Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
  Bookmark and Share
The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
Broken links:If you encounter links that no longer lead to the desired article, it's still often possible to retrieve them. Most of the linked items include a sentence or more from the original. Copy a section of that text, and type it into Google surrounded by quotes. More often than not, Google will find the article at a revised location.
-- Kevin C. Killion, writer, editor and webmaster




    Educational "experts" love to use the word "technology". They talk about kids learning "technology" and spending time in the "technology" lab. This conjures up images of the children learning about woven fabrics, chipping rocks to make stone tools, fired ceramics, or maybe metallurgy. But it turns out that the educrats say "technology" when they're referring to what the rest of us call "computers".

    And in that odd use of phrase, they are illuminating their true feelings about computers, namely, a gee-whiz naivete. As noted computer scientist and futurist Alan Kay has said,

    'Technology' is what we call whatever didn't exist when we were born.
    -- Alan Kay

Getting a Grip on Technology and Schools

  • Learning in the Real World: This is a terrific site! Before your school shovels out mountains of cash for "technology" that might hurt your educational program far more than it would help, study this site first.

  • Resources and papers from Learning in the Real World -- visit this excellent webpage for many more articles on the problems, deficiencies and excesses of computers in schools.

  • Alliance For Childhood: Computers and Children: As one of its principal areas for study, this group has chosen children's increased exposure to computers and the possible link to a variety of social, learning and physical problems.

  • The Alliance For Childhood has issued this crisp and informative Position Statement on computers in elementary schools. Signed by some 75 leading PhD's, medical doctors, noted authors, and others (whose names are all included in the link), this statement concludes: "Given the high costs and clear hazards, we call for a moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education."

  • Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology (PDF), Alliance For Childhood. "The high-tech, screen-centered life style of today's children -- at home and at school -- is a health hazard and the polar opposite of the education they need to take part in making ethical choices in a high-tech democracy, according to a new report released today by the Alliance for Childhood."

  • Computer Illogic: Despite Great Promise, Technology Is Dumbing Down The Classroom by Todd Oppenheimer, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2003. Excerpts:

    "Throughout the country, computer technology is dumbing down the academic experience, corrupting schools' financial integrity, cheating the poor, fooling people about the job skills youngsters need for the future and furthering the illusions of state and federal education policy. ...

    "In both poor and wealthy schools, educators have invested millions in costly software packages ... Unfortunately, the research behind many, if not most, of these claims is questionable. ...

    "Want to get a job using information technology to solve problems?
    Know something about the problems that need to be solved."
    "One of the most common selling points for computers in schools, even in first and second grades, is to prepare youngsters for tomorrow's increasingly high-tech jobs. Strangely, this may be the computer evangels' greatest hoax. When business leaders talk about what they need from new recruits, they hardly mention computer skills, which they find they can teach employees relatively easily on their own. Employers are most interested in what are sometimes called 'soft' skills: a deep knowledge base and the ability to listen and communicate; to think critically and imaginatively; to read, write and figure, and other capabilities that schools are increasingly neglecting. A report from the Information Technology Association of America, which represents a range of companies that use technology, put it this way: 'Want to get a job using information technology to solve problems? Know something about the problems that need to be solved.' ...

    "In the meantime, individual schools are left with a mess to clean up. Maybe [problems] will ultimately provoke an appetite for correction and control in technology spending -- similar to what the Enron scandals produced in the financial world. If so, tomorrow's students will be the clear beneficiaries. They might even get some real job skills for the future."

  • Visit From the Technology Consultant by Kevin Killion, February 19, 1999. When the money's flowing, what comes next? Why, consultants of course! There are a number of self-appointed educational technology "experts" offering advice on computers in schools. Excerpt: "As a member of the public school's 'Technology Committee', I was invited to attend a teachers in-service to hear one such consultant ... What I learned scared the daylights out of me, and convinced me that giving precious funds to the progressivist education establishment could easily harm the educational program."

  • Schools Should Watch the Use of Computers by Dave Ziffer of Batavia, posted to Daily Herald Reports, September 28, 2001. "There seems to be no stopping the press in its relentless drive to convince all of us that we need to equip every school everywhere with computers for all students."

  • "The great technology mania" by Diane Ravitch, Forbes, March 23, 1998. "This smells suspiciously like the latest miracle cure. The nations that regularly leave us in the dust on academic tests -- like Korea -- have focused on good teaching, not on technology. There is no evidence that use of computers or the Internet improves student achievement. Yet the billions spent on technology represent money not spent on music, art, libraries, maintenance and other essential functions."

  • Future Schlock: Using Fabricated Data and Politically Correct Platitudes in The Name of Education Reform by Lawrence Baines, Kappan, v. 78, no. 7, March 1997. Today, in the areas of technology, inclusion, multiculturalism, and money, mythologizing data on behalf of education reform has become quite popular, Mr. Baines points out. The evidence in support of education reforms must be scrutinized to ascertain the degree to which those reforms will really benefit students.

  • Techno-reformers and Classroom Teachers by Larry Cuban, professor of education at Stanford University, Education Week, October 9, 1996 This is a decent short history of attempts over the last century to "revolutionize" the classroom with the latest technology -- whatever it was.

  • Wired Classrooms: What You're Not Hearing by Steve Talbott, "There are good reasons for having computers in (some) classrooms, and there are lousy ones. It just so happens that the reasons driving the current frenzy to wire our schools are almost uniformly lousy ones." The author goes on to dissect -- and demolish -- such claims as these:
    - "We Need Computers Because They Give Students Access to So Much Information"
    - "We Have To Prepare Our Kids for the Jobs of the Future"
    - "We Have To Help Our Kids Become Global Citizens"
    - "CD-ROMs Bring the World to the Student's Desktop"
    The author concludes by identifying some areas where computerization can be helpful.

  • "The vaunted benefits of constant computer access remain unproven. The programs are increasingly under attack."
    Saying No To School Laptops:
    Programs to Give All Students Computers Come Under Fire Over Costs, Inappropriate Use by Kids
    by Jessica E. Vascellaro, Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2006. "Ms. Adam handed back the computer and pulled her daughter out of the laptop program, which is this year expanding to five schools. 'What she learned was how to play games and email her friends,' says Ms. Adam. 'School was one big happy gabfest.' Ms. Adam is part of a backlash against programs that equip every student in a classroom with a computer. ... Some parents and educators are having second thoughts over higher-than-anticipated costs and the potential for inappropriate use by kids. At the same time, there is a sense that the vaunted benefits of constant computer access remain unproven. The programs are increasingly under attack -- and in a few cases are crumbling."

  • Would this sophisticated technology make lavish computer overspending unnecessary? Read about the Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge system.

Technology Of Limited Value

  • "A ton of research shows the lack of correlation between computers and learning"
    Giving Kids iPads Won't Solve the Education Challenge: LA's program to supply iPads to 640,000 students is the latest example of confusing technology with teaching by Galen Gruman, Infoworld, August 9, 2013. "I've been in the business of covering technology since 1982 ... Ever since then, Apple, IBM, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and so on have touted educational use of their computers to save students from poor schooling. Regardless of the device or platform, it hasn't worked, has it? In fact, a ton of research shows the lack of correlation between computers and learning. ... Throwing technology at the problem without redesigning the whole context just won't work. Some students and teachers will of course benefit from technology, and we'll read about them in vendor case studies. But most will continue to struggle and work around the newest complexity thrown into their environments. We'll know we're smart about this when we stop seeing mainstream stories about how many technology widgets a school deployed and start seeing stories about how the world envies the quality of American-educated kids."

  • "Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful"
    Why Computers Have Not Saved The Classroom by Bob Blaisdell, Christian Science Monitor, October 14, 2003. This article reviews the book The Flickering Mind: The False Promise Of Technology In The Classroom by Todd Oppenheimer. Excerpt: "What impact has computer technology had on public education in the US? That's the question journalist Todd Oppenheimer sets out to answer in The Flickering Mind. Mr. Oppenheimer's conclusion: Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful, and the rush to keep schools up-to-date with the latest technology has been largely pointless. 'At this early stage of the personal computer's history, the technology is far too complex and error prone to be smoothly integrated into most classrooms,' Oppenheimer writes."

  • "After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement -- none"
    "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops" by Winnie Hu, New York Times, May 4, 2007. "The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. ... Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers. ... So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty -- and worse. ... 'After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement -- none,' said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students' hands. 'The teachers were telling us when there's a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It's a distraction to the educational process.'"

  • "There were no positive effects ...
    students in [technology] immersed schools had slightly lower scores"
    $14 Million Study Proves Student Laptops Ineffective Academically by Donna Garner, July 15, 2006. "Our country has been waiting for a scientifically conducted study on laptops. Now we have it. Presented below are excerpts from the $14 Million Texas Technology Immersion Pilot (April 2006 report -- funded by the U. S. Department of Education) which is supposed to prove whether student immersion on laptops by middle-school students will raise their academic achievement. ... No expense was spared in this study. The 22 Texas schools which participated were given the best technology available, and their staffs were extensively trained. Package costs ranged from about $1,100 to $1,600 per student. ...
         "'We found that after one academic year of implementation, there were no positive effects of immersion on either reading or mathematics scores. After controlling for prior achievement and other important student characteristics, there were no significant differences in the spring 2005 reading or mathematics TAKS scores of students in immersed and control schools. In fact, students in immersed schools had slightly lower scores than comparison students.
         "'... there were no positive effects on students' personal self-directed learning, and based on classroom observations, the availability of laptops did not lead to significantly greater opportunities for students to experience intellectually challenging lessons or to do more challenging school work.'"

  • "no significant effect on student performance ...
    no statistically significant differences"
    Study: Education Software Fails The Test -- Trial Finds Technology Doesn't Boost Scores by Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, April 5, 2007. "Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant effect on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education. ... The study, mandated by Congress when it passed No Child Left Behind in 2002, evaluated 15 reading and math products used by 9,424 students in 132 schools across the country during the 2004-05 school year. It is the largest study that has compared students who received the technology with those who did not, as measured by their scores on standardized tests. There were no statistically significant differences between students who used software and those who did not."

  • Computers Have Little Impact On Exam Results, Says Report by Andrew Denholm, Education Correspondent, The Herald [Scotland], March 15 2007. "The use of computers in Scottish schools has had no impact on exam results despite investment of £150M over the past five years, according to a new report. Schools inspectors found that ... there was no evidence that the use of information technology had increased attainment in formal qualifications."

  • Just Another Big Con: Education on the Internet by Dennis W. Redovich. A remarkable feature of the debate about the mania about putting lots of computers into schools is that more and more education leaders within the education establishment are raising alarms. (For example, see the references on computers on our page of books on education.) Redovich is a good example. He usually writes as an ardent defender of the Big Ed blob and for preservation of the education status quo. But on computers, he sounds like a true reformer. He says, "My elementary school grandchildren and their classmates can use the Internet now. Why is it necessary to spend millions to train students and teachers to do something that most people learn easily in a few days?"

  • The 'Meme' That Ate Childhood by Dr. Jane M. Healy, Education Week, October 7, 1998. Here is another example of an author who is usually quite aligned with the progressivist orthodoxy, but who is a breath of fresh air when speaking on the mania about computers in schools. In this excerpt from her book, Failure to Connect, Healy asks, "Where did we get this preposterous notion that young children need computers lest they somehow fall behind?"

  • "The paper group performed significantly better than the computer group"
    When Static Media Promote Active Learning: Annotated Illustrations Versus Narrated Animations in Multimedia Instruction by Richard E. Mayer, Mary Hegarty, Sarah Mayer and Julie Campbell, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, December 2005. Well-known education writer Daniel T. Willingham (professor, University of Virginia) says this: "This study would seem to debunk the 'laptop is superior to books and thus worth the money' hypothesis. An interesting article indicating that multimedia instruction may, in some cases, be inferior to annotated diagrams, presumably because the former encourages more passive processing and the latter more active." Here's the abstract:
         In 4 experiments, students received a lesson consisting of computer-based animation and narration or a lesson consisting of paper-based static diagrams and text. The lessons used the same words and graphics in the paper-based and computer-based versions to explain the process of lightning formation (Experiment 1), how a toilet tank works (Experiment 2), how ocean waves work (Experiment 3), and how a car's braking system works (Experiment 4).
         On subsequent retention and transfer tests, the paper group performed significantly better than the computer group on 4 of 8 comparisons, and there was no significant difference on the rest.
         These results support the static media hypothesis, in which static illustrations with printed text reduce extraneous processing and promote germane processing as compared with narrated animations.

  • Computers Not a Classroom Cure-All by Joshua Benton, Dallas Morning News, January 18, 2004. Excerpts: "These days most classrooms have at least one computer, and some have one for every student. But some critics are starting to wonder whether the enormous investment has, again, been a waste of time and money. ... 'The computer culture has essentially polluted the culture of education,' says journalist Todd Oppenheimer. ... Here's a summary of some of Mr. Oppenheimer's claims:

    • Computers encourage shallow, superficial work. Writing a 10-page report takes research, thought and hard work. But making a PowerPoint presentation on the same subject takes only cursory knowledge. He quotes one high school student who spent 17 hours on a major civics presentation: seven hours on research and writing, 10 hours finding the right clip art and fonts for his PowerPoint. 'Some kids think you can find two Web sites about your topic on Google and they're done with their research,' he says. 'That's where your work should be starting, not when it ends.'

    • Computers break down too often, and schools don't have staff trained to fix them. As a result, teachers end up getting distracted from their jobs, reinstalling broken device drivers when they could be teaching. ...

    • Kids need to learn how to do things the hard way before they do them the easy way. There's a reason we learn our multiplication tables before we're handed a calculator; we need to understand how things work before we start taking short cuts. For that reason, Mr. Oppenheimer is passionate about taking computers out of elementary schools, where he believes hands-on, nondigital learning is essential.

    'The computer world is all about speed, quick and easy,' he says. 'The school world is all about slowing things down, not skipping steps.' In sum, he wants computers out of elementary schools, limited in middle schools, and pulled out of high school classrooms and put into special computer labs."

  • " ... no measurable impact ..."
    Internet Access Has No Impact On Test Scores, Study Says, Education Week, September 4, 2002. Excerpt: "Public school spending on classroom Internet connections appears to have no measurable impact on student achievement in California, concludes a recent study by two University of Chicago economists."

  • "Shortage of Skills? A High-Tech Myth" by Richard Rothstein (New York Times)

  • Computers Make Kids Smarter -- Right? By Heather Kirkpatrick and Larry Cuban, Technos Quarterly, Summer 1998 Vol. 7 No. 2. "As money for technology pours into U.S. schools, policymakers, practitioners, and parents must wend their way through corporate ads, reformers' slogans, and academic studies in an attempt to answer this question: What should we spend the money on? The answer from current wisdom, which assumes that students profit mightily from new technology, is to spend it on computers. Two intrepid California educators, after a thorough survey of the best research available, aren't ready to go along with current wisdom."

  • Computers Don't Improve Pupils' Performance The Guardian (UK), October 25, 2002. "The use of computers in schools appears to have no effect in improving pupils' educational performance -- in fact it may have a damaging impact on their [math], according to a study published today."

  • Learning to Be Wired : "Throwing technology at educational problems may do more harm than good. It takes careful planning -- and a healthy dose of skepticism -- to make computers work in the classroom" by Bob Thompson, Washington Post, Sunday, September 16, 2001

When Technology Harms Academics

    From "Today's Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen", posted with special permission. Thank you, Randy! For many more cartoons, please visit Randy's site @

  • How Classroom Technology Is Holding Students Back: Educators love digital devices, but there's little evidence they help children -- especially those who most need help by Natalie Wexler, MIT Technology Review, December 19, 2019. "'Do you know what combine means?' I asked. Finding that he didn't, I explained it meant 'add.' Satisfied that I'd put Kevin on the path to success, I moved on to observe other students -- and found their iPads displaying sentences like Round 119 to the nearest ten and Find the area of the following triangle in square units. If Kevin didn't understand combine, were other kids understanding words like round and area? Not to mention square units? Then I found a boy staring at a computer screen showing a number line with the question What number comes before 84? He listened to the instructions and tried 85, then 86, then 87, getting error messages each time. Thinking the problem was the size of the numbers, I asked him what number comes before four. 'Five?' he guessed. It dawned on me that he didn't understand the word before. Once I explained it, he immediately clicked on 83. I returned to Kevin to see whether he had been able to combine 8 and 3. But I found he was drawing bright pink lines on the iPad with his finger -- one of the gizmo's numerous distracting capabilities. 'Can you answer the question?' I asked. 'I don't want to.' He sighed. 'Can I play a game?'"

  • A School That's Too High on Gizmos by Patrick Welsh, Washington Post, February 10, 2008. "The problem? What a former Alexandria school superintendent calls 'technolust -- a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them. ... some of my colleagues are referring to us as 'Gizmo High.'" ... "It's technology for the sake of technology -- not what works or helps kids learn, but what makes administrators look good, what the public will think is cutting edge."

  • Students Retain Information Better with Pens than Laptops: Writing notes by hand may lead to deeper understanding of lecture material, study suggests, by Laura Sanders, Science News, May 31, 2014. "When it comes to taking notes, the old-fashioned way might be best. ... People taking notes on laptops have a shallower grasp of a subject than people writing with their hands, and not just because laptops distract users with other activities such as web surfing, the new study suggests. Students from Princeton and UCLA watched videos of TED talks or of a graduate student delivering a lecture. Students who wrote in longhand and were able to review their notes before a quiz performed better on conceptual questions than did those who typed notes. Pen users' notes included around 100 to 150 fewer words than those of people who typed. But those words seemed to be more sophisticated: People who wrote by hand were less likely to take down verbatim what the lecturer said, indicating that these people reframed the concepts in a more meaningful way, the authors suggest."

  • In-Class Laptop Use and its Effects on Student Learning by Carrie B. Fried, Winona State University, Computers & Education, 2006. "Students completed weekly surveys of attendance, laptop use, and aspects of the classroom environment. Results showed that students who used laptops in class spent considerable time multitasking and that the laptop use posed a significant distraction to both users and fellow students. Most importantly, the level of laptop use was negatively related to several measures of student learning, including self-reported understanding of course material and overall course performance."

  • Little Billy Gates Benefited From Not Having a PC, commentary by Robin Hagey, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2005. "In a speech last month to the National Governors Association, Bill Gates proclaimed that our high schools are 'obsolete,' and he produced a list of solutions ... he's completely missing the point when he spews platitudes about improving our educational system. Our children are failing across the board: minority students, poor students, middle- and upper-class students. A significant contributor to that failure is the very thing that has made Gates a rich man: the personal computer. ... We're raising a generation of computer and computer game addicts who are doomed to fail in school, not because the system is obsolete but simply because it's a lot more fun, and a lot easier, to hang out on the computer than it is to read A Tale of Two Cities. If Gates had been brought up in this kind of environment, what are the chances he'd have had the focus and creativity to build a company like Microsoft?"

  • "What pressing problems cause us to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on computers for schools?"
    Computers in Class are Lousy Teachers by Cliff Stoll, Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2005. Excerpt: "As the new school year approaches, our nation's computer hucksters will begin their annual promotion of technology in the classroom. Calls for wired schools have resulted in a fountain of money from telephone fees, bond issues and supplemental taxes. What pressing problems cause us to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on computers for schools? Are our students technological illiterates, afraid of the Internet? Are there not enough electronic messages in our children's lives? Do they not get enough time at keyboards and monitors? Are their attention spans too long? Do students show too much respect for their teachers? If so, then yes, we need more computers in our schools. In truth, though, today's students are overloaded with computer games and Web pictures of rain forests. They're far more likely to be enthralled with a visit to Pit 91 of the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. But the money is to be spent on video displays, not field trips to dig fossils. The computer changes the ecology of the classroom. Attention is diverted away from the teacher and toward the magic screen. Electronic media are emphasized at the expense of the written word. Books feel boring compared with their online competitors. As a result, school libraries have morphed into media centers, where Internet feeds and DVDs push aside books and magazines."

  • "You Can Always Look It Up ... Or Can You?" by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., "American Educator" magazine (American Federation Of Teachers), Spring 2000. In this classic paper, Prof. Hirsch argues that the technical ability to collect information via the Internet is no substitute for substantive content knowledge. He also touches on the supposed "digital divide" near the end of the paper.

  • "Could you repeat the question?"
    Laptops vs. Learning by David Cole, Washington Post, April 7, 2007. "'Could you repeat the question?'"
       "In recent years, that has become the most common response to questions I pose to my law students at Georgetown University. It is usually asked while the student glances up from the laptop screen that otherwise occupies his or her field of vision. ... So my first-year students were a bit surprised when I announced at the first class this year that laptops were banned from my classroom. I did this for two reasons, I explained. Note-taking on a laptop encourages verbatim transcription. The note-taker tends to go into stenographic mode and no longer processes information in a way that is conducive to the give and take of classroom discussion. Because taking notes the old-fashioned way, by hand, is so much slower, one actually has to listen, think and prioritize the most important themes.
       "In addition, laptops create temptation to surf the Web, check e-mail, shop for shoes or instant-message friends. That's not only distracting to the student who is checking Red Sox statistics but for all those who see him, and many others, doing something besides being involved in class. Together, the stenographic mode and Web surfing make for a much less engaged classroom, and that affects all students (not to mention me). ...
       "I am sure that the Internet can be a useful pedagogical tool in some settings and for some subjects. But for most classes, it is little more than an attractive nuisance. Technology has outstripped us on this one, and we need to reassess its appropriate and inappropriate role in teaching."

  • Professors Want Their Classes 'Unwired' by Maia Ridberg, Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 2006. "Wireless Internet access at universities was once thought to be a clear-cut asset to education. But now a growing number of graduate schools - after investing a fortune in the technology - are blocking Web access to students in class because of complaints from professors. ... This school year, the University of Michigan Law School became the latest graduate school to block wireless Internet access to students in class, joining law schools at UCLA and the University of Virginia. ... A growing number of professors now want computers - not just the Internet - out of class. Two professors at Harvard Law School have independently banned laptops in their classes, and many other law professors around the country have done the same."

  • Professors Vie With Web for Class's Attention by John Schwartz, New Yorl Times, January 2, 2003. "... professors say the technology poses a growing challenge for them: retaining their students' attention. ... One professor at a law school in Texas became so upset by the level of student distraction in 2001 that he took a ladder to school, climbed up to reach the wireless transmitter in his classroom -- and disconnected it. The students protested. The administration told him to plug it back in. But the point was made, he said, and he regained the attention of the class. In 2002, he told his students that they could not use laptops in his class at all, even for taking notes. 'It has made an enormously positive difference to shut those computers off,' he said."

  • Education reformer Donna Garner: "Common sense should tell us that if graduate students (1) who are the cream of the education crop, (2) who are paying for their education, and (3) who are mature students, are being distracted by their tech toys, what do we think children in our K-12 schools are doing with their laptops, iPods, IM, and cellphones when they are supposed to be focusing on their teachers' presentations?"

  • Computers Are a Drag on Learning by G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2004. "For all the schools and parents who have together invested billions to give children a learning edge through the latest computer technology, a mammoth new study by German researchers brings some sobering news: Too much exposure to computers might spell trouble for the developing mind. ... 'It seems if you overuse computers and trade them for other [types of] teaching, it actually harms the student,' says lead researcher Ludger Woessmann in a telephone interview ..."

  • "it crowds out more effective teaching methods"
    Doubts About School Computer Use, BBC, November 24, 2004. Schools trying to balance budgets would be wise to note the mounting evidence that much of that expensive computer spending they've been doing hurts rather than helps learning. Typical is this report: A new study across 31 countries confirms what more and more U.S. studies are saying: As computer usage increases, math and reading performance decline. Excerpts: "The more computers in a student's home, the worse the student's maths performance" and "those who used computers at school several times a week performed 'sizeably and statistically significantly worse' in both maths and reading." The article also provides a possible explanation that will make perfect sense to most Illinois Loop regulars: "It might be that some computerised learning is beneficial but at higher intensities it crowds out more effective teaching methods..."

  • Tom Wolfe's Fix For Education Crisis: Scrap the PCs, Reuters News Service. "Popular American author, Tom Wolfe, recently offered a solution to improve U.S. students' performance -- scrap computers and restore order in the classroom."

  • "Students who use computers frequently at school perform worse"
    Study: PCs Make Kids Dumber by Robin Lettice, December 7, 2004. This is another article on the multi-country study of the impact of computers on education. Excerpt: "Students who use computers frequently at school perform worse than their peers at maths and reading, a study claims. Those using computers several times a week performed 'sizably and statistically significantly worse' than those who used them less often. ... Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann of the CESifo economic research organisation in Munich base their conclusions on an analysis of test performance and background data from the 2000 PISA study. This study involved tens of thousands of students in 31 countries, including the UK, organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). ... They realised that more computers in a household generally means a more affluent family. Children from affluent homes tend to perform better academically, so Fuchs and Woessmann factored this in their analysis. Having done this they found that the more computers there were in a student's home, the worse the student's maths performance."

  • Classroom computer use causes history scores to plummet:
    From the May 13, 2002 "Communique" of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA):
    "The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for U.S. history were released last week and, well, they weren't too good. ... Also, for the first time NAEP scores were broken down by the frequency of computer use, and here the results were startling. In the 4th grade, students who used computers at school for social studies every day scored a whopping 47 points lower than students who 'never or hardly ever' used computers at school for social studies. The margin for both 8th and 12th graders was 24 points. The trend was virtually unbroken for all three grade levels: the more frequently you used a computer at school for social studies, the lower you scored."
    Here are details on those NAEP history scores reported in May 2002:

    2002 History Scores
    Frequency of Computer Use   4th Grade     8th Grade     12th Grade  
    Never/Hardly ever 214 263 289
    Once every few weeks 212 268 291
    Once a week 197 261 280
    2-3 times a week 186 252 277
    Every day 167 239 265

    More Computer Use = Lower Scores

    more computers = lower scores

  • "[After] �1 billion ... no consistent relationship between computer use and pupil achievement
    in any subject at any age"
    Internet in schools fails to improve results, Telegraph (UK), January 10, 2003. "Equipping schools with a million computers and connecting them all to the internet has had little if any impact on standards, according to a study commissioned by the Department for Education. Despite what the report called 'unprecedented levels of Government investment' -- including more than �1 billion over the past five years -- it could find 'no consistent relationship' between computer use and pupil achievement in any subject at any age."

  • Why study when you can surf? , Telegraph (UK), May 2, 2003. "To test [one headteacher's protests] that computers have helped raise standards, I asked to sit in on lessons in which the machines were being used. ... The first was an English class [on] Shakespeare. ... Most [students] spent the 35-minute lesson scrolling aimlessly through the sites, pausing occasionally at the pictures. ... [In the next class] the pupils were designing web pages, which meant writing something -- typically about cars, pop stars or sport -- and illustrating it with pictures downloaded from the internet. Although it was their fifth double lesson on the subject -- each lasting an hour and 10 minutes - few had written more than a poorly spelt paragraph or two, and some nothing at all. As one explained: 'It took me so much time looking for the pictures.' ... Third was a science lesson ... Using an Excel spreadsheet, they had to enter two columns of figures and then add, subtract, multiply and divide them. The science content of the lesson was nil. [Next,] an art lesson ... involved scanning a painting in the style of Andy Warhol into a computer and then repeatedly distorting it. ... Finally, I watched an English lesson ... about 'deconstructing non-fiction texts' ... the teacher handed out a list of tourist information websites. The pupils were to look at the opening page of each and analyse its impact. Most spent the lesson either scrolling through the websites or experimenting with different type sizes and fonts. Some wrote nothing at all."

  • On Classrooms, With and Without Computers by Clifford Stoll. "A group of fifth-graders ... conducted an on-line survey. As a geography project, they asked the price of a twelve-inch pizza. Using the [net], they found highs of twelve dollars in Alaska to a low of four dollars in Ohio. A most appealing project ... But hold on." The author goes on to use his "bogometer" to detect the level of bogus claims made by self-styled experts. Highly recommended!

  • Thinking about replacing books with computers? Think again!
    The Technology of Text, by Kevin Larson, IEEE Spectrum, May 2007. The author, a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, explains a phenomenon that everyone working with a lot of text on computers already knows -- reading long articles and reports on screen always seems more difficult and tiring than reading the material in print format. Dr. Larson explains,
    "If you're reading this article on your computer, there's a good chance you won't get all the way to the end. Not because you won't find it utterly fascinating (trust me!), but because it will be hard on your eyes."
    So, why aren't computers suitable textbook replacements, and probably won't be for some time? Larson answers,
    "The chief problem is the low resolution of computer screens. The color LCD screens on most laptops and desktops today have a resolution of only about 100 pixels per inch. You need at least two or three times that many pixels to begin to approach the quality of the printed page. The output of even a cheap laser printer is six times as good."
    In other words, even printing out an electronic article improves its readability. But, that takes a printer, paper, and toner. We can't imagine schools rushing out to fund all those supplies for each student getting a laptop. Larson also explains that the current quality of computer screens isn't likely to suddenly improve anytime soon.

  • As Educators Rush to Embrace Technology, a Coterie of Skeptics Seeks to Be Heard: "They say basic questions about the negative impact of computers are not being asked" by Colleen Cordes.
         "While he was editor of the Harvard Education Letter, Edward Miller concluded that academe had a new sacred cow -- the role of computers in education. At an unusually critical conference here last month on that very topic, Mr. Miller recalled how 'things really hit the fan' when he aired his reservations about the rush toward new technology for teaching. Mr. Miller told The New York Times that such a goal was low on his own list of education priorities, and that the research evidence on the usefulness of technology in improving schools was 'not very encouraging.' To him, what he said seemed 'rather mild and judicious.' But it generated what he described as an "almost hysterical reaction" among some administrators and faculty members at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which publishes the newsletter. ...
    "Kids are doing nothing of real importance on computers, and they'd be much better off doing something else"
         "Alan C. Kay, a vice-president for research and development at the Walt Disney Company argued that advanced technologies can make it easier for students to visualize and learn difficult concepts, especially involving symbols. But Dr. Kay, a former fellow at Apple Computer, had his own complaints about what schools are doing with computers. He compared the 'music' that many children are making on computers in school to piano variations of 'Chopsticks.' 'On close examination, kids are doing nothing of real importance on computers, and they'd be much better off doing something else,' he said."

  • From ABC to IT by Helene Guldberg, March 5, 2002. Excerpt: "[Computers] can definitely be a useful tool in teaching and for streamlining administrative tasks - but learning [these] skills cannot be compared to becoming literate and numerate. Unlike 'digital literacy' (or any of the other newfound literacies popular among educationalists today), the spoken word, followed by literacy and numeracy, has been shown to have a transformative effect on children's thinking."

  • "Computers Do School Pupils More Harm Than Good: Author" By Caroline Overington, May 9, 2001: "Here is an unorthodox idea: computers are not good for school children. They cost too much, take up too much time, and rarely teach children anything they could not learn without them.

  • Are they better off reading? by Kim Thomas, The Times (UK), April 22 2002: "Introducing children to computers too early could do more harm than good."

  • How Young is too Young? by Kathleen Vail, Electronic School, June 2001. "A group of early childhood educators, teachers, and researchers, Alliance for Childhood, is calling for a moratorium on adding more computers in elementary schools until research is done on the effects of computer use in young children. 'There's no solid research that young children need computers to learn,' says Joan Almon, a former kindergarten teacher and head of the Maryland-based alliance. 'There are risks that people need to take into account.' These risks, according to the alliance, include lack of imagination, social isolation, repetitive stress injuries, concentration problems, and poor language and literacy skills."

  • "High Tech Hopes ... and low-tech realities" by Howard Fienberg, Philanthropy Magazine, November / December 2001

  • "There is no good evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve teaching and learning"
    "The Computer Delusion" by Todd Oppenheimer, The Atlantic, July 1997, Subhead: "There is no good evidence that most uses of computers significantly improve teaching and learning, yet school districts are cutting programs -- music, art, physical education -- that enrich children's lives to make room for this dubious nostrum. ...
    "There's a real risk ... that the thoughtless practices will dominate, slowly dumbing down huge numbers of tomorrow's adults. As Sherry Turkle, a professor of the sociology of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a longtime observer of children's use of computers, told me, "The possibilities of using this thing poorly so outweigh the chance of using it well, it makes people like us, who are fundamentally optimistic about computers, very reticent."

  • Do Computers In The Classroom Boost Academic Achievement? This is a report on a very detailed study that concludes, "dedicating large amounts of federal tax dollars to the purchase of computer hardware, software, and teacher training could crowd out other worthwhile education expenditures on, for example, new textbooks, music programs, vocational education, and the arts."

  • "High-tech turns study time into multitasking extravaganza", Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 24, 2000. "On a typical school night, Kyle Judge might be perched over his laptop writing a paper or tackling some math -- when an electronic message snaps his concentration. It's a note from a friend: an invitation to "chat" using instant messenger (IM), a program that lets friends e-mail simultaneously. Or maybe it's a request for homework help. Either way, the high school sophomore from Winnetka, Ill., concedes that working on a computer offers its share of distractions. Add to that technology's 24/7 presence, pressure to socialize, a heavy homework load, and more ..."

  • "To improve schools, forget computers" by James Freeman, USA Today, September 10, 1999. "While politicians talk about Internet access and computer programs as if they're the pillars of a core curriculum, the evidence suggests that investments in technology do not improve test scores. Says David Gelernter, a Yale computer science professor and author of the LINDA programming language, 'Access to the Internet is like driver's ed, except more trivial. It's something you can learn in an afternoon. It's something good. It's something everybody should be familiar with. But to put it at the heart of one's program for education is, it seems to me, a move openly contemptuous of the disasters we face today educationally.'"

  • "Another Danger For 21st-Century Children?" by Thomas M. Sherman (Education Week)

  • Study: Spell-Check Can Make Writing Worse by Charles Sheehan, Associated Press. "How might you drag a good writer's work down to the level of a lesser scribe? Try the spell-check button. ... In [a] study, 33 undergraduate students were asked to proofread a one-page business letter - half of them using Microsoft Word [and the] other half did it the old-fashioned way, using only their heads. Without grammar or spelling software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, 5 errors, compared with 12.3 errors for students with lower scores ... [but when] using the software, students with higher verbal scores reading the same page made, on average, 16 errors, compared with 17 errors for students with lower scores."

  • For a worse-case scenario of spell-check dependency, see "The Spell-Checked Poem"

  • Do Computers Make Pupils Switch Off? by Frances Cairncross, BBC Radio, December 26, 2002: "Only five years ago, computers seemed to be a magic answer to all the woes of Britain's schools. Keyboards and screens arrived by the crate load. Prodded by the government, [British Telecom] connected schools to the worldwide web. There was similar excitement in other countries. But for what? Right from the start, the educational role of the computer has been unclear."

  • Faking the grade: Cheating goes high-tech, puts schools to the test by Alison Neumer, RedEye [Chicago Tribune], October 1, 2003: "Crafty college students are pushing the limits of technolog into a new field-cheating. They text-message exam answers on their cell phones, program formulas into their graphing calculators and lift PhD-level analyses via a Google search. Who needs to scribble the answers on your own palm when a friend can beam them to your Palm PDA instead? Tools meant to enhance education, especially the Internet, are increasingly being used as creative instruments of cheating..."

Glitzy, But Wrong

  • Computers rot our children's brains: expert, The Observer (London), April 16, 2000. Excerpts: "Dr Jane Healy, an educational psychologist from America, told a conference in London that instead of helping to advance a child's knowledge, computers can stunt the healthy development of a child's mind, reducing attention span and hampering language skills. ... Demolishing the hype of what she calls the 'technology-pushers', Healy condemned the conventional wisdom that declares every child must have a computer at home and in school."

  • "Dumb, But Pretty" by syndicated columnist Joanne Jacobs, Excerpt: "In science, the lab report is another chance to shine graphically -- even if that lovely diagram refutes Galileo. I once saw a physics teacher proudly show colleagues a music video his students had made of their hands-on project, a model car. It was multi-media technology! It was hands on! It was ... Well, it was wrong on the physics. A teacher in the audience -- there to learn how to use technology in their instruction -- pointed out the error. The trainer agreed the students had blown the physics. But they'd done it in multi-media."


    Where schools used to have kids wasting hours and weeks on poster artwork (see Postermania) now they spend tens of thousands of dollars on computers so kids can waste hours and weeks on elaborate PowerPoint presentations. Here are some articles on PowerPoint excesses in schools:

  • "Killing Me Microsoftly: Almost nobody speaks in public anymore without using Powerpoint. but some liken the program to a cognitive veg-o-matic that slices and dices human thought" by Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune, January 5, 2003. Excerpt:
    "I'm surprised at how resistant I've become to PowerPoint and such classroom technologies," muses Todd Parker, an English professor at DePaul University. "When they were first introduced, I thought I'd be happy to use such aids, but after trying several of them, especially PowerPoint, I've come to loathe them all with a passion--in particular because they easily become a crutch for the poor student and a stumbling block to students already too disengaged from the act of learning. "My biggest complaint," Parker says, "is that they come between the teacher and his or her students. The danger is that class tends to devolve into a slide show from which students too often retreat to that room behind their eyeballs. My seven years at DePaul have taught me that the most valuable relationship between teacher and student is charismatic and immediate, one in which the teacher actively engages the students personally. This is hard to do when you turn the effort of instruction over to a machine.
    A terrific sidebar! Attached to the above article were these revisions of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, updated as PowerPoint presentations. Enjoy!

  • The PowerPoint Hamlet
  • The PowerPoint Goodnight Moon

  • "Learning, One Bullet Point at a Time; Pupils Who Can't Even Spell 'PowerPoint' Can Use It as Slickly as Any CEO", New York Times, May 31, 2001

  • Book: "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint" by Edward R. Tufte. In 28 pages and for $7, Edward Tufte delivers a case against the use of PowerPoint for presentations. If that name sounds familiar, Tufte is the author of the internationally praised classic book, "Visual Display of Quantitative Information," considered to be one of the finest sources for effective presentation of complex ideas. If your school is gearing up to spend classroom time teaching kids how to deliver presentations with PowerPoint, you may want to share this little booklet with school administrators. Have the kids write and read a substantive essay instead!

  • Of PowerPoint and Pointlessness by Joanna Glasner, Wired News, September 3, 2002. "To critics, PowerPoint serves largely the same role in the classroom as pre-processed snack food does in the lunchroom, a conveniently packaged morsel that looks good but doesn't match the intellectual or corporeal nourishment of, say, a critical essay or a plate of steamed spinach."

  • In one of his columns, the Trib's James Coates discussed PowerPoint's growing pervasiveness in business, while also noting the darker side of this trend:
    "School kids use the software for show-and-tell assignments. Already some teachers require PowerPoint homework. Yet many cultural critics, English professors and scholars disdain the snappy multimedia use of computers to communicate. It's simple-minded, they say. Those fanny-numbing shows typically start with a stack of cliches--each in a fancy typeface--and followed by a customized bullet, perhaps a happy face or the respectable dash:
    • Decrease inefficiency
    • Increase productivity
    • Enhance shareholder value
    • Retire
    And maybe there will be music in the background. If it comes from tech industry types, expect churning bass and drum riffs to indicate youthful exuberance. Or maybe it will be a snippet from 'Ode to Joy' or some other audio cliche to accompany the excruciatingly obvious text.
    PowerPoint, say its well-educated critics, makes people lazy at communicating their ideas. It oversimplifies and disguises shallowness by distracting the viewer with music, animation, fancy fonts and other tricks that belong in game machines."

  • "They are learning how to use PowerPoint, but they have no idea what the content means."
    "Is our children learning?" by Julie Landry, Red Herring, August 21, 2002. "In a well-appointed classroom in New York City, a pair of sixth graders at Mott Hall School are doing what corporate executives the world over are doing -- creating PowerPoint presentations. ... They are copying and pasting information from medical Web sites and selecting the right background colors and clip art. But after spending 20 minutes just designing the introduction page, the students still can't answer the most basic question: What does the liver do? ... They are learning how to use PowerPoint, but they have no idea what the content means. ... Similar situations are playing out in private and public schools across the United States. ... Yet, after hundreds of exhaustive studies, there remains no conclusive proof that technology in the classroom actually helps to teach students. In fact, in some cases it hinders learning."

  • PowerPoint Is Evil: Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely by Edward Tufte, Wired Magazine, Sep 2003. Excerpt: "Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides - a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something."

  • "The work the students produce with these products is stunningly superficial"
    Computer Illogic: Despite Great Promise, Technology Is Dumbing Down The Classroom by Todd Oppenheimer, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2003. "In San Francisco schools celebrated for their use of technology, I repeatedly ran across teachers caught in a fog of delusion about what their students were actually accomplishing with this machinery. In the younger grades, students in class after class are spending days, to their teachers' great delight, mastering children's versions of PowerPoint, the ubiquitous business presentation product sold by Microsoft. Yet the work the students produce with these products is stunningly superficial. It's usually far less creative than what students used to do with crayons, colored paper, scissors and glue -- materials that obviously cost a fraction of what computers do."

    Product feature
    or cruel joke?
  • PowerPoint: Shot With Its Own Bullets by Peter Norvig. "Imagine a world with almost no pronouns or punctuation. A world where any complex thought must be broken into seven- word chunks, with colorful blobs between them. It sounds like the futuristic dystopia of Kurt Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron, in which intelligent citizens receive ear-splitting broadcasts over headsets so that they cannot gain an unfair advantage over their less intelligent peers. But this world is no fiction -- it is the present-day reality of a PowerPoint presentation, a reality that is repeated an estimated 30 million times a day. ...
         "PowerPoint also 'lowers the ceiling'; it makes it harder to have an open exchange between presenter and audience, to convey ideas that do not neatly fit into outline format, or to have a truly inspiring presentation. This is what I was getting at when I created the Gettysburg PowerPoint presentation, a parody that has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of frustrated PowerPoint sufferers. I used PowerPoint's AutoContent Wizard (which [one writer] calls 'a rare example of a product named in outright mockery of its target customers'), adding only the slide 'Not on Agenda!' to the standard format."

  • Number of Google hits for the exact phrase, "death by PowerPoint": 70,100 (as of February 2007)

  • Absolute Powerpoint: Can A Software Package Edit Our Thoughts by Ian Parker, New Yorker, May 28, 2001. Here's a fascinating history of presentations in large businesses, and the impact of PowerPoint in diluting conversations and presentations, and even ideas themselves. "Before there were presentations, there were conversations, which were a little like presentations but used fewer bullet points, and no one had to dim the lights. ... PowerPoint, which can be found on two hundred and fifty million computers around the world, is software you impose on other people."

  • Ban It Now! Friends Don't Let Friends Use PowerPoint by Thomas Stewart, Fortune Magazine, February 2001. Excerpt: "Why Ban PowerPoint? It's intellectually suspect. ... In 'The American Scholar,' Emerson warned against the tendency to believe something just because it is written down. How much greater the danger when it is also boiled down. ... Complexity exists, really. It disguises tone of voice and point of view. In real life, bullet points kill. ... See, for example, what happens to the Gettysburg Address when it's converted into a PowerPoint presentation (click here)."

  • Comedian Don McMillan's webpage has a hilarious video titled "Life After Death by PowerPoint":

  • The Level of Discourse Continues to Slide by John Schwartz, New York Times, September 2003. Excerpts: "Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation? Critics have complained about the computerized slide shows, produced with the ubiquitous software from Microsoft, since the technology was first introduced 10 years ago. Last week, The New Yorker magazine included a cartoon showing a job interview in hell: 'I need someone well versed in the art of torture,' the interviewer says. 'Do you know PowerPoint?' Once upon a time, a party host could send dread through the room by saying, 'Let me show you the slides from our trip!' Now, that dread has spread to every corner of the culture, with schoolchildren using the program to write book reports, and corporate managers blinking mindlessly at PowerPoint charts and bullet lists projected onto giant screens as a disembodied voice reads
    • every
    • word
    • on
    • every
    • slide.
    When the bullets are flying, no one is safe."


  • "Book Smarts? E-Texts Receive Mixed Reviews From Students" by Ryan Knutson and Geoffrey A. Fowler, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2009. "Nationwide, universities, high schools and elementary schools are launching initiatives like the one at Northwest Missouri State, testing whether electronic texts that can be viewed on e-book readers or on laptop computers can cut costs and improve learning. ... But the transition has sparked controversy among some educators. They say that digital reading comes with drawbacks, including an expensive starting price for e-book readers and surprisingly high prices for digital textbooks. Also, publishers make e-texts difficult to share and print, and it is unclear how well students will adapt to reading textbooks on a screen, some say. The earliest versions of these devices lack highlighting, note-taking and sharing capabilities, and one leading provider's e-books expire after several months, meaning they can't be kept for future reference."

Dangers On the Internet

  • Teen girls know their way around the Net, their parents by Karen Thomas, USA Today, February 13, 2002. Excerpts: "The survey, out today from the Girl Scouts of the USA, delves into the psyche of girls online and shows that teens are hiding a whole lot from their parents: 30% say they've been sexually harassed online (ranging from being asked their bra size to being sent naked pictures of men) but only 7% told their parents. ... only 4% say nothing bad happens online ... 75% of girls say their parents have set up rules about online use ... though 43% admit they don't [follow them] ... 57% can read parents' e-mail, and 54% can carry on a cyber love affair. Nearly half say they're able to ... get into a porn site (42%)"

  • "Parents, Kids, and Pornography on the Internet" (SuperKids Software Reviews)

  • You Are What You Post by Michelle Conlin, BusinessWeek Online, March 17, 2006. Excerpt: "...blogger Jason Kottke ... fears for the MySpacing, YouTubing, Facebooking masses ... who fail to realize that there is no such thing as an eraser on the Internet. 'I see people do that sort of thing now, and I think: 'Oh man, that could come back and bite you.'"

The "Digital Divide"

  • "Digital divide hooey" by Randall E. Stross (U. S. News). Excerpt: "No matter how many gigabytes of encyclopedias are theoretically accessible with a few clacks of the keys, if you watch the way real people use the vast resources of the Web, the advent of household access to the Net resembles the advent of household access to cable television. ... No politician is ready to address the real digital divide, the one that won't go away even if every single household were to be granted, courtesy of Washington, a PC and an always-on broadband connection to AOL. The real one can't be solved by hardware, isn't photogenic, and resists encapsulation in a handy alliterating phrase. The Science-and-Math-Literacy-and-Academic-Achievement-Prized-Above-All-Else Divide doesn't roll off the tongue, does it?"

  • Debunking The Digital Divide by Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, March 20, 2002. Excerpt: "It's spontaneously shrinking -- and with it, the exaggerated popular notions of the harm it did. ... It may turn out that the 'digital divide' -- one of the most fashionable political slogans of recent years -- is largely fiction. As you will recall, the argument went well beyond the unsurprising notion that the rich would own more computers than the poor. The disturbing part of the theory was that society was dividing itself into groups of technology 'haves' and 'have nots' and that this segregation would, in turn, worsen already large economic inequalities. It's this argument that's either untrue or wildly exaggerated.

  • "What Digital Divide?" by Neil Seeman, National Review, March 16, 2001. Excerpt: "The 'digital divide' is dead. The New York Times [said in its] business section, 'People with low incomes using the World Wide Web at home accounted for the fastest-growing online group over the last," quoth the Times. ... This means that nearly the same proportion of blacks (26%) is cruising the Net as whites (32%). American Indians, it turns out, are more net-literate than whites."

  • Computer Illogic: Despite Great Promise, Technology Is Dumbing Down The Classroom by Todd Oppenheimer, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2003. Excerpt:
    [Then there is] "the much vaunted effort to close the 'digital divide.' ... This campaign has been so appealing that, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education report, computers are now more prevalent in poor schools than in wealthy ones. Yet political and education leaders haven't stopped crying about this terrible 'divide.' Meanwhile, the schools' new technology riches took the real divide between rich and poor children -- the educational divide -- and widened it. In Harlem, for example, teachers have their hands full just trying to maintain order and pass on a basic level of knowledge. Now, they have to spend much of their time managing technical hassles the schools can't afford to fix and watching for cheating, instant messaging tricks and illicit material on screens that teachers cannot control or even see."

Providing Parent and Community Information

    Time for some good news! One unquestioned benefit of computerization in school is the opportunity to provide more information to the parents and the community on what the school is doing.

  • District 15 Opens Its Books: Board Agrees to Put District Documents Online and in Libraries by Nadia Malik, Daily Herald, November 10, 2005 In an effort to increase its transparency, the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board agreed Wednesday to place several documents on its Web site. Teacher salary schedules, the packets the board receives before meetings and a full budget will all be available to the public without having to file a request through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents will also be available at the Rolling Meadows, Palatine and Barrington public libraries, which all sit in the district's jurisdiction. ... The board also recently decided to start taping its meetings, which have been playing on public access television in Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Rolling Meadows. ... These same tapes will also be placed in all three libraries."

  • Reformer's challenge for the week: Try asking your district to commit to at least what Palatine is doing! But even that is only a start. Here's our Illinois Loop recommendation on what information a school district should provide:

Quotes on Technology in Schools

  • From our page on education quotations, here are the entries on computers in schools:

    "'Technology' is what we call whatever didn't exist when we were born."
    -- Alan Kay, legendary computer scientist at Xerox and Apple

    "'Technology' is stuff that doesn't work yet."
    -- Bran Ferren

    "On close examination, kids are doing nothing of real importance on computers, and they'd be much better off doing something else."
    -- Alan Kay

    "Want to get a job using information technology to solve problems?
    Know something about the problems that need to be solved."
    -- Todd Oppenheimer, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2003

    "A 1996 poll of US teachers found that they ranked computer skills and media technology as more 'essential' than the study of European history, biology, chemistry, and physics; than dealing with social problems such as drugs and family breakdown; than learning practical job skills; and than reading modern American writers such as Steinbeck and Hemmingway or classic ones such as Plato and Shakespeare."
    -The Atlantic Monthly, July 1997

    "Given the high costs and clear hazards, we call for a moratorium on the further introduction of computers in early childhood and elementary education."
    -- from the August 2000 Position Statement of the Alliance for Childhood, an organization of education PhDs, medical doctors, and others, from all political and pedagogical camps, united in their concern about the headlong rush to computerization in elementary schools.

    "Much computer use in schools these days involves computer 'enhanced' instruction -- things like simulations ... There's no evidence that this helps to the degree that promoters promise ... I remain a skeptic because so many claims have been made without questioning."
    -- Larry Cuban, professor, Stanford University, former president of the American Educational Research Association

    "What we are really seeing ... is a conflict between techno-enthusiasts and teachers who are comfortable with the human role they have become used to playing without the machine to interfere."
    -- Larry Cuban, professor, Stanford University, former president of the American Educational Research Association

    "...There is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students' sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement."
    -- Larry Cuban, professor, Stanford University, former president of the American Educational Research Association

    "Anyone who tells you computers are more effective than anything else is either dumb or lying."
    -- Larry Cuban, professor, Stanford University, Time, March 2, 1998

    "The biggest problem that students have is that technology often ends up being a distraction. In an information society the smart person will be the one who can shut out all the distractions."
    -- Robin Raskin, founder, FamilyPC magazine, quoted in AP news story, September 10, 2005

    "Our students, twenty years from now, will be using the concepts, tools, and technology, that they will learn fifteen years from now."
    -- Nils J. Nilsson

    "If computers make a difference, it has yet to show up in achievement."
    --Samuel Salva, former executive director, National Association of Elementary School Principals

    "There is absolutely no evidence that the internet or the use of computers in and out of the classroom enhance education in any way -- skills, infamous 'information', maybe -- but not knowledge, not real learning."
    -- James S. Taylor, Chairman, Department of Teacher Education, Hillsdale College

    "Try not to be intimidated by people who claim that children will be left behind or ill prepared for the computer age unless they are exposed to the computer early on. People who say such things are invariably trying to sell you something."
    -- Aaron Falbel

    "There is a consensus that except for a few futuristic demonstration projects, all of this money [spent on computerization] and hardware has had an insignificant effect on educational practice in the nation's schools."
    -- Douglas Noble

    "Today's children are the subjects of a vast and optimistic experiment. It is well financed and enthusiastically supported by major corporations, the public at large, and government officials around the world. If it is successful, our youngsters' minds and lives will be enriched, society will benefit, and education will be permanently changed for the better. But there is no proof -- or even convincing evidence -- that it will work."
    -- Jane M. Healy, "Failure to Connect"

    "[Clinton's] pledge [to wire all schools to the Internet] came despite ambiguous existing research on the effectiveness of such technology in the classroom. There are few hard facts to demonstrate that computers improve student achievement despite the nearly absolute faith that the administration appeared to place in technology.
    "Even some usually pro-technology types, like Apple Computer Co. founder Steven Jobs, have expressed doubts, suggesting that what students need is more classroom focus on basics like writing and mathematics ..." -- Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1999

    "I used to think technology could help education. Now my inevitable conclusion is that no amount of technology will make a dent."
    -- Steve Jobs

    "In the 4th grade, students who used computers at school for social studies every day scored a whopping 47 points lower that students who 'never or hardly ever' used computers at school for social studies. The margin for both 8th and 12th graders was 24 points. The trend was virtually unbroken for all three grade levels: the more frequently you used a computer at school for social studies, the lower you scored."
    -- "Communique" of the Education Intelligence Agency (EIA), May 13, 2002, reporting on the 2002 report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

    "Where did we get this preposterous notion that young children need computers lest they somehow fall behind?"
    -- Dr. Jane M. Healy, Failure to Connect

    "Throughout the country, computer technology is dumbing down the academic experience, corrupting schools' financial integrity, cheating the poor, fooling people about the job skills youngsters need for the future and furthering the illusions of state and federal education policy."
    Todd Oppenheimer, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2003

    A library is where you go to find facts. The web is more like a garage sale: it's possible you'll find what you want, but only with a lot of digging, searching, and wading through things that smell funny.
    -- editor

    "The key to helping the next generation of American children be bright, literate, intellectually self-sufficient, steeped in the most important areas of knowledge? It all comes down to computers in the classrooms. Get rid of them."
    -- Bob Greene, Chicago Tribune

    "Educational television should be absolutely forbidden. It can only lead to unreasonable disappointment when your child discovers that the letters of the alphabet do not leap up out of books and dance around with royal-blue chickens."
    -- Fran Lebowitz

    "It is appallingly obvious our technology has exceeded our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

    "The web is just a device by which bad ideas travel around the globe at the speed of light."
    -- P. J. O'Rourke, The CEO of the Sofa

    "This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."
    -- King Arthur, speaking in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

    "Kids are the best ... you can teach them to hate the things you hate, and they practically raise themselves what with the Internet and all."
    -- Homer Simpson

    "If it's in the computer, they believe anything."
    -- Jessica, the young girl, making an airline reservation in Sleepless in Seattle


    "Then we learned about bullets -- little black circles in front of phrases that were supposed to summarize things. There was one after another of these little goddamn bullets in our briefing books and on the slides."
    -- Richard Feynman, physicist and Nobel laureate, on the use of dumbed-down presentations during his participation on the board investigating the explosion of the Challenger

    "It is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation. At many points during its investigation, the Board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA."
    -- [Space Shuttle] Columbia Accident Invetigation Board, August 2003

    "Students in class after class are spending days, to their teachers' great delight, mastering children's versions of PowerPoint, the ubiquitous business presentation product sold by Microsoft. Yet the work the students produce with these products is stunningly superficial."
    -- Todd Oppenheimer, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2003

    "PowerPoint can make anything look respectable no matter how badly prepared or dull."
    -- Editorial, Times [Australia]

    "Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials."
    -- Edward R. Tufte, in Wired magazine

    "We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true."
    -- Robert Wilensky

    "Especially disturbing is the introduction of the PowerPoint cognitive style into schools. Instead of writing a report using sentences, children learn how to make client pitches and infomercials, which is better than encouraging children to smoke. Elementary school PP exercises (as seen in teacher's guides, and in student work posted on the internet) typically show 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation consisting of 3 to 6 slides -- a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Rather than being trained as mini-bureaucrats in PP Phluff and foreshortening of thought, students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to The Exploratorium. Or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something."
    -- Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

    "At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm to the content. Yet again and again we have seen that the PP cognitive style routinely disrupts, dominates and trivializes content."
    -- Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

    "The Harvard Business Review study of corporate planning found that the widely used bullet outlines did not bring intellectual discipline to planning -- instead the bullets accommodated the generic, superficial, and simplistic."
    -- Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

    "Presentations largely stand or fall depending on the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content. The way to make big improvements in a presentation is to get better content. Designer formats will not salvage weak content. If your numbers are boring, then you've got the wrong numbers. If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in color won't make them relevant. Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure."
    -- Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

    "By playing around with Phluff rather than providing information, PowerPoint allows speakers to pretend that they are giving a real talk, and the audiences to pretend that they are listening. This prankish conspiracy against substance and thought should always provoke the question, 'Why are we having this meeting?'"
    -- Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

    "Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."
    -- Edward Tufte, Wired Magazine, September 2003

    "Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation?"
    -- John Schwartz, New York Times, September 2003


  • From our listing of books on education, here are the entries on technology in schools:

    "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future" by Mark Bauerlein

    Amazon description:

    For decades, concern has been brewing about the dumbed-down popular culture available to young people and the impact it has on their futures. At the dawn of the digital age, many believed they saw a hopeful answer: The Internet, e-mail, blogs, and interactive and hyper-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children. The terms "information superhighway" and "knowledge economy" entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens would use their knowledge and understanding of technology to set themselves apart as the vanguards of this new digital era.

    That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn't happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their verbal skills has had the opposite effect. According to recent reports, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its consequences for American culture and democracy.

    Excerpt from a review by Chester E. Finn, Jr.:

    ... the point of this Emory University English professor's terrific new book: today's young people don't know squat in large part because the trappings of the "digital age" have addled their brains, distorted their priorities, and occupied all their time. It's a polemic, yes, but it's full of compelling data as well as even more compelling anecdotes and vignettes. Bauerlein faults the grown-ups, too, in a forceful chapter called "The Betrayal of the Mentors." (Short version: professors ennoble youth and its values rather than taming the former and correcting the latter.) "As of 2008," Bauerlein concludes, "the intellectual future of the United States looks dim. Not the economic future, or the technological, medical, or media future, but the future of civic understanding and liberal education. The social pressures and leisure preferences of young Americans, for all their silliness and brevity, help set the heading of the American mind, and the direction is downward.... It isn't funny anymore." Neither is this book, but you really need to read it anyhow.

    "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint" by Edward R. Tufte

    In 28 pages and for $7, Edward Tufte delivers up a powerful case against the use of PowerPoint for presentations.

    If that name sounds familiar, Tufte is the author of the internationally praised classic book, "Visual Display of Quantitative Information," considered to be one of the finest sources for effective presentation of complex ideas.

    If your school is gearing up to spend classroom time teaching kids how to deliver presentations with PowerPoint, you may want to share this little booklet with school administrators. Have the kids write and read a substantive essay instead!

    "The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved" by Todd Oppenheimer

    The review in Booklist says, "The other side of the much-ballyhooed promise of technology in improving education is the reality that it often distracts from real education, provides new opportunities for commercial interests, and only contributes to growing inequities and lack of performance."

    Here is another review: Why Computers Have Not Saved The Classroom by Bob Blaisdell, Christian Science Monitor, October 14, 2003. Excerpt: "What impact has computer technology had on public education in the US? That's the question journalist Todd Oppenheimer sets out to answer in The Flickering Mind. Mr. Oppenheimer's conclusion: Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful, and the rush to keep schools up-to-date with the latest technology has been largely pointless. 'At this early stage of the personal computer's history, the technology is far too complex and error prone to be smoothly integrated into most classrooms,' Oppenheimer writes."

    "Oversold And Underused: Computers in the Classroom" by Larry Cuban

    From a review in the Christian Science Monitor:

    "Today, in the US, it's teachers' turn to take the hit for the lack of success that computers have brought to education. Why haven't test scores gone up with the increased availability of computers? Why do computers with all the latest programs sit unused in classrooms, or at best serve only as word-processors or Internet searchers? Those policymakers who giddily poured funding into technology as a cure for the ills of public education blame, among other scapegoats, stuck-in-the-mud teachers. ... [The author Larry Cuban] is tempted 'to call for a moratorium on buying any more computers for K-12 schools. A moratorium might startle people into openly debating serious questions about how and why computers are used and how they fit in with the larger purposes of universal education.'"

    "Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920" by Larry Cuban

    Here is a description of this book from the article "The Computer Delusion" by Todd Oppenheimer: "[In this book] Larry Cuban, a professor of education at Stanford University and a former school superintendent, observed that as successive rounds of new technology failed their promoters' expectations, a pattern emerged. The cycle began with big promises backed by the technology developers' research. In the classroom, however, teachers never really embraced the new tools, and no significant academic improvement occurred. This provoked consistent responses: the problem was money, spokespeople argued, or teacher resistance, or the paralyzing school bureaucracy. Meanwhile, few people questioned the technology advocates' claims. As results continued to lag, the blame was finally laid on the machines. Soon schools were sold on the next generation of technology, and the lucrative cycle started all over again."

    "High Tech Heretic: Why Computers Don't Belong in the Classroom" by Clifford Stoll

    The Kirkus Review of this book, quoted on Amazon, says, "Stoll bemoans a major educational trend of the last decade: the rapid computerization of the classroom. He's a passionate believer in a quite old-fashioned medium of data transmission: the book. He asserts that advocates of the computerized classroom have confused data with wisdom, wisdom being the ability to filter data and place it into a larger perspective. This is exactly what the internet cannot do, says Stoll. In the computerized classroom, 'solving a problem means clicking on the right icon,' allowing zero time to reflect. Thus, students focus on the shallowness of data, supplemented by multimedia graphics, while failing to consider the real-world contexts in which problems arise."

    An interesting twist on the issue of computers in schools is that a growing number of mainstream progressivists are questioning whether we should be spending scarce dollars and scarcer time on computers. The following two books are both written by authors with whom we would disagree on most education issues, but who are just as dubious as we are when it comes to the role of computers in schools:
    • "Failure To Connect" by Jane Healy
    • "The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put Our Children's Education At Risk" by Allison Armstrong and Charles Casement

Copyright 2012, The Illinois Loop. All Rights Reserved.
Home Page     Site Map     Contact Us