Fifteen Computing Misconceptions

Computers were well established in American schools as early as the middle 1970's more than a generation ago. They were often given first to the math departments or volunteer "techies," but later dialogue focused on how to empower teachers across the curriculum to learn and use the new technology.

Today's educational initiatives strive to achieve integration of computer technology in the classroom. Teachers are expected to utilize technology productively with their students and there is often little if any support. Those programs that are provided are typically hampered by misdirection and misconceptions (Galloway, 1990). We have, for more than a generation, been in pursuit of essentially the same thing. Our attempt for 20 years to change educators into computer-using, computer literate professionals has essentially failed. Many will argue the point as clearly there are countless success stories. But, with the exception of the techies and innovative pioneers, teachers everywhere have not changed their basic approach to using technology.

As an analogy (Galloway, 1992), when this author was young, rock-n-roll music was still the choice of the young and my father and grandfather did not relate and found it quite distasteful. In elevators, in 1968, one would hear music perhaps from Lawrence Welk and such. I believed that if my elders could simply understand and learn about rock-n-roll and what the artists were attempting to express; that things could change and the music would be accepted. Today, in waiting rooms and elevators, we are likely to hear McCartney, Dillon, The Beatles, Buddy Holly or many of the other artists that were so objectionable to so many in those earlier years. However, the point is that this change did not occur because the elders were influenced or convinced. We, the younger, rock-n-roll generation did not change anyone. The elders were not convinced. No metamorphosis occurred. Society just moved along as the young grew older and the young simply brought their music with them. The young simply replaced the old.

The same seems true for the computer-using generation. Our efforts a generation ago were ineffective. We have simply waited around while a new generation, the youth of yesterday and today, has grown older bringing their technology-based lifestyle with them.

For real change to occur, for educators to be leaders rather than followers, it is necessary to have an understanding and a perspective of how technology is used and learned. What we do and what we don't do is inevitably determined by what we think and what we believe. There has always been a wide range of technology and computing misconceptions. For example, the notion that one can execute a data file as compared to a computer application is a common misunderstanding furthered by today's user-friendly icon based environments. Users often overlook the fact that a computer will find and execute the appropriate program to support a clicked data file icon.

Here are 15 erroneous ideas about computing ideas that impact today's teachers.

Misconception 1: Online documents lack privacy.
Some believe that due to the openness in a public electronic domain, teachers may not place photos and other personal information online. From a practical point of view, knowledge of a specific web address is typically necessary and, while locations are technically available to anyone, the odds of anyone finding your file through a random guess are considerable. The web can serve us well as a personal note file, storage bin or other utility if we were only comfortable enough to use it freely. Protection services are available if really needed

Misconception 2: Students should be able to complete all assignments at home.
Students are resentful of assignments and expectations that are outside of the realm of the technology they possess at home. They need to realize that visits to a campus computer lab are necessary where home technology is insufficient or incompatible. Access to traditional paper materials in libraries was always an accepted part of study and getting an education. And teachers need to convince them of this.

Misconception 3: Computing is inevitably harder and more time consuming than using paper.
This notion seems based on a desire to maintain old-world habits and a general resistance to change to a more technical lifestyle. For beginners this might be true but not for the more experienced. The problem is simply learning enough to get over the "hump," a threshold of efficiency where the hassle or trouble becomes well worthwhile. It is just like walking up to the corner store is much easier than taking public transportation or driving all the way to the mall. But the mall offers a lot more than any corner store.

Misconception 4: Learning computing doesn't require a personal and fundamental change.
This "recipe" mentality means that teachers believe a computing course should consist of the procedural tasks or lists of do's and don'ts for teaching. Mathematics education of course involves procedures and tasks just as does science education. Yet, in those disciplines becoming educated requires more than being shown what to do. Learning computing, just as in science and mathematics education, inevitably requires that teachers change.

Misconception 5: Teaching with technology can be done by non-computer-using teachers.
Workshops try to get teachers to use computers with their students, but give little thought to whether the teachers themselves are computer users. The notion that technology is "for the children," that schools and equipment don't exist for the teachers seems proper on the surface. Research shows that non-computer-using teachers will not integrate technology into their classroom teaching. It's simply that the non-technical lifestyle inevitably and completely inhibits the successful application of technology. It is necessary to educate and empower teachers directly, to first educate the teacher. Teachers, as technology users, will bring those skills and that knowledge to bear on their instructional activities.

Misconception 6: Teachers do not need to use technology in their personal lives.
This is related to #5 above. A more personally-involved use is necessary, like a critical mass required for nuclear fission, in order to facilitate technology integration into the classroom. If teachers have a letter to write, they need to word process it. If they're keeping track of their students' grades, they should start a spreadsheet. If they need an address book they should start a database. And they should make common errors: failing to save, damaging a disk, or accidentally deleting something. Such experiences are all-important for progress and cannot all be provided through course assignments. Teachers must integrate technology into both their personal and professional lives.

Misconception 7: Teachers of technology know how to use technology across the curriculum.
The biology teacher (for example) might expect a technology instructor to show him how to use technology in the discipline of biology. This makes little sense since the technology teacher is not the expert in biology. Everyday teachers of literature, science, mathematics and more are taking computing courses to learn how to use computers in their subject areas. Once the device is mastered, a teacher as an expert in his own subject area should ideally plan and build the experiences appropriate for his students' needs.

Misconception 8: Teachers of technology have software for disciplines across the curriculum.
Not the same idea as number 7 above, it is often a mistaken notion that instructors of computing are connoisseurs of computer applications, software titles in every discipline area. It is also believed that they have mastered, at least procedurally, all of the keystrokes, commands and rituals necessary to use that software. Furthermore it is believed that computing instruction then involves little more than acquainting the learner with those commands and rituals. Software-specific workshops are fine and are sometimes useful tools for computer-using professionals. But teachers typically confuse educational computing courses with software training classes and are disappointed when they aren't shown easy tricks with any number of software titles of personal interest to them and their subject area.

Misconception 9: Technical tasks should be something done quickly and easily.
Experts are often able to accomplish many tasks quickly and more efficiently than students. But experts have computing difficulties, challenges and mistakes, too. The more important point for teachers is that experts are willing to spend more hours to draw a simple graphic for some application whereas students often object to 30 minutes and give up after one hour. Far too often colleagues are simply not willing to put in the time and effort necessary to accomplish a task.

Misconception 10: Computing should be free of mistakes, error, conflict and frustration.
There is a notion and much literature devoted to learning computing without frustration. Computing involves a great deal of problem-solving which, by definition, involves solving the unknown. That naturally involves some frustration and can be challenging. Many aspects of computing and technology products are frustrating and difficult and absolutely require a great deal of time. If you don't experience any frustration, make any errors or have any problems, then you aren't doing anything especially in the world of computers.

Misconception 11: Computing no longer requires programming.
This has always been a popular wish among educators as many have always been highly resistant to any sort of programming. But we still sometimes need programming concepts and some basic skills today to really make use of HyperCard, ToolBook, HyperStudio and of course HTML for Web Page development. Teachers typically believe that an easier way, an "automatic" and user-friendly alternative and without any difficulties. In spite of the allure of authoring tools and point-and-click operating systems, programming is still very much a part of computing.

Misconception 12: Being a part time user is enough to meet professional needs.
Many teachers at all levels of education are attempting to use technology but only a little bit. Often, they hope to get by with as little involvement with computing as possible as if a computer is a tool to be avoided unless and until absolutely necessary. However, a considerable infrastructure in computing is necessary to have the tools available, to make access possible and worthwhile, and to work through an integrated network of choices and solutions. Research shows that a regular and complete involvement is necessary to support learning, progress and integration.

Misconception 13: To learn computing, one needs to take a computer class.
The perception is that one needs to be given assignments and shown keystroke procedures in order to become a computer user. Research overwhelmingly shows that (a) competent computer users have taught themselves; and (b) those who have taken courses without an independent personal commitment still fail to integrate technology into their lives. Courses can motivate and guide the study of technology but should include an increased personal commitment to and involvement in computing beyond the limited scope of the assigned activities.

Misconception 14: The computer is a tool.
Computers are perceived as specialized devices dedicated to a limited set of purposes. The concept of a mere tool, like a toaster for toast, a wrench for a bolt, or a hammer for a nail implies that the tool is unnecessary if you don't want toast, don't have a bolt or the need to hammer a nail. Actually, the computer is a complete environment where we live, work and play. Technology is a much more fundamental part of our lives. This is not only true in the future world for which we prepare, but even for today's teachers. It is our world, our environment not a mere tool.

Misconception 15: Teachers need to be trained to use technology.
The problem with this notion is imbedded in the statement itself. One doesn't "show" someone how to use technology. There is a distinction between the terms "trained" versus "educated" and while the notion of education may imply a more general and broader coverage of a topic, it is meant to indicate a deeper learning than what might be found in mere training. Learning involves the development of a conceptual understanding and critical thinking skills compared to the procedural rituals of training. In training, one is focused on the specific materials that one will use, which takes a long time to have enough experiences to acquire a deeper learning. It is important to have experiences beyond just the limited tasks anticipated. It is truly the most ironic fact in modern education that educators fail to realize that skills and competencies are made up of and empowered by the holistic set of our past experiences most of which are not performed in the rituals of task execution. Just as one doesn't "show" someone how to do science or math, using technology requires an education.

So, the score above is TRUE=0; FALSE=15. Whether these so-called misconceptions are truly or directly related to limited progress for teachers is of course debatable. Where is the research that shows complete and continued integration of technology into the classroom by non-computer-using teachers? Where is the research that shows how being trained on yesterday's text editor enables and empowers teachers to adapt to tomorrow's highly complex and multifaceted word processor software? Misunderstanding how we learn and the role of skills and competencies in being computer literate contribute to the failure of professional development programs.

Far too often, computing is thought to be little more than procedural rituals written into a simple lists of do's and don'ts. Many seem to behave as if learning computing is a matter of acquiring such lists. Critical thinking skills and a kind of discipline-specific intuition would serve teachers better than mere list acquisition. The bottom line is that teachers need to make a personal commitment to change to becoming full-time computer users and not wait for more user-friendly software or the next full-service workshop

Email: Jerry Galloway


Beaty, J. J., & Tucker, W. H. (1987). The computer as a paintbrush. Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing Co.

Galloway, J. P. (1990). Misconceptions of computing concepts among preservice teachers. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 22 (4), 413-430.

Galloway, J. P. (1992). Analogies in educational computing. East Rockaway, NY: Cummings & Hathaway.