble integrating this technological program into their daily instruction. Math teachers, foreign language teachers, are being asked to create assignments that show mastery of certain concepts, learning milestones. But how? A geometry teacher has "all" of her students pass a test and that test is scanned and put online? How does this demonstrate mastery? How does this demonstrate that all students understood that very same concept? Are we completely blind to the fact that not all stduents will master all areas of learning in the timetables that we set? How about that foreign language teacher. Is he or she supposed to spend all that extra time in her school day recording conversations one by one of her over one hundred students? How much instructional time must be used to assess her students in a way that meets our standards of foreign language achievement?

The digital portfolio idea is a good one, but it has not been thought-out, implemented in a realistic manner. This is the problem with many of the new applications of technology in the classroom. It is time that we looked at technology relistically, instead of as this miracle solution to our much greater problems. This country is in trouble if it believes that the integration of technology will make us competitive with the world's educational systems. Four years ago, my 9th graders could write about Shakepeare because they had had the class time to first learn and experience Shakepeare. Today, we spend so much time "producing" technological pieces of proof, there is very little time for this type of indepth learning and creative thought. Our federal and state governments need to understand that in order to prove success, we have to be allowed to be successful.

We, as educational systems are becoming a scam.

There is no avoiding computers in the 21st century. It's not a "love em or leave em" situation. The only way to keep up with the pace of progress is with technology. Students need to learn how to learn. There is no way we, as teachers, can keep up with the growth of knowledge and provide for the students all they need to know to achieve in the 21st century. The computer can do this.

Our challenge is not to replace the teacher with technology but for the teacher to use technology with students in a way that encourages students to learn on their own.

A computer will never take the place of a teacher in learning the basics. Once the basics are learned, however, there should be no stopping students from going beyond the basics on their own. The computer is a vehicle through which students are no longer vessels to be filled, but engines charging on pathways to infinity.

"...but engines charging on pathways to infinity. " Why is that many educators resort to these feeble platitudes to make it sound like they have something significant to say?

The computer is no more powerful a tool than a good book. Go to any book store and you will see some of the hotest selling books are the computer books. Professionals in the computer industry rely on these books to learn and keep current with the latest technology. Why is it that the people creating this technology rely on books to expand their knowledge and not the computer? Could it be that a book is still the best vehicle for conveying knowledge? The professionals I work with think so, and I haven't met one that doesn't have a whole library of them.

Wow, Bill. First you attack the idea that educational technology can improve instruction, then you attack folks like Louise that might disagree with you. A good teacher with all the books, technolgy and other tools will have a better chance of reaching all the students than a good teacher with only a textbook. If you believe in differentiated instruction, teachers need all the alternative teaching strategies they can get. This is not a case of books OR computers, it's a case of books AND computers AND smartboards AND community-based resources AND probes AND graphing calculators AND every other tool teachers can get their hands on.

i think comp cant replace teachers becuse teachers have more experience than a comp. they teach us moral value which a comp cant. the teach us hoe to live in a society which again a coomp cant..

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • KARISHMA: i think comp cant replace teachers becuse teachers have more read more
  • Gene/Adminstrator: Wow, Bill. First you attack the idea that educational technology read more
  • Bill: "...but engines charging on pathways to infinity. " Why is read more
  • Louise - computer teacher: There is no avoiding computers in the 21st century. It's read more
  • Diane/secondary English: I wish someone would tell me how sacrificing the time read more




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