Computers in the Elementary School, valuable or a waste of money?

I began a discussion on a LinkedIn group about tablet computers in schools.

I was surprised when one of the comments posted mentioned “I am not a fan of computers in elementary schools…”  As you are probably already aware, if you have been following my blog,  I am an ICT Facilitator at an Elementary school.  I was intrigued by this statement and wondered if others also felt this way. So I did a little mining to see what I could discover.

I came across publication titled Fools Gold A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood, published by the Alliance for Childhood. This publication is available at .

In the introduction to Fools Gold A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood, Larry Cuban of Stanford University former president of the American Educational Research Association, stated that “there is no clear, commanding body of evidence that students’ sustained use of multimedia machines, the Internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and other popular applications has any impact on academic achievement.”

This may be so, but what about teaching children how to use the information they have gained from multiple sources, synthesize it and produce a product of their own, showing what they learned?  This type of activity is what would be considered a higher learning skill.  I know most academic achievement is measured by standardized tests.  What do these test actually give us.  We can’t place everything on the results of one test.  To say that there is no evidence that computers impact academic achievement may or may not be a true statement if we are to look at the whole student, not just the metrics of a standardized test.

If those responsible for deciding whether or not to use technology in the lesson do it properly, they are taking into consideration the relative advantage.  That is to say they are looking at the tool and seeing if it improves the lesson in any way.  If it doesn’t, then they shouldn’t use it.

Let’s take the first example of synthesis for the purpose of creating a project.  If we take the traditional approach and say no computers can be used then the students are limited to a few ways of showing what they have learned.

  • Hand written report
  • Poster  made of hand written or drawn parts
  • Dramatic presentation
  • Model
  • Presentation using handouts made by hand.

This list may not be complete but for the purpose of my point, it will be more than enough.  All of these projects are a fantastic ways for students to show what they have learned and all of them, I am sure, are being used in Elementary schools but they lack one thing, an authentic audience.  Most of these projects, only the teacher will see, some, if the students are lucky, will be shared with their classmates.  These projects also take longer to create as every bit of the project has to be made by hand.  If your students are not artistic and have a hard time creating drawings or illustrations then some of these choices will be limited even more.

Now let’s look at the choices of projects available to the student that has computers to use.


  • Typed report  (can include charts, graphics, pictures as well as the text.)
  • Glog (an online multi media poster that can include sounds, videos, pictures, text and animations)
  • Enhanced Podcast (can include pictures, background music and recordings of students knowledge)
  • Dramatic presentation presented as a digital video
  • Internet based website that presents student learning

All of these, the list is nowhere near complete, do one thing that the above traditional approaches fail to do, they widen the potential audience which provides a more authentic audience for the student to create for.  This, in my experience, promotes students taking responsibility for their learning.  They know that the potential audience is the world and, therefore, do a better job without teacher intervention.

I am also wondering which environment would provide best for students with differing learning styles?  One with computers or one without?

It is important for us to remember that computers are not a solution to academic problems but tools for students use in their learning process.   To say that there is no evidence that computers or the tools they provide in forms of applications impact academic achievement, would be like saying there is no evidence that books, paper and pencils impact academic achievement.

My question is though, which classroom would create a more relevant and authentic learning environment for the digital natives we are trying to educate, one where there are digital tools to use or one that is restricted?

Over the next couple of posts, I plan to continue reading Fools Gold and discussing the points raised.  I am curious about the valid concerns and fears these professionals have and would like to learn more about what the other side thinks.  I invite you to continue reading my thoughts about all of this and hope you too will learn something.  As many heads are better than one, please feel free to make some comments.

Thanks for reading,

Shannon Doak

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  1. I am incomplete agreement that students need to use computers and gain valuable learning experience and skills by doing so. Not all jobs require someone to find the objects in a story that were personified. Now, not all jobs require computers skills either, but many do and more are headed that way. Why do we start children in school at such a young age – so they can learn. It is never too early to start helping children to learn vital skills that will be needed later on in life.


    1. Hi Garret,
      Thank you for your comment. I to agree that it is never too early to teach valuable skills. Of course the key to preparing our students for the real world is balanced instruction. Placing too much importance on technology, while a valuable tool, could be detrimental to the other areas that need developing. I guess moderation in all things is a good rule to follow. I appreciate your comment and am glad you are reading.
      Thanks again


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