Computers and Education

Luke Hodorowicz

Computer Ethics
December 6, 2000

It seems that more and more often computers and technology are being used in an educational setting. This trend of wiring schools, using long distance learning, and reliance on the internet for information is seemingly being pushed forward without any real test or study on the usefulness of such technology on education. The uncontrolled use of technology without examining its long-term benefits and potential problems is not something that should be allowed to happen in education.

This use of computers in education has rapidly changed the way that people learn in a short period of time. Has this change inhibited or enhanced learning? What are the proper uses of computers in an educational environment?

It can be said that computers and technology have enhanced the educational process in several key ways. The largest benefit of technology is the easy and fast access that has come from the Internet. Almost any subject matter, research papers, and technical documents are available to anyone. Communication has also become much simpler through the use of the Internet. It can be said “that e-mail does not replace or reduce traditional communication; in fact, such interaction increases.” (Manning) “Discussion lists also allow students to tap into expertise that otherwise would have been inaccessible. Instead of relying on a student in an adjacent seat for information, one command sends a plea for help to the entire class, usually resulting in at least a handful of responses within a few hours.” (Manning)

Computers are also a huge benefit in terms of research. Research that was not possible just a few years ago has been made a reality by innovations in computing. These include areas such as high performance computing, database processing, and data acquisition and analysis.

Despite the advances computers and technology have given education, there are areas which the technology has been used in a poor manner. One of the largest problems is interactive computer learning and long distance learning. Being that they range from somewhat impersonal to very impersonal, there is a loss of interaction with fellow students and faculty. Everyone wants “to experience warmth, human interaction, the thrill of discovery, and solid grounding in essentials: reading, getting along with others, training in civic virtue. Only a teacher, live in a classroom, can bring about this inspiration ... Yet, everywhere [you can] hear parents and principals clamoring for interactive computer instruction.” (Schwarz)

The use of e-mail as a communication source can further this problem. “For some, the use of computer-mediated communication between teachers and students rouses concerns that personal contact will be reduced or that it will create the impression that faculty are becoming evermore remote.” (Manning) It is also possible that:

“communicating with people on the Internet is not the same as face-to-face conversation or even similar to writing or reading an old-fashioned letter. The "virtual community" of the Internet is populated by people with false identities, people with inaccurate information, people who express themselves quickly and with little reflection or sense of accountability” (Schwarz)

It has been predicted that with the use of computers and technology “education will no longer be an unpredictable and exciting adventure in human enlightenment, but an exercise in conformity and an apprenticeship to whatever gadgetry is useful in a technical world." (Schwarz)

This is certainly not something that we should allow happen. A society of people that all learned all the same things in the same fashion would hinder innovation and creativity. The loss of interaction between people is surely not what the educational process is trying to foster.

Although all these reasons give a very good cause for considering many uses of technology to be unethical in education, the examination of the ethics that students conform to while using computers in an educational setting strengthens the case.

Many students use software that has been acquired in an illegal manner without a second thought. Many students do not feel that “duplicating software for private use is wrong or unethical. As far as they are concerned, the copied software is not used for monetary gains, they are definitely not stealing, they are only using the software to learn … Had they had to, pay for the software, they would not have bothered to use it at all.” (Wong)

This type of sentiment can also being found with students, as far as using other peoples source code, and use of computers at an educational institiute for reasons other than education.

The use of computers in classrooms themselves also has problems, especially dealing with content viewed online. “Schools must protect students without stifling their creativity or putting too much control on what they can view.” (Emmans) There are many ways to do this but none are fool proof.

Being that there is quite a large amount of negative feeling about computers in education, it is not possible to remove or fix all the problems. Removing computers would be a larger shift and would cause much more havoc than bringing them into use was. This would hurt the educational system more than help the problem of isolation.

The most overlooked fact is that computers should be used as an educational tool, rather than a means of education. Nothing can replace the interactions between students and teachers. Once the process of learning from a fellow person has been automated to something mechanical many things will be lost. Automated grading loses the ability to see just where a student went wrong, or what the student was trying to achieve in an answer. Online courses remove the ability to deal with truly great teachers in a personal way, and it also removes the ability to truly interact with other students. Automated education also hinders getting help when it is needed. Online books are also a problem. No one enjoys trying to read long documents and papers online. It is also not reliable. Should the internet connection be lost, or the site be removed, the book is unavailable. There should be as much human interaction as possible in education. “Although computer technology surely has a place in the curriculum, the presence of [technology] remains disturbing. Educators must not succumb to the illusive rhetoric that obscures the unquestioned assumptions that the computer is essential to every classroom and that learning can not take place without the latest version of electronic hardware.”

Institutions must carefully consider this situation, and use those true tools that enhance learning and to be leery of those that remove the interaction between people or the absolute guarantee that information is available and correct.

Works Cited

Johnson, Deborah G. Computer Ethics, Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall: 1994

Emmans, Cindy. The Education Digest, Ann Arbor; Sep 2000; Vol. 66, Iss. 1; pg. 24, 3 pgs

Schwarz, Gretchen. The rhetoric of cyberspace and the real curriculum. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision v. 12 (Fall 1996) p. 76-84

Manning, Linda M. Economics on the Internet: electronic mail in the classroom. The Journal of Economic Education v. 27 (Summer 1996) p. 201-4

Eva Y.W. Wong, Robert M Davison, Patricia W. Wade, Computer Ethics And Tertiary Level Education In Hong Kong