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Is Early Childhood Education Technology Moving Backwards? 290

Posted by timothy
from the but-moore-didn't-say-anything-about-this dept.
theodp writes "Four decades ago, the NSF-sponsored PLATO Elementary Reading Curriculum Project (pdf) provided Illinois schoolchildren with reading lessons and e-versions of beloved children's books that exploited networked, touch-sensitive 8.5"x8.5" bit-mapped plasma screens, color images, and audio. Last week, the Today Show promoted the TeacherMate — a $100 gadget that's teaching Illinois schoolchildren to read and do math using its 2.5" screen and old-school U-D-L-R cursor keys — as a revolution in education. Has early childhood education managed to defy Moore's Law?"
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Is Early Childhood Education Technology Moving Backwards?

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  • Inflation adjusted (Score:3, Informative)

    by Baldrson (78598) * on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:23PM (#30634838) Homepage Journal

    IIRC, the plasma display PLATO terminals (with slide projector and audio disk player for "color images, and audio") were upwards of $10,000 in 1974. That is close to $50,000 in 2009 dollars. If we compare $100 to $50,000 I think we can safely say Moore's Law is in operation even considering the smaller screen.

    The real problem isn't regression in Moore's Law -- its regression in areas like software resulting from a loosening of the discipline allowed by exponentiating hardware capability. This is one reason the Russians are so damn hot as programmers: They had to make their software work correctly on ridiculous hardware developed by the commies.

  • by Ken_g6 (775014) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:26PM (#30634862) Homepage

    I've never seen a "PLATO", so "touch-sensitive 8.5"x8.5" bit-mapped plasma screens" gave me visions of a tablet PC/laptop, maybe even like the Apple tablet that's supposed to come out soon.

    Not even close! []

  • by davecrusoe (861547) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:28PM (#30634878) Homepage

    Technologies are only part of the solution - not at all the entirety!

    However, to avoid digressing from the topic of your question, my answers are several:

    First, there is simply not the same incentive to create educational technologies as there is to create faster processors or larger hard drives. The benefit of a faster computer is clear and immediately actionable. The results of improved educational opportunities don't become clear for quite some time - 20 years or more.

    Second, and more importantly, the comparison of Moore's law to education is inherently incorrect. Would your supposition be that the human cognition must double its... processing capability?... every few years, guided by increasingly powerful educational technologies?

    If there is an opportunity, it's the opportunity that we're trying to capitalize upon: that armed with an understanding of how people learn, and coupled with the low costs of producing high-quality educational technologies, we can begin to make a difference.

    The most important thing, in making that difference, is that technologies are used in such a way that they add something valuable to the experience of learning - whether it be visualizations with an explanation beyond what a teacher can reasonably provide; or equity; etc. Otherwise, the time required to set computers up, train teachers to use, develop lessons, etc., simply detracts from the educational potential of schools.

    If anyone here - LAMP volunteers, especially - would like to become involved in making that happen, please let us know []! But, in the meantime, please don't use Moore's law as a point of comparison.


  • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:31PM (#30634912)

    Worse than that, parents believe it is the Government's job to teach their kids, and the Government reinforces this as much as possible.

    The truth is, the public school system is probably the single worst thing that ever happened to education in the US. If you want proof, look at how many home-schooled kids outperform public school kids in schoolastic competitions and the like. Often the parents teaching these kids don't have beyond a highschool education themselves, yet they consistantly do better than the public school system.

    Also I imagine that 30% figure would be a bit lower if we didn't have to pay an average of $10,000 a kid per year for a sub-par education.

  • Tech is just a tool (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:40PM (#30634980)

    I was the IT guy in a K-12 school district for 7 years. I've seen the good and bad of technology in a classroom. The biggest thing is to remember that technology is just a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. That classroom PC (and other electronics) should be used to *enhance* the education and reinforce the lessons, not replace the teacher. And that tool is only as useful as the user makes it. I can buy a $100 hammer, but it won't put that nail in the wall by itself. If I want a hole in the wall, I can't go to WalMart and buy a hole. I buy a drill to make my hole. Same with a PC. It can't teach the kids by itself, it has to be used properly.

    However, too often I saw teachers dump kids in front of a PC as little more than a babysitter. The kids would play an outdated math game and knew exactly how to "cheat" the game. (ex. - Doing basic math the kids had to input the answer to 8 + 7, they'd start at 12 and just keep increasing the answer by 1 until getting it right.)

    So, is the technology moving backwards? No, I don't think so. The tech has advanced so much since I was in school! (Grad high school in 1992.) But if it's not used right, it may as well not be there at all.

  • by dosius (230542) <> on Sunday January 03, 2010 @06:55PM (#30635122) Journal

    When I lived out in the boonies, my family expected I'd go through the motions, then drop out at 16 to help out on the farm, and really didn't see the point in academic pursuits. But I'd venture the idea that education isn't of importance to the real world basically holds sway everywhere but the suburbs.


  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @07:24PM (#30635404)

    The problem is that school administrations are all run by baby boomers. They're still too technologically naive (/.ers excluded) to consider the problems of abandoning traditional teaching methods for shiny bling. I had the displeasure of going through some computer based education in the 80's (Chelsea Clinton was in the same program just to name drop) and I vastly preferred regular classroom instruction. With regards to reading, there's nothing wrong with a regular book. It's important to teach children how to use those too. There isn't much value in getting kids to cram their faces into a glorified VTech toy.

    Those in the position to make decisions about these things love to feel that they're doing something to help the poor and disadvantaged by sneaking some technological contrivance into the curriculum wherever they can. Books are a pretty advanced technology all their own. They are far more reliable, dependable, and cheaper than any gizmo based solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Even more importantly, it is necessary to instill some degree of self-sufficiency in the kids growing up today. Teaching them that they just need to rely on the machine to do everything for them and rely on it unquestioningly isn't the best way to prepare children for a productive life in our society. The mass deployment of electronic calculators in elementary school classrooms has led to the creation of generations of innumerate people. Certainly children should be encouraged to learn about the use of computers and information technology but that should not be used as an excuse to set them up into accepting computers as magic.

  • by Belial6 (794905) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @07:42PM (#30635574)
    No, they are not. That is a myth that the public school industry would like you to believe. As a home schooling parent, I can tell you, that the percentage of religious nutjobs outside of homeschooling is WAY higher than those inside. This ratio might be different in other parts of the country, but at least her in California, it is definitely the case. The number one reason that I have heard from other home schooling parents for their choice is that they want their kid to get the best education possible, and the public school is incapable or unwilling to provide it. The second most common reason is that the parents actually like spending time with their kids and think it is good for the kid to spend time with them.

    My own reasons for home schooling started out long before my son was born with me not wanting my child raised by part time government employees with low reasoning and math skills, combined with the fact that the schools would not want me as the parent of one of their students. Very early on, it became clear that public school would be a disaster for my son.

    He was proficient on the PC at 1. A week after his 2nd birthday he did his first Ubuntu install. (No, he couldn't read. Yes, it is really more an example of just how easy it is to install Linux.) He started reading just before three, and started working on electronics projects soon after. At 5, he is currently working on his multiplication, division, and improving his writing skills. He reads as well as many of the kids I went to high school with. ( Yes, that is as much a slight against the public school kids as it is bragging about my own.) When he wants to know something new, he has no problem getting on Google and finding it.

    All the bragging daddy issues aside, this level of education would at worst not be tolorated in a public school, and at best he would be bored stiff, start talking to the kid next to him for some stimulation, and be considered a problem kid because he couldn't sit still and listen to the lecture on the letter 'A'.
  • As an educator... (Score:3, Informative)

    by kklein (900361) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @09:32PM (#30636422)

    As an educator, reading the literature, don't freak if he kind of levels off later. Humans learn at highly individual rates and in pretty individual orders, and this is why a home-schooled kid with smart/well-read/well-educated parents will always kick the crap out of assembly-line-educated kids. Personal attention to individual differences. It also helps that your kid probably learns/thinks a lot like you and his mother do, so it's easier to relate.

    My wife and I probably can't have kids (too old!), but if an unexpected package were to arrive, as an educator (my wife's a teacher, too) with a decent salary (university), yeah, that kid is gonna be home-schooled. I had way too much of my time wasted in K-12 to foist that upon my own progeny.

    The US system has a lot of problems, but I think one of them that is important in this case is the idea of "grades" instead of "proficiency levels." It's very socially difficult to hold a kid back or skip him/her forward already, but if he/she is only different in one subject, what do you do about the other subjects? The kid will either be bored in everything while he catches up in math or whatever, or he will be in the right place for math and be struggling in reading... This idea that everything should come in a big package is crazy.

    Anyway, keep on it, but don't worry if he ends up "just" above average. ;-)

  • Stupid (Score:3, Informative)

    by rickb928 (945187) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @10:20PM (#30636710) Homepage Journal

    My PLATO terminal cost me $200:

    Used Lenovo X41 Tablet off Criagslist: $120
    Restore CDs from Lenovo (pure vanity): $66
    Open Source Pterm: $0

    Total Cost: $186.

    And it does other stuff also.

    Any of the current crop of netbooks would run Pterm. You could mash up a decent distro to run the Linux version and make it reasonably simple for kids, and even give an out button to the older one so they could run a browser and all that.

    Of course, building a real PLATo terminal would be pointless, but I suspect it could be done for not a lot of money. A bit more if you wished to use the color enhancements.

  • by cheesewire (876598) on Sunday January 03, 2010 @10:50PM (#30636918)

    When I ran programs for homeschool families I found that the majority were absolutely wonderful - but the few crazies that did exist were MUCH more noticeable. As, coincidence would have it, were their kids.

  • Speaking of PLATO... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 04, 2010 @02:53AM (#30638102)

    2010 marks the 50th Anniversary of the PLATO system.

    There is going to be a 2-day conference celebrating the history of PLATO at the Computer History Museum on June 2-3, 2010.

    For details, see:


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