Are computers in the classroom overrated?

  • Why would Silicon Valley executives, who are at the forefront of disseminating digital technology to the world decide to take their children to schools where computers are not allowed? The Chief Technology Officer of eBay, as well as many prominent hitters in tech, believe that computers inhibit the development of problem-solving skills and social interaction, and they decide to protect their children from the negative effects of their own creations.

    Ever since the adoption of computers as a teaching aid, proponents and opponents of the computer have argued over the usefulness or otherwise of computers to the learning process. Some people argue that computers are unnecessary distractions that shouldn’t have any role to play in the classrooms. Supporters of tech in education are of the view that computers make learning easier, fun, and flexible. But what is the real worth of computers in the classroom?

    One thing is for sure about computers; they are notoriously efficient at processing and accessing information. With a tablet, a teacher can download lesson plans, give out assignments, take attendance, and do many other things. Interactive boards cancel out the need to write on the board, and this makes the work of the teacher easier. But does it?

    As far back as 1994, Yale Professor David Gelernter had argued that while teachers and school administrators praise computers to the high heavens, the real benefits of computers in the classroom are grossly overrated and may even be harmful to the learning process. In his article arguing against computers in the classroom, Gelernter posits that computers are creating educational nightmares for administrators and students alike. In a world where literacy is on the decline, computer algorithms favor images over text and video over images. While we continue to complain about the poor quality of public debates, computers discourage linear argument and promote jumping to conclusions in a fast-paced information-saturated world of the internet. While students are having problems with spelling and arithmetic, computer algorithms help them with their calculation and autocorrect their misspellings.

    Researchers from the University of California and the University of Princeton recently published the report of a study which shows that using laptops in class can decrease learning. The researchers asked a group of students to take notes during a lecture using pen and paper while another group took notes using their laptops. The researchers discovered that students who used pen and paper to take notes had a better understanding of the lecture than the group that used laptops. The researchers concluded that this was because a student that was writing had to process the lecture, summarise, before writing it down in his own words. They also found that laptop note takers tend to transcribe lectures verbatim, a process that requires less processing and reduced their understanding of the lecture.

    Researchers at the McMaster University and York University also found that laptops distract students and reduced concentration during lectures, effectively decreasing what students can remember about the lecture.

    But without a doubt, computers have an essential place in the educational system of the 21st century because virtually everything around us has a tech component. The Internet of Things is taking over our lives with smart cars and smart housing getting ready to disrupt the status quo. Experts have argued that there is need to strike a balance between the role of computers and humans in the classroom.

    While a computer provides instant access to a vast amount of information at the click of a button, it doesn’t provide improvements in motor skills, creativity, memory and social interaction. The way forward is to strike a balance between the application of traditional ways of learning and computer-aided education.

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