Continuing with yesterday’s theme of wasting money on technology in schools, Cliff Stoll is back with another of his wonderfully strange and rambling rants on the subject. For those who aren’t familiar with this character, Stoll is a physicist and writer who’s been a long-time virulent critic of computers in education.
That being said, Stoll does offer some good observations about how computers are actually used in many American schools.
The computer changes the ecology of the classroom. Attention is diverted away from the teacher and toward the magic screen. Electronic media are emphasized at the expense of the written word. Books feel boring compared with their online competitors. As a result, school libraries have morphed into media centers, where Internet feeds and DVDs push aside books and magazines. Increasingly, schools teach the easy stuff: how to change fonts, surf the Web or make a PowerPoint show.
This is just one small sample of Stoll’s constant drumbeat to totally replace computers with field trips and hands-on activities. Strangely, he has much in common with those at the opposite end of the spectrum who support technology as the total solution to all educational problems. Both sides are full of crap.
Stoll is right, however, that the computer changes the "ecology" of the classroom. It should! We should be using technology to alter teaching and learning by giving kids more control over both; by offering more individualization; by offering the teacher more options for helping their students understand the world.
Unfortunately, Stoll is also right that we don’t do enough to help students develop the "human skills" and creativity that they need to succeed. But put the blame for that where it belongs – on our rigid, antique school model which delivers to every kid exactly the same educational goal.
And that problem has nothing to do with computers.