October 25th, 2011

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Gadgets how necessary?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Quite a long time ago, Apple made an amazing gift to schools. The company simply gave their apple IIe computers to schools. Apple wasn’t the only company making computers at the time, nor were they any better or worse than the pc’s being produced at the time. This was in the late 1980′s.

Along with the IIe’s came the absolute necessity to stick with proprietary Apple software, which was much more lucrative than selling the machine itself.  It was one of the most brilliant marking moves in the history of marketing. Schools, always cash strapped, snapped up any “free” computers that Apple was willing to give.  It was also the beginning of cult Mac.

We loved them. We didn’t actually have the time to research anything regarding computers, software costs, or anything else related to them. We gladly accepted them and used them until they simply couldn’t be used anymore. The last IIe in my classroom finally died in about 1998.

By that time I had 2 IIe’s, a Commodore 64, an early IBM, and an Atari in my classroom. My Kindergartners loved each of them, and just finally wore them out.

Not long after we started using computers in classrooms the debate about their usefulness entered our educational discussions. Actually the debate generally centered around the use of “technology”.

The sellers of the various types of new technology always presented the educational community with two ideas: children learn better with it, and they won’t make it without it. Good marketing paranoia.

Technology has been present in classrooms, with the same claims, forever. Record players were in every classroom the Eduskeptic was ever in, until high school. Then we had tape recorders and players, movie projectors, video players with TV’s, replaced by CD players, radio/CD player combo’s, laser discs, video camera’s, digital video camera’s, digital tape recorders, DVD’s, green screen computers, color monitor computers, printers of all kinds, floppy disk’s replaced by smaller disk’s, replaced by flash drives, computers that could do more than anyone could figure out, wireless everything, the Internet, white boards, interactive white boards, touch-screen technology, distance learning, telephones in the classroom, and on up to present day computer labs at elementary schools and high schools with servers and work stations, along with computers, laptops, smart phones, and iPads and  tablet computers in classrooms. It’s somewhat tiring just listing all that stuff.

The basic debate has not changed though. Do they do any good? An enormous amount of money has been spent by school districts over the last 20 years to buy, maintain, upgrade, replace, hire techs, and plan for an unknown future for technology that is admittedly quite interesting and useful, but with a relatively unproven effect on education.

The entire span of what technology covers, and will cover in future, is extensive. This conglomeration of gadgets that compose “technology” can best be described as very useful tools. But, does their use help children learn? Is the knowledge of how to use them really necessary for children to succeed?

As with so many things, maybe, maybe not. Absent a good teacher, are they any good at all, and does a really good teacher need any of it?

The Eduskeptics next posting will explore various sides of those questions. In the meantime, as always, assume nothing, verify everything.