Unconventional Thinking About Computers in Schools

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While some people are excited about using computers to teach traditional subjects, perhaps with greater comprehension or efficiency, my work is driven by the exciting realization that computers make it possible for young people to learn and do new things in new ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Over nearly thirty years of helping schools around the world use computers to create more productive contexts for learning, I have observed many myths that derail progress.

Scarcity is a major obstacle to use
Most children in non 1:1 schools use a computer less than an hour per week and we then have the audacity to question whether “computers work” in school. Teachers have little incentive to develop modern teaching techniques when computers are too scarce. Twenty-one years since I led PD in the world’s first laptop schools, the value of 1:1 computing has long been settled.

Technology is not neutral
All technology shapes behavior. Our tech investments tend to grant agency to the system, teachers or learners. I favor laptops because they put maximum power in the hands of the students we are employed to serve.

Computer science is a critical curricular topic
Although we should make computers transparent across the curriculum, too many schools behave as if computers have had zero impact on society and that children should have limited knowledge of how technology central to their lives works. Parents want their kids to make Bill Gates’ money without learning to program.

Computer science is a critically important discipline that all students should be exposed to and some children should study in depth. The problem solving skills developed serve almost any career. Fundamentally, access to computer science experiences allows children to program the computer, rather than the computer programming the child. (Seymour Papert)

90% of school is language arts
And 98% of educational computing is language arts. OK, I made up those statistics, but information access and communication are the low-hanging fruit representing only a tiny fraction of what it means to be educated. S.T.E.M. subjects and the arts can be made accessible and transformed by computing.

All “devices” are not created equal
Electricity alone doesn’t bestow sufficient educational value. What was the last time you walked into an Apple Store or electronics retailer and said, “I’d like to buy a device please?” We only use the term, “device,” when we’re cutting corners for students.

And the children shall lead
Schools should consider powerful models like Generation YES (genyes.com) that channel student technology expertise in service to their school or community through teacher professional development, technical support and peer mentoring.

The network is not the computer
There are a million and one fantastic things that students can make with a computer even without Internet access.

If you can make things with computers…
…then you can make more interesting things (Papert). Computers afford opportunities for a greater range of projects to be possible than ever before. Since knowledge is a consequence of experience, interdisciplinary personally meaningful projects create the learning opportunities and memories students need to succeed.

You might begin reconsidering your network personnel budgets
For how many years will you employ network personnel after every student and teacher has Internet access on the person in the form of cell phones or laptops with built-in Wi-Max? In many cases, overzealous network employees turn $1,000 computers into $100 sculpture by the time they finish restricting what may done with them.

Younger kids need better computers
Many schools make the mistake of sending hand-me-down computers to the primary grades when those children benefit most from new multimedia features and processing power. At the same time, the narrow range of assignments given to high school students often requires a whole lot less computational power.

Don’t waste your best teachers on administrative computing
It’s common sense to distinguish between instructional and administrative computing. Wasting talented teachers on attendance or payroll systems is foolhardy.

Computing can be a catalyst for school improvement
When I mentor teachers in classrooms, they not only realize the capabilities of their students through their screens and eyes, but have a context for manipulative use, literature integration, project-based learning, new forms of assessment, learner-centered pedagogical practices, problem solving, collaboration and other broader educational objectives that may have eluded your school.

Internationally renowned educator, speaker & consultant Gary Stager, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Constructivist Consortium and the Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute. He may be reached at stager.org

Comments

4 Responses to “Unconventional Thinking About Computers in Schools”
  1. Kate says:

    Thanks, Gary!

    As we are inching our way closer to understanding what it means to use computers in the classroom, we have instituted a 1to1 iPad program for my students. It is not as good as a 1to1 laptop program, but it’s what I have and it’s better than trying to book a lab or laptop cart.

    And the push back that I am getting? “Why are you letting them play games?” That question could take me hours to answer on the many levels that games have value, but the short answer is – because they want to play them. And because they will be creating their own games in my class soon. When Mittch Resnick talked about the new directions for narrative this summer, I knew then that I would be working with Scratch in my Language Arts classroom.

    And I am sharing this post with my whole team.

  2. Charlie O'Sullivan says:

    Thank you for reminding me that the Internet is not God.

  3. gary says:

    Fantastic! Your kids are lucky to have you! Wait until you see this werk’s CMK 2012 announcements!

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