Computers in the Classroom: Good or Bad?

Category: Education

Tech companies have been pouring their products into K-12 schools for nearly 20 years now. The colorful clamshell iBook and the equally gaudy iMac kicked off the invasion in 1999. The state of Maine has spent $200 million since 2000 to put a laptop in the hands of every student. Minnesota schools, likewise, have ensured that every student has access to a modern computer at school, and in many school districts kids get take-home laptops and tablets. But is it working? Read on...

Has Ed Tech Improved Student Performance?

Educators and technologists have touted technology as the key to substantially increasing student performance. They’ve had long enough to show some results; let’s see what they are.

Oh, dear… “Maine has yet to see any measurable increases on statewide standardized test scores,” according to a recent NPR report. “Meanwhile, student scores on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, which are given each year in English, mathematics and science, have largely remained stagnant,” according the Twin Cities Pioneer-Press.

Furthermore, tech has not done much to close the wide achievement gap between low-income minority students and their more affluent classmates. Socioeconomic background remains the strongest predictor of academic performance.

Computers in Classrooms: Pro and Con

Meanwhile, computers and the Internet have spawned new classroom problems. Teachers report rampant copy-paste plagiarism, which does nothing to hone critical thinking skills. Early p0rn problems seem to have been tamed (except on some teachers’ laptops). But students still play online and local games in class. Some of the brighter ones learn to use school-issued computers to hack into school networks and change grades.

Perhaps tech has been used incorrectly in classrooms, proponents argue. Simply “computerizing” the same old processes did not significantly increase worker productivity in the late 80s and early 90s, when businesses jumped on the personal-computer bandwagon. But when new processes were developed that took advantage of the properties that distinguish computer networks from paper-shuffling systems, productivity exploded between 1995 and 2000. The same epiphany may fulfill the promises made to educators, parents, and students.

Are We Measuring the Wrong Thing?

Learning how to use a word processor, make a spreadsheet, or create a Powerpoint presentation might not make kids "smarter." Picking up some basic programming knowledge might not help them perform better on standardized tests. But those skills are certainly important in many workplaces.

Many people question whether standardized tests can even measure the differences that tech makes in the classroom experience. “Why is everything based on test scores?” said Jay Haugen, superintendent of Farmington schools, one of the first Twin Cities districts to provide every student with an Apple iPad. “The whole idea is having students who are finding their spark and their passion and creating their own learning pathways.”

Training teachers to think outside of the pencil-and-paper box is one of the key things school districts can do to improve the effectiveness of classroom tech. But teachers don’t have much time left for “professional development” after a long day of classes, tutoring, and grading papers. Cash-strapped states have cut back on teacher training, too, leaving them to figure out subtle features of technology on their own.

In summary, the classroom tech movement has not produced significant improvements in the standardized test scores by which students, teachers, and schools live or die. But true believers counsel even more patience, saying the revolution must begin with teachers.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Computers in the Classroom: Good or Bad?"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

21 Aug 2017

Never believed in computers in school until college or perhaps high school computer labs. These kids need to learn to think for themselves first.

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
21 Aug 2017

Computers in the classroom is one of those things that always SOUNDED good, in Theory. (I want to live there, in Theory, because everything always works there.)

In the Real World, too many teachers had no idea at all how to use them to accomplish the actual GOAL of teaching students. Back when I was doing tech support for a grade school, we had a lab of Apple Mac LCIIIs, and the only time the kids used them was to play to game "Oregon Trail". Now, "Oregon Trail" was a great game - but it wasn't teaching the kids anything.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2017

Hi Bob,
They will have no access to the Internet and like the Voting Machines, they will be programmed by people that don't what you to thing outside the box!
I love books! They have a "paper trail"!

Posted by:

21 Aug 2017

"Teachers report rampant copy-paste plagiarism, which does nothing to hone critical thinking skills."

MLK was one of the best plagiarist around and got his doctorate that way! He also had a Day named after him. Not bad for a plagiarist!

Posted by:

21 Aug 2017

I don't agree that computers in the classroom are useless. Currently, we spend loads of dollars on expensive text books for each child. These are valuable tools. Schools also spend money on maintaining libraries. These are valuable tools. I don't believe that spending $150.00 (or possibly less) on a Chromebook for each child is a waste of money. Many school districts have turned to Chromebooks rather than iPads due to their low cost and ease of use.

I think any tool we can offer is valuable, if the root of the education issue is resolved. No tool, whether it be a library, a text book or a laptop will be particularly useful if teaching methods aren't reaching the students. We've long believed in the value of text books, but we still see school districts with the issues described in the article. Do we say that textbooks are useless? Of course not.

Computers in the classroom didn't fix the education issues that we see. Is it not, perhaps, possible that this is because the issues aren't caused the inclusion or exclusion of specific physical tools?

For what it's worth, I think that if the WWW, along with tools such as laptops, had been available when I was a child, it would have enhanced my education and opened up avenues I did not know existed. Today, for example, I watched the NASA coverage of the total solar eclipse. NASA followed the path of totality and broadcast from varying view points. It was awe-inspiring, even from a screen. And, viewing how total eclipse was seen in varying conditions was quite interesting, as well. I recall as a child that I was quite taken with SkyLab. I had a small book my parents bought me. We discussed it in school. But, having the wider array of information that could have been available about SkyLab (and space in general) on the Internet could have opened up more for me.

Another poster mentioned the World Book Encyclopedia. This tool is still available. But, World Book also offers online products to help children research and learn. How could having this additional tool be a waste?

Unfortunately, I think people often see "the inner-net" as nothing more than Facebook and Twitter. This is hardly the case. The amount of meaningful information available at the click of a button does offer great value. Along with this, discussions from forums allow people to read varying viewpoints, nuances and experiences from people of different backgrounds and cultures.

Used properly, classroom computers could offer wonderful supplementation to a well-planned and well-implemented educational structure. But, as mentioned previously, no tool will offer much if there is a core issue, independent of the physical tools, that is hampering teaching and learning.

Lest I forget to mention it, using a computer can also help children with logic skills, research skills, independent study skills and more. These traits enhance a student's ability to "think for himself or herself." (There always have been and always will be students who find ways to plagiarize, cheat, etc. Let's not blame that on classroom computers.) And, of course, children can begin to learn programming skills, spreadsheet skills and office skills that will prove vital in today's job market.

Posted by:

21 Aug 2017

My grandson raced ahead of classmates in the air force with just 1 or 2 others, because they could do long division without a calculator. In spite of computers and such things, we still need to learn the basics. In my small business it would have been nice for some of my employees to have had basic experience in word, excel, and some other commonly used programs and not just CAD or Facebook and no, they did not know how to create a Facebook page for a business....oh well. We need both worlds going forward. Marcy

Posted by:

Maura K
21 Aug 2017

The school I worked at was just getting to this level of tech in the classroom as I retired. It seems to work in some applications better than others - depending on subject and teachers' ease with tech. There also has to be proper training and software available. When those things all happen, laptops in the classroom can lead to very individualized learning for the students. I saw kids very engaged with math practice on laptops who would have zoned out over a paper worksheet. Others who would have been woefully behind during a traditionally taught lesson could now work at their own pace. Remains to be seen how this might affect standardized test scores.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2017

The only thing the computer in the classroom has accomplished is providing another level of babysitting. When I retired from teaching my classroom had 34 computers. The learning programs were so poorly written that students were constantly complaining. The text/questions were written at the 6th grade level yet the material they were trying to learn required a reading level at the 12th grade level. Computers in a technical field is fine if the material reflects the real world.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2017

Great Topic! As a semiretired technical instructor and working in both environments, The computer class room only works for the students that want to learn and become subject matter experts in the first place and that could be only 3 in 10.
Foreign nationals are and were far more immersed in gadgets than our people years ago. The biggest difference is they learn what you are putting out or they get their crank stepped on. Not so much in the Good old USA. The views expressed about are spot on.
Thanks as Always, Phil

Posted by:

22 Aug 2017

I grew up without computers in the classroom. I think in some situations, such as high school, it would have been wonderful to have access to a 'mainframe', that could have allowed real world practice on a real machine. My typing class had to suffice... After graduation, thru JTPA, I got to experience the world of apple iie... Not a pretty start to computer land... An electronics course didn't end up landing me a tech job in the early 90's, but helped in other ways. My kids now have computer access, but with common core, and other new methods of teaching, they have really struggled academically. We could help our son figure out math problems the way we learned, but was failed when he couldn't do it the new way, even if he had the right answer. maybe a little off topic, but I agree with others; its how the tools are utilized. I have a job now and really know nothing about excel, yet I have to figure out now how to use it. My kids probably know more about it than I do (hopefully!). Many great comments, and hopefully our thoughts can be applied to our country and making a difference for our kids, and their future. Bob brings a great topic and I know my wife has a few choice thoughts on the subject!!!

Posted by:

Jane Holzapfel
22 Aug 2017

A computer is a tool like any other. A pencil can be creative and so can the use of the computer. I taught sixth graders Powerpoint, Word, Excel, and Internet, but not just for the sake of learning these tools. For example, the students were given the assignment to analyze the crime of littering on the school yard (Have each student or team find one object littered on the school grounds.) and make a Powerpoint Point Slide showing a photo of the object they found littered on the campus. Next insert text boxes making inferences: who littered the item (perhaps a cigarette with lipstick on it, was it tossed from a vehicle or a person walking (proximity to the curb), can they infer anything else about the person who littered the object.
Finally, design a slogan, song, or advertisement to prevent the type of littering they had encountered. Be conscious of who your target audience is. Then share the slides with the class and evaluate the slides. Would the person be convinced not to litter in the future?

For learning Excel, the students created a spreadsheet for their Holiday shopping. Given a budget of so much money on a piece of paper that they picked from a box, they perused catalogs to list items for their family members. They used formulas to figure the 8.25% tax, to calculate sale prices, to create subtotals, to subtract money from their bank account. Sometimes they were given a bonus to add so they learned debit and credit.

Yes, even Word Processing can be creative if they are writing a Tall Tale about someone in history. Write a Tall Tale from five historical facts about the person. The students researched and listed the five facts first. They had to make sure that they had facts and not opinions about the person.

I do not believe that it is effective to use computers for drill and practice of math facts.

Posted by:

22 Aug 2017

I used to work for a company that took a cheap tablet and turned it into a (somewhat) limited platform for teaching. Each student had a tablet, as did the teacher. The systems were complementary. It would have been most useful for taking attendance, but the students (5th graders) figured out very quickly that by turning off the WiFi on the tablets, they were freed from the classroom constraints and their tablets did not appear on the teacher's interface.
Learning? Not a chance. Hacking? Plenty.
Bottom line (IMO), don't waste your time.
Yes, computer skills are important. Yes, the students will pick them up on their own time. (I mean half the time the teachers ask the students how to perform certain tasks!)
If you want to develop learning skills, nothing beats a book, pencil and paper, and a study partner. Nothing.

Posted by:

Charles Moore
22 Aug 2017

When I was a beginning teacher, I complained that the calculators only taught students how to push buttons without learning to do a process. Then computers took over and fascination with educational games took over and little was accomplished. Rigor went out the door to "it okay if they don't get it this year, they'll get it next year." Really! I can only imagine what modern phones are doing to the kids.

When I became a High School principal I tried to hire like minded rigor oriented teachers. That worked for a while until the complaints of the parents was to use "technology and prepare for the future. What future, If the kid can't think through a problem what good is technology?

With all the networking cheating going and the plagiarism I am glad I am retired and out of the fight.

Posted by:

Bobby English
22 Aug 2017

The MOUSE never questions the CHEESE in the trap.

What is really behind the COMPUTER IN SCHOOLS scheme?

Remember FACEBOOK was a God-send to the CIA, because silly people were putting all their thoughts on it.

I know the NSA is looking at everything on the Internet, so I use them as POSTMEN to get MY thoughts to THEM.

Posted by:

JR Maxwell
22 Aug 2017

My daughter is a teacher and she loves it. Teaches the First grade. She has a novel way of teaching, she teaches the kids to "WANT" to learn. You can't teach a kid that isn't interested in learning on their own. I'm speaking of things the school mandates to learn of course. You know what, she is very successful, the kids are having fun and learning. What happened to my teachers? No computers for me.

Posted by:

Lester Helmus
22 Aug 2017

I hope to get obese kids learning how to use a spreadsheet and losing weight while using my diet plan at .


Posted by:

23 Aug 2017

Our school district has given all students a Chromebook. When we had to be gone most of a week my daughter was able to get and complete her high school assignments using hotel Wifi in the evening. Many of her textbooks appear to be available online and when she needs a library book she can often get that online (usually with her phone, however). Overall the experience for her has been positive.

Posted by:

roger rowan
23 Aug 2017

Our favorite teachers always sowed us how to do it the hard way first then showed the shortcuts.
To answer your question computers would be the shortcut. Great article.

Posted by:

Mary S.
23 Aug 2017

Many high schools now use tablets instead of textbooks. The materials are constantly being updated, so the schools don't waste money on outdated textbooks. Students don't have to carry heavy textbooks home every night.

IMO, the biggest drawback is it's too easy to change facts.

Posted by:

Rick Howerton
25 Aug 2017

Have a 2017 Graduate working for me as I type.
His handwriting sucks.His computer skills are marginal at best and his work ethic sucks.

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