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Category archive: Computers

Sunday July 20 2008

Today I was at a party, and talked with a lady who teaches/helps to run/is involved with this school, which is run by this enterprise.

She expressed extreme pessimism about computers in education.  She said that pretty much all the vast amounts of money spent on computers in education so far has been wasted, and that all further expenditure on computers will likewise be money down the drain.  They spend enough time staring at screens as it is, without them being encouraged to stare at yet more screens when they ought to be learning things.  Computers do not encourage concentration.  They destroy it.

As for me, I don’t know.  Really, I don’t know.  I’m just passing on what she said.

If you want an old-school school, hers sounds pretty good, and there are still places going spare.  She talked about the Synthetic Phonics stuff that I have already researched, and clearly knew her stuff.  She has been asking around about a similarly good approach to maths, but has not yet found how that ought to be done.

She also said that during the last year or so, regular state schools have maybe been making some actual progress in the literacy department, what with the literacy hour, and with word getting around about Synthetic Phonics.  This despite the obfuscations spread by the government, who don’t want to admit how wrong they have been in the quite recent past.

Friday July 11 2008

I reported on the Elonex mini-computer some time back.  It was cheap and ugly.  Now it’s a tad more expensive, but not ugly, so now much more child-friendly.


I have an Asus Eee PC, and I must admit that the keyboard is really too tiny to be ideal for me, even with my small hands.  But for truly tiny fingers, a machine like this is surely perfect.  This Elonex, being so much cheaper than the Eee PC, is accordingly very parent-friendly.

Wednesday June 25 2008

More on the computers-educational-or-mind-destroyers-or-what? front.  Linked to at Samizdata by Adriana, this:

Social networks like Facebook and MySpace have reputations as time-sucking procrastination tools, but a new study from the University of Minnesota says au contraire.

Social networks build beneficial technological, creative, and communication skills, the study says, leading the researchers to actually describe social networks with the adjective “educational.” Who knew?

“What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today,” Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher from the school’s College of Education and Human Development, said in a release Friday.

Data from the study came from teenagers ages 16 to 18 in about a dozen urban high schools in the Midwest.

“Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout,” Greenhow continued. “They’re also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology.”

Yes.  The main thing you learn from using computers is how to use computers, and that’s got to be worth learning.

The debate continues.

Friday June 13 2008

Well, here I am in France, but still able to post, albeit with an AZERTY keyboard, rather than a QWERTY keyboard of the kind that nature intended.  While on the subject of computers, here is Ray Fisman writing about why giving poor kids computers doesn’t improve their scholastic performance.  Computers depend on parents making kids use them for educational self-improvement, he says, rather than as mere games consoles.  Which are bad.

What I want to know is: what effect do computers and computer games playing have on your ability to do real life, rather than just your ability or willingness to be “scholastic”?

Friday May 30 2008


Dear Brian,

I have been having a look at your blog and though you might like to hear about our new site www.tutpup.com which has free maths and English games for students.

Our site is completely free, has no ads, does not require players to disclose any personally identifiable information and allows students to play competitive head-to-head games with their friends/classmates or students from around the world.

We also provide tools for teachers where they can set up and manage their classes as well as seeing how their students are performing at school and at home.

I thought that this may be of interest as our aim is to help as many kids (wherever they are) to improve their basic maths and English skills and this seemed to fit with the libertarian leaning of your blog.

Richard Taylor

Yes, Richard Taylor, this is just the kind of thing that does interest me, a lot.  Feel entirely free to keep me and my readers informed of progress with this. It’s obviously a world away from this kind of thing, but some of the simplest and most basic games are among the most successful and addictive, yes?

As I keep saying here, sooner or later someone is going to make something like this work in a very big way.

Thursday May 29 2008

Tom Chatfield discusses computer games:

When Mogwai isn’t online, he’s called Adam Brouwer, and works as a civil servant for the British government modelling crisis scenarios of hypothetical veterinary disease outbreaks. I point out to him a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, billed under the line “The best sign that someone’s qualified to run an internet startup may not be an MBA degree, but level 70 guild leader status.” Is there anything to this? “Absolutely,” he says, “but if you tried to argue that within the traditional business market you would get laughed out of the interview.” How, then, does he explain his willingness to invest so much in something that has little value for his career? He disputes this claim. “In Warcraft I’ve developed confidence; a lack of fear about entering difficult situations; I’ve enhanced my presentation skills and debating. Then there are more subtle things: judging people’s intentions from conversations, learning to tell people what they want to hear. I am certainly more manipulative, more Machiavellian. I love being in charge of a group of people, leading them to succeed in a task.”

It’s an eloquent self-justification - even if some, including Adam’s partner of the last ten years, might say he protests too much. You find this kind of frank introspection again and again on the thousands of independent websites maintained by World of Warcraft’s more than 10m players. Yet this way of thinking about video games can be found almost nowhere within the mainstream media, which still tend to treat games as an odd mix of the slightly menacing and the alien: more like exotic organisms dredged from the deep sea than complex human creations.

This lack has become increasingly jarring, as video games and the culture that surrounds them have become very big news indeed. In March, the British government released the Byron report - one of the first large-scale investigations into the effects of electronic media on children. Its conclusions set out a clear, rational basis for exploring the regulation of video games. Since then, however, the debate has descended into the same old squabbling between partisan factions. In one corner are the preachers of mental and moral decline; in the other the high priests of innovation and life 2.0. In between are the ever-increasing legions of gamers, busily buying and playing while nonsense is talked over their heads.

I recall similar debates about television.  With telly the argument was pretty much pleasure versus “goodness”, measured by some other standard.  So if you think pleasure matters (I definitely do) then telly is great.  If not, then not.

The most obvious impact of television was simply the things that people didn’t do, as a result of watching television instead.  Such as: keeping an eye on or open for criminals, whether out in the streets or at home.  Crime always goes up in a country when television arrives, and since this happens so very quickly, it’s hard to regard it as resulting from any deep psychological damage, just to the change in the crime environment.  Not that there necessarily aren’t deep psychological effects, just that the obvious impacts are so much more obvious.

With games, what is surely new is that kids have independent access to their individual games machines, and can carry them around with them.

As for the intellectual impact, I don’t see how the damage could possibly be greater than the brain damage allegedly caused by television to some people, and especially to children who do nothing except watch telly.

Wednesday May 21 2008

I can’t say I get the details, but what I do get is that kids nowadays are utterly fascinated by their little games consols.  The contrast with their merely grudging acceptance of school work is palpable.  If that fascination could be turned back into physical activity, the health benefits would be huge.

Will historians decide that computer games got a generation of fatties back on their feet again, and off the couch that TV and the early internet had glued them to?

Thanks to Instapundit, who also links to this review, the final paragraph of which reads thus:

So what’s it good for? In fitness, no machine can ever replace the drive to be healthy. Not Bowflex, not Thighmaster, and not Wii Fit. The real difference here is that Wii Fit builds fitness consciousness, reminding us of our body’s state of being, chiding us for bad habits while encouraging the good. And this is while building up the basic fitness necessary to start doing high intensity workouts or sports. It makes exercise feel like a video game, and we all know we can have fun playing those for hours.

But the point is that this machine no longer interrupts the drive to get fit, the way TV did and the regular internet does.

This is surely a far more important cultural development than those damned Olympic Games, the health impact of which mostly is in the number of couch-potato hours spent sat in the couch watching them.

Thursday May 15 2008

And maybe very big problems.  Here.  Says he: “It is difficult to understate how bad this could be.” Shouldn’t that be “overstate”?

More to the central point is this comment on the piece, from “ACM”:

As a maths teacher, I am more concerned about the Maths GCSE - the first exam is on Monday.

This year, the scripts are being scanned and marked on-screen. An examiner has told me that anything outside a certain box on each page will not be scanned, and so will not be marked. This could severely affect students’ results if they do their working out outside this box.

When my school contacted Edexcel, they were unable to clarify whether this was information was accurate or not.

Next Monday.  Yikes.

Fraser Nelson (and a commenter) on problems with SATs (and GCSEs)
Tim Worstall on the uses of maths
Laureen on how the digital natives learn
Their funeral?
Kings Cross Supplementary Headmistress gives the thumbs up to Nintendo Maths Training
11 Year-Old Takes Over as School’s Network Admin
The robot babysitters are coming
Bairn minding
Robert Cringely on letting technology into the schools
I am having what the Americans call a learning experience
Internet Command Central
Instapundit says it so it must be so
Talking maths with Michael Jennings
Asus Eee PC!!
The Brazen Careerist on how to get a job you’re not qualified for
BECTA versus Vista
J. P. Rangaswami - gracious in victory
One Laptop Per Child is apparently working with Peruvian children
Why Gerald Hartup deserves an especially Happy Christmas
NZ stuff
It’s not the Sun wot done it
Laptops for the poor children!
Easy with Eve
Handwriting is essential if you want to add words to pictures and for doing maths
Eee PCs in the classroom