More than 25 years ago, when I first started working with computers in schools in a serious way, we were all trying to learn how these new devices were going to work out. We did not know that we were going to be carrying around the Internet (we didn’t even know about the Internet!) in our pockets. Graphing calculators were not in our classroom, and YouTube was still way in the future. We didn’t know if computers were going to be a fad and fade within a few years. As is typical the future was unknown.
Many also saw computers as an add-on. Something that could be held out as an enrichment activity, something to be held as a reward. Back then, a student staying back from the computer to “finish classwork” was reasonable. Educators did not know what do do with the devices and having rich computer experience was not essential to students’ education.
Today, however, the world has changed. Approaching computers as enrichment or as a reward is inexcusable. I had not seen this happen for some time until recently, I saw a group of children huddled around a table with math workbooks open while other children were busy polishing up a multimedia project. At first, I assumed the teacher had brought two tasks to the computer room… I imagined she started the lesson with words like “OK, you have 10 minutes to finish the project and 10 minutes to finish the math assignment… when I call time the computer people move to math and the math people move to computers.”
As the time or the lesson neared an end and the math students were still huddled around the table with math books. I must have shown too much interest in the math students as the teacher told me, “maybe these kids will learn that they need to finish their work if they want the reward of using computers.”
I was dumbstruck.
Not only was the teachers’ treatment of computers as a reward backwards, but the principal appeared to find this completely acceptable (I was talking with him later and he showed no surprise and suggested that “academics are more important than anything else we do”).
As I left the school, I found myself relieved that my own children have not chance of being in a class taught by that teacher or a school led by that principal.