Computers in Education: The Pros and the Cons
Robert Wehrle, 20 July 1998

Preface

 I wanted to know if there were any pitfalls to using computers in education. I wanted to find out the advantages also. I wanted to take a cursory look at the most recent opinions, facts and research on the relationship between computers and education. I narrowed my focus also to writing and the effect computers have on its processes and practices. I also wanted to look more specifically into these areas: electronic mail, computer conferencing, on-line tutoring, on-line classes, web-sites, on-line discussion groups and other such things that all have to do with the technology that may be implemented in the classrooms of today. In the annotated bibliography that follows I have find a variety of sources of that both support and do not support the use of computers in education. I wanted to limit myself to the last five years of research because the rise in computer use has increased dramatically in these past few years. I also initially limited myself to the four journals that were suggested in class but I also looked beyond those to see what some other publications had to offer.

Annotated Bibliography

Boyle, Frank T. "IBM, Talking Heads, and Our Classrooms."College English 55 (1993): 618-626.

Duin, Anne H., et al. "Responding to Ninth-Grade Students via Telecommunications: College Mentor Strategies and Development over Time."Research in the Teaching of English 28 (1994): 117-153.
The article details a study conducted by the authors involving the use of electronic exchanges to help ninth grade students revise their writing with the assistance of college student mentors. The article illustrates in great detail how this interaction takes place between college mentor and secondary student with specific stories and real-life examples. A short history of the dynamics of tutoring is also described. The authors' study was directed at discovering the potential of telecommunication tutoring sessions. A brief explanation of the benefits of electronic communication is given on how shy students may ask for advice via e-mail, and the statistics they offer prove it is a popular form of communication. However, the study was not without hitches. In the article, mentors said they worried about doing all the work for their secondary students and about the time constraints enforced upon the ninth grade students. An advantage, however, is that the ninth grade classroom teachers could use the college mentors' suggestions as a base to work more deeply on improving the pupils' writing. One thing the authors admit is that they did not address how this experiment compared to traditional face-to-face instruction; it was a simple flat study of how the electronic tutoring process works. The authors conclude with a high school instructor's journal that applauds the study, " . . . it definitely improved writing skills of students. The kids wanted to continue to have tutors after the course ended!" I found this article interesting in that it was one of the earliest case studies of a program using e-mail to improve the process of writing. It would also be a useful article for future studies on this matter. It would make a great article to use to defend or promote the use of computers in the classroom.
Fey, Marion H. "Finding Voice through Computer Communication: A New Venue for Collaboration."Journal of Advanced Composition 14 (1994): 221-238.
Fey starts with a critique of the student-teacher writing conference as it stands with person-to-person interaction and calls for a new medium of interaction, namely computers. Her argument and hope is that students of writing in her class could communicate via computer to peer revise and edit their writings despite long distances between each other. In her curriculum, she uses e-mail for private conferences and her students respond to literature and write responses all while on-line. She believes that the partial anonymity of the students allowed them to be more open when writing and supports this claim with many examples. All in all, Fey illustrates a successful implementation of computers to facilitate the learning and writing process. She argues that a new intimacy is derived out of computer use and the proof is in her students' openness to discuss literature and comment on their own writing processes. Fey argues that some of her students were in fact "liberated" through the use of computers to interact. She states that the implications for shy people are profound when it comes to using computers to augment instruction. When face-to-face interaction can stifle enthusiasm to talk, the cyber conversations allowed everyone to develop confident voices. This article was the kind of thing I was looking for when I did my research. I wanted to find proof of the advantages to using computers in education because I believe they are useful. It was one of the most positive success stories, and if I were to expand on my own beliefs in a conference proposal or extended response on this topic, I would definitely want this one in my repertoire of sources.
Hawisher, Gail E., and Charles Moran. "Electronic Mail and the Writing Instructor." College English 55 (1993): 627-643.
Hawisher and Moran begin by saying that electronic mail is " . . . a medium we cannot ignore" in terms of the English class. They state that " . . .professors of English cannot pretend that e-mail is not important" (627). They think e-mail should be used and call for a pedagogy on how to include it into the field of English education and composition theory. Hawisher and Moran argue that if we are to use e-mail in our classes then there should be some sort of rhetoric to explain the conventions so that the students can better use it. They warn that e-mail is something that does not elicit rereading or revision because of its instant gratification and desire of the user to get the message out. The benefits of e-mail, they argue, are that it allows for more collaborative writing between groups of people and gives students instant access to professors for help. Also, they applaud the idea of e-mail group discussions where anonymity would encourage the shyest of pupils in class to talk more and reduce the tensions of a face-to-face atmosphere. However, Hawisher and Moran also caution against the invasive nature of e-mail upon instructors and how it could "overwhelm even the most dedicated teacher who may receive hundreds of e-mails from his or her students" (637). As one of the oldest articles I found, this essay gave me a glimpse of where we were only five years ago. It showed the beginning of e-mail usage, and I find the article not only useful as a document of where we came from as teachers of English who use computers, but also as a good document to measure against where we are going. It also offers a balanced look at the pros and cons of computers in higher education which makes it a good article to base future research or writings on. If I were to introduce someone to the field of debate that surrounds technology in education, I would begin with this article.
Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. "Control and the Cyborg: Writing and Being Written in Hypertext."Journal of Advanced Composition 13 (1993): 381-399. Kilian, Crawford. "Why Teach On-Line." Educom Review 32 (1997): 31-34. Selfe, Cynthia L., and Richard J. Selfe, Jr. "The Politics of Interface: Power and its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones."College Composition and Communication 45 (1994): 480-504.
Selfe and Selfe warn against an over-positive outlook on the use of computers in English classes. They want to make the reader aware of some of the negative aspects of computer use in the class. The keyword in Selfe and Selfe's article is "borders." They argue that the use of computers in the teaching of English reinforces or establishes borders between groups of students. Essentially, Selfe and Selfe mean that computers are discriminatory in that English is the standard language and does not take into account ESL speakers who may need help. Also, they state that it sets up borders economically too. The expense of owning a computer alienates those who were not fortunate to have experience with computers while those who did would thrive on computer based instruction. Although the authors explain that the use of on-line technologies to conduct discussions can create a more democratic environment where, for example, sex and race do not play so heavily as in face-to-face classes, they still warn of the dangers. A technological underclass may be forming between the "haves and have-nots." Poorer minorities are already lacking skills that are needed to survive in an electronic based class. They argue that we may be isolating these students. A solution they offer is having more classes that teach the use of technology (e-mail, internet etc.). This would help teachers become critics of computer-based pedagogies instead of blind acceptors of such technology into the classroom. This article was another that discussed both the advantages and pitfalls that may be involved with using computer technology in classrooms and it was exactly what I needed to help form my own opinions about technology in education.
Spooner, Michael and Kathleen Yancey. "Postings on a Genre of E-mail."College Composition and Communication 47 (1996): 252-278. Warshauer, Mark.E-Mail for English Teaching. Alexandria: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc., 1995. Weinstein, Norman. "Socrates at the Terminal: Emotion's Neglected Role in High Tech Education."Educom Review 32 (1997): 52-55.
Weinstein is worried that the use of computers will take away the emotion and heart out of education. He calls the reader to imagine the benefits of transforming computers from cold machines to tools that engage "the heart and head equally." Designing computer technologies that still take into account the emotional needs of students is what Weinstein envisions. His argument is mainly that teachers need to remember that it is important to take into account student emotions. He wants computers to be used in education but does not want the quick evolution of technology to drown out the pupil's need for human support. This article was interesting because it was weary of the use of computers in education. I chose it because I wanted to see what some authors who may be skeptical of computers have to say about its use in education and composition studies. As someone who favors computer technology to aid in instruction, this article challenged my thinking on the subject. I still have to weigh the benefits against the negative press I have encountered in my research.

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