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The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can Be Saved Hardcover – October 14, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Are computers the "ultimate innovation" that will lead us into a 21st-century educational utopia? Or are they merely distractions, part of a long line of technological advances that are incompatible with proven traditions of learning? Oppenheimer's book, titled after a metaphor for the short attention spans of today's students, locates the waning educational computing craze in the historical context of an ed-tech trajectory that has brought visions of accelerated academic achievement followed by disappointment. Like B.F. Skinner's teaching machines of the 1950s, computer-based learning promises more than it can deliver, says journalist Oppenheimer. He visited elite public schools, under-resourced schools, high-tech schools and even a school for juvenile offenders, and has interviewed many experts. He draws compelling portraits of excellent schools in which computers play a peripheral role, arguing that the tried-and-true methods of progressive education-inquiry, exploration, hands-on learning and focused discussion-do more to develop students' intellectual capacities than technological gadgetry does. His well-researched and intelligible argument also takes aim at such current obsessions as standardized testing. Oppenheimer doesn't advocate removing computers from the classroom, but argues for a hard look at what can and can't be accomplished with the enormous investments they require ($90 billion just during the 1990s). Policy makers and teachers might be better off, he writes, remembering the basics: good teaching, small classes, critical thinking, meaningful work and the human touch.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The other side of the much-ballyhooed promise of technology in improving education is the reality that it often distracts from real education, provides new opportunities for commercial interests, and only contributes to growing inequities and lack of performance. Oppenheimer sorts through the concerns of advocates and critics of technology in the classroom and examines the ways that schools actually use computer technology and the Internet, from absorbing research projects to typing drills to games. Part 1 focuses on the false promises of technology, citing past failures to deliver improved academic performance. Part 2 examines the hidden troubles of high-tech kinks, from system incompatibilities to the shifting of funds for books into computers. In part 3, Oppenheimer examines successful technology programs at schools, businesses, and even the U.S. Army. He concludes with suggestions on how schools can maximize the benefits of technology and integrate computers into effective educational programs. This is a helpful resource for educators and parents weighing issues concerning computers and education. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (October 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060443
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060443
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,622,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. Hooper on January 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this volume, Oppenheimer takes on the blanket use of computer technology in the classroom. His basic argument is that local school boards are sinking money into technology while basics are being underfunded. Without covering the basics, children will grow up without the ability to think. To compound this problem, technology quickly becomes obsolete, which requires school systems to either use out of date equipment, or to participate in a vicious cycle which sucks funds from underfunded schools.

Two other things that this book really criticized is the promotion of standardized testing and fraudulent educational software companies. This book claims that the promotion of standardized testing has encouraged teachers to use computers to practice endless test drills, but on the other hand, students are not really learning anything other than how to take tests. No one makes a living by answering multiple-choice questions. This use of standardized testing is exploited by educational software companies that use biased studies to support claims that their software increases test scores. Oppenheimer laments that education has become testing rather than learning and thinking.

I believe this book raises a lot of powerful arguments. Oppenheimer isn't against using computers, but their use should be limited in scope. I really recommend that all teachers should examine this book and think critically about the role of computers in their classes.
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Format: Hardcover
I've worked as a district level administrator in the K-12 world of educational technology since 1996. The questions and topics that Todd raises in this book are identical to the frustrations many of are dealing with on a daily basis. It's astonishing how many of today's educators have a blanket assumption that "technology" translates into "student achievement" or "improved student learning". The first 100 pages of Todd's book do a great job of deconstructing the biased research that's used as sales material by the technology companies.
This is the first decent "critical" look at technology in education. A must read for anybody working in the educational technology field.
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Format: Hardcover
The Flickering Mind devastates the notion that computers in school somehow provide children with an educational boost. In fact, by draining funds from traditional programs and distracting teachers and students from real learning, computers have been an educational drag. Oppenheimer exposes the underpinning of the arguments of pro-computer political leaders and educators as a blind faith that computers can motivate students to learn in a way that teachers cannot. We should be relieved that the computer's motivational power for education has been revealed to be a myth.
This motivational myth has not only cost billions but it has obscured the real value of computers for education (at least in elementary grades). Computers excel at quantitative work. People excel at qualitative work. Motivating a student to learn is not a quantitative task, instead it is one of the most challenging of qualitative tasks. Computers cannot motivate students except in the novelty stage (as can any new activity). Motivating the individual student must be left to the humans in closest proximity and thus the responsibility largely falls to the teacher.
Leaders looking for the next quick fix for education's woes should not throw the computers out and swing the pendulum back 50 years. Unfortunately there is little in The Flickering Mind which argues against such a backlash. Oppenheimer's conclusions that we should give teachers more responsibility, pay them more and step back from standardized testing as the primary measure of learning effectiveness are easy to agree with. I disagree, however, that the computer is just another teaching tool in the same category as the overhead projector.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
More elegantly, FORBES editor Stephen Kindel wrote (almost 20 years ago) that "it is the poor who will be chained to the computer; the rich will get teachers."
Oppenheimer visits numerous classrooms -- described alertly and sensitively -- and talks to innumerable teachers, students, company leaders, and others, observing the realities of technology in the classroom. He reports striking findings of good research into learning, since education has, in fact, a "long, abundantly documented history." His book is exceptionally readable and timely. It also prompts concern, e.g. about young lawyers dependent on online indexes who "'don't know how to use the books.'" He especially prompts concern for the experience of millions of students who will pass through priceless years of capacity for learning while being cheated because of administrators, teachers and parents who have fallen for "e-lusions," as Oppenheimer calls them.
At least two audiences should read this book:
(1) Ed school faculty -- As professionals training the new generation of teachers, you owe it to them and to yourself to be conversant with this book. If you are overworked, I sympathize; but you need to know this book, and probably need to assign the book as required reading, or at least require passages from it.
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