If You Can Read This Thank A Computer?

I think there is one effect of educational technology that is indisputable – it can make otherwise sensible people loose their healthy skepticism.  Are the bells and whistles blinding us to more basic educational issues – for instance instructional quality? That’s the subject of this week’s TIME School of Thought.

Steve Jobs didn’t think that technology alone could fix what ails American education. It’s worth remembering that in the wake of last week’s breathless coverage of Apple’s new iBooks platform, which the company promises will radically change how students use and experience textbooks. Under Apple’s plan, companies and individuals will be able to self-publish textbooks, ideally creating a wider array of content. Students will be able to download and use these books on their iPad much like they would use a regular textbook — including highlighting passages, making notes and pulling out passages or chapters that are especially important to them. Apple says it also plans to cap the price of textbooks available through iBooks at $14.99, a significant departure from the price of many textbooks now.

Critics were quick to pounce that Apple wasn’t being revolutionary enough…

You’re reading this on a computer, right?  Then click here to read the entire column.

5 Replies to “If You Can Read This Thank A Computer?”

  1. Agree with qualification: to lose your skepticism you must have it first

    For its become us v. them. I don’t mean bipartisan politics.

    Who serves whom in man and machine?

    This is not our loyal dog anymore. It’s undomesticated itself.

  2. As a HS science teacher who tries to integrate technology into the classroom I’m of mixed mind on this. But there is a lot of lack of understanding of what it take to integrate technology into lessons. For example, Andy’s column makes this absurd point:

    “Computers are often unaligned with classroom instruction, even though 90% of classrooms around the country have them. Still, according to Department of Education data from 2009, just 61% of students use computers to prepare texts “sometimes or often” and just 45% do more complicated tasks, for instance to “solve problems, analyze data, or perform calculations” on a regular basis.”

    Yes it is true, 90% of classrooms around the country probably have a teacher’s computer that is there for teachers to do grading, email, generate assignments, etc. A small percentage of those classrooms probably have the teacher’s computer wired to a classroom flat screen TV or LCD projector so that teachers can stream videos and display lessons. But that is still just a one-way interaction and the students themselves aren’t using the technology.

    I have no idea the percentage or classrooms in the country that have a computer platform for every student. But I’d guess it is closer to 5% than 90%. And when you take away the HS level computer science classrooms I bet the percentage is even lower. My HS has four computer labs that are shared among about 100 teachers who must sign up way in advance to be certain of getting a lab on a certain day. And they are often tied up for various types of standardized testing.

    So how does one integrate something like the iPad into classroom instruction. Obviously it would be very cool if I had 30 iPads in my classroom to use. I would find a lot of ways to put them to use even without eTextbooks on them. I’d use the internet for student research. I’d use spreadsheets for analysis and graphing of student lab data. I’d use them a variety of scientific probeware to gather and display data (temperature, salinity, pollutants, etc.) during student experiments. I’d assign all manner of reading assignments that I’d either post on my web site electronically or just link to, which would avoid a tremendous amount of photocopying.

    But technology ages really really fast. About 4-5 years seems to be the average life span of computers in our classrooms. After that they are just too old to be of much use. Which means the schools are going to have to constantly be recycling technology and buying new.

    In the long run it would probably make more sense to issue every kid an iPad when he enters school as a freshman and then he or she just keeps it and takes it from class to class until graduation. Then those kids who graduate or meet certain standards just get to keep their iPads Then there would have to be some sort of insurance and maintenance program to replace/fix all the broken ones that would occur.

    Buying an iPad for every freshman entering school would end up costing about the same as stocking every classroom with a full complement of new machines every 4 years. The cost would be a wash. It’s really a question of whether you want the machines in front of the students and for them to have ownership of them, or whether you want them gathering dust in teacher’s cabinets for much of the time.

  3. As important as technology is for our society today, I don’t believe a computer is going to replace the guidance and insight a good teacher can give a student. Without proper instruction in the classroom any extra work done on a computer is fruitless. Technology that builds upon what was taught in the classroom such as doing additional research or creating presentations can be an asset. Apple has completely changed the way we receive and send our information. I don’t believe the goal of Apple is for the teacher to be the “guide on the side”, but to provide teachers and students with a wealth of easily accessible information. I think they realize that our school system is not always quick to make changes and keeping the old textbook format with the innovative use of the IPad may be a first step to integrate the old way and new way of thinking.

  4. I am an elementary teacher in the primary grades. I have several computers in my classroom for student use. My students us these computers to practice math facts and use a program designed to test reading comprehension. These computers are old and getting older by the minute. I use a document camera and projector daily for teaching in my classroom. Although research doesn’t indicate a high correlation between technology and educational success I find that technology is a good tool that helps make my job easier. While I use technology to assist me in teaching it certainly could not replace me in the classroom. Much of what happens in the classroom is dependent upon the relationship between teacher and students. Technology, while a useful tool cannot replace a teacher in the classroom not or in the future.

  5. “And when you watch, say, high school students use the Internet to prepare research papers, it’s questionable whether technology — especially when coupled with poorly trained teachers — isn’t doing more to enable the superficial rather than open up richer veins of information for students.”

    Another example of “enabling the superficial”, or allowing our students to take the easy way out involves the reliance on calculators to compute simple sums, differences, products, and quotients for high school students. Many students have access to this technology, and fully take advantage of the fact that they can type into a calculator 2 x 8 = 16, without having to think. They do not realize they are wasting their time typing 2 x 8 into the calculator.
    As a high school algebra teacher I am torn on the subject. Do I want my students to waste their time typing a simple equation into the calculator, or do I want them to write a simple product incorrectly on a state exam that would go on my record (thanks APPR)? Computers, graphing calculators, and other new technologies need to be used to enhance instruction, rather than being the means of survival for our students. It is also important that the teachers implementing the technologies receive the proper training to do so. Without this education for teachers, as well as the improper use of the new technologies, spending all this money on fancy gadgets is pointless.

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