ill title Book Review

High-tech heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian

                                         By Clifford Stoll

Stoll, C. (2000). High-Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian. New York: Anchor Books

    Clifford Stoll's High Tech Heretic: Reflections of a Computer Contrarian starts off his book by asking, “Am I the only one scratching my head over the relentless invocation of the cliche computer literacy?" and goes on to give the example of a grocery story clerk operating some basic computer technology. The question that the situation gives way to, and the most basic underlying meaning of the entire series of essays is: what is computer literacy, the value of the skills necessary to be deemed computer literate, and the role those skills play in the classrooms within our schools?

    Stoll conveys the message that hands on experience is much more beneficial in teaching children than that of any sort of computer program. Computer programs are two dimensional, because it's simply a matter of figuring out which buttons to click as opposed to thinking critically to solve problems. Watching butterflies and typing a report of observations, he notes, is much more beneficial than downloading statistics off of the internet. The assertion is made that computers can't teach application in the real world, they can't interact with students, and they cannot make learning fun. Computers give what Stoll calls "automatic answers," but this only raises the question: what good is data without the knowledge behind it?

    He seems to especially question the notions of making learning 'fun' and 'exciting': he argues that effective learning is not generally 'fun', but is instead genuinely hard work. He goes further, and concludes that educational tools which are sold as 'fun and exciting' do so by ceasing to be educational.

    Stoll has a real affection for libraries, and does not like changes involving the purchase of CD ROMs and computers. He notes that computers and media technology are obsolete in five to ten years, but that many communities have incurred 30 year debts to buy such equipment, frequently by reducing or eliminating new book acquisitions. The amount spent on buying, maintaining, and updating both computer hardware and software borders on the criminal, with school administrators caught between the veritable rock and hard place. The populist idea that computer usage equals brighter students is a poison for which there is no antidote. Stoll is correct: the hard way is the only way. Nor can there be any substitute for excellent teachers and face-to-face dialog. The overemphasis on computers provides an easy out for all three points.

    I think his essays are relevant for teachers but are one sided. Computers can be an important tool if you use them the right way. One has to adjust their approach to education and mirror the advances in society.  What was relevant ten years ago is not so today.  Generation Y has an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies than any other generation and so one has the arduous task to keep these tech savvy students engaged. 

    I believe, as does Stoll, that computers are not substitutes for teaching students to think creatively about problems and find solutions without finding what someone else has said or studied online.  It's true that teachers often use computers as a crutch; the skills they learn on a computer are more closely related to video games than anything that could be of use in the real world. I have seen it in my school. Yet when you carefully infuse technology and balance hands-on inquiry work one can have success.  A strategy I can use in my science classroom is to utilize technology as a differentiating tool for those students who do not have the fine motor and literacy skills to complete labs in a traditional way.   There are copious amounts of virtual labs, text to speech programs and interactive tools that students can use.  What may have hinder their acquisition and transfer of science knowledge can be eradicated using these tools and so the playing field can be leveled between students with I.E.P.s and their main streamed counterparts.

    That having been said, I think that the way in which it was presented made it hard to read. The language is clear and concise but the length of the book was absurd for the subject matter. The book is, as mentioned before, in essay format and it's very difficult to read over two hundred pages of essays with very closely related subject matter. Each new segment was filled with situations and analogies from the author which made it appealing, but the meaning behind them was virtually the same.

    Overall, I feel that this is a relevant book and can see the necessity of teachers hearing what the author had to say. We should not fall into the trap of having technology be the center of a child’s academic career but used to support it.  But let’s also be careful in viewing technology as the enemy.  We need to use it to our advantage in order to inspire and reach generation Y.


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