159 Should classrooms be high tech?


Tom Garrett 3 years, 10 months ago

That's the question NPR is asking.

Although, as usual, they beat around the bush a lot, their answer is clearly yes. They favored spending immense amounts of money to fit classrooms with receivers, cameras, microphones, and flat screens where kids could listen to canned or remote lectures and then go out on the internet for a "wonderful rewarding educational experience."

Fine. Except for a couple of educational truths:

a. Study after study clearly shows that time on task is THE most important factor in learning. Time spent surfing the web is time off-task.

b. Canned and remote lectures do not, as NPR seems to think they do, eliminate having a teacher in the classroom. All they do is add more cost to each lesson.

c. In order to for students to learn something, it has to be presented in a learning sequence. You proceed from A to B, from B to C, and from C to D. If someone does not understand A he cannot learn B, C, or D. Also, just having facts thrown at you teaches you nothing. Information on the internet is not arranged in a learning sequence. That is why we have textbooks. They aren't just book filled with knowledge; they are organized for learning!

d. Most of what kids learn is simple and basic. Most of what is on the internet is far too advanced to be useful in the classroom.

e. The information on the internet is often quite biased. Much of what students learn out there has to be UN-taught.

f. Standing at the front of a classroom, a teacher can deliver more useful information in 5 minutes than a kid can find on the internet in two days.

There are many more things to consider, but that should be enough to get you thinking.

MyOp: What should kids be taught about and with a computer?

• In elective courses, they should be taught how to use a computer, and how to use productivity software, such as word processing, spreadsheet, drawing, and database programs.

• In other elective courses they should be taught how to use a browser to search out information, how to send and receive safe e-mail, and how to use a computer to enhance their lives.

• None of this belongs in mainstream core classes, where time on task is of the essence.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 10 months ago

I notice that no one has commented on this string, one that I thought would really bring some comments. That suggests that I did not make the issue as clear as I should have.

The question here is not whether or not computers belong in the schools. Nor is it whether or not our school libraries should provide internet access for student research, or even whether there should be classroom computers which can be used for the same or similar purposes, or for other educational purposes.

The issue is whether we need classrooms equipped with one computer per desk, one microphone per desk, with a camera and a large flat-screen computer display up front which is bringing in a signal from some remote location, such as--say--some university. The reason for this would be so that the class could be watching a presentation by a live, remote individual, and so the class could react with that person, who would have a screen that allowed him to see students and hear their questions and answers.

That is what was proposed in the article. Who would pay for all this, or why it was needed was not discussed. I skipped straight to my bottom line in computer-aided education as someone who worked in the Instructional Technology Department in Mesa Public Schools. I gave my generalopinion on computer usein the classroom based on 15 years of experience. I should not have done that.

I should have explained what I explained today and just asked a simple question or two about what NPR was proposing. Like, do we need it? Do we want it? Can we afford it? And will it help or hurt?

My mistake. Does that make the issue a little clearer? There is a move on to equip classrooms that way. It will leave it to your imagination to decide who is pushing it.


John Lemon 3 years, 10 months ago

Tom, As usual you present a great many ideas that deserve thought. I agree with most of them. I do think that Computer Aided Instruction does have a place in education. For example, highly organized and sequential learning packs seem to really assist those students who are learning-handicapped in some manner. If the impediment is language acquisition or word processing, being able to progress at an individualized pace or to reinforce what was contained in a class lesson seems to help. At the other end of the spectrum, high-end learners at times seem to benefit if motivated to learn more quickly than the peer group. The "smart kids" can chase their interests. That being said, the teacher still has to teach to the great majority of students. Those in the top, middle, and low ends of the spectrum still benefit from instruction by a teacher, who can bring sparkle to factual information, answer questions generated by inductive thinking, and constantly measure and adjust teaching to the needs of the students. To sum, we do not need classrooms full of electronics but I think that there is need for some computer access in most classrooms. The teacher is still the key to learning.


frederick franz 3 years, 10 months ago


This headline from today's Roundup: "Payson school district needs $2 million computer upgrade". (27 March, 2013).

The article describes very expensive top of the line equipment which is totally unneeded by the schools. A photo shows a huge monitor, about 28 inches wide. In another article, the need for costly routers and servers is touted.

I use a computer which I installed in 2004. My 14 inch monitor is very adequate! I use a dial-up internet connection which does not support streaming video. I do not need to watch streaming videos. Text internet web sites are more useful to me.

I agree with Tom. The schools need teachers, not expensive hardware and software.


Tom Garrett 3 years, 9 months ago


You said it exactly the same way I would have said it.

I spent a good many years teaching teachers how to teach with a computer; it was, in fact, my job toward the end of my days in education. Over the years many things have come into the classroom to aid teachers to do the job. The computer is just another one. It may be a very useful one, but it only adds to what a teacher can do; it does not in any way replace the human element in the classroom, and that is essentially what NPR was suggesting.

I also taught teaching methods courses for many years, and one of my jobs was to teach motivation. I constantly taught that the most motivating thing in the classroom is the teacher. Why? Both my experience and many studies of classroom motivation say so . A teacher with a lousy personality might as well stick his or head out the window and talk to the birds for all the he will do for his students.

Fred, as to equipment for schools, in my mind the article did not adequately separate the need for computer-aided instructional equipment and computerized record keeping equipment well enough for me to adequately comment on it.

I did pay attention to the stated need to replace antiquated routing equipment. I can see where that might be a problem, but I wonder about the need for $2 million dollars worth of new equipment, as well as whether or not there is any real need for there to be one central point for reception and distribution of signals.

Payson schools are small. The number of children is equally small. When I was working for Mesa Public Schools there was a great deal of tension between technicians at the head office and school administrators. The technicians had set up and were running a huge centralized administrative system, and they wanted to gain centralized control and operation of all teaching functions as well. School administrators were adamant that lab and classroom computers be stand-alone set ups, able to operate separately from the humungous administrative system.

As a mere observer I felt the administrators were correct. While it may be nice to have a central control of administrative matters it seems like overkill where school-related computer use is concerned. For one thing, the costs are stupendous.

We had a conference on the dispute at the time and someone very sensibly asked why centralized operation was needed. He made the point that hotels in the valley offered internet connections for hundreds of rooms and did it a very low cost, and he asked why we had to take the maze of equipment developed to centralize administrative activities and connect it to 72 individual schools whose local needs were very simple--two to four 30-station labs, a 10-station library, and perhaps four to six computers per classroom. He won the day. That's where the matter stood when I left.

My expertise stops right there.


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