3.654 encountering and learning about computers (115)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Fri, 27 Oct 89 21:40:59 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 654. Friday, 27 Oct 1989.

(1) Date: Fri, 27 Oct 89 08:56 EDT (34 lines)
Subject: Computer,Youth & Humanists

(2) Date: Thu, 26 Oct 89 23:47:00 EDT (62 lines)
From: "Richard C. Taylor" <6297TAYLORR@MUCSD>
Subject: Comment re. Humanities and Computers

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 89 08:56 EDT
Subject: Computer,Youth & Humanists

Re:Computer,Youth,& Humanists
Recently as a parent volunteer for my child's Kindergarten class, I
helped out with the children on the computers. The kids caught on
quickly, while some of the parents who came around were easily
flustered. I also had to drag them away from the computers. Older
elementary school children came into use the busy computer centre during
their recess time. The place was humming with activity. As someone
remarked, computers belong to the young.

Why? Is it that old humanists's minds (and bodies) are incapable of
using keyboards, remembering 'commands', or thinking in linear and
looping manners? My hunch is that as we go through school, at least in
the old days of education, we are taught that making mistakes is
terrible. Unfortunately, implanting bugs and de-bugging is an intrinsic
part not only of novice-learning, but of sophisticated programming life.
(See Weinberg's "The Psychology of Computer Programming", a classic in
the new field.) The computer is not merely a new device to make things
go faster. Rather it is part of a revolution in the self-comprehension
of humanity. We are coming to realize that the supposedly essential
features of humanity, such as thinking and dreaming, are abstract
features that can be realized in alien physical structures, whether
computers or cities. (See Haugeland's excellent introductory book,
"A.I., The Very Idea".) Unfortunately, many humanists are forming the
rear-guard in the appreciation of the latest intellectual advances
triggered by the development of the idea of computation.

Sheldon Richmond
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------69----
Date: Thu, 26 Oct 89 23:47:00 EDT
From: "Richard C. Taylor" <6297TAYLORR@MUCSD>
Subject: Comment re. Humanities and Computers

Three years ago I wrote into my syllabus for a graduate philosophy
course on Aristotle (required of grad students here at Marquette)
that all written materials (papers, questions, responses, critiques,
presentations, etc.) had to be done on computers. I had several
reasons for this, among them (a) it makes it easier to comment or
respond to student work and to keep a record of the student work
and the comments given, and (b) it would enhance the quality
of the students' work (because of the ease of revision, etc.) and
ultimately enhance their marketability since they would generate
more publishable work, etc. (This latter has indeed happened. All
recent doctoral candidates placed in jobs -- most of them have
been tenure track -- are computer users and had several publications
at the time of their assuming their new jobs.) This seemed
reasonable to me since we already require that papers, etc. be
typed. Moreover, Marquette provides free and unlimited access
to the university mainframe system and the philosophy dept.
provides 7-8 hrs per day free access to a microcomputer room with
7 micros with all software provided. Computer classes were and
continue to be offered as well as individual instruction for
interested grad students and faculty.

I thought that I was merely being a bit forward thinking and
very helpful to the grad students. They protested, but I remained
firm and offered to teach them individually how to use either the
mainframe or the micros (MSDOS or TRSDOS) for their work. But,
unsatisfied, they appealed to the Dept. chair and to the Director
of the grad program. I was then compelled (I was untenured at the
time but still put up a stink before capitulating) to reverse my
directive on computers. The reasoning was that I was requiring
the students to use something similar to a foreign language which
they did not already know and which was not mentioned in the
initial course description as required. I argued that requiring
that they do papers on a computer was more like requiring that
the papers be typed. The other argument (the foreign language
argument) won out because neither the chair nor the grad director
had any familiarity with computers at the time. After I cooled
down, however, I was convinced by a more astute colleague that
I need not fight such a battle. As he put it, more and more
students are learning how to use computers and in time the
problem of computer illiteracy will vanish. Or, alternatively,
the grad students who refuse to use computers will ultimately
vanish, as did the other dinosaurs. In other words, and I think
this is right, I was prematurely fighting a battle that time
would ultimately render needless. And even here at Marquette
over the last three years there has been computer revolution
and my friend's reasoning has proved sound. This doesn't
mean that everyone is a computer user, but of 29 fulltime
philosophy faculty at least 25 now own computers and 90% of
them use them nearly daily. Of the graduate students, nearly
100% of those who are successful in the program use them.

Dick Taylor
Philosophy Dept.
Marquette University
Milwaukee, WI 53233