9.158 learning and information

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 15 Sep 1995 18:41:08 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 158.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Andrew Armour <armour@pncl.co.uk> (28)
Subject: Re: 9.156 books and learning

[2] From: POOS@CUA.EDU (40)
Subject: Re: 9.156 books and learning

Date: Fri, 15 Sep 1995 12:14:46 +0100
From: Andrew Armour <armour@pncl.co.uk>
Subject: Re: 9.156 books and learning

>I was trying to say that people have always had
>sources for self-learning and technology does not change the ability of
>those who can learn without a teacher to get at information.

I know that I am taking Geoffrey Rockwell's words somewhat out of context
here, but we must admit that even in its present, immature form the Internet
offers someone living hundreds of kilometers from any educational
institution the ability to access vast amounts of static information
(databases, libraries, FAQs, etc.) as well as the sort of "live" information
that flows via e-mail, lists and on-line conferences. Motivation and
interaction can and are being provided via the Net (with PGP
confidentiality, if necessary). The threat is not to those who can teach,
interpret and assess (provided they are in the "wired" camp), but to "tired"
universities that are not prepared to go virtual. I agree that face-to-face
interaction is extremely valuable and that e-mail or on-line seminars can
only be a partial substitute, but traditional tutoring will increasingly be
seen as a luxury society cannot afford. Once you remove the need for people
to gather in one location, you have a situation in which virtual
universities will compete globally for students and staff. No doubt this
will lead to much gnashing of teeth in some quarters, but in countries where
traditional universities have been unaffordable luxuries there will be much
rejoicing. Also, unless contractually tied, a professor could "teach" at
several virtual institutions simultaneously. The possibilities are
intriguing if not always welcome.

I am interested to see which major university will be the first to set up a
full-fledged virtual campus. I suspect it may initiate a stampede similar to
that witnessed in the commercial sphere, with faculties anxious to appear W
not T.

Andrew Armour
Keio & Oxford

Date: Thu, 14 Sep 1995 22:41:45 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: 9.156 books and learning

What bothers me about this discussion so far is that it envisions
education as `access to information': is the book/World Wide Web/
other-source-of-data a more efficient means of getting the STUFF
across than another version of technology. Let's face it, if that's
our vision of education -- whether History 101 (insert your discipline
here) or the highest-level postgraduate seminar you teach -- then
we all should retire and let somebody/thing else take over, and
our students can absord the WHAT however they best can get it. I
for one think the comment about nothing ever replacing the
teacher/student interaction speaks to the PROCESS: critically
evaluating information (in whatever brand) and applying some
disciplinary-or-other scrutiny and deduction to it. This is
surely why economists make the observations they so about
professional input steadily rising in price relative to the
consumer price index exactly because technology can never replace
some processes of expert (i.e. human) interaction.

I understand the excitement of hypertext to be about some
important issues of student discovery: by providing an environment
in which students discover their own paths through a mass of
information they break free of the textbook or lecture format,
in which the author/teacher dictates the path through same and
students can only follow. But in the rush to create Web-based
information environments and (not coincidentally) learning-at-
distance via videotape or whatever, who will speak to the
question and answer, dialog-model learning that most of us
at liberal-arts institutions understand to be our main purpose?
As of now the actual content of many hypermedia environments
still -- let's face it -- represents someone's preordained idea
of a learning environment, and is not yet a substitute for the
research-discovery process, let alone a serious primary-research
resource. My sympathies still lie with the frontline interaction
in the classroom, which has little (in my experience, long may it
continue this way) with mere dissemination of information. So
let the good hypertext times roll on, but let's no confuse that
with education.

Speaking only for myself,

Larry Poos
Dept of History
Catholic University
Washington, DC