The Luddites were folks who tried to destroy new technology threatening their old ways of doing things.“When tech enters the classroom, the usual result is money squandered. This was obviously the case with PLATO and it is quite apparent today with daffy educators suckered into going all-in with PCs and tablets.” John C Dvorak is an educational Luddite. He decries the use of IT in the classroom. He associates IT with distracting from the activities of teaching and learning.
That is so far wrong I am amazed. Education is about training brains to absorb information and to modify information and to present information. What IT does is to make that information faster and easier to find, modify, create and distribute. IT is a great lever to increase the efficiency of education. Nothing moves information around and manipulates it faster than IT. What books, paper and pens did for education hundreds of years ago, IT, particularly with small cheap computers, is accelerated many times over.
For example, consider a school’s library. I have been in modern and effective schools which had thousands of dead-tree books on shelves mostly sitting there being dead. Using the library meant students had to travel individually or in groups to the library possibly wasting 10 minutes. A card-index slowed students down more minutes. A few quick reads might find a suitable book in 30 minutes or so. A quantum of time in the educational system being 45 minutes meant a whole quantum was wasted before any useful work was done except learning how to do things inefficiently. Now compare that with schools having a server with ~100K books/articles/images or good access to the same on the WWW. Teach the student how to search once and they have a lifetime of information available as fast as they can read. By the time the dead-tree-worshiping school has a book in the hands of a student, the new student may already have made progress to acquiring important information. Google has gone around the world digitising books. Should schools ignore that body of knowledge they could not possibly acquire any other way? There are about 20 students for each teacher. How many of those few teachers are experts in any field in which a student needs/wants to learn? Books, digital or not, are the best teachers and just getting the students to the books makes them winners.
Still not convinced? Consider teaching students to write cogently. How many books on a particular topic should a student read to form some sound thoughts on the matter? One, ten, twenty,…? How many books can a single school at some location afford to own? A school is a far better place for learning by having 10 or 20 times as many ebooks as dead-tree books. Remember the class sets, the ones bought for more than $1K that get used for a few days or weeks and then go back into storage? Think how inefficient that is to hold back every student to the pace of the slowest reader and to have expensive resources sitting unused. With one PC per child, everyone can be reading/learning at their rate all day. That’s optimal for every student who can read. Johnny can’t read? The PCs give the teacher more time to teach him. It’s parallel processing. It works. Schools should use it.
What is wasteful in educational IT is use of Wintel everywhere. The big old desktops were just too large for classrooms designed in the days of dead trees. The small cheap computers running FLOSS on ARM and wirelessly networked are custom-made for education.
One last example. Education is a building process. Each individual adds to his knolwedge one brick at a time. That’s a rate-limited process and can be improved. Suppose the work of all students was preserved/published/distributed so that each student not only benefits from the knowledge and experience of his teachers but also from other students in the building and students and teachers previously in the building or in the educational system. With networking, databases and search-engines, every school can be an inspiring space, not a box. Students who are motivated and challenged by their peers are vastly superior learners and that motivation can be magnified by IT. In communities where I worked, I put wikis on the servers so students could find stuff related to their families/communities rather than just “the world” out there. How many dead tree books are relevant to students, written by someone in a faraway place with a different dialect and vocabulary and published on some stranger’s dead trees? Try teaching reading and writing in English to aboriginal students who live in their local dialect. Try teaching them to read and to write about the people and places they know. See the difference? No one wants to learn stuff that is irrelevant. IT brings relevance to every school and student and a connection to the rest of the world in a way that dead tree books don’t. Economics, space, freight all make that impossible.
Education with IT bridges the digital divide giving every student everywhere an equal opportunity to learn. IT, in itself, does not replace teachers and is not about education, but IT is a far better tool than what most schools have used for centuries. Folks who decry IT in schools are Luddites, trying to hold back a tide of knowledge, knowledge of people, places and things but also new ways of solving problems and indeed examples of real problems that inspire students to learn. Most of my education was accomplished in the early years with dead trees and it worked but you know what I remember best? Examples my teachers brought in of new and interesting stuff, nothing from all those dead trees. Where teachers can manage to bring in dozens of memorable things, IT can bring in millions. Present them all. Let the students sort them out.