In my own classroom, computers sometimes become an oppurtunity for the students to do some teaching of their own... as half of the time I can't figure out how to use them as well as they can; they teach me...
Speaking from personal experience, computers can be both a blessing and a curse to the classroom. Yes, they provide many educational opportunities for students, but they are also problematic. Many students would ask to do every assignment on the computer. They didn't want to hand write anything when they could type and print it. They wanted to Google the answer instead of learning to look for it in a book or other resource. The temptation to have things instant was too much for some students. Even a fun project like creating a picture collage brought about an argument. Students didn't want to look through magazines or draw the pictures themselves. They wanted to run a quick Internet search for the pictures rather than use their own problem solving skills to look through physical resources. Of course, there was also the issue of controlling what content they were looking at. Since my husband works in the computer industry, I had many ideas for how to creatively lock down the computers. It is easily possible to set restrictions on which websites students can look at. However, the county could not allow me administrative access to the computers in order to put the lock outs in place. It was against the county policy to allow teachers (or anyone other than the tech department) that type of access to computers. The technology to monitor and prevent students accessing non-educational sites does exist, but it is often out of reach for the classroom teacher.
It seems that the question has two or three sides to it that require separate consideration and separate answers. On the one hand, (1) using the computer develops skills that will be increasingly critical in higher education (distance learning) and the workplace. All skills a young student can develop related to computers and Internet will be a major advantage (perhaps "advantage" is the wrong descriptor, perhaps it is better to say it's the elimination of major disadvantage). Even now, job descriptions feature computer, software and Internet skills as job requirements.
Similarly, (2) assignments all through a student's schooling now require computer and Internet activity with completion of assignments dependent upon Internet access (once, high tech assignments required access to television programs; woe to students who couldn't access a television set, in academic and social and personal senses of woe).
On the other hand, (3) observation indicates academic and personal discipline is sacrificed by computer/Internet reliance. Since the Internet is interactive, and since school and library connectivity is still as slow as dial-up (maybe it is still dial-up), students legitimize turning academic sessions into chit-chat and flirtation sessions because they're "waiting for the Internet." Besides this, there are significant indicators that Internet use impedes cognitive and memory development, as a result, the thing that is supposed to improve their education has the real potential to actually lessen it.
I would actually argue that having computers in the classroom is becoming an educational impediment, rather than an advantage. As an essay writing tutor, I am seeing that one of our biggest educational problems is that we are not producing students who are capable of thinking for themselves and heavy reliance on computers and the Internet seems to be a major contributing factor. When I was a student, we did our own analyzing and our own research and when we were stuck, we asked a genuine human being rather than a computer; we asked our friends or we asked our instructors. The amount of information available on-line is creating students who are either unwilling or incapable of doing their own analyzing, which is a major impairment because critical thinking skills are still a key component to higher education as well as life-long education.
Writing skills have also deteriorated. Especially, we are not training students who can produce quality writing, and strict reliance on the computer for writing and is a major contributing factor. Most quality research needed for a well-written research essay cannot be gathered from the Internet. A student needs access to scholarly journals and other academic books for scholarly research, which can only be found at the library and in library databases. This is true for high school as well as college essays. Sadly, many students are very surprised when I say that the solution to their research problems is the library or their research librarian, whereas when I was in school, the library would have been the first thing we thought of, not the last. Also, the process of writing wholly while typing on a computer impairs one's memory. Studies have shown that writing by hand improves your memory.
While computer skills are necessary skills to learn, especially in today's educational and work environments, heavy reliance on the computer is unproductive and one might even say unhealthy.
The benefit of having computers in the classroom far outweighs any minor disadvantages. Classroom computers offer students an opportunity to interact with technology in a hands-on way with the curriculum of the class. Students love using technology, and incorporating the use of computers into the lesson can often help a lesson which might ordinarily be perceived as dull, or even dreary, to being more relevant to the student because of the additional aspect of using the computer. Students find it easy to relate to technology, because they are so 'plugged in.' Whether the students are using the computers to create research presentations, design websites, interface with science or math gizmos (online learning programs), the use of technology within the classroom helps the students to connect to the lesson in a real and viable way, ensuring that more of their learning is genuine, rather than compliant participation.
Moreover, daily interaction with classroom computers builds students' user skills, helping them to become more at ease and knowledgeable with computer software and programs like Microsoft office programs or Adobe photoshop. Many students who pass through classrooms this year alone are training for jobs that may not have even been invented or realized yet; encouraging student use of computers within the classroom on a daily basis can only improve their skill with computers, that could very possibly benefit them in their future careers.
I think the benefits of computers in the classroom do outweigh the drawbacks. The key is to monitor their use so that students use computer time productively researching, analyzing, reading, and digesting quality information related to the topic(s) of study in a particular classroom. I agree with the above post that there is always the temptation to click on over to Facebook, shopping sites, and such to engage in online activities unrelated to the student's studies. Therefore, monitoring, as mentioned, is definitely required. Non-classroom related activity is the biggest drawback to computers in the classroom.
However, computers allow for the fast, efficient gathering of information. There exists an array of information on the Web for students to investigate. They can accumulate relevant, timely information as applies to their studies quickly, which allows them more time to actually put together reports, theses, projects, essays, presentations, and the like. In addition, there is a substantial amount of interactive educational resources available on the Internet, which makes learning interesting and enjoyable.
Computers in the Classroom
Computers can be a useful tool in the educational process. Like any other tool, they have strengths and weaknesses; like any other tool, they will fit some subjects better than others and will meet the learning styles of some students better than others. The key to using computers, as with any tool, is making an appropriate match between educational goals and student needs.
As our culture moves toward the Information Age and becomes ever more dependent upon electronic media for communication, research and sharing of findings, entertainment, and recordkeeping, I think it is essential that schools help students become very comfortable, knowledgeable, and efficient in using computers for a variety of functions. However, I think a fair portion of the "educational" uses of computers seen in schools at this time is not contributing to that goal.
Teachers need to learn how to use computers to help students learn and how to differentiate methods of teaching and applying procedures to address differing learning styles. School districts need to develop ways of significantly increasing the availability of computers and software for students in the classroom. Students need to be given real-life opportunities to apply the technology to learning situations that are based on curriculum-driven activities and real-world applications. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Educational_Technology_Standards
There are far more benefits than drawbacks when it comes to using computers in the classroom. The first and most important, I believe, is access to communication. Given that they are taught to use social media responsibly (which is am important life skill anyway), students can use certain social media platforms to enhance their learning more conveniently and thoroughly than they could in the past. Students can discuss literature, share ideas, communicate about group projects, and do a myriad of other things using computers. If there are worries about students abusing facebook, schools can easily block their access.
In addition to communication, computers now provide a plethora of tools to be used in the classroom. Google alone has various applications intended for education, and there are plenty of other educational websites out there (see link below).
The key to computers in the classroom is teaching students how to use them effectively. We should be monitoring their use and setting clear boundaries for what is an is not acceptable. Computer use is something that is not going away any time soon, so it makes sense to embrace it and teach it in our classrooms rather than to shy away because we are worried about the problems they may cause.
Computer should be a big advantage in the classroom. The problem is that we haven't figured out how to use them effectively yet, so they end up being babysitters or distractions. There is also the problem of not having nearly enough computers for each student. Most classrooms have one computer for twenty-plus students. Obviously that's an unworkable ratio.