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Quality education needs more than just computers for our kids

By Deborah Kember - posted Tuesday, 15 May 2001

The assumption that students will learn effectively by merely putting computers in schools is a fallacy. While many talented teachers are effectively using information and communicaton technologies with their classes there are difficulties associated with researching best practice. This is because much of what is being done in schools is little more than substituting the computers for books as a secondary research tool, or word processors for pen and paper. While there are tangible benefits in terms of time and storage these alone are not good reasons to invest millions in hardware.

There are, however, many well documented models for using computers effectively in the classroom. They involve valuable thinking tasks that include cooperative learning and problem solving in which students work with others and communicate with relevant 'experts' beyond the classroom walls. This is far more effective than using computers to just look up information.

Preparing students for the world outside the school gate involves teachers in the task of keeping pace with technological change. Computer technology is an expensive means of doing this but to exclude their use on the grounds of cost is to deny students a vibrant and practical educational experience.


Computer use in classrooms gives students a broad foundation for further learning in an information-based society, enriching learning experiences not replacing them. Computer technology is not replacing teachers nor is it removing the need to learn basic skills. Computers are tools that can improve learning outcomes but success is a function of method and practice. Traditional teaching methods applied to new technology will not show any marked improvement in student learning.

Adopting new methods of teaching and taking up the challenge of learning technology is an enormous personal sea change that teachers are committed to undertaking. But this can't happen without the support of government, systems, schools and professional associations.

Here in Queensland those teachers in schools who are in the position to assist others in improving outcomes through the use of learning technology find they have two jobs to do in the time of one. As well as being honorary system manager (installing and maintaining the computers) these people teach others the best way to use computers the classroom. Some do this on top of a normal teaching load. This is an impossible task that many take on because it has to be done for the benefit of other teachers and students.

There was a time when it was acceptable for an IT enthusiast to maintain the computers in their spare time but the level of sophistication of networks and the sheer numbers involved make that no longer feasible. Others have had roles as district Learning Technology Advisors who help teachers use computers in the classroom. Across the state, many of these jobs have been made redundant at a time when more are needed to support the work of our teachers.

In the past new learning technologies have received the same accolades as computer technology. For example, photocopied and duplicated worksheets , videotapes and movies, reading and mathematics laboratories have all been considered the panacea for student learning when they were first introduced in schools. As is the case now and always has been, it is not the tool that is the issue but how it is used in effective teaching and learning.

The economic rationalists may want answers now to the ongoing dilemma of value for the computer technology dollar but the people in the engine room need more time, guidance and logistical support to adopt and become adept at using computer technology effectively in the classroom.

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About the Author

Deborah Kember is president of Queensland Society for Information Technology in Education (QSITE).

Related Links
Education Queensland
Federal Department of Education, Trraining and Youth Affairs
QSITE homepage
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