August 6, 2007

Technology and the Philosophy of Education.

Posted in Culture at 9:23 am by Caleb Winn

An interesting blog entry:

Campus Technology 2007 Conference: Questioning Underlying Assumptions

…as campus technology professionals and educators rush into the adoption of such things as Blogs, Wikis, IM, e-mail, Google, Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook as part of their curriculum, shouldn’t we first ask the question of what unintended consequences might accompany each of these new ways of communicating?

Let me quickly point out that I love technology. I don’t just like it. I love it. I get warm, fuzzy feelings when I think about my MacBook. The Nintendo Wii makes me giggle. If I had an iPhone, I would buy it roses and take it for long walks on the beach. Technology is exciting, and enables us to live our lives with a much greater degree of efficiency than we have historically been able to do. Consumer goods and services are widely available. And now, at the beginning of the internet age, the collected information of the world is at our fingertips.

This carries with it some dangers, however. It is important to realize, even as we benefit from technological advances, that the Paradigmatic shift in our approach to education, and community is not wholly positive.

Education — The easy availability of information probably encourages academic laziness. Research becomes a great deal less difficult when I have access to Lexis-Nexis, and can read every major newspaper in the world for free. What previously took weeks of hard work can now be done in hours.

This can be a very positive development. Ease of research means that more information is available, and more time can be spent on other activities. Ideally, more efficient research leads to a much greater depth of analysis and more more coherent, reasonable thought. When scholarship is easier, scholarship can be better.

At the same time, difficulty is a much better schoolmaster than ease. For the seasoned researched, equipped with a Ph.D., tenure, and years of experience, having easy access to research encourages greater productivity. For the undergraduate student, however, I’m afraid that it may encourage laziness. Rather than approaching education with humility, and seeking to learn, it is easy to mine the internet for information that will support our point, and then move on. The undergraduates of 50 years ago may have had fewer sources in their papers, or they may have spent much longer performing their research, but they may have consequently developed better research skills, and profited more by the process of learning. If education is about the output, than the internet is a great boon. But if education is about the learning process itself — and in part, at least, it is — then the hard work of digging through newspapers and journals and books is well worth it.

Community — The advent of blogs, social networks, instant messaging, and podcasts, makes it increasingly possible to shut out opposing viewpoints and live in a vast right-wing (or left-wing) echo chamber.

In a world without modern communication technology, the primary community is defined by geography. One’s friends are the people with whom he works, lives, and worships. If I get annoyed with my neighbor, I cannot simply block him from my buddy list and shut him out of my life. When social investment is defined by proximity, we have to work harder to maintain our relationships. It’s easy to be friends with people whom you choose to befriend. It is harder, though perhaps more valuable, to befriend people with whom you have little in common.

In the era of instant communication, however, we now define our social lives through relationships or choice, rather than of necessity or convenience. I can spend all of my time discussing homeschool debate or complete and utter stupidity, and seldom hear an opposing view. I can build superficial relationships around common interests, and never have to do any emotional heavy lifting.

Add to that the fact that, even with video chat, we are stripped of enormous swaths of non-verbal communication. Instant messagning and email can communicate substance, but little of the tone of a personality or emotional state. That is =(.

Of course it is possible to have meaningful relationships online. And it is possible to have superficial, narcissistic relationships with one’s neighbors. But the internet makes it easier to pick up and walk away, and makes low-committment, homogonous communication the rule, rather than the exception.

So all in all, I love technology. I love my internets. But as much as it has strengths, it also has weaknesses, and it is important to use those strengths well while searching for ways to offset its weaknesses and avoid being damaged by excessive laziness, convenience, or superficiality.

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2 Comments »

  1. Karen said,

    Hmmmm.

    And, yes.

  2. Nathaniel Winn said,

    Bad links. Good blog. (But I might be biased.)


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