246. Computers

The last several years I taught, there was a computer in my classroom. I made good use of it myself, but I really didn’t have a clue how to use it with a class full of children who all wanted to use it. I know there are all kinds of ways to make the computer an important learning tool. Children could have the world at their fingertips (I almost wrote “literally,” but I stopped myself; what they could have was literally at their fingertips, but it wasn’t literally the world.) They could, as I now do, have keypals all over the world. They could do research on the computer. They could practice all kinds of skills, write without worrying about their handwriting or their pencils, and during the occasional indoor recess, they could play computer games.
I hope my first paragraph doesn’t future shock you as much as it future shocks me. When I think about all the possible uses for computers in education, I worry. Computers can make it so that teachers and children won’t need to have as much contact with each other. Neither will children and children. I have always enjoyed relating to actual (not “virtual”) human beings, and I hope children always have ample opportunities to do that. Computers could make it so that they don’t. I can imagine a classroom in which there is a computer for every child. The teacher sits at a computer that has access to all the other computers, and helps individual children with whatever they’re working on. And the teachers and children hardly ever see each other.
My futuristic nightmare is not so unrealistic. But some uses for computers can actually enhance student/teacher contact. Teachers won’t have to turn away from the class to write on the chalkboard. Instead, they’ll face the class and type on a keyboard, and what they type will appear on a large-screen computer monitor. Some children will be unable to see the monitor, but maybe they’ll have headphones that will give them the same information that sighted children are reading. If the teacher is ill, and has to stay home, the substitute and the children can still communicate with the teacher.
I haven’t gone off the deep end as much as some people I know. But just last night, I was speaking with one of the people involved in laying out the articles for the magazine I edit, and I surprised myself. She wondered how she could view the articles I sent her; she had an IBM and I had a Mac. I suggested that I could send her hard copy, and she could find someone who had a scanner. I was somewhat pleased with my ingenuity, and somewhat scared: what was I becoming?
The future is on its way, and you may have mixed feelings about it, as I do. Most of the articles I write will probably still be relevant by the time they’re printed in The Wellesley Townsman, but by the time you read this one, it could seem quaint and antique. As I write this, though, we still have time. Two factors I can think of give us time: the slowness of change in schools, and the expensiveness of computers. But neither is reliable, so I think we’d better get ready.

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