Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Apple a Day

Maine is dumping laptops on all the kids in their education system in an attempt to, well, they don't really say, but a helpful blogger passes along some notes:
What did we learn? If you're thinking of doing something like this, go to one vendor. Don't spread it around - you want one throat to choke. When something goes wrong, you don't want the computer company blaming the network company. Get one vendor who can deal with the whole issue and be your partner. For us, Apple was a real partner. They moved people to Maine, were fantastic with repairs, a real partner.
Macs rank right up there with soccer on the number of kids who use versus the number of adults, but that doesn't stop the adherents from thinking their payday is right around the corner. The killer is that Bill Gate's foundation supplied at least part of the funding for the endeavor. But why get the laptops in the first place?
The model of education for 500 years has been a teacher becomes an expert and dumps data on kids. Thomas Jefferson could know everything, but now, no one can, because there is so much more knowledge out there today. We should look at law school as a model, because there's too much damn law. Nobody can learn all of it. Instead, you learn how to ask the right questions, identify the issues, and find the law. That's a much better model for kids to learn in a knowledge-rich society. It's a different kind of learning. Like they say, we've gone from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. We're not going to beat the rest of the world on rote learning.
'Guide on the side'? What a pile of crap, and they attest as much elsewhere in the article:
So do not - do not - promise your school board that one-to-one laptops will improve test scores, or you'll be out of a job. You can say they improve writing skills - all the research is showing this. But it's really about problem solving.
I must admit that I think laptops do improve writing skills, at least in my own experience, but why is this? I tend to think it's because of the consistent, constant (some would say nagging) feedback that a program like Word provides on writing miscues. As helpful and educational as it is, this is the epitome of 'rote learning' where an 'instructor' incessantly badgers the student to perform certain tasks correctly. Although it's probably better coming from a computer since there can be no perceived malice on the computer's part, and for as much as you might get angry with them, computers will never, ever, ever give a care for your feelings.

Now longtime readers of the ES know of my ambivalence when it comes to computers in the classroom. I guess this comes from growing up in an environment where computers were thrown into classrooms in the hope that some mystical force of osmosis would transfer some flavor of computer knowledge with which the administrators of the school were themselves wholly unfamiliar with. Hearing stuff like the above doesn't exactly reassure me that anything has changed in the intervening years and people should ask what exactly school administrators hope to get out of expanded computer use by students. I can't help but think that the educrats hope that the computer will give them some cover for their overall ineptitude, which it well might if it were developed properly; but if they won't even play to the computers strengths (few though they might be) then educational computer use will continue to be largely a waste of time and resources.

(It also needs to be pointed out what resource hogs computers are in terms of space, power, manpower, trash generation, etc. So costly are their overall usage in an institutional environment that they should really only be used in situations where either it's a task only a computer could do, or where using a computer offsets resource usage in some other area) .


Anonymous said...

As a long time educator, I have seen the growth of computers in the classrooms from nothing to updating to the new tech. every couple of years. Here is what happens. The state gives school corp. a boatload of money that must be spent on computers. The school then is given a higher ranking in its educational status, which leads to more money from the State for general funding. It's not so much about education as it is about getting more money for things you realy need by showing you are on the cutting edge of technology. Most teachers I know think, "what a wast of taxpayer mony", when they see brand new, lab full of computers, show up every 2 to 3 years.

Evil Sandmich said...

I suspected as much, I'm hard pressed to ever think of a teacher saying "what we need are more computers!" It's always some faceless educrat or clueless politician; much like 'guide on the side' B.S. (man that fries me).