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Do Home Computers Help Or Hinder Education? 305

Posted by kdawson
from the yes dept.
theodp writes "The NY Times reports on economists' efforts to measure a home computer's educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts. Abroad, researchers found that children in Romanian households who won a $300 voucher to help them buy computers received significantly lower school grades in math, English and Romanian. Stateside, students in a North Carolina study posted significantly lower math test scores after the first broadband provider showed up in their neighborhood, and significantly lower reading scores as well when the number of broadband providers increased. And a Texas study found that 'there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with schoolwork.'"
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Do Home Computers Help Or Hinder Education?

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  • by davide marney (231845) * <davide,marney&netmedia,org> on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:14AM (#32885438) Journal
    What struck me is that kids gained nothing _but_ computer skills. This ought to challenge computer game designers: can you come up with a game that kids will want to play AND increases math and reading scores? I'm not talking about an "educational" game, per se, just a game whose side effect is better reasoning and comprehension. Even kids who read silly novels are learning something that is useful for school. Why not gamers?
    • by Voltageaav (798022) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:22AM (#32885500) Homepage
      They did that back in 1987. Math Blaster was awesome! I just haven't seen developers going in that direction in a while.
    • by nschubach (922175) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:26AM (#32885550) Journal

      That would be cool... unfortunately, games have become very watered down. Even simple challenges in games are documented and detailed on sites like GameFAQs within the first few days of release. If a kid is stuck on a puzzle that would challenge their critical thinking skills they are more likely to alt-tab to read the answer on the web than the are to complete the objective on their own. It's not fun for them to have to think! ;)

      If someone figures out a way to get past rudimentary math skills in a game (Inventory space / x bullets per y clips) then you'll have a winner but I can't think of any situation where you're going to challenge kids enough for them to do it in game and no so much that they feel frustrated with the game and look up the answer.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vlm (69642)

        If someone figures out a way to get past rudimentary math skills in a game (Inventory space / x bullets per y clips) then you'll have a winner but I can't think of any situation where you're going to challenge kids enough for them to do it in game and no so much that they feel frustrated with the game and look up the answer.

        EVE online? Which is basically a spreadsheet with a fancy 3d screen saver? Its way too grindy for my taste, so impatient kids will not tolerate it. But something like it might do OK...

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:43AM (#32885722) Homepage Journal

      There are a lot of educational games that are indeed fun. Before my kids were in preschool they had Sesame Street games (remember the Count?), and about the 1st grade I got them The Magic School Bus and Carmen Santiago, and some others I can't remember (my youngest is now 23 and managing a GameStop store). But a computer without educational games certainly won't help, and I can see how it can hinder.

      However, why are economists studying this and why is anyone lending the study credence? It should be studied by psychologists, sociologists, or education specialists. If an astronomer does a study about the mating habits of blue finches, would you lend that study any credence? I wouldn't, and I won't take any study about education by economists seriously.

      Actually I wouldn't take a study about anything by an economist seriously. If economics (and political "science") were anything more than mathematic snake oil, there would be no hunger or poverty.

      • by Macrat (638047)

        There are a lot of educational games that are indeed fun. Before my kids were in preschool they had Sesame Street games (remember the Count?), and about the 1st grade I got them The Magic School Bus and Carmen Santiago, and some others I can't remember (my youngest is now 23 and managing a GameStop store).

        Those games didn't get them into college?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by foldingstock (945985)

        But a computer without educational games certainly won't help, and I can see how it can hinder.

        Bull shit. There are dozens of ways computers can be helpful without the need for educational games. My first introduction to programming was writing small perl programs to aid in understanding math homework better and getting it done quicker. After I got into this, one of my favorite pass-times quickly became solving problems on projecteuler.net, which led to a better understanding of programming and mathematical concepts.

        In my opinion, it isn't the computer that is causing the poor school performance,

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by WillDraven (760005)

          The other thing to come to mind is they are probably making the mistake of equating hindering schoolwork with hindering education. Just because you're not learning what the state says you should doesn't mean you're not learning.

      • How to get 3 economics opinions, simple ask 2 Economists ... One will always hedge their bets ...

      • by KarrdeSW (996917) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @09:40AM (#32886390)

        However, why are economists studying this and why is anyone lending the study credence?

        Why wouldn't they? Do economists not understand mathematical models? Do they not understand statistics? They don't have a good grasp of how to properly stratify income groups? Or is it impossible for an economist to specialize in the area of education? I think a far more likely explanation is that you just don't generally understand economics.

        In fact, did you even read his CV before making such a statement? Ofer Malamud is an education specialist [uchicago.edu].

        Just a sampling of paper titles:

        “General Education vs. Vocational Training: Evidence from an Economy in Transition"
        “The Structure of European Higher Education in the Wake of the Bologna Reforms"
        “Breadth vs. Depth: The Timing of Specialization in Higher Education"

        I would address your snake-oil comment, but you apparently hold up sociology as more scientifically rigorous. I don't see much hope for you.

    • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:48AM (#32885766)

      Even kids who read silly novels are learning something that is useful for school.

      Good interactive fiction aka text adventure games. You can't make a kid want to read, no different than an adult. But once they're reading you can get them very motivated / interested in what they're reading.

      A much more interesting study would have been comparing hand/eye coordination before and after the computer arrived. My guess is aerobic fitness dropped but hand/eye coordination increased dramatically.

      • by wjousts (1529427)
        I was going to say something similar. I grew up on text-based adventure games and I think they greatly improved my reading and reasoning skills. Sadly, they are obsolete now and even I have no patience for them. Modern point-and-click adventures are far too dumbed down.
    • by selven (1556643) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @09:10AM (#32886008)

      After 3 years playing World of Warcraft I could recite the names of every zone and almost every significant town and city. Just imagine if the game was set in the real world and I was learning real geography. So yes, games can be educational without being "educational".

      • Pirates! taught me everything I know about the geography of the Caribbean.
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @09:58AM (#32886600) Journal

        Well, it would be that and even the quests could be at least a good reading exercise, if people actually read that stuff any more. But nowadays they just go wherever the little cube points them and then chances are they might not even know where they've been.

        I still remember teaching someone to play WoW, and let's leave him unnamed for the moment for the sake of protecting the idi... err... innocent. It went well until he found Quest Helper. Ouch. Then came talks like:

        Me: Ok, we'll get the egg first and then for the other quest we'll get the kobolds further south, they have much better drop rate.
        Him: Wait, wait, the little cube says there's a kobold there that has it!
        Me: Ah, screw those, the drop rate is homeopathic on those.
        Him: No, you don't understand! The cube says it has it!
        Me: How the heck would it know that? The drops aren't even generated until you kill them? It'll show you the nearest kobold in the area, regardless of drop rate.
        Him: No, the little cube says that kobold has it!
        Me: *sigh* Ok, let's prove it then.

        *Skip a minute of whack-a-kobold, and obviously it didn't drop the quest item*

        Me: Did that kobold drop it?
        Him: No...
        Me: Told ya. Let's go south, as I was saying. Those have better drop rates.
        Him: Ok

        *Walk 10 ft*

        Him: Wait, wait, the little cube says there's another kobold over there and it has the item!
        Me: Didn't we just go through this? The "little cube" as you call it, can't possibly know what it will drop.
        Him: Well, it just knows. If I mouse over it, it says it's for that quest. You'll see.
        Me: *sigh* Ok, go get him, tiger.

        *More whack-a-kobold, no drop*

        Me: Ok, NOW do you see that it doesn't know that?
        Him: Must have been a glitch.
        Me: Look, seriously, just follow me, we could have gotten it already from the group down south. Just trust me, ok?
        Him: Ok.

        *Move another 10 ft*

        Him: Wait, wait, the cube says the first kobold just respawned and it has the item!
        Me: Not again...
        Him: You'll see! If it says kill that one, then that one has it!
        Me: Jesus Haploid Christ... Ok, let's prove it again, shall we?

        Repeat about a dozen times, after which it dawned upon me that no amount of reasoning or failed tests would shake his religious faith in "the little cube" knowing everything, and just let him lead wherever the cube may point him. Better to spend another hour chasing a 1% drop rate than spend another hour making an enemy.

        But, either way, if you asked him afterwards where he's been for that quest or what road to follow there, he'd be as clueless as a baby. He just followed the little cube. Any names, landmarks, etc, didn't even register and really didn't need to register. There was no need to notice stuff like sub-zone name or notice even where the road is or anything. Those were not what told him where to go. The only thing that mattered, the alpha and omega, was just where the little cube was on the minimap.

        And just so I don't pick on just WoW, the same thing has been done for EQ2 too, in the form of maps with all quest positions already marked. And if anyone did a game based on RL geography, well, the same would happen. You'd get people who _still_ don't know where Oregon is, even after following the trail to it and back for a quest, because they weren't even noticing where they are or where they're going. The were just following the little cube.

  • by dwightk (415372) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:15AM (#32885452) Homepage Journal

    ... why aren't you doing better?

    • by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:25AM (#32885532)

      Without parents that are involved with their children and are at least semi-computer literate, the kid will do nothing but Facebook or Half Life all day.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by JackieBrown (987087)

        People like to blame the parents. When I was a kid, I remember learning in school.

        I do not get the impression from my child that the schools focus on anything that is not a social science. (The teacher flat out told us that no one teaches the multiplication table anymore nor phonetics.)

        Kids can't read or do math, but they all know about global warning, the rape of the planet, BP and other evil corps, how this land was stolen from the natives, how we ALL used to have slaves... It is a disgrace. Then peo

        • by sycodon (149926)

          I concur.

          There are three parts to this education equation...the teachers, the parents and the students. If the any one of them don't give a shit, then it's a complete failure.

          The fact is that there many are children out there who do not have access to computers and the internet at home that can easily out perform children who do.

        • by Eponymous Coward (6097) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @09:15AM (#32886080)

          I have the exact opposite experience. I have kids aged 7 and 8. They left kindergarten reading fairly well and started writing stories in first grade. My oldest kid just finished second grade and she had to learn the multiplication tables up to 12 x 12.

          I was in kindergarten in 1975 and I think our goal was to learn the colors and the alphabet. We didn't get serious about reading until second and third grade. Didn't do multiplication until fourth grade. My kids have a little homework every night, I never had daily homework until high school.

          They have covered things like global warming, but in a more abstract way. Conserve energy, don't pollute, observe bugs, etc... They also spent quite a bit of time on the space program including a 3 month project where they were able to choose one area of study and prepare a report and presentation (my daughter chose Saturn and the Cassini mission). I never had the opportunity to do anything even remotely like this when I was 8.

          How old is your kid?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by iceaxe (18903)

          Preamble: This is mostly from a USA perspective. Your country may vary. Also, this is almost entirely off-topic.

          People like to blame the parents.

          People always want someone to blame, yep.

          When I was a kid, I remember learning in school.

          When I was a kid, I learned everywhere. Still do, actually. So do my kids.
          Point of reference: It's summer break at the moment, but when school resumes in a few weeks, I'll have one in elementary school and two in college.

          I do not get the impression from my child that the schools focus on anything that is not a social science. (The teacher flat out told us that no one teaches the multiplication table anymore nor phonetics.)

          Foniks? Seereuslee?
          Also, sounds like either a broken teacher, or a parent hearing something they were predisposed to hear. I won't p

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        >>>>the kid will do nothing but Facebook or Half Life all day.

        Precisely. Back in the 70s and 80s having a computer meant learning to program, or learning basic office skills (word processing), otherwise it just sat there. But nowadays handing-out a computer is like having-out a television. It's used for entertainment not learning.

    • by ScentCone (795499) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:28AM (#32885572)
      Here's some money for a crappy computer... why aren't you doing better?

      What's your point? That giving them five times as much money for a loaded machine, complete with a dual GPU gaming video card and a glowing blue power supply will somehow make the kid's parents better at raising a kid? That a faster machine or more screen resolution will magically create critical thinking habits, creativity, or a longer attention span? That understanding causality, better parsing of complex sentences, abstract thinking using symbols in place of real numbers, and all of those other useful things either work, or don't, based on CPU speed, the amount of RAM you have, or how many USB ports?

      Or is it possible that a kid living in a household that doesn't have the culture, or the inclination, or the time dedicated to being a thoughtful, inquisitive person sees being handed a computer (any computer) as getting just another form of distracting entertainment? It's not about how "crappy" the computer is, it's about how crappy the kid's household culture is.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by somersault (912633)

        I think his point was nothing to do with how good the computer was, but rather that simply throwing money or equipment at a problem does nothing if you don't also provide some kind of training or direction. They could do something like provide a math/language based puzzle game and have the kids complete a puzzle each week as part of their homework.

        I remember a demo of a text (kind of, it had pictures as well but it was command line driven) adventure game I had as a kid, it was a dungeon game with trolls etc

    • I doubt the crappiness of the computer is to blame(if anything, the opposite).

      Taking "computer" to mean "x86 wintel", which is almost certainly the correct assumption in this case, you can't even buy a computer today(except possibly by making GoodWill an offer for their doorstop) that is within a factor of 10 of the suckiness of the computers that served entire universities and research institutes back in the day.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rwa2 (4391) *

      Heh, I'd say having too good a computer keeps you from learning too much about it. I spent countless hours tweaking DOS drivers and emm386 settings and benchmarking the math co-processor to see if I could get my crappy games running faster.

      In the same vein, my main "computer" as an adolescent was my TI-85 graphing calculator. I read through the entire manual front to back on the school bus and tried out every function and wrote some simple programs in their language, and admired the assembly programmers w

  • by Voltageaav (798022) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:16AM (#32885458) Homepage
    Kids are spending too much time on those darn newfangled computer thingys and it's rotting their brains. I say we ban them all!
    • by bsDaemon (87307)

      Seriously though, starting at a light source from short distance can't be good for your brain any more than it is for your eyes. The last time I went on vacation, I didn't even bring my laptop with me, and my mind felt a lot sharper at the end of the week. I've also started using a slide rule I inherited from my grandfather rather than a calculator and doing maths on paper again. I don't have to do a lot of math in my current position, so I forgot a lot and started doing a lot of review to get back up to

      • Re:Darn Newfangled (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sycodon (149926) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:27AM (#32885554)

        And giving the kid a computer and broadband won't make up for a crappy parent.

        • by Macrat (638047)

          And giving the kid a computer and broadband won't make up for a crappy parent.

          Unless the kid has their own initiative to drive them.

          • by Calinous (985536)

            That initiative usually comes from culture (house-hold culture) or... let's call it peer pressure. The chances for a kid having initiative to learn on his own (but hasn't learned this things from someone in the family) are slim to none.

            • by Macrat (638047)

              That initiative usually comes from culture (house-hold culture) or... let's call it peer pressure. The chances for a kid having initiative to learn on his own (but hasn't learned this things from someone in the family) are slim to none.

              I didn't learn it from any of my family or redneck friends.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by DragonWriter (970822)

                That initiative usually comes from culture (house-hold culture) or... let's call it peer pressure.

                I didn't learn it from any of my family or redneck friends.

                "Usually" may sound like it starts with "you", but it really doesn't.

    • by Zakabog (603757)

      Yeah! Let's ban these rotting brained children before they become mindless zombies!

  • Sample Sizes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:20AM (#32885482) Journal
    The Texas study listed these numbers for sample sizes:

    Three groups or cohorts of students were included in this study, with Cohort 1 followed for four years, Cohort 2 for three years, and Cohort 3 for two years (Table 2.2). Cohort 1 (ninth graders) included a total of 5,217 students, with 2,469 treatment students enrolled at high schools and 2,748 control students enrolled at high schools; Cohort 2 (eighth graders) included 5,436 students, with 2,578 at treatment middle schools and 2,858 at control middle schools; and Cohort 3 (seventh graders) included 5,392 students, with 2,547 students at treatment middle schools and 2,845 at control middle schools.

    The Romanian study [uchicago.edu] apparently successfully interviewed 858 families in two Romanian counties (Valcea and Covasna). With 1,100 children interviewed and some 1,800 survey sets. Just to put some perspective on how comprehensive each of these reports are. Couldn't get access to the other reports.

    Personally I think we're still in a transition period and now that those homes have computers starting when the child is born (and whose parents had computers) we will start to see better parenting skills and regulation with computer usage. It could become just another carrot for the kid or even a method to teach the child proper time management (similar to the classic homework before TV law).

    • by metamatic (202216)

      Personally I think we're still in a transition period and now that those homes have computers starting when the child is born (and whose parents had computers) we will start to see better parenting skills and regulation with computer usage.

      Like with TV, right?

    • by Calinous (985536)

      Better parenting skills usually comes with the kid being brought up in a "social" environment (many kids of different ages). Due to age-segregated learning, this happens less and less. I'd say current parents are even worse than the parents of old, even though the information on how to be a good parent is easy to COME BY USING COMPUTERS (not to mention lots of literature in bookstores).
            Easy access to information doesn't make one a better parent (or a better child).

    • we're still in a transition period

      But we'll always be in a transition. Just because this generation of children are brought up in the presence of desktop computers and laptops doesn't mean that those will be the platforms of choice for the next generation in 20 years time. For them the equivalent of todays PC might be more like an iPad which is used in completely different ways from todays machines.

      However, it's more likely that the next generation of children will have access to something as far removed from todays PCs as the current kid

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      The Romanian study apparently successfully interviewed 858 families

      Gosh. I hope no one was hurt in the unsuccessful interviews.

  • by Tei (520358) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:24AM (#32885516) Journal

    It seems on our culture learning is not a process, is a job for theachers. Theres no importance put on teaching people how to learn. About a 50%, maybe a 25% of teaching sould be training people how to learn things.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Please no. I'm not saying your point isn't valid - your first two sentences seem dead-on accurate, but I've been forced through a couple classes in 'how to learn' at new-thinking school[s], and for everyone involved the classes were a waste of time, except for one teacher who used the class as a sinecure. The good students who already knew how to learn were bored out of their skulls, the poor students who didn't care were bored out of their skulls, and the average kids were uninterested because the teache

    • It seems on our culture learning is not a process, is a job for theachers. Theres no importance put on teaching people how to learn. About a 50%, maybe a 25% of teaching sould be training people how to learn things.

      If you'd actually learned how to construct a sentence or two, the rest of us might understand what you are trying to say.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Incorrect, the problem is that they spend too much time trying to force students to conform to their way of learning rather than figuring out the best solution for that students learning. Some people learn best by memorization(which is what greatly promoted currently), some people, like me, prefer to remember as little information as possible due to semi-poor memory capacity and rely on our derivation/reasoning abilities to get us to the information. The problem is the current system has been in place so lo

    • by Myopic (18616)

      +1, Ironic

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by roman_mir (125474)

      Yo dawg, I see that you like 25% training how to learn things with your 50% of importance allocated on teaching people how to learn.

      We're gonna put 50% into your 50% and then add 25% to your 25% so that we can teach people to teach people how to learn to learn.

  • Non Sequitur (Score:5, Insightful)

    by owlnation (858981) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:24AM (#32885520)
    The computer is just a tool. I'd think it has no direct effect on education whatsoever. Smart kids with supportive parents will gain a great deal from having a computer. Dumb kids with dumber parents will spend hours on Youtube, twitter etc and learn nothing of consequence.

    The UK has just announced a program to get everyone online. However, 20% of school leavers in the UK are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Getting those people online isn't going to benefit anyone, in fact it'll just increase the amount of crap that's already on the Internet.
    • Re:Non Sequitur (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cyber0ne (640846) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:32AM (#32885622) Homepage

      The computer is just a tool. I'd think it has no direct effect on education whatsoever. Smart kids with supportive parents will gain a great deal from having a computer. Dumb kids with dumber parents will spend hours on Youtube, twitter etc and learn nothing of consequence.

      Exactly. If the parents are buying the computer as a teacher in the same sense that they bought the TV as a babysitter then they're doing it wrong. Kids who want to learn and grow will see it as a tool to help them perform that task, whereas kids who want to play Farmville and watch YouTube will see it as a tool to help them perform _that_ task. Perhaps the presence of the computer in the home strengthens the divide, but the divide has already been there. The student has to want to learn. There are exceptions, but generally (at least in American culture) low-income households and neighborhoods don't place a very high social value on education, and kids pick up on that at a much earlier age than a home PC can affect.

    • Dumb kids with dumber parents will spend hours on Youtube, twitter etc and learn nothing of consequence.

      Nothing of consequence? How can watching videos of idiots doing stupid things and getting the latest updates from your friends like "I just took a huge dump" be considered nothing of consequence.

    • The computer is just a tool. I'd think it has no direct effect on education whatsoever. Smart kids with supportive parents will gain a great deal from having a computer. Dumb kids with dumber parents will spend hours on Youtube, twitter etc and learn nothing of consequence.

      Ding ding ding ding! Exactly what I was going to type. Same goes with having an encyclopedia in the house or any other kind of books. Kids who have an interest will make use of the tools and get some learnin' in their heads. Books aren't a magic teaching machine that instill knowledge through osmosis.

      The same kinds of kids who improve themselves with books will take to computers; the same kinds of kids who aren't interested in books won't be interested in computers, or at least not in learning with the comp

    • by colmore (56499)

      20% of school leavers in the UK are functionally illiterate

      You mean graduates?

    • The problem I see is that schools are wasting a lot of money on computers where they can put that money better elsewhere. Lets do some simple math (Numbers are approximate)

      A school who has a Student to teacher ratio of 30/1 and each kid in a school of 1000 students all get a computer that is $1000 a piece.
      The teachers average cost is $50,000 a year.

      so 1000 students * $1000 = $1,000,000
      We Take $1,000,000 / $50,000
      We get 20

      So Without the computers you can hire 20 more teachers.

      Now the school has 1000/30 = 33

  • Dupe (Score:4, Informative)

    by marcansoft (727665) <hector@marcans[ ].com ['oft' in gap]> on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:24AM (#32885522) Homepage

    This was posted [slashdot.org] last month.

    • Don't argue! kdawson gets to post something inflammatory and controversial again, and we wouldn't want him to miss out on his daily dose of smug for once again trolling Slashdot's front page.

      Seriously, start supporting the "Author" element in RSS feeds. He's already filtered from my front page, now all I need is this crap stripped from my feed aggregator.
      • I'm disabling advertising until you do it. I've no other way of making my point clear enough.
    • by CmdrPorno (115048)

      That can only mean one thing: /. editors are low-income middle school students.

  • Like most tools... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Manip (656104) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:24AM (#32885528)

    Like most tools computers, or the internet, can both help or harm education. The problem our generation has is that we've decided we can use technology as a substitute for things which that technology is poorly equipped to substitute. Take for example the "smart whiteboards" - outside of TED I have never once in a teaching context seen one of them used well. The fact that even lecturers within technology still use a whiteboard or blackboard should hint to other subject teachers that these aren't magic bullets for improving education.

    The funny thing is that in my experience technology is used the worst the more further removed you are from subjects that really understand that technology. For example, in Science, Engineering, and IT you might actually find less computer usage than some classes in English or History which have no place using computers at all. What we essentially have is teachers swinging the technology magic wand like it is a black box that good grades come out of on their own... Very few people that know technology would believe this "black box" magic bull. But naturally there are companies lined up to sell schools software and hardware that might give students great grades just by the school spending money.

    Basically people want to "buy" grades and technology is the latest trend in that vein. The old trend was buying teachers silly short courses on various vodo tricks.

    Parents just want someone else to raise their kid and they feel less guilty about a computer than a TV or games console. Bad parenting will result in more time spent on 4chan and worse grades.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      The funny thing is that in my experience technology is used the worst the more further removed you are from subjects that really understand that technology. For example, in Science, Engineering, and IT you might actually find less computer usage than some classes in English or History which have no place using computers at all.

      History would be an amazing application of computers. Every event in history is connected to many other events. What better way to convey that than with hypertext? English too. I

  • it requires instruction and practice. A hammer and a saw do not create the carpenter. A carpenter can create with a hammer and a saw. A computer is just a tool and requires instruction on its use and operation. I don't need a study to tell me this, it's just common sense.

  • Computers don't hinder education, people do.

    Clearly, it's about how you use it. I don't know about kids, but I do all my learning online. Anything I want to know is at my fingertips.

    Every modern home has a computer. Those households that didn't have them clearly have parents who don't know how to instruct or guide their child's use of computers. Of course they won't study on it. They're probably surfing p0rn all day. No, seriously.

    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      They're like guns. Computers don't hinder education, people do.

      So people are concerned about guns hindering education as well as computers hindering education? Sounds like we should ban them both!

      On the more serious side of that phrase, it may be the people killing people with guns and not the guns themselves, but guns make it easier to kill people while not making it easier to keep them alive (anyone successfully tried surgery with a rifle that wasn't of the "removing self from gene pool" variety?). Comput

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, guns do make it easier to keep people alive. Some variant of the phrase, 'DROP YOUR WEAPON! DO IT NOW!' is usually involved.
  • Unsurprising (Score:3, Interesting)

    by s-whs (959229) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:27AM (#32885558)

    Carolina study posted significantly lower math test scores after the first broadband provider showed up in their neighborhood,

    Unsurprising, and for language skills too as children just spend more time doing stuff on the computer, than properly doing their homework.

    What surpises me about todays school education (in the Netherlands) is that programmable graphing calculators are allowed everywhere. If I were a teacher I'd only allow those in perhaps 1 test per year. All else to be done on paper, manually.

    When I see my niece who's quite intelligent, she's nowhere near as good at calculating stuff on paper or in her head as she should be. For what I consider te be trivial stuff that I do in my head, she picks up a calculator. And those skills of doing it yourself are important, e.g. to make estimates so you don't blindly trust what the calculator spews out. And those results can be wrong, if you say enter a wrong number somewhere...

    In my schooldays, I liked to calculate stuff in my head even though I was a programmable calculator nut (remember the great Casio FX-602P? The excellent but slow HP-41CX?). I did the following trick for example: Someone gave me a calculation that I would then try to give a close estimate to. E.g. 14.6 ^ 2.7. Using various methods I usually got within a few percent. Useless? No, those skills are useful to check calculations. If the outcome is completely different from a manual estimate, somewhere there's a problem...

    I remember estimating skills being taught in primary school. At that point they didn't make sense to me, because for me they were too easy, e.g. calculate 125*43. I would just calculate the exact answer, quicker than making an estimate. So estimating needs to be explained too which wasn't done properly then. Only many years later did I see the use of it...

    Make of all that what you will, I see no suprises in any event, in the results of the article.

  • Blaming the computer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EmagGeek (574360)

    Blaming the computer for Internet distraction isn't correct.

    I would be interested to see the effects of putting a computer with educational tools in the home, but WITHOUT INTERNET.

  • If parents were not using these for electronic babysitters this wouldn't happen. Any parent who's paid any attention at all can tell you that children will use anything to keep from the boring old task of "studying". As long as parents think they can shirk their responsibility to force the children to sit down and study, and at least do their homework, children won't study, and they won't learn, and their grades will go down. Thirty years ago I knew young parents who were totally shocked at their younger ch

  • I remember, back in my elementary/middle school days, computers(Apple IIs, at the time, went very well with the onion on your belt) were just getting cheap enough for the district I was in to get some, with the assistance of the more enthusiastic parents.

    There was a great deal of excitement about them; but much of it seemed to be on the part of people who didn't grasp that "information" and "knowledge" are, in fact, distinct things. Since kids are fairly quick on the uptake, we quickly realized that, if
  • i just moved to a decent elementary school district from a crappy one since my son is a few years away from going to school. in this school the kids are expected to know how to read by the time they go to 1st grade. i know someone who moved to one of the best school districts in the US where parents pay crazy property taxes to pay for two teachers per class etc. same story, kids are expected to know a lot of things that in crappy school districts they would spend time learning since the parents are lazy. in

  • Unless all of these computers were bought SPECIFICALLY for educational use, it's a poor/loaded question.

    It's like asking whether or not a family's car is hindering or helping education. Yes it gets them to school, but they can also take time off of school and drive to the rocky mountains for vacation.

    They have multiple purposes, I don't see how an inanimate object can be seen in pro or anti educational light.
  • I read a study ages ago about how many fewer words children of lower income households hear spoken in their homes over the course of growing up. (No, I have no link to the study, but I recall it's millions.) Is it any surprise that you put another electronic distraction in a home where there's not a good track record for parent-child interaction that the interaction will decrease further and fewer words be spoken again? I think a lot of people, kids in particular, are already socialized to consume a lot
  • Back in my day i had a Romanian Sinclair Spectrum clone (Cip 03) and a bad russian cassette recorder who could not load any games from my friend's tapes.

    So i had to learn to make games myself (in BASIC). I had higher grades in math, as all the graphs on my homework were perfect (plotted with the computer and copied from the tv screen :) )

    Other old men here care to share their stories ? :)

  • by bfwebster (90513) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:31AM (#32885602) Homepage

    ...and ask yourself if you'd be surprised by these results. Most home computers (like TVs) are entertainment devices that are occasionally educational, rather than educational devices that are occasionally entertaining.

    Beyond that, fundamental education (language, math, reasoning, general and specific knowledge) is hard and involves study, memorization, drill, and test. People have been hoping for 40 years or so that computers would somehow magically make that go away. Or to paraphrase South Park:

    1) Computers in classrooms and homes
    2) ?
    3) Smart, well-educated kids!

    Sorry, doesn't work that way. ..bruce..

    • Overall, the most important factor in determining whether a child learns is that child's parents. There are various techniques that parents can use to make sure that theirchild learns, but they all boil down to one thing: the parent must hold the child accountable for learning. Occasionally, someone other than a parent will enter a child's life and motivate that child to learn, but that is extremely rare and not something that can be systematically be applied to large groups. If you want to improve the educ
  • by dannycim (442761) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:32AM (#32885608)

    18 minutes TED talk video Clifford Stoll where he touches on computers in the classrooms (and many many many other things): http://www.ted.com/talks/clifford_stoll_on_everything.html [ted.com]

    He's a fun watch.

  • Yes. Computer's aren't magical education transmitters.

    It used to be, that if you had a computer you had to work to get it to do anything fun/useful. Constructing a dos bootdisk to play Wing Commander that would load all the necessary modules (HIMEM.SYS!) without going over the limit started me, or at least continued to push me, down the technical career path. That doesn't mean that those computers magically turned me into a computer geek, just that only geeks played computer videogames.

    Nowadays, computers c

  • Jury is still out (Score:2, Informative)

    by retroworks (652802)
    Another report this week from BBC showed the opposite. See:

    BBC coverage of one laptop per child [bbc.co.uk] in Uruguay

    I think it has to do with the age of the child (NYTimes article describes research experience with teenagers in North Carolina, BBC covers internet give to primary school age children at the schools in Uruguay). The research NYTimes profiles also shows an apparent difference according to the race of the teenager who gets broadband. Could it be that test scores have anything to do with anything el

  • The level of skills in computing logarithms has fallen dramatically since the introduction of the slide rule.
  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:34AM (#32885648) Homepage

    I am fond of the idea of using computers and modern tools to teach. To this end, I wanted to write an educational film short to help teach children about chemistry. Though I don't necessarily feel that educators should be entertainers, I do feel that "stealth learning" has its benefits. One approach is to use film and modern media to instruct:

    In this screenplay, the Starship Voyager is critically low on dilithium crystals. They discover an arctic planet with Tundra-like conditions. Seven-of-Nine is dispatched to fix the extractor in an old mine near an acidic beach that contains tons of dilithium (thought to be a waste product from a previous civilization). There is an explosion and the mine collapses. Racing against time, they rush a small tunnel to Seven-of-Nine to provide air. The soils are highly acidic, however and poses a threat. The good doctor proposes that they use calcium hydroxide to counteract the dangerous acidity in the soils. Janeway demands that, as the Captain, she should do this task. They race against time because the advance welcoming party is starting to fall victim to the frozen conditions. The captain transports down to the surface to begin. One could say that Captain Janeway's on shore, all the greeters are cold, and she's liming the airway to Seven.

  • We've been throwing money at computing technology in, and in recent years out, of the schools for thirty years. Imagine if even a fraction of that went to more and/or better educators, support staff or repairing aging buildings. My high school had the math 'wing' closed for months while they tore moldy carpets out and sanitized the walls. The library was closed for almost two years because of structural integrity issues.
    The math wing contained the "language lab" which was a little over a quarter million

  • If computers are bought by the school, they hinder education, because this money (for the purchase of those computers but also their continued maintenance and the training of the teachers) could have spent better (e.g. in laboratory equipment to let pupils experiment first-hand; in books; in an invitation of some outside speakers etc.).

    If the question is whether the pure existence of a computer in a household hinders or helps the education, the answer is "doesn't matter".

  • Very little about studies like this surprise me. I'm of the age where I went to school before computers - or even calculators - were used in schools. Amazingly enough, somehow I managed to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic (and later on advanced mathematics) without them. Are they handy, and useful? Yes, absolutely. The advent of relatively cheap calculators made my college years a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. Computers have made a lot of what used to be very onerous and time-co

  • by Aceticon (140883) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:47AM (#32885756)

    In all cases, the kids in homes with computers improved their ...

    ... wait for it ...

    ... computer skills.

    One would almost think that the main purposed of giving poor kids access to computers at home should be to increase their computer skills (given that in today's and future society one can pretty much forget about any kind of specialized non-physical work if one doesn't have computer skills).

    That said, what these studies seem to indicate is how important some form of supervision is for limiting the negative impact of computers (i.e. increase in time wasted on leisure activities) for kids.

    I bet if a study was done involving getting TVs for TV-less poor families with kids, we would get the same negative results without the positive one.

  • by jimicus (737525) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:47AM (#32885762)

    Computing as a field is rife with spectacularly good examples of where solutions keep on being developed without any consideration of how they're going to solve a problem - or indeed if there is a problem, or if the problem lends itself to being solved with a computer.

    I can't help but feel this is similar. I'm sure I remember hearing about studies years ago when they first started putting computers in classrooms - if you just put the computer in the classroom it was a distraction, but if you invested in appropriate software and built structured lessons around it it was a very capable tool.

  • by jgreco (1542031) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @08:58AM (#32885866)

    With kids being expected to learn typing in elementary school these days, we did provide a computer (even in the bedroom!), but it was loaded with a locked down version of FreeBSD, and had no Internet/e-mail/etc access. Daily typing drills resulted in a fantastic improvement in typing (according to the technology teacher), and Tux Math, a math drill game, seems to be more attractive than flash cards or printed math sheets, especially since getting a high score involves having to do the work more quickly, and our insistence on home row means that it's effectively also typing drill for the numbers row.

    Perhaps the real problem here is that a computer is of limited usefulness, and that if it isn't thoughtfully and carefully deployed and monitored, then the benefits become more questionable. The tech teacher implied that we're very different than most families in that we've not provided Internet access or e-mail, but quite frankly that's going to be delayed for as long as possible precisely because we don't see a huge amount of value in Internet access for kids in elementary school, and "requirements" that homework be "e-mailed" in isn't going to change that.

    There are significant negative aspects to uncontrolled access to computers and the Internet, ranging from benign time-wasting to dangerous predators. As a tech-aware parent, it's difficult to find suitable and relevant things to use the computer for, especially without Internet access, and so it comes as no shock to me that placing a computer into a random family's educational mix has limited effectiveness.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Securityemo (1407943)
      Fascist. You're denying your child access to something valuable you'd never deny yourself. Free access to ideas and information, however horrible, is not going to turn your child into a retard. Are you controlling what books your child reads as well?
  • Missing from TFA is any information on what the schools were doing to encourage self-directed learning - by (e.g.) setting interesting homework that could be done on computer, making good use of computers in lessons and possibly (gasp) shifting the curriculum towards understanding subjects rather than memorising bite-size factoids for multiple-choice tests.

    When the math curriculum is dominated by learning by rote to perform routine, tedious bits of math gruntwork that anybody not stranded on a desert islan

  • Like any tool (TV, books, toys...) it all depends on how it is used. The one most significant factor in a kid's learning is the involvement of his parents, both as motivators and as teaching assistants. Kids need to be helped and motivated all the time, but the payback on all that effort is tremendous. My 4yr old nephew called a tomato "spherical" a while back, that cracked us up big time. I'm a bit at a loss on how to proceed though, it's very hard to figure out when a how, when and what to try and teach

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @09:15AM (#32886084)

    I grew up dirt poor. One of the places we lived in had a dirt floor and no insulation in Great Falls, Montana.

    I got to eat meat year round because my father poached deer out of season.

    I got to eat bread because my parents bought hogs feed at 5 cents/lb to grind to flour.

    I got to eat vegetables because we would gleen the fields of industrial farms of low growing fruit/veggies after the harvester machines passed through.

    My parents were to religiously conservative to teach me anything at home that didn't come from the bible.

    When we got a computer, it opened up the world for me.

    From that point on, I never learned anything in school until I started working on my second college degree.

    This was because I had already learned it from exploring on my own by the time school had gotten around to teaching it.

    My experience may be far from common, but it was invaluable for me that I had access to a computer.

  • At my daughter's (who is 10 years old) school they strongly recommend no Radio, TV or Computer until 12 years old, yes it's Waldorf. I am a technologist (Linux/Unix administrator), but I have found that my daughter's desire to draw or read or write rather than be on the computer or watching TV very gratifying. I hope they consider this kind of policy in public schools, IMHO t would help children have better relationships (friends, family...etc) and be happier.
  • by tohasu (971923) on Tuesday July 13, 2010 @10:31AM (#32887076)
    Most of the studies I've seen about the impact of NEW technology on kids and education measure OLD skills and come up with statements about what is LOST. "Math skills" is a good example. How many of you were not allowed to use calculators in math class? Raise your hands. I remember when they were thought to imperil "math skills." A few educators saw them as game-changers and recognized that they enabled students even as they called for the development of new skills -- or a shift in the importance of various components of the skill set. It's very hard to see the real impact of new technology just because it's new. The things kids are learning from computers are things we have no words for - yet. I have confidence that there is learning going on, it's just not going to be learning that will enable business-as-usual to continue, so of course it's threatening.

An Ada exception is when a routine gets in trouble and says 'Beam me up, Scotty'.

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