Friday, March 25, 2005

Computers Bad: Jotters Good?

Professor Magnus Nystedt posted a clipping from the Telegraph: Students make more progress in 3Rs without aid of computers. He posted it without comment... but I've seen that type of headline before and as always, the devil is in the detail.

Now, I haven't read the report yet, so I may be going off for no reason and talking rubbish (what's new!) but I remain equally unconvinced by the doom-sayers like this and the techno-evangelists that see computers as incapable of doing wrong.

What reason is given for the poorer performance? Well the Telegraph reports it as follows - "The more access pupils had to computers at home, the lower they scored in tests, partly because they diverted attention from homework." Well that makes sense! The problem is that children aren't doing what they are supposed to do! Should the headline be - "Students make more progress... without playing outside after tea"! Anything that distracts children from their work could be blamed for poor performance at school. They also report that, "Pupils tended to do worse in schools generously equipped with computers, apparently because computerised instruction replaced more effective forms of teaching." Again, no surprise there. Poor teaching is poor teaching and adding technological bells and whistles doesn't change that.

The question is not whether computers are used, but how they are used. Computers are a tool that can be misused just like any other tool. A hammer is a useful tool for hammering in nails, but worse than useless when you want to wire a plug. I read a report a few years ago on a research survey from America. It had a similar headline, essentially saying computers bad, jotters good. When you read the report however, it came down to how the computers were used. Children who studied for science tests by playing educational games (edutainment!) did worse in test than those who just swotted - surprise, surprise! However, children who used spreadsheets and databases to collect and analyse data did better in science test. In other words, the children who used computers the way scientists used computers became better scientists.

Eventually I'll get around to reading the full report and if I find I have to eat my words, I'll let you know here... In the meantime I'll continue to explore with teachers how to use Computers more effectively. Could it be jotters good, computers better... sometimes?

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