Purposeful Perpetuation of Misconceptions, or Much Worse?

In one of the worst articles I have read anywhere in a long while, Glori Chaika in 2006 wrote this article for Education World, “The Educator’s Best Friend.” The technology-based article in question carries a 2006 copyright date and boasts no information more current than 1999 in any of its citations. Some of the citations in question date back to 1995. The technological world of 2006 shared little to nothing in common with that of 1995, or even 1999. One quick glance back with the “Wayback Machine“, a website which archives the way many websites looked at certain times in the past, shows the blazing speed upgrade that was new on Apple computers in as late as 1997 could get you all the way to a speed of 233MHz. Today’s fastest Macs can reach 3.2 GHz. This is near a 14 times faster. That kind of performance change alone should speak to what computers can now do as compared to the mid-nineties.

*Sigh* I’m simply going to have to break from my normal writing style to drop a list of the preposterous claims made by this article, along with a snippet of why I believe this argument isn’t even remotely relevant today, nor was it in 2006 when it was copyrighted. Allow me to scan the page in order:

“Healy cited an experiment that compared young children’s math learning from board games played on computers with the same games played by a child with an adult. The study found that because of the language interaction, a child’s one-on-one contact with an adult produced far greater gains than those achieved when played on a computer.

This statement is just outrageous. Interaction with an adult human being produced far better gains than simply sitting the little guy down in front of the screen and letting him “go at it” alone? Wow. Forgive me for saying it, but what does the author think teaching entails? I don’t read many sources claiming that technology can or ever will replace the relationship-building experience of interaction with a skilled and motivated teacher.

“There is no question that computers are ‘motivating’ to children — but are they motivated to learn or just to play with the computer?”

Most teachers would agree that motivation is over half the battle today. Considering some of America’s hardest-to-reach teens- isn’t any “type” of motivation a good place to begin? This again seems to make the assumption that when technology enters the equation, the teacher walks out the other door. I doubt that any of these authors have ever witnessed technology seamlessly integrated into a relevant and rigorous classroom. It would be impossible to witness such a thing and then write such lightly-considered fluff. I can hold your hand and walk you to classrooms tomorrow where this is evident.

“Take note,” Healy concludes, “several responsible educators I interviewed deem up to 85 percent of current software not only ‘worthless’ but possibly damaging. For example, one study of children using a popular reading-readiness program showed a 50-percent drop in their creativity scores.”

On the outset, this is what you get when you cite information back to the mid-nineties. Software today is far better. In fact- free web-based, collaborative, social-networking software available in the past few years is already being harnessed by educators nationwide to create relevant and challenging problem-based learning environments for kids. As far as the “50-percent drop in creativity scores”, goes… seriously? What sort of a score exactly is this “creativity score”? A citation of this little tidbit would be quite helpful.

“Eighth-graders who used computers primarily for “drill and practice” scored more than half a grade lower than students who did not use them in that way, and drill software had little impact on the performance of fourth-grade students.”

This is exactly the kind of thing we are finally trying to avoid by implementing relevant technology. “Drill and practice” with a computer is more of this “teacher leaves the room”-type of thinking about technology. This debate should be centered on learning as opposed to teaching.

“After randomly interviewing 6,000 U.S. educators, Market Data Retrieval found that because the material is unorganized and not directly related to curricula or textbooks, more than 86 percent of the educators polled believe Internet use by children in grades 3 to 12 does not improve their academic achievement.”

This problem of “material (on the Internet) is unorganized and not directly related to textbooks” is code for: “I don’t know how to teach anything without my textbook as a crutch.” Teachers are not to be faulted for this comment, but teacher-trainers are.

“…a Harvard Law School professor, said he found much of the material on the Internet to be incorrect or biased. Material that is not edited or reviewed by peers before it is printed is frequently of questionable reliability, he adds.”

Much of the information in textbooks is incorrect or biased. Can a Harvard Law professor really possess such weak information literacy skills? Not to mention the fact that science textbooks are now quite outdated by the time they go to print. There are millions of people doing research simultaneously across the globe as we speak. Do you really think paper and ink is still the best way to keep up with an information explosion such as this?

“Lowell Monke, an advanced computer technology teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, found that when it comes to the Internet, “the connections are often unreliable, the interfaces unintuitive, the documentation unintelligible, the information unfindable. And when we do get the systems working, the technology changes so fast that we never feel fully confident about what we are doing.”

This one kills me. Mr Monke is an “advanced computer technology teacher”. I would skip his class the very next day if he offered the same “we never feel fully confident” approach to motivation. The only way this advanced teacher gets out of jail on this one is if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he said that ten years ago when reliability was not as good as today. I personally remember ten years ago and I’m not buying it.

“Students may be able to find information on the Web, but “just don’t ask them to explain what they found when they arrived…. [A]s social critic Theodore Roszak said, ‘An excess of information may actually crowd out ideas, leaving the mind (young minds especially) distracted by sterile, disconnected facts, lost among the shapeless heaps of data.”

“Just don’t ask them to explain what they found”, eh? Seriously, I am getting angry just reading this far. This implies an educational approach where students are simply expected to already possess all of the skills they need for working with new information. This is what teachers are for. Is it really that tough to help kids find the skills they need to interact with the big, bold world? We also apparently worry that their brains will be left distracted by sterile, disconnected facts. Curriculum. A little bit of solid curriculum and whole lot of messy teaching is what it takes to help students find meaning in what seems to be “shapeless heaps of data”. Newsflash: this data isn’t coming at us any slower in 2008.

“Edward Rothstein of The New York Times believes “the Internet will not come close to replacing even the most ordinary library until every book of importance is published in digital form, financial arrangements are worked out with publishers, and search engines become as powerful as the index in back of a reference book. Right now, even the most limited local library has much the Internet cannot touch.”

Wrong. Just look at this one simple little webpage. I get it, this article was written on the back of some severely outdated information. These guys aren’t futurists, they just ended up being very, very wrong. I really have to stop at this point. My *COMMAND-V* fingers are getting worn out and I am getting depressed. If you have read this far, I am sorry to have had to lead you through such a thing.

Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at http://nashworld.me

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