Lego loss reignites traditional vs electronic toys debate

6 MARCH 1999

Childhood education expert Dr Tom Lowrie is concerned by the dominance of electronic toys overshadowing traditional toys such as building blocks - a trend reflected by toy making giant Lego recording its first ever loss of $40 million.

Childhood education expert Dr Tom Lowrie is concerned by the dominance of electronic toys overshadowing traditional toys such as building blocks - a trend reflected by toy making giant Lego recording its first ever loss of $40 million.

Lego representatives have attributed last years' loss to their company's plastic bricks being ignored by a generation of children weaned on television and computer games. Charles Sturt University School of Education lecturer and researcher Tom Lowrie said the trend was a disturbing one.

While arguments about the influence of violence in electronic games and on television tends to rule the debate, Dr Lowrie said the lesser known but more common aberration caused by extended electronic screen-engaging play is the loss of every-day perceptions of the real world.

"Research has shown that children who spend hours on end with these games suffer a loss of perception of things like the true nature of three-dimensional figures, depth of field, stopping distances, momentum and visual perception," he said.

"In a recent study I conducted on computer simulations, it was evident that children don't view these things the way adults do. Even the best 3D effects are really only two-dimensional on a flat screen, and that 3D representation is lost on a child who doesn't have the range of knowledge and experience with these figures in real life.

"There are lots of very good computer games on the market, but as with all the best education aids for children, adults have to be willing to get involved too - you have to put the time in to get those good results out. The social interactions promote learning.

"Just sitting kids alone in front of computer or TV screens, using them like electronic babysitters, doing automated tasks for hours on end is little better than letting them sit and stare at a blank wall. No matter how interactive the game is, it's always the computer that's in control."

Dr Lowrie holds the CSU Education Faculty 1998 Award for Research Excellence, and the Mathematics Education Research Association of Australasia 1998 Early Career Award for Research. His research explains the relationship between teaching and learning, especially in considering the needs of young children. He specialises in mathematics education, especially problem solving and use of visual imaging.

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