Can computers replace teaching in the classroom?

PRO and CON: Digital media in schools

PRO: Digital media in school

 OfProf. Dr. Julia button, Chair of German Didactics, Saarland University, and head of the Research Institute for Digital Education

Smartphones, tablets, computers - digital media are naturally part of the everyday environment of children and young people. Young people in particular use the devices to communicate in their peer group, to obtain information and as a leisure activity. Conversely, this does not mean that digital media fill the entire life of children and young people. Digital media are one of many important parts of their everyday life.

Part of the reality of life for young people

In educational policy contexts, the use of digital media in class is controversial. What everyone agrees on: The reality of life for children and young people plays an important role both in the subject didactics and in the overarching educational standards. Good, modern teaching must take seriously what moves the students and what they do outside of school. That means: digital media must be integrated into the classroom and understood as a design opportunity.

In addition, the discourse on digital media often contrasts analog and digital offerings in a complementary manner. It is not uncommon for the impression that the concepts are categorically mutually exclusive - as if a well-tried analogue lesson is to become a digital entertainment offer. Critics fear the classroom could become the entertainment department of an electronics store. However, it is precisely in the expansion of the didactic tools of a teacher that the elementary advantage of digital media lies. Apps, videos and the latest technologies are particularly suitable for differentiating and individualizing lessons. In short: as different as the children are, so are their abilities and their cognitive access to a learning object.

Therefore plural and diverse learning methods and technologies are necessary. Digital media, which are based on intelligent technologies, can adapt to the respective skill level much faster and easier than a different worksheet for each child. This by no means means that a child gets a tablet and is on their own in class. Working with digital media always requires content-related follow-up communication and reflective discussion in the group.

Not a substitute, but a useful addition

Digital media do not replace the worksheet, handwriting or even the teacher, but serve as one of many different options that the teacher can use. The focus of school work always remains the same: imparting subject-specific skills. Apps for math lessons to make dynamic relationships on the place table clear, or picture book apps with an integrated reading function are just as much a part of a teacher's tool as worksheets or textbooks.

Digital media should therefore not be integrated into lessons at any cost, but should be used sensibly. If a teacher does not consider a digital offer to be useful, it is always legitimate to choose other options. The task of teachers and didactic research is therefore to develop flexible didactic concepts in which both analog and digital offers are taken into account.

Learning media literacy in school

In addition, the everyday use of digital media has changed the process of obtaining information for children and young people. Digital media enable direct and rapid exchange and a wealth of different information channels. Dealing with foreign, diverse attitudes and opinions requires pronounced media and reflection skills, which cannot be learned exclusively at home.

Especially in the combination of information and reflection, digital media have the potential to have an opinion-forming and democratic effect. However, users can only exploit this potential if they have extensive knowledge of the opportunities and difficulties of the technologies. Media educational projects on topics such as fake news or cyberbullying prepare children and young people for a future with digital media in which they will inevitably and naturally live and work in the further course of their lives.

The important thing is: To be digital native only means to grow up with the presence of digital media from the start. It does not mean having competence in dealing with them from birth. It is therefore extremely important to also use school lessons to develop or expand this competence. Digital media create the opportunity to do this in a more individual, differentiated and real-world way than purely analogue lessons.


CONTRA: Digital media in schools only have clear rules

 OfProf. Dr. phil. Ralf Lankau, Chair for Media Design and Theory, Offenburg University

If you follow demands from the employers', IT and business associations, or identical pronouncements from the science and culture ministries, there seems to be only one goal for educational institutions: full digitization. Idealiter than early digitization. Programming in kindergarten. Multiplication tables and ABC only with a PC (BMBF 2016). But that for a lifetime (life long learning). Prenatal to post-mortem: Everything digital.

A distinction is seldom made according to age or type of school or according to subject content or educational objectives. It is not even asked whether and, if so, which teaching and learning processes can be mapped digitally at all. Instead, the federal government's "education offensive for the digital knowledge society" has already been formulated verbally in a military-hierarchical manner. Five-year plans and the forced digitization of “only with a PC” have the charm of Margot Honecker as the GDR's minister for popular education. China is showing the way. Robots as educators for kindergarten children.

Déjà-vu of technology promises

Arguments in favor of digital technology have been identical since 1984 (introduction of PCs in schools). All schools need computers and have to go online for “modern, innovative teaching”, otherwise Germany would be left behind, etc. Déjà-vu. Claus Pias has shown the history of teaching machines and attempts at automation in teaching. The actual goal is already briefly there: "How do you get as much material as possible into your head as quickly as possible with as few resources as possible?" It is hidden that after more than 40 years of experience with computers in schools, the added value of digital technology cannot be proven on the contrary. This is shown by all relevant studies from PISA to the OECD study - and on closer reading even studies that initially claim the opposite.

The alternative culminates in a few specific questions. What exactly should be learned on the computer? Do students achieve learning goals better with computers or with books and scripts? Or: why do computers have to be in the network? What data is created, what happens to it? Who backs up the data of underage wards (legal students) in online applications? Data is the “currency of the 21st century. The EU General Data Protection Regulation is the legal framework for data protection. And the practice?

Learning is an individual and social act, not a technical one

Above all, however: learning cannot be automated if understanding is meant and not just reproduction, as is the case with bulimia learning. With the internet, web and app, teaching aids are not made available as in a library, but a technical infrastructure with a permanent feedback channel is set up, which is already used today, above all, to measure, monitor and control people. The goal is user profiles. The - also psychometric - measurement of the individual is the basis of automated training and testing software. At first sight, it is argued that schools should be better equipped. The "hidden agenda" is automation and standardization, commercialization and privatization of educational institutions based on the Anglo-Saxon model of Global Education Industries (GEI). This applies to five-year-olds (Fritz Breithaupt's “Talking Method”) as well as to adults (HPI school and education cloud with education buddy). Learning Analytics is the technical term for it. Big data is teaching you.

What to do?

Alternatives can only be indicated here. The key words are: strengthening federal and local structures instead of centralization. Schools are going offline and working offline with open source programs. With it you can learn everything, from text or image editing to video editing to programming, without losing data in the network. In consultation with the schools, the federal states are setting up education servers with state-approved teaching material, parallel to analog school libraries. Teachers and students alike access these - non-commercial - offers via an encrypted connection as required, without learning or personality profiles being generated. According to Article 106, Paragraph III, the federal government can already financially support such decentralized and data-saving concepts without changing the Basic Law (such as supporting the federal government for integration costs through flat-rate shares in sales tax revenue). The actual distribution of funds is then the responsibility of the local schools. Only that makes sense. There you know what is missing and where to invest.

Two books are recommended. Richard Münch: The Educational Industrial Complex (Beltz) and Shoshana Zuboff: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (Campus). Anyone who has read them will not want to "digitize" schools or other social institutions. Then slogans such as “Digital first. Concerns second. ”As an expression of political irresponsibility, provided we want to maintain democratic and humane societies. One of the most important tasks is that children and young people become independent and responsible people. That won't work if you condition them to work on the display and machines tell them what to do next.

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