Week 2

By now you have probably chomped your way through the three pieces by Becker. Becker is an interesting figure in the history of computer use in education. He has authored some major reports in the US and the papers were chosen because you can mine them for the logics and thinking around computer use that could be mapped over that 20 year period.

These reflections on the readings are not intended to be the right answers or correct way to read each text. They reflect as much about me as they do the author. I have chosen an American lens to look at these issues so that if any want to examine the Australian scene it will have been largely not commented upon. There are similarities between the two countries but also important differences.

I've put my thoughts about the other two pieces on separate pages: Becker (2000a) and Becker (2000b)

Becker (1984)

Becker draws attention to the uncertain connections between learning and computer use. That debate continues to this day. What I like to think of as “how” questions. How best to use a computer to teach underwater basket weaving etc.

The second question is the one about programming. This debate has muted a little over time but the recent interest in computational thinking and notions of "big data" have brought these debates back to some degree.

Douglas Rushkoff has an interesting argument in his recent book: Program or be programmed1 in which he makes a strong case for the importance of programming in a broad sense.

Becker presciently points to the likely importance of searching and of the use of computer modelling in schools. He also raises an important point about deploying computers to cater for difference and also notes, what was then an important issue, that of resourcing2.

There is a useful tracking of the term computer literacy, a term that seems to wander in and out of popularity3.

His list (pp 26-27) of the logical value of computers for kids is one that has been repeated over and over. The research questions that flow from this argument are familiar ones.

It is worth noting that the predominance of drill and practice he reports did not occur to that degree in Australia where word processors and similar applications were used. It is interesting that the irony of using machines to teach things that machines are good at, i.e. the recalling of facts, was missed4.

Another important issue that is briefly canvassed, getting machines to do the things good teachers do, has persisted over time. The emergence of easy video distribution has allowed many universities to distribute lectures given by their showcase staff. It has allowed things like the Khan academy and Udacity to provide educational experiences to very large numbers of students. The issue of cost effectiveness which Becker raises is something that these large scale online educational facilities clearly achieve.

It is interesting to read about the issues/questions/debates that relate to the use of word processing in classrooms and how much and little some of these have changed over time.