As our society has progressed, there is no doubt that computer technology has become increasingly important. Children today are growing up in a world where computers are needed to do everything from controlling vicious heat seeking missiles to saving lives by controlling pace makers. Its role in education too is growing with increasing investments and technological innovation. I believe this is a good thing, but we must proceed with caution and a critical eye.
The long reaching fingers of the Internet’s power have touched almost every person and part of the world. The Internet has become essential in almost all parts of business as our economy becomes more global. Both the words computer and community share the root word “com”. Interestingly, the meaning of this Latin root word is “to associate with” or “together”. Whether we as a society are successful in using computers to bring all people together for peace and prosperity remains one of the most important issues of the 21st century. As we move forward in use and understanding of the role of computers in our lives and “communities”, we are challenged to direct its use for the benefit of all.
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In order to allow our children to harness the power of the computer, we must encourage its use in classrooms. We must demonstrate the many productive uses computers provide aside from playing games and chatting on instant messenger.
The real danger in such a “wired” society is the division between two groups, those that are “digitally disadvantaged” and those who are “digitally connected”. The “digital divide” as it has come to be known, already favors the computer literate over those that have a poor knowledge or little access to the computer technologies of today.
Because computers have the capacity to enhance many areas of education, they should become more prevalent in our schools. Computers have the capability to adapt lesson to the individual personal needs of the users. There are many different types of learners and degrees of intelligence. Computers have a unique capability to adjust the output of information to be customized for each individual.
Another benefit is how students with greater aptitude can advance in subjects they excel rather than being hindered by the pace of learning of other students in the class. Vice-versa, students struggling in certain subjects can access online tutoring and work at their own pace.
By using computers, students now have become empowered to be their own teachers. Instead of a teacher reading through information and choosing what the students will be taught, the students now have the power to provide more self-direction. Biased beliefs that teachers may unconsciously be putting into their lessons, may not be a factor in the information found publicly on a computer.
We have come to depend on computers to the point where it appears we can’t live without them. For example, in 1999 when we believed that Y2K would bring mass hysteria and alter the world as we know it. This incident elicited to much skepticism about our dependence on computers in our lives.
Another risk of extensive computer use is the decreasing time spent interacting with other students in the classroom. As their computer knowledge increases their interpersonal skills often decrease. It is my belief that the ability of a person to succeed has less to do with what they know, than how they share this knowledge with others. Isolated students learning at computers all day can lose essential connections that occur through interactions with others. Negative results can occur as they enter the work force and interact with others. They may find difficulty working cooperatively or dealing with human emotion and personalities.
If students are left to learn completely by computers, there may be a longer process of comprehending material. In my experiences I have never been involved in any totally online classes. So I arrive at these conclusions from my past experiences with a combination of computers and teachers in the classroom. Students would probably have to read a lot more on exactly how to do every assignment, rather then have the ability to easily hear it from a teacher. A computer monitor can’t answer all of the questions in life. Some of the best learning in life can occur between a great teacher and a group of motivated students. Almost all computer information consumed by the students comes visually, and lacks the subtle meanings that can come from hearing it from a teacher. In the future, there may be technologies that allow students to take in information from a computer, in whatever form they desire rather than simply through visual means. However, the absence of feedback that comes from human interaction remains elusive and absent in machines.
With the increasing use of computers must also come new educational paradigms and tools to aid children in balancing their intellectual skills with their social and civic skills. The ways children are monitored in classrooms and at home must be improved to ensure that computers are used educationally and not as electronic playthings. As the computer grows in power we must find ways to ensure accessibility so they are there for us just like an encyclopedia in a library. As time goes on, I believe all these things will develop.
In summary, the distribution and use of wealth by those with the advantages of the “mighty computer”, will determine the fate and future of the people and the planet.
I feel there is no denying that the computer must be used in education and in classrooms, for it is a vital tool for success. In contrast, we cannot turn education into children spending hours staring at computer screens with little direction or oversight. We must find some middle ground where computers are incorporated in classrooms but in a balanced and responsible manner. I feel it would be wrong to ever have the computer replace the teacher. I myself have had a few great teachers that have inspired me the way no computer ever has. The computer should remain as a tool for the teacher but not replace the human element of education. To accomplish this, more investment must be made in developing computer skills for teachers. Without such skills, their ability to feed the evolution in education will falter and so will the students who depend on this leadership. This evolution will occur slowly, over time, as the students who grew up with computers become the next generation of teachers. In the meantime, we must all strive, teachers and students alike, to find the balance between the human and the technology we have embraced.
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