Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The magic silicon bullet in the classroom

One teacher, Peter Berger, thinks we should be careful about getting dazzled by what computers are being used for in schools, and perhaps focus instead on what they are useful for and more importantly what they can't and shouldn't do.

"Consider, for example, data released by the U.S. Department of Education, which estimate that twenty-three percent of preschoolers have used the Internet "before they can even read." This makes preschoolers "the largest group of new users," a distinction which thrills the Department's technology overseer. She's especially pleased that "young students don't differentiate between the face-to-face world and the Internet world."

Excuse me, but don't we want small children to recognize the difference between a picture and a real person? That used to be an important stage in cognitive development.

Sympathetic boosters like the director of one Washington, D.C., preschool center chime in that computers teach toddlers problem solving, hand eye coordination, and "the social component of working together." Come on. Does anybody seriously pretend that crowding around a computer monitor is the best or only way to teach that stuff...

At the undergraduate level a new device, the wireless clicker, is debuting in classes. With this gizmo the professor asks a question, and the students press their "yes," "no," or multiple choice answer buttons. A few minutes later their votes materialize as a bar graph on an overhead screen."

The gizmo apparently eases fears of giving the wrong answer.

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