We now have as many computers in schools as we have students, BUT . . .
Do Computers Actually Improve Educational Outcomes?
The short answer is: there is no conclusive scientific proof either way.
Some studies find positive impacts, and others find negative impacts.
However, in the last 10 years in Australia, literacy and numeracy levels have fallen consistently despite the fact that in that time we have populated our schools with as many computers as there are students. This negative correlation is not scientific proof that the introduction of computers has caused this drop in standards – but it definitely does show that computers have NOT helped all our children become better at reading and maths.
Brisbane school teacher, Michael Callanan, gave an excellent presentation on the scientific research into the use of computer technology in schools on the ABC radio program Ockham’s Razor in July 2012. I encourage you to read the transcript of his talk here:Ockham’s Razor: Computers and Literacy.
In his talk, Michael Callanan raised the interesting idea of a computer fetish in education:
Let’s look at the machines first, but more particularly our attitude to them, and here I’d like to introduce the concept of a fetish. A fetish is typically an object of obsessive devotion or interest which is revered by people because it’s believed to possess magical or supernatural qualities. So by extension computer fetishism refers to a human attitude to computers which mistakenly endows them with magical powers, in this case a miraculous ability to improve both the pedagogical process and the academic outcomes. In the educational context the belief in these mystical properties can be illustrated by the common and naive assumption that student plus computer necessarily equals improved educational achievement.
Or in other words as the bumper sticker says Magic happens.
On one level this attitude to computers is understandable. As humans we tend to be optimistic; hope springs eternal in the human breast; we intuitively realise the immense potential of the new technology; we desire what’s best of our children; we want to believe in progress. These are basic biological drives; they’re evolutionary imperatives. As such, they affect and condition much of human behaviour, but sometimes in quite irrational ways.
When a powerful piece of technology is developed there’s inevitably a lot of enthusiasm about its potential applications. Computers have rapidly attracted a veritable bandwagon of supporters; students and teachers, educational bureaucrats and managers, parents and politicians, industry advocates and marketeers and finally the swelling ranks of computer experts, consultants and technicians. Each of these groups has its own reasons for being enthusiastic about the deployment of computers in education, but in the face of declining literacy rates one has to ask just how much this enthusiasm is justified, is our fascination with screen technologies actually having a counterproductive pedagogical effect?
Computers Are Tools – Not Solutions
Michael is not against the use of technology in education – computers are just tools – it is what you do with them that matters. The problem is that many teachers have a computer fetish and so rely on the machines to do the teaching for them – it is like hoping a hammer will build a house for us.
The Blind Leading the Blind
In recent years, a lot of scientific research has gone into the best ways to teach basic literacy skills. This was summarised in the Report by the Australian Government in 2005 – ‘Teaching Reading’.
The scientific research consistently shows that Synthetic Phonics is the most efficient and effective way to teach basic reading and spelling skills.
The problem is that most of our teachers were not taught how to teach Synthetic Phonics in a practical way when they went to university – if at all. And, they almost certainly didn’t get taught this way to read when they were at school themselves as it was not government policy in those years. The education bureaucrats and university Teacher Education lecturers, many of whom are ex-teachers, are in the same boat.
The online and off-line publishers have not helped – most of the reading materials that pass for phonics instruction still do not use the scientifically preferred method of Synthetic Phonics – this, many years after the release of the ‘Teaching Reading’ Report! This is the blind leading the blind.
It is ironic, and tragic, that so many teachers are reluctant to learn a new way of teaching reading which is in line with the scientific research, preferring instead to hope that the new technology will do the job for them.
Computers CAN Be Great Tool For Learning To Read
Here at High Performance Learning, we use computers in a number of different ways to assist teaching and learning in most subject areas, particularly in literacy and mathematics.
For instance, we have developed a colour-coded font for web pages with various interactive multimedia features such as providing the sound of every letter in a word.
This multi-media font was specifically designed to teach the spelling and pronunciation rules of English using Synthetic Phonics techniques. The great thing about using this font on web pages is that the reader can get help reading a word whenever he/she needs it – and learn to be a better reader and speller at the same time. You can see it in action on our website here: Sample our interactive multimedia Reading Materials using BetterThanaBook Multi–Media Font.
We have been using the font since 2002 and have been getting outstanding results with our clients.
Even people with severe dyslexia overcome their problems completely and become outstanding readers. You can find out more details about our literacy programs here: Learning Basic Reading Skills Using Phonics.
High Performance Learning
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