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The Flickering Mind

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the switch-to-lcd-minds dept.

Education 455

daltonlp writes "The Flickering Mind deals a crippling blow to the blind faith that educators and politicians place in computers as solutions to education's woes. The level of research and breadth of evidence is tremendous. The book sums up America's past 20 years of false promises, senseless faddism, and wasted millions in attempts to computerize the nation's education system. And no, open source won't help a bit." Read on for the rest of Dalton's review of The Flickering Mind.

What's bad:

The first 350 pages of The Flickering Mind are as depressing as anything I've read. In case after case, Oppenheimer describes politicians' and educators' mindless acceptance of claims by technology pundits and technology companies. The sheer number of tax dollars poured into worthless software and soon-to-be-obsolete hardware is appalling The fact that so few lessons have been learned in 20 years beggars the imagination.

Those are my words, not the author's. The book's examples are laid out in very plain, factual language. No raving rants, no wild tangents. Just record after record, study after study, interview after interview.

Oppenheimer has researched the book by interviewing teachers, students, former students, educational software employees, district policymakers and government officials across the U.S. People with hands-on experience using things like distance-learning systems, CD-ROM-based textbooks, math and reading games, multimedia software, student laptops, school intranets, web-based research papers, and dozens of pieces of educational technology.

A recurring theme in these interviews is how computers either make formerly easy things harder (like classroom discussion), and hard things avoidable (students who know how to copy-paste don't have to construct sentences).

"One English teacher could readily tell which of her students essays were conceived on a computer. "They don't link ideas," the teacher said. "They just write one thing, and then they write another one, and they don't seem to see or develop the relationships between them."

The many interviews give The Flickering Mind a personal feel, and make the reading easier. In many ways, it's like a record of the author's travels from school to school. But one of the book's great strengths is Oppenheimer's unwillingness to rely on anecdotal evidence. Much of the book is devoted to analyzing studies of technology's impact in schools. A good chunk of these studies are commissioned by firms that sell educational software. Not surprisingly, they tend to be shallow and nonscientific. Many pages are spent pointing out flaws in this research. This becomes important when Oppenheimer turns the same critical eye on studies which support his own conclusions. An interesting sub-topic of the book is how very few truly objective educational technology studies exist.

All the evidence against computers as useful learning tools wouldn't be so alarming if computers didn't cost so much. But educators seem especially blind to the continual costs of staying on the technology bandwagon. There are two faces to this problem, and The Flickering Mind addresses both. The first is schools cutting faculty and programs in order to purchase hardware and software. The second is local and national governments granting subsidies and to companies who promise to assist schools with technology. In both cases, taxpayers foot the bill.

The Flickering Mind relies mainly on educators' own criteria for determining how technology helps learning (can the kids read, write, and do math?) But it also takes time to puncture the oft-recycled dogma that society has a shortage of graduates with high-tech skills:

"When employers who were fretting about this gap were asked what skills mattered to them, this is what they said: Most important of all is a deep and broad base of knowledge. "Want to get a job using information technology to solve problems? Know something about the problems that need to be solved." This statement reflected the sentiments of nearly two thirds of the Information Technology Association of America's members. Following far behind this priority was "hands-on experience" with technical work, which less than half the nation's IT managers considered critical (Most apparently felt perfectly capable of teaching those skills on the job.)

What's good:

All is not Luddite doom-and-gloom. The Flickering Mind is careful to highlight the areas where computer technology helps kids learn. Many schools do benefit from computers--as long as the computers are in central labs (not in the classroom), and not networked. One school has a senior-level class in which students build the computers used in the labs. Programming classes are valued by upperclassmen with an interest in technology careers. Some educators have made adjustments, like the teacher who removed all but a single-size font from the machines "so the students can write instead of wasting time adjusting the text".

The final third of the book is an uplifting counterpart to the ignorance and frustration described in the first two thirds. Oppenheimer gives details of visits to several schools which buck the trend of embracing technology as an end in itself. They use computers, but not in the class:

"In an aging brick building on New York's Upper East Side, a dozen teenagers of varying ages, half of whom look like street kids, pull their desks into a circle as their teacher distributes several thick handouts. "You're killing trees," one student complains."

"Yes," says the teacher. "I'm killing lots of trees"

After the students have spent fifteen to twenty minutes with the handouts, discussion begins. The debate is constant and heated. Whenever the dialog bogs down or goes off course, the teacher quickly interrupts. "I want to hear some pieces of evidence here!" he insists.

A university professor contrasted former students of this school with others she'd met: "I've had the experience of asking students a question and there's a one-sentence answer. And it's not a question of shyness or dumbness, but the person hasn't learned how to develop an idea. How to make a statement and then qualify and describe and give examples and illustrations. Each and every one of these people could do that."

Conclusion

The Flickering Mind is one of the most well-researched books I've read. It is well worth checking out from your library. It's even more worth buying, because you'll likely be re-reading it and lending it to your friends.


You can purchase the The Flickering Mind from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, carefully read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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455 comments

Cut 'n' Dried (4, Insightful)

American AC in Paris (230456) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130146)

The Flickering Mind deals a crippling blow to the blind faith that educators and politicians place in computers as solutions to education's woes.

Methinks the submitter doesn't speak with educators and politicians all that often. It's simply absurd to suggest that your typical educator or politician blindly believes that computers are the solution to America's education woes.

One wonders about the reviewer's credentials if this is how he frames the debate surrounding the use of technology in our schools. This is a complex issue with no clear answers--not some good vs. evil Joes 'n' Cobra brawl.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130213)

It's simply absurd to suggest that your typical educator or politician blindly believes that computers are the solution to America's education woes.
Exactly. America blindly believes that terrorists are the root cause of every problem and that 'liberating' some country or other is the solution.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130214)

They don't see is as a full solution to the woes but they see is a big enough part to cut the Arts, Music and any other area that encourages free thinking.

wasteful (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130303)

>> They don't see is as a full solution to the woes but they see is a big enough part to cut the Arts, Music and any other area that encourages free thinking.

of course, artists create art whether or not they are in art class. whereas no-one will build the next generation of robot soldiers unless the market has a glut of engineers and scientists to burn through at half-wages.

b-i-t, t-e-r, & j-a-d-e-d... I'm so pissed... I'm so pissed...

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (5, Insightful)

taliver (174409) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130262)

I have spoken to both educators and politicians, and in my opinion, they both believe that by giving students the 'technological edge', they will be better pupils and move farther faster.

No, the teachers have no idea what the students are doing on the computers. No, the teachers rarely have a clue how to even use them effectively. Yes, they think that by setting a child in front of one, and letting them play 'educational games', that learning will be FUN, and therefore better, and therefore the students will learn more.

And politicians find themselves with a very good problem that they can truly throw money at. "Give every child a laptop!" "Every desk should have a computer!", etc.

I swear if the school my kid attends ever starts pushing computers in front of him, I'll switch to homeschooling where I can trust he'll be reading actual books.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (2, Informative)

phaggood (690955) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130580)

> No, the teachers have no idea what the students are doing on the computers
Well, I'm a teacher rignt now (at least for the next month or so) and I say WHOLEHEARTEDLY computers are very useful in the classroom.
However...
The current machines we have now are crap. Computers for classrooms are like driver's ed classes with Ford Excursions or h/s biology on human cadavers. Too much! You wanna be rich? Invent some pdf reading, .doc, .xls and .ppt using, html viewing palmOS-like ruggetized textbook sized luggable for

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130628)

" ruggetized textbook sized luggable for "

Yeah, I believe your computers are crap, not even a NO CARRIER.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (5, Interesting)

raider_red (156642) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130269)

Unfortunately, a lot of them do. I got into an argument with two friends over this one day. One's the principal of a school in Austin, the other is a teacher there. They both feel that computer skills are the number one thing they need to teach to make sure that students are successful, while I believe that Math and Science are. (I'm a computer professional.)

The fourth person in the argument is a math teacher, (and soon to be head of her school's math department) who feels that computers are a distant second to Math, Science and Writing skills.

Unfortunately, the computer has become the panacea to bad teaching. They think that if you put a student in front of a computer and he is taught to use it, he'll magically acquire a competence in the pure sciences. Really, they'll be qualified to work as data-entry clerks, but the educators don't seem to understand that.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (3, Insightful)

American AC in Paris (230456) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130442)

I agree with you that there exists a body of educators and politicians who do have an inflated sense of the value of technology in our schools. There is also a large contingent of intelligent, informed educators and politicians who have a good understanding of the limitations of computers.

What I disagree with is the sweeping, black-and-white generalizations the reviewer uses to set the tone of the debate. It's wrong and counterproductive to frame the entire educational and political community in such a simple, petty fashion. It makes me think that the reviewer more interested in parading his own opinions than making thoughtful contribution to a complex issue.

Computers do have a place in education, and mistakes are made in both directions when it comes to technology spending in education. To start a discussion by painting educators and politicians as uninformed, mindless zealots does nothing but trivialize the matter at hand.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (3, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130493)

Unfortunately, a lot of them do. I got into an argument with two friends over this one day. One's the principal of a school in Austin, the other is a teacher there. They both feel that computer skills are the number one thing they need to teach to make sure that students are successful, while I believe that Math and Science are. (I'm a computer professional.)

Do you not see your own brand of blindness here? I readily admit I'm a math and science geek, and love both. But I will also say that math and science are completely useless to a LOT of people who could not care less about it, and in fact, it's OKAY that they don't care. Very few things in this world require science or high-level math past arithmetic.

Reading and writing are infinitely more important, because they underpin everything, including critical thinking. I've known a lot of people who liked math and science, but were utterly useless as thinkers. Hell, just look at Slashdot. :)

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130503)

Introduce a child to a computer at a young age and there is no need to teach computer skills. Excuse the pun but you are comparing Apples to Oranges. Math and Science are things you learn over dozens of years of education. Computer and writing skills are just the foundation to the other skills.

I would also point out that Computers would have to be a distant fourth to Math, Science, and Writing. If your math teacher couldn't figure that out then perhaps we have other problems to worry about.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130544)

Hey, wouldn't that make it a distant fourth? Or did I fail math?

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (4, Insightful)

TheWanderingHermit (513872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130337)

As a former teacher, I'd have to agree that teaches do NOT believe computers are the solution. Many teachers avoid computers, since their students know so much more about them than they do.

On the other hand, I have seen cases where politicians are more interested in looking good than in fixing the real problems (would you believe that!?), and come up with plans to use computers and claiming they'll fix all the troubles.

The bottom line is the teacher-student relationship. That is one of the most important factors in teaching. A good teacher (as long as they have support in discipline issues), can teach students with nothing but a blackboard and chalk for the teacher and paper and pencils for the students. Any teacher who thinks computers are the solution should find another job! On the other end, a good teacher who learns how to use computers, could find many ways to integrate them into the classroom and assignments.

I mentioned support on discipline. In my experience, if politicians and educators want to focus on one "answer" that will have the greatest effect on improving education, that's the one subject to tackle: making sure teachers get support on enforcing appropriate classroom behavior. (Just one example: I had an obnoxious student. I had worked with him, kept him after school, given him disciplinary assignments, talked on the phone many times with his parents, and nothing worked. I finally wrote up a referral for him to see the assistant principal. 6 weeks later the referal was in my mailbox with a sticky note saying, "Has this been resolved?" without the principal ever seeing the student. The next year this assistant princiapal was promoted to principal of the county's new school. If you want solutions for education, censure administrators like that and focus on discipline, not on adding computers.) (Sorry for the rant, but it's to point out there are many worse problems in education than worrying about using computers.)

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (1)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130534)

I'd agree that the computers are a symptom of the major problem, which is a general lack of influence of parents in kids lives, and an unwillingness to admit this and turn over any disciplinary control to the dominant influence, the schools. As a result, we end up with just enough students who get zero discipline and ruin school for everyone. Also, schools have become a place where bureaucracy has become the most important thing. I think the best solution would be to allow vouchers and choice, it seems to work pretty darn well at the college level.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130393)

The whole public education is a mess. Its needs reform and not more dollars since we already spend more per student then almsot any other country.
Yet another good reason I want to home school my children.

Maine (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130546)

Maine spent millions of dollars giving every school kid a fucking laptop. Every kid in the whole goddamned state. That right there is plenty of evidence that either politicians, educators, parents, or all three believe this.

Re:Maine (1)

TheWanderingHermit (513872) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130685)

We have a county nearby (Henrico County, VA), where all the students (or maybe all High School students) have Powerbooks. The school system administration definately believes that computers are an answer.

But, when saying that it is evidence that educators believe this, please remember educators is a wide range. In my experience, these decisions are made by administrators who haven't worked in a classroom in a decade or more and the teachers have little or no input.

I'd paraphrase and say it's evidence education administrators, instead of educators as a whole, that believe it.

I have never found a teacher who gave me any reason to believe they thought computers where an "answer" instead of just another teaching tool.

Re:Cut 'n' Dried (1)

the Luddite (778967) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130649)

I work for a College and I can tell you that the overwhelming belief here is that computers will solve all the problems. Of course, their idea of a problem may not match your idea of a problem. A big problem seems to be the cost of instructors who are limited to teaching 32 max students per session and limited to so many sessions per term. Online classes do not have limits on enrolment so you can now teach 100's of students for the same cost and not need a new building for house them! Never mind that the quality suffers because your typical student cares only about how fast they can finish their chosen program...

Most of the people that I have talked to outside the technology field still believe all of the marketing hype about computer related jobs and how they are the key to fast easy riches. They just stare in disbelief when I regale them with stories about 65 hour weeks with little or no recognition or time off (Over what? What time? What what?).

The pace of technology (and our lives because of it) is so fast that the unthinking masses will always be a technological century behind the times and our constant pursuit of personal gains will only make the situation worse with time. If this is news to you, perhaps you should spend less time in front of the computer.

first post? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130149)

first post. no. i'll kill you.

Clifford Stoll's two books (5, Informative)

The I Shing (700142) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130150)

Astronomer Clifford Stoll similarly makes compelling arguments against computers in the classroom (libraries as well) in his books Silicon Snake Oil and High-Tech Heretic.

I saw Clifford Stoll in person at a lecture given in front a group of librarians. He animatedly pointed out, with his lecture notes written on his hand, that in the distant future the jobs that people do will still require old-fashioned learning and hands-on experience.

"If I were around even a hundred years from I now I wouldn't want to visit a dentist who's learned his trade from a CD-ROM," he explained, "I would want a dentist who had hands-on experience at a dental school."

He talked about how software packages make the outrageous claim that they can "make learning fun," when actual learning takes self-discipline, hard work, and effective human teachers.

As for me, I love being able to order books from the library online, and have them sent from faraway libraries to the one down the street from my office, but I still sometimes feel a bit cheated that I had the Dewey Decimal System and its card catalog lookup method drilled into my head from an early age, only to have the latter removed from the library and replaced with a row of computers. When our library system first implemented this change, the computers were far more difficult to operate than the alphabetized drawers of the card catalog. Nowadays, with the web-based system, it's much easier to find exactly what I want, but I still sometimes miss the thrill of the hunt, as it were, flipping through cards organized by subject, title, and author, searching for just the right book.

Re:Clifford Stoll's two books (5, Insightful)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130271)

A computer is a tool. A well prepared mind can make a computer do amazing things, just like a well prepared mind can make a hammer and chisel do amazing things. However, an unprepared mind will just turn the block of stone into a pile of dust. Let's focus on preparing the minds before giving them all the tools. Like the teacher removing all the fonts from the computer, we need to get people to think about what they're doing, not how it looks or is perceived. Reading, discussion, and experimentation are ways to do this, and while they can be done on a computer, the complexity of the system gets in the way. People learn how to use the computer to prepare their minds, when it should be the other way around.

Re:Clifford Stoll's two books (1)

APDent (81994) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130420)

I still sometimes miss the thrill of the hunt, as it were, flipping through cards organized by subject, title, and author, searching for just the right book.

This will sound strange, but I also miss the feel and smell of the hunt. Those cards in their drawers were tactile and aromatic in a way that no computer can match. Also, I'll agree with anyone who says that computers are better at doing the required task of searching, but I miss serendipitous discoveries from nearby cards in the catalog.

Re:Clifford Stoll's two books (4, Insightful)

SquadBoy (167263) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130441)

I was just thinking about this. Let me tell a long story. I'm a network guy and kind of known as a PC/Server guy. I get asked a lot of questions that take me about 10 minutes with Google to find answers to. Now I'll date myself when I was in debate in High School we used to spend hours at the local Uni digging through their stacks to find information and stuff to build debate cases with. This was both fun and I learned a lot about research. I think this accounts for why I can find answers on the web that some of the kids I work with who never really had to do research without computers can not.

Kind of like once you learn math without a calculator you can then do amazing things very quickly when given the tool. But if you never learn math without the calculator you are stuck being able to not do any of those really amazing things the tool can help you do.

"Making learning fun" (5, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130525)

>He talked about how software packages make the outrageous claim that they can "make learning fun," when actual learning takes self-discipline, hard work, and effective human teachers.

Cats and dogs can't survive on instinct alone. Both need to have learned hunting skills. How do they acquire them? They play.

Play is how mammals learn. They expend enormous energy in play. If play weren't a vital function then non-playing creatures would have taken over the world through sheer efficiency.

"Self-discipline, hard work, and effective human teachers" could be a description of what happens when humans "play" soccer.

Learning *is* fun, inherently. We're programmed for it. Any healthy young child is constantly exploring, taking things apart, and asking "why?".

The great mystery of our educational system is how it has made learning seem like a chore.

Re:Clifford Stoll's two books (3, Interesting)

kzinti (9651) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130556)

I saw Stoll give a similar lecture at the Embedded Systems Conference a few years ago. A one-line summary of his thesis: Don't take computers out of the schools, but don't try to substitute them for real learning. Teach kids to use computers, but also teach them why computers work, how to program them, how to take them apart, how to build one, etc. I couldn't agree more.

Cliff Stoll is one hell of a good speaker. Bizarre too. He showed up at the ESC with two TV camera crews in tow, trying to interview him. He sat on stage before the talk, writing out his lecture notes on his hands. He had three or four milk-carton crates full of gadgets that he wanted to demonstrate, although I only recall one actually making it out of the box: a radar "speed gun" made out of an old coffee can and some electronics. He wandered all though the audience during his talk, at one point even coming out and taking over one of the TV cameras taping the talk. Although he had notes written all over his hand, he constantly seemed to diverge down new paths as they occurred to him. Oh yes, and then there was the four cartons of milk (or was it chocolate milk?) he drank during the talk. Very entertaining, and despite the apparent chaos of the lecture, he had the audience right in the palm of his hand when he wanted their attention... as at the end, when he talked about computers in schools.

If you ever get the chance to see this guy talk, don't miss it.

Re:Clifford Stoll's two books (1)

ahfoo (223186) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130624)

Well that dentist analogy is an interesting one in light of the recent story about teeth being grown from stem cells. I'd rather not have dentists at all. If the vision of the distant future is a vision that still includes such barbarous professions as dentistry then it sound dystopian to me.
Perhaps the link to computing skills seems tenuous, but high performance computing and network attached storage are essential for the kind of medical research being done today. In fact, even shell scripting skills and knowledge of the unix filesystem are important skills in medicine. So, as others have pointed out, it's not so simple as saying we shouldn't emphasize computer skills.

Re:Clifford Stoll's two books (1)

Tomster (5075) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130645)

I still sometimes miss the thrill of the hunt, as it were, flipping through cards organized by subject, title, and author, searching for just the right book.

Yes, I miss that too. I can remember the thrill of adventure, going to the card catalog and finding things that were related to what I was looking for but which I wouldn't have thought to look for. Or just getting distracted and exploring. Or browsing the shelves, picking up whatever caught my eye. I read voraciously (and often indiscriminately, although I had my favorite subjects), and as a result can follow (or carry on) a conversation about nearly any topic without getting lost or sounding like a 3rd-grader. Err, I mean 'n00b'.

And it's not so much about getting all the latest, most detailed, most accurate info. Basic concepts are the most important thing, and those are pretty much unchanging. (With radical advances coming every once in a while.)

Anyway, you can bet safely that my son is gonna spend lots of time in the library as he grows up.

-Thomas

On a scale of 1 to Excellent (4, Funny)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130170)

I rate this book a.....Q

Re:On a scale of 1 to Excellent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130361)

Q for... Quit bothering me and go play with your "learning game"? (very poor Southpark allusion, I apologize)

Computers or teachers (3, Insightful)

Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (221748) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130182)

What I don't understand is that schools spend thousands and thousands of dollars to upgrade technology, but they still don't have any teachers that are worth a damn or teachers that are severly underpaid. Seems like schools also forget the fact that that computer is hard to use if there is no decent desk to put it on. I've had classes that use desks that were here when the college was founded. There's not enough room on the writing surface for single sheet of paper. WTF?

Re:Computers or teachers (1)

boligmic (188232) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130452)

You have it backwards, Teachers are way, way overpaid and very, very underworked. 6 months a year, 6 hours a day? Sign me up. That union need to be completely broken, a 12 month school year implimented, and salaries need to be lowered while hours worked goes up drastically.

Computers? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130188)

Computers? So what's the deal? Are they good or are they wack?

I'd agree with it (2)

nycsubway (79012) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130198)

Computers were absent from my grade school years, but as the years passed, computers became more pervasive. By college, my major was computer science & engineering. The only things that I learned from computers were how to program and how to use a computer to get things done.

Computers did not teach me how to interact with other people. They did not teach social or moral skills. They provided a fraction of the education I needed. Computers will never be able to replace the social education that every person needs.

Re:I'd agree with it (4, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130229)

"Computers did not teach me how to interact with other people. They did not teach social or moral skills. They provided a fraction of the education I needed. Computers will never be able to replace the social education that every person needs."

You just didn't spend enough time playing Quake.

Re:I'd agree with it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130285)

Who suggested that they should replace socializing? To me computers have increased my socialization. I chat on IM through most of the day, I meet people online, I play games with people in countries that I would never otherwise go to, I have discussions on this site with people around the world.

No one is saying that we should remove the classroom from education (well some people may be saying that). I am not even sure they belong on the desktops during class but as a information resource and a collaboration tool you can't beat it.

I remember how interesting it was when we had an exchange student come to our school. We found out that there was a whole other world out there. Now every student can experience that everyday without having to travel halfway around the world. That is not saying that shouldn't still travel but how much easier would it be if they already knew somebody in the other country?

I also agree (1)

stevesliva (648202) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130355)

So far, computers are good for teaching children how to use computers. They are not a panacea for teaching any other subject. For some, they are a useful tool-- you can proofread English papers, do research, and math more quickly perhaps-- but they have generally not meant that students learn these things to a greater degree. In that sense, computers "in the classroom" is a stupid idea on par with a mimeograph in every classroom. If you can afford a classroom with a $70,000 teacher at the front, the teacher is the better learning facilitator! In areas where computers actually help, the computer is the classroom.

Re:I also agree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130690)

Holy crap where are there $70,000 teaching jobs. Work 2/3rds of the year and only take a 30% pay cut. I am there.

The Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130220)

The biggest problem is that teachers are trying to continue to teach the same way they have for the last hundred years only adding computers into the mix instead of trying to alter the approach entirely. Most teachers I know hardly even know how to work a computer.

Old, tired and worn out... (1)

Power Everywhere (778645) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130227)

That is, the concept that we will ever create some kind of technology that is so far in advance of what we already have that we won't know what to do with it/it will be a panacea/it will become sentient and try to take us over.

BUT ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130233)

... THEY RUN LINUX!

TRS-80 Rules! (3, Informative)

filesiteguy (695431) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130247)

I don't agree that educators for the most part belive blindly in the technology. I do, however, have much experience in this area. My mother and wife are both primary level teachers and have been at the forefront of "education in the classroom" initiaves. All of which failed to one degree or another. I often spent hours helping them setup systems that broke with no support. The only thing I remember as positive is when my 6th grade teacher got two TRS-80 Model I computers back in '79. We were invited to go after school every day and learn BASIC. That started me off.

Re:TRS-80 Rules! (1)

Kainaw (676073) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130486)

The only thing I remember as positive is when my 6th grade teacher got two TRS-80 Model I computers back in '79. We were invited to go after school every day and learn BASIC. That started me off.

I agree that computers in the classroom are a valuable benefit for those who will later require computer skills. I learned programming when the TRS-80 first came out. It wasn't any initiative. My teacher thought I was retarded and preferred that I spent all day in the 'special education room' (aka the supply closet) playing with the computer. I became a very skilled programmer. I admit that I haven't always enjoyed it. I went into the Marines to escape that whole computer/electronic thing. I became a computer/electronic engineer - go figure.

Anyway, I feel that computers for children is a good thing. Some are punks who will use it only for porn. Others will learn a good skill. So, I started this thing 8 years ago. I buy a new computer every year around this time (just ordered one last weekend). Then, I give my old one to a young student who may want to learn to be some kind of computer person in the future. Really, you can't sell a year-old comptuer for much and by giving it to a kid who couldn't afford one you get that warm fuzzy feeling.

computer are overrated for education... (2, Insightful)

pyrrho (167252) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130248)

... in the same way that books are.

I mean, if you don't know how to read, them thing 're useless.

times are changing (5, Funny)

TedCheshireAcad (311748) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130251)

Teachers are just being stubborn. They have to change with the times. Instead of grading a paper "F", grade it "OMFG n00b".

Instead of grading it "A", grade it "<3".

When the kids get rowdy, instead of trying to yell over the crowd, just write "STFU kthx" on the board.

Change with the times, people.

Re:times are changing (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130523)

LOL. That was funny. What is <3 ? I see that everywhere now

Re:times are changing (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130592)


I *think* it's a sideways heart.

It could be an ass, or a pair of tits, though. It could also be the goatse guys sideways.... *shudder*....

Re:times are changing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130584)

My left nut for a mod point

Bad application (1)

LetterRip (30937) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130258)

I've read heavily in the research on computer assisted instruction and related topics.

In general the usage of computers has been horidly awful, and the software design has been attrocious.

Bad implementations are not the same as bad concept, something which many critics seem to have difficulty distinguishing between.

LetterRip

Grumpy (4, Insightful)

KnarfO (320113) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130267)

Author and submitter sound like they're a bit grumpy over this whole computer fad thing. "Darn kids and their technology! Why, when I was your age, I had to write my reports on *paper*... with a *pencil*!!..."

C'mon... the only success stories in schools were where the comps were not in the classroom, and weren't networked (how do you print??) sounds fishy to me, and smacks of some serious anti-tech bias, IMHO.

Re:Grumpy (3, Interesting)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130430)

Agreed. I think anybody would be a fool to question the value that access to computers has for education.

On the other hand, computers in the classroom doesn't necessarily sound like a good idea to me. A friend of mine is a teacher at an art college here, where they have invested a ton of money in technology and teaching the latest Web design, 3-D graphics, etc. He says he has a hard time keeping kids' attention in class when every one of them has a computer installed on his or her desk. He'll be trying to give a lecture and they'll be leaning over, giggling at each others screens as they pull up random pages on the Web. And these are *college students*, let alone high school age kids or younger.

Seems like you're better off having a large computer lab that students can use as a resource on their own time, the same way they do the school library. Or, wirelessly networked laptops on the desks would be fine, too -- just so long as they stay closed until it's time to get to work.

Re:Grumpy (1)

0racle (667029) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130563)

Were you in a school that spent god knows how much on computers in every classroom, and in a computer lab and in a special 'design' lab?

My High School was brand new, so it had to have the latest and the best, which at the time was Pentium 133's and 166's. At least 3 in every room, usually 5 or 6. Computer lab had 30, the 'design' lab had 166's with mmx, 64mb ram, 3d studio Max 1, some Corel stuff, that sort of stuff.

No one was allowed to use them.

You could only use them with a teacher present, but the teacher was busy, you know teaching, they couldn't supervise. They dumped so much into the 6 systems in the design lab that they were scared that some one would break something.

On top of that, there was no teaching material, and the teachers weren't given any idea how to integrate them into the teaching environment.

Just like not allowing math students to use a calculator till they know what's going on, the computer has no place in a classroom when they are there to learn the fundamentals of critical thinking, writing and generally expressing ideas. At that point, a computer is a distraction not a tool. I don't have any problem with believing that the successes were where there were no computers, and I do believe that computers have no place in classrooms.

As far as not networked, well I would guess those systems weren't being used for printing. Remember the floppy disk, its not as useless as people seem to think.

Classics... (1)

jhouserizer (616566) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130287)

I've always thought the best way to a REAL education is reading the classics.

Whether they be Dickens, Shakspear, Aristotle, Newton, Tolstoy, Darwin, Hemmingway, Galileo, or whoever... Reading the classics is what creates minds that think about solving real problems and doing great deeds.

Everything else is just skills, and skills can be easily acquired by minds that are anxious to solve problems.

Re:Classics... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130456)

Dickens does not teach problem solving skills! Dickens teaches that if you have power (i.e. the teacher) you can inflict pain on others (i.e. students) without reprocusion.

Dickens' body of work is the most overrated in the history of English Liturature, with the exception of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (boring plot, no enlightening theme, insipid intellectually challenged characters -- I was glad when whinny what's 'er name's kid was stillborn.).

Most expensive set of flash cards you can buy (1)

realmolo (574068) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130315)

I worked for a school district for a year, doing computer support. Computers are good for writing papers. And the Internet is good (sort of) for research. For general "learnin'"? No. If you want to learn about COMPUTERS, then yeah, they're great. But most educational software is nothing more than an elaborate set of flash cards.

Re:Most expensive set of flash cards you can buy (1)

techtonics (765733) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130462)

If you want to learn about COMPUTERS, then yeah, they're great. But most educational software is nothing more than an elaborate set of flash cards.

I completely agree here. I've maintained computers and taught CS at the college level.

They can be very useful for implementing solutions to problems, but the solution comes from the mind.. not the machine. All too often, computers/calculators are being used as a substitute for the discipline of learning.

Children, especially, should be kept away from computers until they are adults. It becomes "toys" and "games" rather than a tool.

If you think about it, if the politicians are all for it and spending big bucks, then there *has* to be somthing wrong ;-)

If perhaps, people would start ... (3, Informative)

burgburgburg (574866) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130319)

valuing these individuals known as teachers and paying them a decent, livable wage and treating them with the respect you'd "expect" for someone that is educating your damn children, instead of seeing their profession as something any idiot can do (because they have life experience after all) and anyway, they should be doing it for the love of the job and anyway we're already overbudget because of these cool computers and ...

I'm sure if I hold my breath, it will happen before I pass out and bump my head against the desk. Here I go ....mmmph...mmmprhu .....BAM!

Owww. Thanks a lot, /.

Overpaid teachers (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130340)

"valuing these individuals known as teachers and paying them a decent, livable wage and treating them with the respect you'd "expect" for someone that is educating your damn children"

They are already paid much more than a decent wage. Thanks to the NEA, teacher wages have soared and have forced schools to cut back on education and increase class sizes since they can't afford to hire as many teachers anymore.

AC load (1)

burgburgburg (574866) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130451)

Teachers are not paid a decent wage. They're usually not paid a livable wage. Despite this, most teachers kick in personal funds to do what they can to improve the classroom experience.

People consistently undervalue teaching, seeing it as one of the first things to cut (never any of the "important" programs, just our kids education) whenever there is any budget bumps. They intrinsically disrespect the profession.

But please, do keep peddling your unsupported, "I said it so it must be true", AC load.

Re:AC load (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130586)

"Teachers are not paid a decent wage"

It depends on the area. If it is Alabama, probably not. If it is California, New York, Michigan: they are paid plenty; and are in fact paid way above the real value due to unions using extortion to set the wage level.

"But please, do keep peddling your unsupported, "I said it so it must be true", AC load."

It is quite true. If the teachers will still work for a lower wage, you are overpaying them, and are short-changing education because of all the other things you have to cut in order to overpay the teachers. It is true because it is actually true; not because I said it.

"seeing it as one of the first things to cut (never any of the "important" programs, just our kids education) whenever there is any budget bumps"

The opposite happens in my school district. The union thugs demand a huge pay raise, and when they get it the district is forced to get rid of bussing, get rid of art, enlarge class sizes since they can't afford as many teachers. etc. The overpay is the last thing to go.

Re:Overpaid teachers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130620)

What country do you live in. Obviously not the US. Teachers make embarassingly little money. Class sizes increase because the population is increasing and there is no room to put the kids. There are schools here in the city that have classrooms in trailers in their parking lots.

And most schools are struggling to find teachers, especially in math and science, since people in those disciplines can make far more in the private sector.

Re:Overpaid teachers (1)

Carpathius (215767) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130644)

Spoken like someone who has never been a teacher.

In one locality I know of, wages and benefits are not, by any means, a "good" wage. What's paid is great for probably 70% of the teachers -- who are the secondary wages earners in their family. For those who are the primary (and often only) wage earners in the family, the pay is minimal for a three person family, and minimal for a four person family even when the teacher has a master's degree.

We're not talking about a small town here, we're talking about one of the larger cities in the state.

Sean.

Re:If perhaps, people would start ... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130579)

Yeah, that means removing government controlled schools and letting education compete on a free market.

As far as "livable wage", Most teachers earn a lot. In 2001-2002, the average teacher salary was $44,367, and that is only for 9 months of work! (Source: http://www.govspot.com/lists/teachersalaries.htm)

It's no suprise that 40% of public school teachers send their children to private schools. Public schools are the problem.

Re:If perhaps, people would start ... (1)

gkuz (706134) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130626)

valuing these individuals known as teachers and paying them a decent, livable wage

Here in the Northeast US, median salaries for public school kindergarten teachers with 3-5 years' experience is in the mid $40's. Median salaries for secondary school teachers with MA/MS degrees and 10 years' experience is $65-70. Top-step teachers in many states earn over $80k. This is for 6.5 hours/day and 180 days per year.

By my accounting, this is a decent, livable wage.

In fairness... (3, Interesting)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130322)

Math education goes back to, who, Euclid? (And various Mayans, Chinese and others -- the point is that there's an extensive history to draw on.)And we're still lurching from one way to teach kids to multiply to another, and then to that it only matters how they feel about 6 times 8, and then back to memorizing tables.

Meanwhile, personal computers are now on their second generation of students, their capabilities change every year, as does what is needed to know to use them and The Future is all about them. It's not astonishing that teachers haven't quite figured out what to do with them.

This is a good review (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130343)


But how can you trust an author with the name of Oppenheimer? Oppenheimer was a TRAITOR to America, who started the Cold War by giving Ivan the Bomb, sold out all of humanity for a few lousy bucks.

How close did we come to MAD during the '70s? I wont buy this book in case he's some relation, no matter how good it is.

um, unstructured ideas? (3, Insightful)

Knights who say 'INT (708612) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130347)

"One English teacher could readily tell which of her students essays were conceived on a computer. "They don't link ideas," the teacher said. "They just write one thing, and then they write another one, and they don't seem to see or develop the relationships between them."'


But you can actually structure your essays better when you can first type out ideas and chunks of sentences, and then restructure until they form a coherent, logical progression.

Unless you like to handwrite endless drafts, handwritten work would generally be more confuse.

Now, really, perhaps these are nonlinear times. I have a class with a philosophy professor who keeps on saying that mind is hypertextual, and he`s fascinated with the possibilites of nonlinear argumentation. Not John Negroponte or some hypermedia freak, a 60-years-old Medieval Philosopher scholar whose idea of a fascinating subject is the Summa Teologica.

I gotta say I learned all my english and all my french on the net (it's not that bad, check my post history), and have generally learned to write better and been more exposed to intellectual, structured debate than I'd ever be without it. Moreover, I've had contact with all these scholars from around the world who research subjects that interested me at one point, and learned about many research areas I didn't even know that existed.

Of course, I've also seen a lot of freak pr0n, but we were discussing education, weren't we?

Re:um, unstructured ideas? (1)

APDent (81994) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130598)

But you can actually structure your essays better when you can first type out ideas and chunks of sentences, and then restructure until they form a coherent, logical progression.

I agree with you; however, when I read the teacher's comment, I thought it was in the wider context of the preceding paragraph, namely:

...how computers either make formerly easy things harder (like classroom discussion), and hard things avoidable (students who know how to copy-paste don't have to construct sentences).

I think the teacher's point is it's easy to tell when a student's paper has been "copy-paste[d]" from other sources, rather than assembled from that student's own thoughts. Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Re:um, unstructured ideas? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130606)

I think that you mean Nicholas Negroponte. John is former US ambassador to Honduras, current nominee to be ambassador to Iraq.

I don't know whether or not he is a hypermedia freak.

The schools need to get back to the 3 'R's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130360)

Rebooting, reinstalling, and restarting far cry after those things with the long arms get me.

The problem with computer education. (5, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130362)

The problem with Computer education is that they use computers for every area of studies but they don't teach them how to use the computer as a tool. For Science Class students will use computers to virtually dissect a frog. But when it comes to doing a calculation they will still reach for the paper. Or what happened in college there was a student working on there math homework in the computer lab, they were using the application called Maple (for those who dont know about it it is a fairly powerful math program) now he needed to do some simple arithmetic so he went around asking people for a calculator. Not even thinking about using the calculator that comes with almost every OS on the planet. Or in maple where you just need to to type the formula in and follow with a ;. He was trained to use the computer and Maple just as he was taught but it never occurred for him to use the computer for a problem that wasn't required for class to solve. But because the teacher are so inflexible about computer they don't teach the students to use the computers as a tool. They just use them as a way to sit down and grade papers.

Re:The problem with computer education. (1)

dr_dank (472072) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130490)

and doing things with the computer in school that isn't what the class is exactly doing at the time is verboden. Rather than let the students explore and have a shot at learning something useful, they're taught by rote. What a waste.

Schools don't know how to use technology very well (1)

millahtime (710421) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130382)

When I was in school and still today (as I have family still i school) they may have technology but don't know how to utilize it. They make bad purchases and dont' use the full potential.

Bad use example: School buys a lab of computers. Computers come with antivirus software for free as part of the bundle but school still buys second antivirus license at $100 per computer. Was a waste of money.

Not using full potential example: The business computers class teaches the bar bones of office but not how to use it for some very common business tasks.

Then there is as has been said here several times of there is more than computers to do things. At my kid sisters high school they do almost all their research online and are taught to rely totally on that. Bad idea. If I am going to do a biography report on someone I would go get the biographies. There is more out there that they aren't learning now.

Blame people, not computers (4, Insightful)

taradfong (311185) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130392)

You need good people teaching good things to good people to get good results. We barely pay the teachers, and so we scare away lots of good people from teaching. Our curriculums are weak and far away from reality. We raise our kids without a parent at home using the TV/computer as a surrogate and feed them non-stop hyperactivity chow, and so they are more or less unteachable.

Computers won't fix this situation. Maybe if we fixed the other 3 problems, they would make a good situation better.

One good computer application - learning to type (1)

cweber (34166) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130429)

There is one really compelling application of computers in grade and middle schools: The various typing tutor programs. Back in my day (boy am I old!) we had electric typewriters, and learning to type was as mindnumbing as can be. With computer programs it is still mindnumbing to a degree, but it has been made more compelling, AND the tutor programs adjust to your skills and revisit problem spots right away. It still takes perseverance and lots of repetition, but it isn't nearly as dreary as it used to be.

Other than that, I fully agree with the gist of the reviewer's description of the book.

- Christoph

Re:One good computer application - learning to typ (1)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130564)

The best way to learn how to type fast is to do IRC or IM. You have to type fast to keep up with the conversation, and you have to be accurate or you sound like a doof. A great app would be a communication tool (maybe using gaim) that would gauge accuracy and speed during a conversation and show it throughout to both yourself and the other person. You then compete to see who can get the higher score. Simple, interactive, social, and effective.

Speak For Yourself. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130432)



When I was 7, I lucked out. My elementary school was one of the first in the state to have computers for students to use in the library. This was, eh, about 1980-81 or so. Apple ][s, to be exact. Three of them. They were available for students to use both during and after school.

Within a few weeks of their being installed, the demand was high enough that the librarians had to set up a list where you had to reserve blocks of time in advance. On monday mornings, I used to go to the library, and allocate time every day afterschool for that week.

By the time I was in 4th & 5th grade, I used to stay after school so long the custodians would have to come and kick me out.

Once I got to college, I decided I wanted to be a Unix administrator. My choice of career pretty much guarantees a salary well above the national average, and even above the majority of IT-related positions. Had I never been able to sit around and hack Lemonade to paint the sky red on Wednesdays, or hack Swords & Sorcery so that I was immortal, I would have never learned how to code, how to be creative, think logically, or be involved with computers in any form.

At every step of the way, there were computers in every school I went to. By the time I was in junior high, I was writing Risk/Empire'ish stuff. It taught me how to think strategically, and introduced me to languages other than BASIC. Things snowballed from there. Fast forward 15 years. ..Unless i'm seeing things, I've got a house, a wife, and a good career. Anyone care to explain to how my school failed me?

Cheers,
Bowie J. Poag
Yes, that one. [ibiblio.org]

Computers can help in some regards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130445)

Mostly having computers in the classroom is as useful as television. That said, computers can go a long way to reducing the cost of producing and acquiring texts. Yes a laptop is expensive, but for many scenarios, using PDFs on a laptop is probably a big cost savings in the long term.

For college students this situation is the most acute. You can purchase practically a laptop per year for what texts cost.

part of my thesis (4, Insightful)

b17bmbr (608864) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130454)

I am finishing a masters in Ed. (Computers and Ed. Technology) and this book was a big part of my thesis. I have been involved in my school's technology for years. This book should be required reading for every princpal and teacher. Sadly, he exposes the "education industrial complex" (paraphrasing Eisenhower) and highlights many problems with our education system. I could go on, but that's my thesis. Schools need to go back to the basics, readin', writin', 'rithmetic. Literacy and critical thinking should be the goals of school, and if the kids never even touch a computer in school, they won't miss a thing. Though I do believe there should be a technology component, where kids do learn basic computer skills.

I might also suggest Jane Healy's "Failure to Connect" and Clifford Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil". Please take it from me, I am a high school history teacher, and I see this problem as wide scale.

Computers in the Classroom (2, Interesting)

TheSimon (151561) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130479)

Coming from a Math/Science magnet school where the administration believed the school itself was responsible for the success of it's students, this definately hits home. Over the years, the school made it a point to put a computer lab in every classroom. They seemed to think that if there was a computer to use, it would make everything better.

So, they blindly added hundreds of donated, underpowered PCs to our network. More often than not, they were used for downloading pr0n, playing games and cheating on tests and homework. Not only did they take up valuable classroom space (where new desks and books would do much more good), they proved to be more of a hassle and a distraction to both teachers and students. (Especially those few students responsible for maintaining the network)

Teachers were required to post grades using one of two online grading services. More often than not, the teachers complained about the hassle and speed of a P90 with 16MB running NT4 than praising the marginal advantage of accessing grades from home.

Without looking into actually securing the network, the school let loose a swarm of worms and virii. The solution, "If you want to bring your own work in on a floppy, it must be run through NAV by the computer lab teacher." I guess they only travel through word docs on floppies...

Eventually, they cut a deal with some company to install TVs in every room in exchange for advertising time in the morning. The company would broadcast a short spot of news, play some advertisements and generally just push the product of the moment in the first 10 minutes of every day.

Anyway, I'd love to rant some more about the joys and "success" of having computers in the classroom, but there's just to much to list.

yuo fai7 it? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#9130495)

in a head spinning tto many rules and

Computers didn't help me (5, Funny)

OglinTatas (710589) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130507)

Personal anecdote here: way back when I was in high school, the PTA scraped together some money to buy a dozen Apple II computers for an after school computer club. The following year they were incorporated into a computer lab, and a course was offered as an elective for us nerdy kids, but computing wasn't part of the general curriculum.
Anyway, for my final project in that course, I wrote a program that could take a term paper draft and size requirements as input, and then it would produce an expanded draft to meet those requirements by fiddling with margins, word and line spacing, and finally by inserting nonsense phrases if necessary.
I submitted the source code, a sample input (3 1/2 pages) and the output, a 5 page English paper (which had been graded "A")
The teacher gave me an "F" on principle, or maybe because I didn't properly comment the code.
I even used that program to expand this one-line post.

the author is right on (1)

vijayiyer (728590) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130511)

The same year my school district initiated retirement incentives resulting in the loss of practically all the senior teachers was the year they put through a $4 Million bond issue to put computers everywhere. I personally witnessed the superintendent of the district say "how can you expect fifth graders to do 3 digit multiplication without a calculator?". The quality of education there dropped like a rock over a 20 year period, and went from producing Westinghouse champions and World Physics Olympiad champions to producing lots of mediocre high school graduates.

Colleges of Education (1)

jazman_777 (44742) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130512)

The book sums up America's past 20 years of false promises, senseless faddism, and wasted millions in attempts to computerize the nation's education system.

While I know some smart people go into education, a lot of not-so-smart people go into education. People who tend to avoid the rigors of academic hard work. Thus, they are prone to fads and promises that say, "you don't _have_ to be academically rigorous! Our system will make it easy for you!"

I call b.s. on this... (1)

joelparker (586428) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130517)

because I've talked to many educators about technology.
I've also talked to administrators, parents,
and students from primary and secondary schools.

There is *brilliant* work on this by Seymour Papert
(see the book The Learning Machine and Lego/Logo)
and many, many teachers who also develop software.

Yes, there are profound problems with technology
in schools-- as in our everyday corporate world--
and tech is not a magic bullet for everything.

Need starting points? Try my site School.Net [school.net]
and please suggest improvements and additions.

Cheers, Joel

Distance learning (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Custard (587661) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130553)

Distance learning, offshore development, outsourcing, everything; can all be traced to a neglected education system in the U.S.

We don't pay our teachers much, so most of our intelligent people are going on to other jobs where their brains get them more money. Teaching could became a coveted profession like being a Doctor or a Lawyer.

But instead, we're paying our teachers low wages, and chipping away at our long standing scientific advantage over the rest of the world.

Who needs to pay for this? Every citizen, but those with more must contribute more. The problem is that well-off citizens can just send their own kids to private school -- screw the rest of the kids -- and then vote at the school district meetings for minimal budgets, so their school taxes go down. In some districts, housing and school taxes are so expensive that by buying a house there you are essentially paying for private school for yuor kids, and poor people cannot afford to get into that community.

Vouchers are not the answer, as all they do is take money away from the school that need it the most, and give it to schools that are already rich enough to provide a good education. It just serves to further separate the rich from the poor.

What we need is for washington to put its foot down and say "Enough!"

Listen, those of you who've made it big in America: It's not just your own hard work that got you where you are in life, it's your education, your community, your country, and your fellow citizens that made this environment that allowed you to have a chance at all. So stop whining and help out your fellow man; pay 1% more in taxes, so that poor kids can go to better schools, and lead better lives. Heck, you'll probably make up the lost taxes in the money you save by not being robbed or carjacked by some kid who dropped out of his drug-laden junior high school to become a thief.

I'm spent.

A bit short coverage of the successes? (1)

williamhb (758070) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130593)

Hmm... maybe because I reasearch in this area I feel a little concerned that (according to the review) he only spends a third of the book discussing the research where technology has been successfully applied to teaching.

Intelligent Tutoring Systems from Carnegie Mellon, the US Naval Academy, the University of Western Australia, the University of Canterbury, and a number of others have been deployed successfully, and studies have shown learning improvements in students that use them over control groups. In the literature, Koedinger, Anderson, Hadley and Mark's "Intelligent Tutoring Goes To School..." (1997) paper often gets cited as one example of this.

Most engineering courses appear to be considering some kind of automated tutoring / online interactive simulation. There is good reason for this - not to replace the teacher but to replace the situation where the teaching staff do not have time to give proper feedback to homework assignments.

Similarly there are a number of successful cases of deploying technology in the classroom (without taking attention away from the teacher).

Rating system (3, Funny)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130605)

I give an instant 9/10 to any book that puts politician and "flickering mind" in the same sentence.

I attended a "alternative" high school for a bit. (2, Insightful)

karmatic (776420) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130613)

I attended a "alternative" high school for a bit, and nearly everything was computerized. The materials were done over NovaNet, and specifically say "These are to be used for reference, and not as a replacement for the book".

The books were not available, and we were quite literally set up to fail. It was impossible to even pass without taking tons of notes (I have my library barcode number from when I was 5, all my credit cards, my blockbuster card, and discount card #s memorized, so it's not my memorization skills at fault). This was the school for failures, too.

As for why I was there, a bad case of ADHD - I literally couldn't pass my classes. It was not because of tests, but because I couldn't focus long enough to finish the homework.

This is incredibly stupid. (2, Insightful)

nathan s (719490) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130634)

Granted, I have not read this book myself.

However, the problem isn't that we have computers in schools or *gasp* networked computers.

The problem is simply that most educators are (and I speak by experience both from an academic and a tech-support perspective, everything from kindergarten to grad school to a retail computer store that sold consulting and support to schools) incapable of properly instructing people to use computers.

Face it. I'd venture to say that most educators (and almost certainly most politicians) have _not_ grown up with computers, but are rather attempting to synthesize computer technology into their policies and curricula. This is a good thing, but they simply don't have the _feel_ of it; this is something that comes with vast amounts of experience with computer technology.

Handwriting essays? Give me a break; I wrote my grade-school essays on IBM XTs and printed them out on dot matrix printers whenever allowed. When it wasn't allowed, I wrote them on the XT and then copied them onto paper after they're done.

I would venture to say that few things suck harder than drafting essays by hand. Don't like a paragraph? You're screwed - rewrite. Don't like that paragraph? You're screwed again - rewrite. Not to mention that I can type ~100wpm, and I can only handwrite about...I dunno, 30-40wpm if that. Better, my hands aren't being contorted around some pen, but rather drifting in a pseudo-natural position above a keyboard. This hurts so much less, and I can write longer without needing to take a break while being more productive. I fail to see a problem.

A lot of people are scared of technology, but the US education system has far bigger problems (lack of funding, lack of instructors, etc) that are to blame for poor academic performance.

To add a last little rant, the network thing is idiotic. The future, and the past, have always been about networks. You're teaching your students programming, but they don't have any idea of how to do network programming? You're teaching them how to use computers, but god forbid they learn any of the _important_ facets of network use, like basic networking hygeine (virus scanners, firewall use, maybe how to do spam filtering) that will help to slow down future network chokage.

Ugh. I just find myself having a somewhat visceral reaction to this, considering that I literally grew up with computers (since I was 5) and _in spite of_ crappy education systems, I find myself in possession of a master's degree and a high-tech, managerial job.

Pardon any organizational or grammatical flaws; this is off the top of my head.

Seen in real life (4, Insightful)

Ra5pu7in (603513) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130650)

I have watched my children being taught with computers in the classroom, computers in a separated "lab", and computers at home. Much of what the author mentions is very real to me.

The amount of time spent changing font types, font sizes, paragraph alignment, etc. is added time they could have avoided. Typing speed is a severe limiter for a long report -- and "teacher says it has to be typed/printed". Spell-check and grammar checks give an impression that they don't need to check their own work. I end up reviewing and marking the errors to make them correct them.

The educational software that they found so fun when they were younger fit into two categories - something they already knew and was easy OR something they hadn't learned yet and had to ask for help with. There was no actual instruction on HOW to do things - just little games using the skills.

========

Perhaps the scariest offshoot of this is how computers and software are implemented everywhere else (businesses and government). I've seen people spend hours working on a document that should have taken them 20 minutes. I've seen people who don't bother knowing how to speak or spell because the word-processor will do it for them. I work with people who claim the computer makes them more productive -- when I also know they spend more than 50% of their day online surfing sites completely unrelated to their job and get less done in the 50% they actually do work.

I'm not a Luddite by any means - I use my computers for maximizing my productivity. I even try to teach my children how to avoid the pitfalls by making them hand-write their rough drafts, research from books, and have a preset format that is used for all documents.

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN! (1)

Asprin (545477) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130656)


I agree with this guy *and* Cliff Stoll [amazon.com]. The educational arena need to be an electronic-free zone. Until you get to college, the only real use computers have in education is for teaching programming. Short of that, they are a violent distraction. Maybe the last couple of years of high school you get to use a calculator. Maybe. Unless you want to start teaching electrical engineering in high school -- that would be cool, and a valid reason to have computers around, but then they'd have to teach mathematics.... REAL mathematics, like vector calculus and complex analysis.... which means the teachers would have to learn it....

....I think they call that a "conundrum".

Children of a Golden Age (1)

tilleyrw (56427) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130660)

The current generation X'er, who was born in late 60's or early 70's,
can be said to have been born into the Golden ABC Age.

I write of the Age Before Computers. When I went to my quite-average
elementary school, there were no computers and we were taught to use our minds.

My Junior High School years saw the coming of our FOE, Fall of Education.
The first computer I used was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. This comment
is not to one-up anyone by saying I used this computer, but rather to point out
that this was a school computer. The class involved learning to program in BASIC.

High School brought with it increased skills, knowledge, and Apple II+ computers.
The school library and certain teachers possessed an a computer which became
adjuncts to learning. During High School, the decision to focus upon Computer
Science/Math was formed, and upon graduation, such became my major course of study.

What is the point of this rambling? That during my formative years, my education
focused upon training my mental skills and not my mouse-gesture abilities!
My abilities of problem solving and knowledge acquisition were given a solid
foundation by training my brain and not learning how to accomplish rote tasks
better suited for a factory worker.

The educational system is slowly awakening to the fact that computers have their place.
Facilities such as Elementary School (and other early-stage institutions) are places
which should focus upon teaching fundamentals. Computer use should be a rare thing
so that children become familiar, but not dependent,
upon computers.

My daughter's Montessori Academy, allows students to use a computer one day
per week for less than 30 minutes. The formation of a self-sufficient mind
is the foundation of all personhood.

The problem isn't computers (2, Interesting)

BoneFlower (107640) | more than 9 years ago | (#9130673)

ITs how they are used. If you throw a computer in front of someone and expect them to learn, well, they are fucked.

If they are treated as one of many tools in an educators toolbox, that would be very good. In high school chemistry class, we got to do some experiments on some old Apple II's that the school couldn't afford the expense or safety risk to do. Those are things that without those computers, we simply wouldn't have been able to do more than just read about, but with them, we got to do the experiments and see what happens. Perhaps not as good as doing the experiments with actual chemicals, but a hell of a lot better than just reading.
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