Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Flickering Mind

The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved, by Todd Oppenheimer. ISBN 1-4000-6044-3.

The conclusion of this book is very thoughtful and thought-provoking. I have mixed feelings about it. I feel grateful that his conclusion matches and confirms my own reservations about technology in the classroom. It is simply nice to have some affirmation in whatever form it may present itself. I am uneasy that the path he warns not to take is the one that I will be obligated to follow per the wishes of whatever administration I work with in the high school setting.

The foundation of the book is that "the analysis showed no strong link between the presence of technology - or the use of tecnology in teaching - and superior achievement (p. 391)." What Oppenheimer says is needed is the same old common-sense things that have always been needed - good teachers, small class sizes, lively involvement, and thoughtful debate. The problems are the same ones that have hounded American education for a LONG time. Namely, creating a desire for people who would be good teachers to actually become (and remain) teachers. Oppenheimer mentions the same old issues of pathetic teacher pay in America and difficulty of the job.

Oppenheimer describes the cycle many or most schools seem to be following in which a FABULOUS NEW computer or software is introduced. It doesn't work as well as advertised and another FABULOUS NEW technology plan is introduced a few years later... costing lots of money and exhausting the teachers trying to learn and apply the technology.

Small classes and/or individual instruction yielded much better results than simply providing technology to students. Theodore Roszak is cited argueing that computers can offer information, but this is the most basic form of operational learning. The higher levels involve imagination, insight, knowledge, and judgment; with the highest level being wisdom. Oppenheimer says that the best tools for achieving these goals are likely to be the old-fashioned things such as books, (paper) notebooks, conversation, field trips, energetic teachers, etc.

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