Using computers in schools

Nowadays every school has to have computers. I don't refer to legal requirementbut to perception. Schools are judged on how many computers they have. It would be more to the point if they were judged on their computer-savvy.

I'm a fan of computers; my computer is a vital part of my work. I believe computer literacy is as important for our children to acquire as any other "basic skill". But I'm not a fan of the wholesale introduction of computers into our schools, particularly the junior ones. How many computers a school has is not the issue - the issue is, how do they use them?

In many cases, the answer is: poorly.

The reasons are simple enough. Foremost, the teachers have insufficient training and experience with computers. Relatedly, computers are not yet an integrated part of the school curriculum, and every school and teacher re-invents the wheel, trying to find good software, trying to work out how to fit it into the classroom curriculum, trying to work out schedules to make sure every student gets a fair go, struggling with the lack of technical support. And of course, in many cases (perhaps most), the computers are old, with the associated problems of being more likely to have technical problems, being slow, limited in memory, incompatible with current software, and so on.

The most important problems schools have with computers:

  • lack of financial resources (to buy enough computers, up-to-date computers, enough printers and other peripherals, licenses for good software, technical support)
  • the inability of teachers to know how to use the computers effectively
  • difficulty in integrating computers into the school / classroom curriculum (problems of use, of scheduling, of time)

Using computers effectively is much more than simply being able to type an essay or produce a graph. Parents and educators who deplore the obsession with computers in schools see computers as eroding children's basic skills and knowledge, because they only see computers being used as copy-and-paste and making-it-pretty devices. But computers have potential far beyond that.

Computers can be used to help:

  • extend the scope of searches
  • retrieve precisely targeted data with greater speed and accuracy
  • increase the amount of data held ready for use
  • sift relevant data from irrelevant
  • turn data into information

The true value of a computer isn't seen until the user can use it not only as a presentation tool (for making work attractive), and as a productivity tool (for producing work more quickly, effectively, thoroughly), but also as a cognitive tool.

Using computers as cognitive tools

A cognitive tool helps you think.

Many people thought computers would revolutionize education by providing individual instruction in the form of tutorials. In particular, as a means of drilling students. Drilling can be helpful to overlearn a skill to achieve automaticity, but it doesn’t help transfer to meaningful problems. That is, you can learn a skill, you can rote-learn facts, but drilling doesn't help meaningful learning - it doesn't teach understanding.

Although computer tutorials have become somewhat more sophisticated, they still only present a single interpretation of the world - they don’t allow students to find their own meaning. They don't teach students to reflect on and analyze their own performance.

“I do not believe that students learn from computers or teachers — which has been a traditional assumption of most schooling. Rather, students learn from thinking in meaningful ways. Thinking is engaged by activities, which can be fostered by computers or teachers.” (Jonassen, p4)

So, the computer itself isn't the issue - the issue, as always, is what you do with it. For example, when the Web is simply used as a source of material that can be downloaded and pasted without thought, then no, it is not of value. But when the learner searches the Web, evaluates the information, finds the gold in the dross, uses that to construct a knowledge base, to develop meaning, then yes, it is a valuable resource.

Computers can support meaningful learning by

  • reducing time spent on mechanical tasks such as rewriting, producing graphs, etc
  • helping find information
  • helping organize information
  • making it easier to share information and ideas with others

Related articles/sites on the Web:

A recent news articles on the subject of compulsory laptops at a Seattle school

New York Times articles about computers in education: Technology critic takes on computers in schools ; Making the most of the Internet's potential for education

An Atlantic monthly column: The computer delusion

A Boston Globe column about computers for young children: Computers, software can harm emotional, social development

References: 

Jonassen, David H. 2000. Computers as Mindtools for schools: Engaging critical thinking. (2nd ed.) NJ: Prentice-Hall

Comments

Reply

Many schools should now realize that many of their students own laptops such as netbooks and notebooks, and that should be used to an advantage. Due to more recent technological advancements, more newer laptops have a great amount of benefits. For one, they are light and portable and could be used to go from class to class, or room to room. Another is that pretty much all laptops come with nearly everything you need but the teacher may need you to install extra applications and programs. As for the only thing the school needs to provide is a password-protected wireless network connection so the students can connect too. As for the problem that teachers have not taught using a laptop, they are better off being trained on how to do so, and will probably already happen since the schools are trying to keep up with recent technology anyways.

The way students use their laptops is up to them, they can either do the lesson or goof off. Their choice will be effective in the future, and if they do goof off they will understand that they must step their game up and pay attention. To avoid most of this the teacher may tell the students to close their laptops during a lesson. During work, they should be able to have full access to their laptop as for it has many tools, either if the tools come with the laptop or not, they still exist. Teachers may walk around keeping an eye on every students action on their laptop as for if they are goofing off they get a warning or whatever the teacher decides to do at that moment.

Laptops are highly beneficial. It makes researching more easier, and there still is the trouble of finding the right information but it is still much faster than going through an entire book to get information and summarizing pretty much all of it into 2 pages of words. Plus a computer is more of a reliable source when doing research than books or movies.

I greatly support the thought of laptops being used in most schools, but I se them being used more in high school and not elementary. It should be obvious why that is, some children are clumsy and some are not mature enough to be using a laptop (slamming the keyboard, putting pressure on the screen, etc.)More older students have the knowledge of what to do on a computer correctly without causing any damage, which is why I believe laptops should be more for highschool and not elementary.

~ James.

Re: when was this article posted?

If this is a comment on how out-of-date this article is, you're absolutely right! It was written back in 2001. Thank you for the reminder that I should either take it down or update it.

No, I was just using this

No, I was just using this article for my term paper in my technology class and I need to the date to reference it. I think this article is awesome! I totally agree with you. =)

What about Tablets?

Tablets are the answer! Affordable, easy to use and can be used anywhere and anytime, with a host of educational apps available.

Helped

This truly helped me with my research paper. Thanks!

Teachers and industry

Teachers and industry professionals have spent years lobbying the government on the need to have computing on the curriculum with limited success. The turning point came last August, when Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, publicly attacked the UK for failing to capitalise on its record of innovation in science and engineering, saying the country that invented the computer was throwing away its "great computer heritage by failing to teach programming in schools. Thanks.
Regards,
email address lookup

Re: Another problem with using

That's very true. It's an interesting interplay in the classroom, because technology can provide valuable opportunities for interaction in a lecture, but if students have devices that enable such interaction then they also have the distractions that go along with it. I have heard of some teachers actually putting in brief rest-stops in their lesson, when students are given time to check their social media, as a way of dealing with this!

I agree. In school, we use

I agree. In school, we use laptops with installed games like hangaroo and some crossword puzzles. Yes those games are educational but it still hinders students to listen while the teacher lectures. It will seem a lie, but I don't like it. Students surely have computers at home so I guess school should banned computers and go back to reading books instead. Most students don't read books and don't rely on books when making assignments at home. They totally rely on their computers. School is the only sure place to read books because teachers demand it to them.

Finding a solution to check plagiarism

Now-a-days, the students can find numerous resources for gaining knowledge on the diverse topics through the internet. It is strange but true that most of the students are in habit of picking the lines from the reference materials without even realizing that it equals to plagiarism. However, the teachers can always check their course work to detect the copied lines with the help of a Plag Tracker that acts as a free Turnitin.

Thanks

Elatedly, computers are not yet an integrated part of the school curriculum, and every school and teacher re-invents the wheel.

This Helped

This really helped me with my assignment and i do agree that having computers in schools have advantages and disadvantages.

Utilization of Tablet PCs in Schools

Very interesting thoughts on the use of tablets in schools. I do agree that it is really more than just having a tablet PC. It should surpass the function of being just a presentation tool.

Dr. McPherson, I hope you could inform me when was this article (Using Computers in Schools) written. I would like to use it as one of my references for my paper. Thank you.

It was answered in another

It was answered in another comment that this article was written in 2001. Before tablets. Before smartphones. Blackberry was only an email device and was King. Cell phones did not have cameras or Internet or Texting. 4 Years before Google going public. No facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Utilization of Tablet PCs in Schools

I just read some of the comments about this article. I saw one comment asking also when was this article posted. I do hope you could give an updated article regarding tablet computers in schools. When can we consider or say that tablet PCs are utilized correctly and successfully in a school? I'm not sure if you are familiar with the SAMR Model. Maybe you could comment on it as well whether you agree or disagree with it.

Thank you so much. Your insights truly interest me. :)

Re: Utilization of Tablet PCs in Schools

I'm glad you found the article interesting, Maria, and thank you for drawing my attention to my failure in making an appropriate note on this page about a related article I posted more recently, on 4 November 2014:  The changing nature of literacy. Part 3: Computers. This isn't quite the update to this page I have planned, and still plan, to do, but is a step along the way. I do hope to have a proper update to this issue soon.

Computers are really important.

Having computers in schools add countless benefits to the school. Not just for the official works but for the betterment of the kids also. It will let them learn many new things along with learn to search their own doubts in schools. I insist, computer is the mandatory to kids at an early age because this is the era of technology and web. I like the reasonable necessities you have mentioned here, these are quite genuine. Computers should also be there at the starting of schools.