||Volume 10, Number 1, September 1997|
The Real Story on Computers
by Lance Read
A rash of articles in a variety of publications regarding the “use of computers in the classrooms,” reveals an underlying misconception as to how we are actually using computers in schools. A number of articles in the November 1996 issue of Educational Leadership, for example, leave the impression that computer technology in all its various forms is being used by proponents in a much different way than it actually is. The basic misconceptions are at two extremes. One extreme would have every student isolated at a computer with little time for social interaction. The other would use computers purely as a form of entertainment. Instead of refuting all the alleged misuses, I would like to identify how we in our school are actually using computers.
Our students receive 1,000 hours of general instruction per year, of which 60 blocks of 40 minutes or 4% is directed computer instruction in a lab of 30 computers. Our course of instruction includes Desk Top Publishing, in which students learn to enhance their written work to make a more effective presentation through the use of graphics, diagrams, charts, and tables. Personal artwork and photos are scanned. Information is imported from CD encyclopedias or the Internet. (This could all be done using the older cut-and-paste method, but not as efficiently.) Students go on to learn a form of programming currently in vogue, HTML, to produce pages for a Web site. Students decide on a business they might choose to work in, and they design a site that effectively presents information about that business. They may post images of the newspaper, newsletter, or pamphlet they produced during their DTP assignment if it relates to the business. Learning to program in any language, BASIC, LOGO, or HTML, is beneficial on many levels. We finish our semester producing an animation sequence using HyperCard. Students can produce a character/story-based animation, a simple machine showing moving parts, or a live action such as an animation of the heart showing valve and muscle action.
While students pursue these activities, they also learn shared-network and personal-disk folder and file management, as well as basic computer-operating skills. The first 10 minutes of every period are spent on basic typing skills using a typing-tutor program.
Direct, whole-class teacher instruction of up to 10 minutes gives an overview of a new set of activities. Although working alone at individual computers, most students are excellent at helping one another with more complex procedures. The computer “experts” circulate among the students as teacher assistant, clarifying procedures. The teacher is thus free to help students having particular difficulty.
Students have access to the lab computers and five others in the library out of class time from 08:00 to 08:45, 12:15 to 12:45, and 15:00 to 16:00; the lab is consistently filled Monday to Friday. At those times, most students are working on assignments; some are pursuing recreational computing like games, e-mail, Internet surfing, and chat lines. When playing educational games, most students choose to work with a partner or group on a networked activity like Wagon Trail.
We educators who promote the use of computers in schools realize that school is a place where the majority of students can fulfil a strong human need, to interact socially with their immediate peers. Most students still prefer to spend formal education time engaged in learning activities within a regular non-computerized classroom, art, drama, music room, or gymnasium. Computers are not, nor will they ever be, a replacement for teachers. Computers are, however, excellent tools for assisting people in the efficient collection of information and the enhancement and presentation of thoughts and ideas surrounding that information.
Lance Read teaches at Citadel Middle School, Coquitlam.