Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Can You Smell Me Now?

March 18, 2013

Unless I’m greatly mistaken, you can’t smell me, though at the moment I’m much more fragrant than I was after an hour of vigorous exercise earlier in the day.

Technology does not yet allow you olfactory access to random bloggers.

Does that matter?

Let’s put aside, for the moment, some of the creepier implications and talk about what we’re doing to the kids.  That’s the topic Pamela Paul raises in today’s NYT, in an opinion piece titled, “Reading, Writing and Video Games”.   Ms. Paul makes a point I agree with.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that she agrees with me; I’ve been making the point since I was in grad school studying instructional technology and she was a kid playing video games.

And no, I’m not going to yield to the temptation to wax geezerly (geezerish?) about the good old days of growing up with no video games, although –  argh! –  it’s so darned hard to resist.


The point – and I salute Ms. Paul for making it – is that there is a large contingent of folks pushing ever harder to integrate computers into schools for ever younger kids.  The computer contingent holds the opinion that computer-based learning is both better (than more traditional kinds, one assumes) and downright necessary, even for kindergarteners.

As best I can tell, there are two groups pushing to raise a new generation of iTots.  The first is, of course, the computer /software/ technology industry (I’m talking to you, Bill Gates).  No big surprise there.  What do you expect them to say?

The second – and I have some compassion for this group – is the parents, who, having found something that actually keeps the kids engaged, pretty much have to hope like hell that it actually IS good for them, because the alternative is just too unthinkable.

In the opposing camp, we have the overwhelming majority of people who actually know something about learning – the teaching community – and an equally overwhelming body of research about child development.  The topic is not new.  The facts have not changed.

But let’s not bog down in facts for the moment.  Let’s get sensory.

Humans still have five senses.  In case you’ve forgotten, these are: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.   These faculties come in really, really handy for living in the actual world.

I know, I know, virtual reality, smell-o-vision, all these technologies with their splashy promises and truly astounding advances.  I’m as dazzled as the rest of you, really, I am.

But let me put this to you in human terms.  Circuitry is not chemistry.   Your computer screen doesn’t hear the collective heartbeats of other people around you.  The best simulations in the world can’t factor in the infinite range of stimuli we all encounter every day:  the way your hands feel, clasped around a cold glass on a hot afternoon; how, even though they stopped making Twinkies, and you stopped eating them after the age of 10, you can still taste that impossibly spongy cake with that so-called “crème” filling, just reading these words, so much so you can still smell the school cafeteria that sold that delicious crap.

Or what about the woman who steps into the elevator and fills the closed space with her perfume, so that the scent lingers on your sleeve all day long?  Will that scent haunt you all day, distracting you with amorous imaginings so that you blow the big presentation?  Or will it make you annoyed and sneezy?

I remember something I learned a long time ago.  In education classes we used to talk about poor kids who were raised in so-called “deprived” environments, but a wise professor pointed this out:  all natural environments are rich with sensory stimuli.   The only deprivation lies with kids whose adults don’t take the time to point out the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touchability of the real world around them.  If no one draws attention to those rich objects and inputs, children’s perceptions never get a chance to develop.  Their very intelligence is stunted by a lack of sensory stimulation.

And now we’re saying, “Oh, never mind, everything you need is on this little screen”?

Maybe one day soon there’ll be a scratch-and-sniff app for us bloggers.  Not only will you be able to smell me, but I can market my new perfume, a potent fragrance I’m concocting to capture the essence of what I’m feeling about all this.

I’m thinking of calling it “Appalled”.

Read Pamela Paul’s article HERE

As always, I invite you to visit my website and my YouTube channel.

Face time, NOT Facebook!

November 8, 2010

This weekend there was a lengthy article in the New York Times about an academic study that was recently done.  It turns out that many college students, even while living on campus, choose to “attend” their courses via the internet.

I’ve been saying for about 20 years now, to anyone who would listen that what we used to call “distance education” has some inherent flaws.  The thing is, it’s been astounding all along to me, the extent to which almost everyone has drunk the KoolAid about the total, perfect wonderfulness of computerized learning.

Stop the Madness!

Stop it, I say!

So, the study in question actually got around to comparing students who live on campus, who either show up physically in class, versus those who also attend class, but do so by sitting in their dorm rooms, watching on a screen.

Everyone was so very, very sure that there would be no difference in the performance of either group.  After all, the computer is beyond questioning, right?  All that convenience, that connectivity?


Turns out that people who actually show up in the physical classroom get better grades in the course.

I’m not even going to apologize for saying I told you so.

Now, I’m not talking here about those of you who are using the computer to get an education because you live far from a college campus, or because you are a working adult who can only fit in an education at odd hours.  To those people, I say, more power to you.  Computer-based education is clearly a decent alternative for those who have such constraints in their lives, and those who have the maturity and self-discipline to stick with it.

The reality is most 18-22 year olds haven’t yet arrived at this point.   Bless your hearts.  Note to 18-22 year olds here:  perpetual youth has become so worshiped in our society, I like to remind you of some of the qualities of maturity that are worth wanting to shoot for.

But I remember, years ago, when this sort of computer teaching & learning was just coming into vogue, one of the math professors on my campus dove in and started a calculus class on-line.

The drop-out rate was… 85%.

My point here is this, my young friends.  There is nothing like face to face interaction.  If I am teaching a course, I stand before you, challenged in every moment by your questions, your attention, your eyes, your body language.  If I am experienced, I know immediately, without anything other than non-verbal feedback, whether I’ve made my point, or just confused you.

The real human contact was always the whole thrill of teaching to me (and I was a professor of instructional technology, so I do know both sides of this.)  Sure there are benefits to computer based learning, for both students and teachers, and I know professors who are excellent in using technology – not to mention the fact that a girlfriend of mine was able to accompany me on an extended vacation once because she could continue teaching her class no matter what country she was in!

But oh, my young friends, the glories of human contact are still the best thing going!  Even in a formal setting, between teacher and student, incredible things can happen.  There is an amazing energy that happens in a setting that is created for, and driven by, curiosity and the thirst for knowledge.

And you don’t have to tell me that the classroom isn’t always like that, that sometimes, maybe too often, the classroom is presided over by bored or reluctant or uninspiring profs, and filled with students who are likewise, all dozing or texting or otherwise zoning out.

But that just shows the reality of how the group creates energy.

So here’s my little manifesto for today: go forth into the world! Put your pants on and plant yourself in that seminar seat, and give your prof a shot at opening new doors.  If he or she isn’t quite lighting things up enough, YOU be the spark.  Bring your full force of curiosity, wonder, enthusiasm, into the room.  You could mutter and complain and slouch out silently, but you can also stir the pot with a positive love of learning.  It can’t help but be infectious, in ways that will never, ever happen while you “participate” from your bedroom, all alone in the e-void.

Really, can you picture the great Socrates telling his young students, “no biggie, guys, you can just phone it in”?