Answering The Atlantic Monthly

A number of colleagues have brought to my attention an article, which even by its title, is controversial and misleading. The article, "The Computer Delusion" by Todd Oppenheimer, is in the July 1997 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. The negativism of this article, and its inclusion of a large number of quoted comments from well-respected people in the field, have prompted me to attempt to refute the statements made.

The text itself -- and the outspoken complaints of the critics of the use of technology in education -- indicate a lack of knowledge of the literature. Frequently stated in research is that proper use of technology is an important component of educational improvement, and that applying computer and communications technologies leads to improved educational outcomes.

Though quotes from many "experts" are provided in Oppenheimerís piece, it would be interesting to determine when these remarks were made. Technology advances occur so rapidly, and both development and implementation have moved almost as quickly as the swift and dramatic changes in the technology itself.

Positive Perspectives

We must also keep in mind the positive comments that flood the literature. For example:
Dr. Edward A. Friedman, Stevens Institute of Technology, presenting testimony in March, 1997 to the members of the House Subcommittee on Basic Research on the National Science Foundation programs in educational technologies, stated, "Promising applications of information technology in learning are now ubiquitous. Interactive, visual, engaging modes of learning can provide tools for improved pedagogy, lower drop-out rate, increased parent involvement and life-long learning."

Marvin Cetron, founder and president of Forecasting International, Ltd., a well respected futurist, states in TECH.NOS Journal (Spring, 1997), "Reform in Tomorrowís Schools": "Technology is necessary to prepare students for the 21st century. In one district after another, even relatively simple educational software made dramatic improvements in student performance."

Howard D. Mehlinger, Director of Indiana Universityís Center for Research in Education states, "We have largely accomplished the first stage of education technology -- acquisition and deployment. Now it is time to move on to the next stage -- the integration of technology in a way that ultimately transforms the process of school itself."

And a report by The Far West Laboratory states, "Technology is a critical variable as well as a catalyst for educational reform."

Singular examples are cited to make a point
or generalizations are made
for shock value.

Letís Not Get Too Excited

As is true in many writings, in order to impress readers, singular examples are cited to make a point or generalizations are made for shock value.
Let us not get too excited when we read among others:

  • In one Virginia school, the art room was turned into a computer laboratory.
  • Where computers sit on every studentís desk and all academic classes use computers, some students were complaining of headaches, sore eyes, and wrist pain.
  • The best educational software is usually complex, most suited to older students and sophisticated teachers.
  • Computers suffer frequent breakdowns, and when they do work, their seductive images often distract students from the lessons at hand, etc.
  • However, many statements made in the Oppenheimer article are true, and those must be brought to our attention. These include:

  • The business community often drops their support to schools after the schoolís computer system is set up.
  • School administrators may be outwardly excited about computerized instruction, but theyíre also shrewdly aware of the financial challenge.
  • The Internet, when used carefully, offers exciting academic prospects.
  • In Closing

    Those of us who have been involved with technology are excited about its applications in teaching and learning. Technology is central to education, it is no longer an "add-on." Demand for technology will continue, not diminish, and will also continue to be a driving force in education, as it is in the workplace and in the home.

    While not a panacea, technology should be an integral element in the educational process. Our challenge is to take appropriate advantage of opportunities to improve teaching and learning with technology.

    This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.