The Computer as a Tool: The Metaphor in Educational Settings

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Arthur Millman


This paper seeks to engage its principal audience, classroom teachers, and its broader audience, educational professionals, in an examination of the learning theories and practices that underlie the values and assumptions inherent in computer use. The paper considers the effects of using computers in education, effects that often come into play before the user (student and/or teacher) has even touched the computer. I take as a particular point of entry the phrase “the computer is a tool” whose meaning is rarely considered or discussed. I suggest drawing attention to this phrase from three different perspectives (1) the implications of thinking about tools as metaphors; (2) the effects on thinking or cognition of using computers as tools; and (3) the implications of using computer metaphors to think about thinking. This discussion draws upon the work of Michael Polanyi, Israel Scheffler, Malcolm McCullough, and Richard Boyd. Combining these perspectives, the closing chapter presents issues and open-ended questions that I hope other educators will join me in thinking about. Over the last ten years, observations, conversations, and misguided uses have suggested to me that there is an “uncritical” and “unthinking” use of technology for technology’s sake. Because of this underlying current, I considered it essential to my development as a professional technology specialist, and in my role as support-person for encounters between students, teachers, and computers, that I personally develop a conceptual basis for making judgments about educational computer use and offer it to other educators who share my concerns. I encourage students and teachers to move beyond the metaphor to a more detailed understanding of what is happening: cognitively, instructionally, emotionally, and perhaps, even spiritually. When one chooses to use a computer as a pedagogic tool, the concept of “tool” does not do justice to the human transformation—education—which takes place.


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