Seven Habits of Highly Effective computers: Strategies for Getting the Most out of the Computers in your Classroom
This article is an oldy but a goody. I originally published this on my website at NewLearner.com in November of 2002. What's possibly the most surprising thing about this article is how relevant most of these strategies remain twelve years later. Notwithstanding the fact that this article doesn't really speak to the use of personal devices (even laptops were extremely rare in classrooms twelve years ago), the issues of thinking, student engagement, and blended learning are even more topical today than they were when this article was originally written. Give these strategies for maximizing the benefit of computers in the classroom a quick perusal, and let me know your thoughts.
1. Physical Placement: If at all possible, computers should be placed around the perimeter of a classroom as opposed to the middle of the room. A computer that is situated so that it is between the student and the teacher will always present a potential distraction for the students. This configuration should be avoided in any room other than an actual computer studies classroom.
2. Thinking versus Grunt-work: The computer should never be assigned a task that would see it doing the thinking for the student. For example, a spreadsheet shouldn't be used to teach a grade four student basic mathematical functions. However, if it is used to calculate figures within a financial statement for a Grade Eleven student, then a spreadsheet is perfectly appropriate. In such a case, the spreadsheet isn't doing any thinking beyond what the student is capable of doing for him / herself. Rather, it is just serving to save the student time. (Especially if that student needs to correct a mistake!) In general, computers should be used to perform grunt work. Computers assigned the task of crunching numbers or searching the web for relevant resources will enable students to accomplish more sophisticated tasks than would be practical without the use of computers. Yet, such applications will not interfere with the student’s cognitive development.
3. Computers Don’t Teach: Although there are a variety of instructional programs on the market these days, a teacher shouldn't be tempted to pass the student off to such programs. Although these programs have their place within a course’s reference material or within a remediation program, they should not be used as the primary mode of instruction. The computer’s greatest shortcoming is its limited ability to answer questions. It is difficult enough for a teacher to interpret a student’s question so that he/she fully understands the student’s point of confusion. A program, at this point in time, cannot do this. We are still years away from computers that are capable of this level of fuzzy logic.
4. Make it Real: The computer, coupled with the effective use off the Internet, is a gateway to the real world, and it should be used as such. If the computer is not bringing information into the classroom that is current, relevant, and meaningful to the students, then it is a waste of resources.
5. Getting Acquainted: The teacher should be as familiar with the computer as the students are when it comes to the applications required for a given course. If we accept that teachers should be facilitating the effective use of computers in the classroom, then teachers must accept a duty of care that didn’t necessarily exist ten years ago. Just as we wouldn’t expect to see students required to complete calculator applications that are beyond the capability of the math teacher, computers shouldn't be used in a class where the teacher isn't capable of performing the required tasks. Yes, young people certainly seem to be immersed in computer culture, and yes, they seem to learn faster than adults, but that is no excuse for adults to play dead when it comes to learning computer applications. The teacher should have a pretty good idea of where the computer is going to take the students before they get there.
6. Don't Rely on Computers to Excite the Kids: Teachers should never assume that material, presented via a computer, will be any more exciting than the same material presented by a human being. Computers are new and exciting to children for about a week. After that, they are about as exciting as a nightlight. In the long run, students would much rather listen to a dynamic teacher than gawk at a computer screen. In general, a computer should not be used to replace the teaching portion of a class. Rather, they should be used to augment the active portion of a class wherein students perform research, complete labs, produce a product, or perform a task.
7. Demand Higher Levels of Thinking and Inquiry: In an era where facts and information are so readily available over the Internet, assignments should not be structured to emphasize the attainment of facts. It is probably safe to assume that most students know how to locate, copy, and paste information from the web. Teachers should therefore shy away from structuring assignments that would encourage this style of Internet abuse. Rather, students should be asked to collect and synthesize information, and then develop opinions or draw conclusions based on this information. As essays require the writer to formulate and prove an argument, teachers should be developing sound essay-writing skills in their students. It goes without saying that teachers these days are far more impressed with the student who is able to develop and articulate an argument than the student who is able to gather and present facts on a given topic.
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