When we hear a school has a good student-to-computer ratio, we automatically assume that some quality learning is going on. We forget that computer technology plays a minor role in some of the most important lessons students learn.
For example, computers will never teach students the intuitive critical thinking skills that come from taking liberal arts courses, nor will computers teach students how to be good scientists, journalists, businesspeople, etc. Computers simply allow people who have already developed their job and life skills to access information faster and compute quicker. A good scientist is a good scientist, whether or not she has access to a computer, and likewise with almost all other professions.
As a student in the College of Liberal Arts, I have been told constantly that technology should be improving my education, but more often than not, I have noticed that technology has created annoyances that have actually disrupted my learning.
I have sat through boring and interminable PowerPoint presentations that have taught me nothing, and I have witnessed almost all of the students in my Spanish language lab checking their e-mail instead of listening to the teacher. I have listened to fellow students complain when they get poor grades for using nothing but Internet sources on research papers, and I have seen those students face plagiarism charges when they used the Internet to purchase a paper.
And then there are those Blackboard discussion boards, on which some professors require students to post weekly comments. The idea is that they will encourage students to engage in a discussion of the material outside of class – essentially, that they will cause class to continue to go on outside of class.
What they end up doing is coercing students into posting something just interesting enough to meet the posting requirement but far short of thoughtful or insightful. Essentially, they annoy and exhaust students. If class went on all the time (as Blackboard discussion boards would have it do), students would be too tired by the time they got to real class to get much out of their educations at all.
The list of examples could go on and on. I’m sure other disciplines like computer science and mathematics make much better use of technology, but what we need to remember is that technology is not appropriate for all courses, and it should never be used as a replacement for teacher-based education – the kind that has gone on in all parts of the world since education became necessary for humans.
There have always been scholars who have called the value of technology into question, but lately academia has paid them little attention. Instead of listening to such so-called dissenting viewpoints, educational systems in America and all over the world have embraced technology as a cure all.
When I was in Mexico, one of my teachers told me that the Mexican government, in order to silence those who were asking for educational reforms, sent computers to all urban and rural schools. The problem was that the rural schools didn’t have electricity, so the computers sat in classrooms, unopened. But the government could say, at least, that there was a computer in every classroom.
That a government, anywhere in the world, could claim that a computer in every classroom actually improves education is a sure sign that, to us, words like “computer” and “technology” are spells. Regardless of what they actually mean, the sound of them lulls us into a false sense of security and allows us to ignore more dire concerns.
Before educational institutions spend money on computers and digital projectors, they need to make sure that there are good teachers. Teachers, not technology, are what give rise to quality education.
Daniel J. Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.