Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Excessive Computer Use Harms Learning!?

My breakfast is rarely accompanied by members of my immediate family, but almost always allows me to catch up on hometown news. The routine is pretty simple, open my web browser, click the folder that says 'daily' on my menu bar, and wait for the 12 tabs to open up.

Among a number of feeds, my daily reading includes my hometown paper, the Windsor Star, which today, had my full attention with a front page headline:"E-Learning Debate Rages". Later, I found the Montreal Gazette also ran with a catchy headline: "Cmputrs in skools make u stoopidr".

Themes in both stories can be highlighted with a few select quotes from Michael Zwaagstra the author of the 'research report':

"Excessive computer use can harm learning..." and "...students shouldn't use computers in a classroom more than once every two weeks."

Fearful that the report would be supported by select parents or worse yet, teachers looking for another excuse to abandon tools of the present in order to "get back to basics", I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful responses of selected school board representatives, and was happy to read in Doug Peterson's blog:

"With computers, we enable students to have access to more information, think deeper and more analytically, and view problems in ways never imagined in a traditional classroom. The challenge for us is to prove that it’s money well invested."

Following a link to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy report (thanks Doug!), I discovered that the real story of the report was missed! The study actually refers to the need for technological literacy on the part of educators:

"Computer technology is simply a tool and is only useful if teachers know how to use it effectively. Not all teachers are equally computer literate...

...School divisions need to spend more time ensuring that staff members are fully computer literate before purchasing expensive computer systems for their students."

Unfortunately both the Windsor Star and The Montreal Gazette ran with inflammatory storylines, with the Windsor Star actually gathering and publishing school board hardware budgets. Maybe next time, these newspapers might craft headlines that are in the best interests of teachers and students alike, something like:

"Teachers need to make more effective use of present day learning technologies!"