12.0444 limits of distance learning

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 20 Feb 1999 20:54:24 +0000 (BST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 12, No. 444.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Sat, 20 Feb 1999 20:52:25 +0000
From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
Subject: Re: 12.0438 apprenticeship & the limits of distance learning

Willard and HUMANISTS:

I was very grateful for the quote from Michael Mahoney on traditions of
apprenticeship vs. distance learning. Isn't "distance learning" a phrase
of the same ilk as "international law" or your other favorite oxymoron?
This is not to say that given a tool and a manual, a motivated person
can't figure out some things by her- or himself. But there's a
difference between skills so gained, or the canned information acquired
through media, and the broadening, critical and self-critical
intelligence gained by real learning, which seems always to be personal
and social.

Intelligent software would be really great at teaching us about --
intelligent software. The award-winning computer game, Civilization, is
excellent at presenting us with a model of "civilization." We are only
able to learn from it if we can bring the same critical intelligence to
bear as when we read Gibbon or Tolstoy, lifting ourselves out of the
soak to ask questions about it. If we do so, we may find it is not so
comprehensive, well-thought, "dynamic" and "interactive" with respect to
our questions, as those works of literature.

Aren't our tools more like cooking equipment (runcible spoons, garlic
presses, descriptions of fine meals in glossy magazines) than anything
like assistants or (goodness!) companions in intellectual endeavor?
Never yet has a computer done anything that a programmer hasn't. Even in
those computer-assisted mathematical proofs, or master chess programs,
the programmers have solved the problems in principle before the
computer could be let loose to solve them in the event.

But readers of this list don't need to be lectured on this point. Maybe
I should ask, what do you mean by "intelligent software"? What
requirements would such software address? The capability to ask a
well-observed question, or trace the implications of an argument, or
find a non-threatening way of exploring an area where a student
encounters emotional resistances?

-- Wendell

Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

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