Kerry Hart: Balancing technology with life’s lessons
Computer technology in education hasn’t lived up to the hype it originally had. There was once a promise and a hope that technology would exponentially improve student learning. But then, we should remember that Thomas Edison proclaimed in 1922 that the motion picture would replace textbooks. So what’s the status of children using computers to enhance learning in the 21st century?
In a study done several years ago, researchers working through the University of Munich found that 174,000 students in 31 countries perform worse academically with frequent use of computers compared to students who use computers rarely or do not use computers at all.
Proponents of instructional technology argue that never before have students had unprecedented power over their external world. Is this a good thing? At what cost do we encourage children to immerse themselves in a deadened, alienated and manipulative relationship with the world? If there is too much time spent in the virtual environment of information without a balance of allowing students the opportunity to learn to fully nurture and develop human and biological relationships with the communities in which they live and learn, our children – and subsequently society – will pay the price.
I admit I was never a big proponent of recess when I taught at the elementary level. However, I now realize that recess provided a chance for children to learn about themselves as they learned to negotiate relationships. I use the example of recess because while computer technology in the schools increased by 300 percent during the last decade, 40 percent of the elementary and middle schools in the United States eliminated recess altogether during this same time period.
The charge for balancing our children’s lives belongs to parents as well as our schools. Contemplating the meaning and purpose of life as a child lays on a grassy hill and looks up at the sky on a lazy summer afternoon (instead of staring into a computer screen) provides the impetus for philosophical inquiry. Organizing games with friends (instead of playing computer games) provides lessons in cooperation. Opportunities to dig in real dirt to discover the insects and observe the plants that populate the most miniscule segments of our earth will help children learn to explore, appreciate, and protect nature as adults.
Although virtual trips to the Himalayas and cyber trips in space have intellectual merit, there must be a balance for children to have the chance to learn to understand the fragility of the petals of a flower, to use their imaginations in order to learn how to solve problems; and above all, to develop qualities of self-discipline, courage, integrity, and compassion that can only come from human interaction in the real world. An imbalance of technology can take these learning experiences away.
Technology has a place. The vast world of academic, scholarly and wholesome information available on the Internet is invaluable. But it is dangerous if this virtual environment becomes so pervasive that it stunts our children’s internal growth and their ability to function effectively in relationships. In fact, the conclusion of the Munich study does not advocate doing away with computers and/or technology. The conclusion indicates that technology (computers) may well have a time and a place, but not just any place and any time.
Kerry Hart, is the dean of campus at the Colorado Mountain College’s Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. His education commentaries appear in the Pilot & Today. Hart can be reached at 870-4414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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