If anyone were to advocate the use of computers in the classroom, it’d be a Google employee, right? Well, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald recently, employees of some of the world’s biggest technology giants are opting for low-tech learning environments for their children.
In the article, ‘Computers ok? Not in Silicon Valley’, Alan Eagle, executive communications employee at Google, declares, “I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school.”
Eagle’s two children attend Waldorf schools, which subscribe to a teaching philosophy centred on physical activity and learning through creative, practical tasks; the US equivalent of Australia’s Steiner schools. Similarly, the chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom Waldorf school in Los Altos, California.
So what’s behind this resistance to technology in modern-day learning environments? Commonly, those who support the Waldorf approach believe computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans. Real engagement, they argue, comes from great teachers with interesting lesson plans, not machines.
Paul Thomas, a former teacher and current associate professor of education at Furman University, sides with the Waldorf approach, suggesting, “Teaching is a human experience … Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”
Of course, there are many experts who, in contrast, strongly endorse the use of computers in schools. Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association in the US, is one.
Flynn states, “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children.”
As a psychologist and educator of more than 30 years, I believe the fact that we have schools offering distinctly different educational approaches is ideal. What works for some students, won’t necessarily work for others.
In saying that, however, when starting Edworks 20 years ago, I implemented a no-computer policy. Studies then, and since, have indicated they offer no educational advantage for students.
On the contrary, computerised learning tends to promote ‘answer driven’ learning, which simplifies learning to the point where students only see the answer, rather than the learning process, as the objective. Conversely, Edworks’ personal programs, delivered by a tutor at the student’s desk, promote divergent thinking (more than one possible answer), which fosters abstract thinking and creative problem solving.
Additionally, computer-based programs tend to ignore the importance of concrete thinking, deductive reasoning and understanding concepts, and do little to promote the idea of independent learning.
So, while at Edworks we don’t quite allow kids to learn fractions by cutting up quesadillas and cake, we do recognise the distractions and limitations computers can have in a learning environment and opt for the tried and trusted alternative.