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.
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