Since when is a computer a toy?

The iron is the club on the right.

Image via Wikipedia

Dispatch from the Road: Shanghai, Jin Qiao, January 13, 2010.  My first posting of the new year and new decade.
I have fallen a bit off the blogging wagon as of late, and need to step it up a bit more again.  This reflection habit keeps me a bit more balanced.  Shanghai winter is upon us and the dashboard says 30 degree F. / -1 C as I look over my driver’s shoulder.  Brrr….

Ok… you have to admit. You have toys in your house.  No matter what you do. No matter how old you are, you have toys!

One of my colleagues has an unfortunate addiction to golf clubs.  He has about 5 sets in his garage right next to his motorcycle and beer fridge.  All of these items he refers to as his toys. Another colleague loves woodworking and has an admirable set of woodworking tools that he refers to has his toys.  My toys have, in recent years, been computers.  I practically wore out a Macbook Pro keyboard by using it for both my amusement and my work for two consecutive years.  Does the fact that I used the computer for fun and entertainment make it less valuable as a tool for work, for my own efficiency and my own learning?  Other “toys” I have are sharp knives in my kitchen, great bowls for cooking, a turkey rack (see photo) and even that cute little metal thingy that I use to lace my poultry for quality cooking results.  All “toys” that I use to create, and enjoy!

I sit in the car this afternoon reflecting (no stewing) over an email I received from a community member stating that some people believe that technology tools — computers — have provided students with toys but “many” wonder about the buy back in terms of student learning.  The fact is that the students are, in our 1:1 program, really enjoying having full, unfettered use of their computers.  I believe the same holds true with the teachers.  The students have loaded on their own music, began building their own photo libraries. They have added bookmarks, tabs and links to the multiple browsers they use on their machines.  The really like their computers and have “fun” using them to learn, to communicate (formally and informally). They use them to create artwork, movies, podcasts, reports and documents. They use them to research, learn, comprehend and create new understandings about their world.  In short, it is a great learning toy… er… tool.

Applying a measure of common sense here, I believe that any school worth its salt would certainly choose to have students use tools they like and can customize to be their own, or not.

Using the argument about the “return on the investment”, I would argue the schools that choose the tools that are usable, motivational, fun and engaging get far more return on their investment than those who choose tools that are arduous, annoying, hard to use, not engaging (read boring here!) and laborious. Are we not here to get kids to engage deeply, passionately and with great fervor?


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4 Responses to Since when is a computer a toy?

  1. ah… I have to say, it’s nice to see your post again… I’ve only read the first part of this post.. the intro part. Yes I’ve been missing your post, nice to have you back.


  2. Joseph Levno says:

    Hi Andy – nice to see you posting (I’m not one to talk – I’ve been a bit lax, myself in the past few months).

    I must admit, as much as I enjoy ‘playing’ with technology and using it for educational purposes I have asked the same question as your community member. Are kids REALLY learning better with computers compared to chalk boards? Short answer: yes. We have to look at what skills will benefit them the most as we prepare them for life. Unquestionably, the ability to integrate technology, critical thinking, adaptability and real world application is what will help our students meet the challenges they will face in the 21st century.

    As for the toy=fun argument… I remember several outstanding professors (pre-laptops/Macintosh/Windows days) teaching us young eager social scientists using simulations (simulated societies, simulated countries when studying political science, etc.) aka ‘games’. Were the games fun? Absolutely loved ’em! Did I learn from something so fun? So much so that I can quote you the boring long-winded theories that sometimes explain human political behavior after more than 20 years!

    Keep at it! I enjoy reading your blog (more than I like writing my own, for sure!).

  3. Pingback: Tool or Toy? The Blurred Line of a Computer | The Thinking Stick

  4. Happy blogoversary 🙂

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