3.631 humanistic education and computers, cont. (81)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 24 Oct 89 17:55:35 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 631. Tuesday, 24 Oct 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 24 Oct 89 00:59 EDT (32 lines)
From: "Sterling Beckwith (York University)" <GUEST4@YUSol>
Subject: RE: 3.627 humanistic education and computers, cont. (206)

(2) Date: 24 Oct 89 12:44:02 EST (23 lines)
Subject: humanistic education

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 89 00:59 EDT
From: "Sterling Beckwith (York University)" <GUEST4@YUSol>
Subject: RE: 3.627 humanistic education and computers, cont. (206)

[Again, a personal note too good to keep to myself. I should add, for
those students of Reed who are listening, that I am well aware of having
filtered out a great deal from my experiences in order to present the
nostalgic picture. Still, I think John Reed had the right idea, and that
a glimmer of it survived in my days there. --W.M.]

Dear Willard,

Your nostalgic note (were you perhaps a contemporary at Reed of either
my colleague Peter Roosen-Runge or my cousin Bob Charlton?) could be
read as hinting that perhaps computers are not one of the things that
young people need to be exposed to in humanities courses. As Whittaker
points out, there is precious little time even for the mightiest of the
old literary texts to be whisked past their drowsy eyes. Instead of
attempting to teach about or prepare the young to "understand" computer
culture, why not just wait as they become embroiled in it, at school,
in the movies, or wherever, while doing our best to make sure that
there will still be some interesting questions in the humanities for
them tackle, using the tools they will have come naturally to
feel most a home with. At least I have often thought this way, thus
undermining the agenda I was urging in my previous missive.

Certainly the point made by several respondents, that we are faced with
too much technology for too few good problems, bears down on one from
every corner of the vast educational computing wasteland today. Many of
our colleagues treasure their ignorance of MS-DOS and other mind-numbing
nonsense out of the soundest possible instinct that life is too short,
and too full of more life-enhancing demands, to warrant that particular
detour. Sometimes I am not so sure that computers and their acronyms
really do deserve the attention of our best and brightest minds -- though
they do keep us from plotting the overthrow of the administration,
I suppose...

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------33----
Date: 24 Oct 89 12:44:02 EST
Subject: humanistic education

Willard's fragment of autobiography reminds me that I have been asking people
one question for years in a dilatory kind of way, and HUMANIST is a good place
to ask it again. Is there any serious literature (presumably sociological but
possibly psychological in discipline) on the relative effectiveness of
different styles of undergraduate curriculum design? What difference does it
actually make whether an institution has a high-definition core curriculum or
a sprawling unregulated buffet? All discussions in institutions I have been
part of have had a strangely (considering the participants) amateurish,
anecdotal quality. The most trenchant observation I've heard was by an
undergraduate dean here who pointed out, when we were talking about
instituting a core curriculum, that the students had beaten us to the punch:
to judge by enrollments, the core curriculum for well over half our freshman
class consisted of Econ 101, Math 101, Chem 101, etc. At that point we had
something like two dozen courses that amounted to over 20% of total
enrollments in Arts and Sciences per year, and another 500 courses that split
up the other 80%.

But seriously: is there any serious literature on the subject?