Vol. 15 : No. 1
We are most pleased to have this Podium contributed by Dr. Inabeth Miller, President of the Jason Foundation for Education. Dr. Miller is one of the original founders of USDLA. She continues to provide us with exciting guidance, insight, expertise and leadership.
Drs. Don and Elizabeth Perrin
TECHNOLOGY, EDUCATION AND HUMAN VALUES
by Inabeth Miller
For many years, multiple technologies have been available in schools and colleges without a great impact on either students’ education or the values that they brought to the classroom. However, as with the rest of the society, today’s technologies, demanding individual interaction, may bring in its wake profound changes in how we learn and a corollary set of unanticipated ethical principles.
I first began to teach online more than a decade ago to a group of thirty college students around the country. I found then, and still find today, a more lively and vibrant communication than normally takes place in a classroom. Many students enjoy questioning, responding, challenging arguments and opinions of others. Students who would rarely speak out in a traditional classroom had little hesitancy about speaking with their fingers. There is a far greater personal relationship between faculty and students. As a teacher, I would be asked about my family and home life, or found jokes in my mailbox about neglecting them to remain online. There was always great impatience about response time. If Office Hours are not clearly defined, 24/7 is the expectation. My greatest pleasure was the persistence of the students, redoing and resubmitting papers with increasing quality.
These characteristics are true in elementary schools and high schools as well. In satellite classrooms, there is an overwhelming desire to be heard. Late in May, a high school teacher called me after a writing class via satellite to tell me that one student who read his poetry to the gathered satellite students spoke for the first time all year. The home class was in shock. A third grade child remarked of her television teacher, “She likes me. I can tell. She knows my work. Maybe she can’t see me but she likes me.” Another special needs student asked the teacher, “Can you come to my house?” High school students whose birthdays and school occasions are noted feel a great personal attachment to the teacher.
Students are compassionate, surprisingly so. A satellite physics teacher who was very nervous, kept getting calls from kids, “Don’t worry, Doctor Bob, you’re doing great.” Numerous faculty who worried aloud about not getting through the lesson were admonished by college students, “We’re really learning. It doesn’t matter that you can’t finish. We can do it on our own.” When they critiqued each other’s work, it was with profound empathy and encouragement. Online students are equally caring about feelings.
For adolescents, email has often replaced the telephone. The transition has been amazingly easy. They do their homework with each other online. The students rarely find their parents objecting as strenuously as they used to about tying up the telephone line, although they are tying up modem lines and spending inordinate amounts of time. This is one area in which the “digital divide” is most noticed. Poor kids do not have access to email or friends with email addresses. While there is often a gender difference in how students use computers, girls and boys find less embarrassment in social conversations using computer technology than telephone technology.
For some students the Internet is an outlet for venting their emotions. Whether it is the boys from Columbine or the frequent users of chat rooms, technology is an anonymous mechanism for telling a story, for reality and for imagination. On the Web, a child can be anything or anyone s/he wants to be. This power can be liberating, and as we all know well, be threatening. Most schools have set up firewalls to prevent abuse of the student population. Most students know how to “climb the walls” or circumvent the regulations.
Technology, though thought to be isolating, has proven to encourage group experiences and interactions. Inquiry projects abound, bringing students together from around the world. In the JASON Project, which is an expeditionary science program for middle school kids, they talk to each other, gather and share data, talk to scientists and authors, work in digital laboratories, and explore exciting environments together. Many technologies are involved in their adventures. The object is to stimulate a passion for science and to present interesting role models in exciting settings.
While opportunities for research and term papers abound, and are the primary reason, other than word processing for using a computer in school, the temptation to cut and paste, plagiarizing whole sections if not entire papers is endemic at every level from elementary school to doctoral candidates. Recently several college presidents have been found to have almost identical speeches. Ease of use often results in ease of abuse.
The technology is value neutral. While its educational uses make learning more available in all settings, the byproducts are more personal and collective interactions, more empathy and more threats to personal privacy, more stimuli to delve deeper and more ease in appropriating work that is not one’s own.
As a society, we have not always learned to be responsible in the use of our tools. As educators, we have yet to teach our students to use the tools of the society responsibly.