How computers decrease efficiency

How computers decrease efficiency

Not everything that is good, is good. Take this as an example. If I were to give my neighbour’s children some private tuition in return for a modest fee, I could go out and spend the money, thereby contributing to the local and national economy. Everyone benefits.

On the other hand, if I were to go on a really prolific one-man burglary spree, they would have to employ extra police or pay the existing police force more overtime, local residents would invest in updated security systems and the local economy would benefit even more from all this spending.

So burglary is beneficial, right?

Is burglary beneficial? Photo by John Fisher

Wrong! Even though there would be more spending and employment in the system, everyone agrees that you can’t regard it as good, because burglary itself and all that goes with it is bad.

In the same way, although one of the benefits of using computers is improved efficiency, if the task that is being carried out more efficiently is a task which shouldn’t be done at all, then if anything using a computer would decrease efficiency.

I was thinking of this when I wrote Evaluating a school’s computing and ICT, which included a reminder that a few years ago schools had to complete a self-evaluation form that was either 25 or 27 pages long. How ludicrous is that? No doubt there were all sorts of time-saving templates available to help, but the task itself was a waste of time.

Similarly, I am embarrassed to admit that, 15 years ago, I created a lesson planner in Word which made it dead easy to fill in a lesson plan and to format it. All you had to do was to select items from drop-down menus, such as Year Group, subject, Key Stage and so on, type in some objectives and stuff, then click a button and the form (produced in Visual Basic for Applications) would disappear and, in its place, would be a beautifully-formatted document that you could then give to an Ofsted inspector.

All good stuff, but the most valuable aspect of lesson planning is the process of planning, and a secondary benefit is to have an aid-memoir. Therefore, you don’t need all this palaver: a pencil and the back of an envelope will do fine.

It seems to me that this is one area where computing/coding and digital literacy meet: a computer program you’ve written may be brilliant in itself, but if it serves no useful purpose, it’s pointless. Pupils, when learning and doing coding, should always ask themselves, “Is this application worth creating at all?”.

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Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant with over 35 years of experience in education. He publishes the ICT in Education website and the newsletter “Computers in Classrooms."