Monday, January 31, 2011

The impact of pervasive computing on the education system

Here is an interesting fact: the term pervasive computing was introduced by IBM in 1999. What it means is: technology is available anywhere at anytime. This vision for the future of technology continues to change the way we live, socialize, have fun, and learn.
I am curious about the impact it has had in the way we learn, more specifically in the classroom; on the education system.

Today a plethora of computing solutions are available to students from a early age.
From tool based applications such as word processor and spreadsheets, modeling soft- wares to emails, podcasts, blogs, and much more. What impact has technology had in facilitating education?

The most famous study done in this area is ACOT, Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow. Since 1985, the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT)SM research project has provided teachers and students at five public school sites in five states in the US with individual computers for use at school and at home. Students and teachers also have access to video, printer, scanner, CD-Rom drives and hundreds of software packages.

On an on going basis the changes of the behavior of students in the classroom has been observed and documented in this research project.

In the report ACOT teachers rave about the positive impact introducing technology has had in the process of learning. Here are three examples:

  • access to modeling software has made the learning of math more attractive to the students
    ACOT students' grades were marginally better or neutral relative to the grades of students who don't use technology in the classroom. This implies that what teachers indicate as "attractive" has more to do with the students' reaction to math and not necessarily their understanding of it. In other words the technology has not been able to facilitate learning of math concepts.

  • access to technology has improved the spirit of team work and collaboration; the usual example in this space is access to the world wide web, pod casts, emails and blogs. these tools have opened up a world of opportunities for both students and teachers to learn and share experience.
    Collaboration and team work has always been at core of education. The interaction students have with each other is the only reason they learn. The time students spend on the world wide web, and listening to podcasts can only reduce the time they spend with each other. In fact in another section of the report we read: students reluctantly leave their classroom during the recess.

  • access to tool based applications such as word processor and spreadsheets improves students organization skills
    An essay written on paper using a pen and pencil is many times richer in content than a word processed one, where half of the productivity time is spent on undoing and redoing the cosmetic changes. Similarly a statistic problem done without using the spreadsheet allows students to learn and reinforce their learning of math operations.

As you see, I am a skeptic!

What I am afraid is happening is education system is becoming a market place for computing companies. The research projects funded by them is biased; of course from their point of view the impact of technology in the classroom is positive and improves the process of learning. The educators, however, need to think more critically. Instead of glorifying all that technology has provided to the classroom, they should think about what it has taken away from our learning process. Only in this way we can discover the best use of technology in our education system.

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