JSU Newswire
Jacksonville, Alabama

Impact of Computers on Learning, Creativity and Social Interaction

Jamie M. Eubanks
JSU News Bureau

JACKSONVILLE -- May 10, 2001 -- When hand-held calculators first became available, math teachers refused to allow their students to use them. They felt that they would become a crutch for students and would hinder learning. Today, calculators are common in high school classrooms.

It seems that computers have gone through the same wait-and-see transition. There has been some debate as to whether computers should be used for everyday teaching purposes.

Dr. Stephen Nowlin, Jacksonville State University's associate professor of educational administration and Anniston City School's interim superintendent, contends that computers are important in grade school instruction.

"Learning to use a computer, in today's society is the equivalent of learning to read and write," says Nowlin.

Students can learn reading, writing and arithmetic by using a computer. And many children have access to computers before reaching kindergarten. This is why Dr. Nowlin feels it is so important that students receive some computer instruction as early as fifth grade.

"By beginning computer training this early, students become more comfortable with computers and already have some mastery of computer skills upon reaching high school," comments Nowlin. "And dexterity levels at this age are optimal for learning keyboarding skills."

Memorizing timetables, slide rules and other traditional methods of learning are being pushed aside by the use of computers.

"Memorization of timetables should be taught," says Nowlin, "but now companies allow employees to use calculators for employment tests. And in many high school math classes, calculators are used."

With computers, Nowlin explains, students engage in games that require only their observation and they become dispassionate about the computer as a learning tool.

"Computers, in a sense, have taken the place of television," says Nowlin. "They have become a place for entertainment that doesn't require much creativeness from students."

But computers do have some element of creativity, says Nowlin. Other activities, such as finger painting, are now not so messy on the computer. Students can paint, create greeting cards and graphics--all at the touch of a button. "While students are being creative using these programs," comments Nowlin, "there is no substitute for the feel of the brush in hand or the feel of paint on your fingertip."

Another problem that Nowlin notes is wasted time. Computers and the Internet are great places for students to find information. But often they find themselves using it as a telephone through IM's, Instant Messages.

"There's too much passive use [of computers]," Nowlin comments. And this is where many problems arise. Individuals become isolated because emails aren't the same as personal interaction.

These children become accustomed to this way of communication and find it hard or impossible to function in crowds or group situations. As we have seen with recent school violence, many of the students spent a great deal of idle time on the Internet.

"This drives us apart as a society," says Nowlin. "But it is important that all students receive some basic exposure to computers while they are young. Without this exposure, it is much more challenging for them to succeed."


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