Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Cultural Impact of Computer Technology

In The Cultural Impact of Computer Technology, Sheldon Ayers discusses two technology revolutions, the industrial revolution and the information revolution. The industrial revolution was characterized by more efficient manufacturing, which led to a demand for better infrastructure for transportation of goods, which led to a "spirit of innovation" in road engineering, which led to a decreased travel time between London and Birmingham from 2 days to 19 hours, which led to "reduced rural dullness".

I can't help but see some parallels between this and the information revolution we are currently experiencing. Our increased need for multimedia and sharing of large files has created a demand for better infrastructure. As our infrastructure improves, our "spirit of innovation" is kicking in and we are finding better and more interesting things we can do with our increased bandwidth. And lastly, I live in a rural area, and I think I have experienced a reduction in dullness. :)

Originally uploaded by shapeshift
But what does all of this have to do with learning? The author notes that our progress will require us to rethink many things including how we learn. Recently, my cousin was lamenting the fact that she has to buy her freshman daughter an expensive graphing calculator. Being the math and science teacher that I am, I reassured her that yes, it is expensive, but is an important tool for learning math. Another cousin interjected, "Why? We never had those." This is a valid question to which I didn't have a ready response. It is difficult sometimes to see the benefits that technology brings. What I wanted to explain to my cousin is that a graphing calculator is like a better road. Except, not only can it decrease the learning time between points A and B, it provides a deeper understanding of a new concept.

I experienced another example of rethinking how we learn this past week. Ginger L. of the Turning Point Learning Center in Kanses invited me via Skype to her classroom of 5th and 6th graders. As we talked about sextants and how they are used, questions arose. When students did not have a convincing answer to a question, Ginger sent them to their computers to research. My cousin might say, "We didn't have macbooks. Why do they need those?" Well, we had to memorize information or rely on our one textbook. Considering that we forget 90 percent of what we learn in class within 30 days (Brain Rules, p. 100), what's the point in memorizing. And, our one textbook was limited in the information it could give us. The Internet, however, is a vast resource that can deliver a lot of good information if used effectively. If Ginger's students do happen to forget 90 percent of what they learned last week (which I doubt!), I bet they will remember how to research and get it back.

Along with the information revolution, I think we are experiencing a learning revolution. We must rethink how and why we are doing what we are doing in the classroom. We must evaluate the new tools technology is giving us and use them to increase ours and our students' learning.


Anonymous said...

I agree that we're experiencing a learning revolution! I related to your feeling of being suddenly lost for words when asked point-blank why a student needed a graphing calculator after "we always learned fine without one." It's hard to argue with tradition and deeply-ingrained habits, but we need to find clear ways to articulate what we know instinctively as users and promoters of educational technology - that, if used correctly, technology tools will enhance and deepen our students' knowledge, not just provide "cool tools" for them to play with. So many people dismiss the use of technology as frivolous and unnecessary, when it is actually essential and inevitable in the widely changing and evolving 21st Century. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree that the internet and especially the appropriate use of web2.0 in the classroom offers powerful learning tools. As more and more teachers embrace these tools, their impact will flow further afield. I have used them for just over 12 months and am still amazed by the benefits that this can reap.

Anonymous said...

"If Ginger's students do happen to forget 90 percent of what they learned last week (which I doubt!), I bet they will remember how to research and get it back."

I really liked this sentence. The ability to find information and evaluate its worth is really where education for K-12 and higher ed needs to go. I would much rather help people develop skills and processes to find out what they need than to prepare them for a test on which they regurgitate information. Thanks for sharing this!

Laurie Fowler
Tuscaloosa, AL

Anonymous said...

Heather I completely agree that the advances in Information Technology has greatly increased our learning and productivity across industries, not just the teaching environment. Of course my only experience in this is as a geologist in the oil industry. Just in my 5 years experience, information technology has had a sky rocket advance. In discussing this topic with those that have 20 years experience, you can imagine the change they have gone through in those years! One drawback that keeps coming up when talking about these technological advances is that sometimes instead of advancing your understnading there is almost a drawback. For example spening too much time trying to learn what buttons to push and making geologic maps....now we have a 3D modeling program that with just the touch of a button a map is generated in seconds. In the past these maps were hand drawn and would sometimes take days if not weeks to come up with a map that makes geologic sense. During that time you think through the process more thoroughly (not worrying if you pushed the right button), and have a complete understnading of how that map was put together. When generating a map from the computer, you have no idea the concepts the computer used to put that map together. Having gone through the hand mapping exercise, I felt I understood the geology better than what the computer spit out. That being said, the computer generated models can be done so fast that you increase drilling and increase productivity, than taking weeks to get a map together to pick a well location. I think there is a fine balance, and there needs to be a complete understanding of how these computer programs, graphic calculators, or any other device to aid in learning are working behind the black box. Here is my 2 cents on how this advance in technology has influenced my little world. And I do know I could never live without my Dell Precision 490 with duel 27" flatscreen monitors, and HP Lenux workstation with duel 19" flatscreen monitors in my office....whether it makes me stop thinking or not...hehe

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I agree sharon_elin, it is our job to be able to articulate the benefits and necessity of the learning tools we are asking students to use. As murcha has attested, these new tools provide so much to the learning environment. Dean Mantz recently blogged a metaphor of technology as the raisin in the oatmeal cookie, just one more ingredient we can use to effect better learning. And, as hmdowd pointed out, sometimes our best tool is to do things the long, slow way to really understand what is going on before we can graduate to a higher tech tool. That is the art of teaching - choosing the appropriate tool, high tech or not, for learning to happen.

Laurie - I really think my success in school can be attributed to being taught how to research and learn on my own. It's always my goal for students...help them become lifelong learners.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to read how you like the concept of a college professor permitting the students to assist in designing the course curriculum. That is the approach I am wanting to try out with the pre-service students enrolled in my "Technology in the Classroom". It is a smaller group this semester so I am hoping it goes well. I plan on showing them the Vision of Students Today and the Vision of K-12 Students today in hope of getting them thinking on what could be used to spark interest in learning. I will also use the LoTi survey and model with them. Again, I truly enjoyed your article and look forward to reading additional posts. Best Wishes this year!

Anonymous said...

With the information revolutions comes the need to navigate through content that is much more complex and the expectations more rigorous. We never needed graphing calculators because the concepts that we studied in math didn't require such a tool. Great post Heather with rich observations.