posted May 24, 2001

Smart Alecs Misc.5/24/2001; 11:54:23 PM I don't talk about education much, but inasmuch as we have the "right" to education, the internet and computers is certainly impacting that right. ''Smart Alecs'' is a fairly even-handed article laying out the pros and the cons of computers (and by extension, the Internet) as they are affecting education. I would like to say one thing: Basically, both sides of the debate are correct. It's just that the two sides aren't talking about the same computers.The people who believe computers are harming kids say things like this:'Theodore Roszak... stated, "They (the students) feel that information is all you need, and it comes out of a computer. The fact that there?s a whole world of books in the library is vanishing. These kids are under the impression that because there are a lot of eye-popping effects on the computer, that?s superior. But the World Wide Web is a mishmash of whatever anybody wants to put up there, and what they often get is misinformation and incomplete information."...''"Computers create the lethal impression that everything about learning is supposed to be fun."'This is true... but this is the "learning game" designer's fault, not the computer's! If you treat the computer as a glorified television, or even worse, as a self-grading worksheet, then of course this hurts the child. No news here! Then again, an education founded on worksheets, memorization, and a motley collection of 'educational' films isn't exactly the epitome of education either. I remember these classes... I can't think of a worse way to "learn" history and at the same time completely miss the lessons history has to teach. One wonders how much of what Theodore sees is "computers" affecting students, and how much of it is just crappy education.There are better ways to approach computers then treating them as a glorified worksheet: '"The Internet and new technology is the most powerful tool for learning ever. Children who have access to this new communications medium will learn more effectively then those who don't," he said. "When kids are online, they're reading, analyzing, evaluating, comparing their thoughts, and telling their stories, collaborating, innovating."'Note the contrast between what "computers" are to the naysayers, and what "computers" are to the advocates. Here the computer is a tool of communication and discovery... and it can be the most flexible tool for that imaginable. Once you stipulate each side their definition of computer, they are both correct.Computers are both the most mind-expanding tools ever created and the most mind-numbing tool of mental oppression ever. The really sad part is, left to their own devices, I suspect most kids would very much prefer to use the computer in its exploration and communication mode, at least after learning enough skills to comfortably navigate in the discovery space; you have to try to ruin the experience by forcing the children to do the digitized worksheets and bleep-bloop-bloop education games, which can amuse but quickly wear out their welcome.The moral of the story is that computers, as they usually do, only amplify trends, they do not create them. If your idea of education is worksheets and filmstrips, the computers will enable you to do even more damage to your children then you could do previously, but the fault lies with your idea of education, not the computer. If your idea of education is a voyage of discovery and dialog with both peers and others who have already traveled the road, then the computers will enable you to give your students even more exposure to those experiences, but the credit is not due to the computer.I think one's attitude about computers in education serves as a sort of Rorschach test on your attitude about education in general; examining one's reasons for reacting to the issue can be enlightening.


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