The overlooked risk of technology

| Staff Columnist

The stereotypical classroom scene—kids reading from textbooks or taking notes off their teacher’s writings on a chalkboard—is disappearing. All over the country, schools are beginning to replace textbooks with laptops. Education systems understand that computers are an increasingly important tool, and want to do their best to prepare their students for life outside, in the real world. A school in Munster, Ind. that recently made the switch from textbooks to laptops praises the new level of interactivity that the students gain from the new system. They also assure that the laptops are unable to access non-educational sites.

However, these schools are overlooking a danger that lies within even educational sites. This danger is losing fundamental problem solving and critical thinking skills that are essential in higher level education. We live in a society where information is more readily available than it has ever been. With access to the Internet, virtually anything is nothing more than a few Wikipedia pages away. Sites like Wolfram Alpha can even do complex calculus problems, and show the step-by-step process of how to reach the solution. Placing this ability into the hands of elementary school students can unintentionally teach them at an early age to look up the answer at the first sign of difficulty.

If schools want to prepare their students for the outside world, they should put a larger emphasis on rudimentary thinking skills. I’m not suggesting that computers are devices that are ruining humanity and turning us into a race of slobbering idiots. However, if schools are to implement computing so heavily in their education systems, they need to consider these possible repercussions and drastically reshape their teaching methods to counter these possibly dangerous effects. Innovation is not something that one can Google in a couple of seconds. It takes years of methodical studying and frustrating setbacks to reach a major breakthrough in nearly every field. The possibility of losing these critical thinking skills not only puts these kids’ futures in peril but also endangers our culture’s growth.

It is impossible to argue against the ubiquitous nature of computers in society. With the recent rise of tablets and smartphones, we are arguably in the midst of the biggest technological shift since the dawn of the World Wide Web. Schools are right in believing that their students should know how to use computers and the numerous educational benefits of using them. However, as Uncle Ben said in Issue 15 of “Amazing Fantasy,”: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s easy to look at reports heralding the great success switching from textbooks to computers—and their claims of reaching new unparalleled levels of interactivity—and get excited. However, these results are based on short-term observational studies inside the classroom. We can only hope the long-term results are just as exciting. Our future depends on it.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.