the connected family
Wed, 23 Oct 1996 21:13:45 -0400
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This is an editorial published originally on the oped page of the Middlesex
News, and written by Daniel Greenberg. It seems a fitting companion piece
for the Seymour Papert interview. Mimsy Sadofsky
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It cannot be long before the Information Superhighway will bring abo=
fundamental changes in the way our society educates children. These chan=
ges have
nothing to do with any particular set of goals for education, or any spec=
pedagogical theory. They stem from a global sea-change in the way inform=
ation is
stored, retrieved, and transmitted.
Currently, the paraphernalia of schooling fall into several categori=
es, all directed
at serving a client population of children aged about four to eighteen, a=
nd in many
cases extending in age to twenty-two or even higher. The overall purpose=
is to take
these clients in at an age when they are first ripe for instruction, and =
to keep them as
clients as long as necessary in order to provide them with training that =
will fit them
out with the skills they will require to lead productive lives.
The people entrusted with the training are professional teachers, wh=
o themselves
were trained (when they were clients of the system) to transmit the neces=
sary skills to
children. The teachers are for the most part not leading practitioners i=
n the domains in
which they offer instruction, but are generalists who do their best to te=
ach material
which they usually have not thoroughly mastered.
The place in which the training takes place is called "school", and =
is a physical
structure to which students and teachers are usually confined during the =
training period
("school hours"), in order to provide a dedicated environment with minima=
l distractions
and with maximal opportunity for controlling and monitoring the progress =
of the
instruction. Schools have student populations that range in size from a =
few hundred to
a few thousand, and these populations, in turn, are divided into smaller =
("classes"). The prevailing wisdom is that the system works better when =
the classes
are smaller -- that is, when the group that is working together to learn =
something is
limited in size. For all practical purposes, this means that a child, du=
ring his/her years
in school, is directly exposed to a very limited number of other students=
, most of
whom have interests and abilities that are different than his/hers.
The tools used in the training are a variety of items housed in the =
structure --
books, laboratories, electronic devices, and other sundry equipment appro=
priate to the
subjects being taught. The quality of these tools depends on the experti=
se of the
people who purchase and maintain them, and on the funds available for pur=
chase and
upgrading. Even in the best of circumstances, it is almost never the cas=
e that these
tools are consistently current enough, or good enough, to be on the cutti=
ng edge of the
fields being studied.
Enter the Information Superhighway.
Exit most of the conditions that prevail today in education.
To begin with, the clients -- children -- are rapidly gaining full a=
ccess to the
I.S., and at ever younger ages. It is only a matter of time before most =
everywhere, is linked together. Furthermore, the intensity of the linkag=
es is quickly
rivalling that of direct face-to-face contact. It will soon be possible =
to have hookups
that are in real time (like the phone) and that include the transmission =
of visual images
and of information during, before, and after the direct interaction.
This means, among other things, that people -- including children --=
will be able
to have meaningful relationships with other people of all ages, located a=
nywhere on
earth. In particular, children will be able to find and interact with ot=
hers who share
their interests, however esoteric these interests may be; and they will b=
e able to find as
many different groups of friends and colleagues as they wish. Most impor=
tant, the I.S.
enables children to develop interactive skills to a degree unimaginable i=
n pre-I.S. days.
When it comes to learning and teaching, the sky is the limit, quite =
literally. The
I.S. will enable everyone to seek out people of any desired level of comp=
anywhere, as well as to find others who will join in and learn together. =
To be sure,
there will still be plenty of use for people whose specialty is explainin=
g things clearly,
but the preference will clearly be for expertise rather than rhetorical o=
r pedagogical
skill. In a very real sense, the entire category of "professional teache=
r" will all but
disappear, as people will go the source rather than to secondary intermed=
iates. This is
not the first time a whole class of highly trained people has been render=
ed obsolete by
a technological advance in the transmission of information. For example,=
scribes were once essential in every society, until the advent of printin=
g made it
possible and even desirable that literacy be widespread.
Needless to say, the role of the "place of learning" will also chang=
dramatically. Indeed, the place of learning will be wherever the child h=
as access to the
I.S., and not just a building occupied during "school hours". It remains=
to be seen how
society will provide locations for children to get together socially, to =
meet, to play, to
converse tete a tete, and just to hang out together; and also, how such p=
laces will be
managed. All sorts of models for this kind of situation are already in e=
xistence, and
the variety of possibilities will surely increase dramatically as people =
increasingly aware of the new reality.
As for tools of learning, the ones we have today will look like mere=
relative to those available on the I.S. For starters, every child will h=
ave at their
fingertips the whole of recorded and stored human knowledge, wherever it =
resides in hard copy. But that is only the beginning. The possibilities=
are quite
limitless, and currently quite unimaginable, for creating new kinds of kn=
owledge by
interacting with what exists, and transforming it, in ways that are far e=
asier and at the
same time far more complex than anything available today.
And then there is an additional factor that will change the face of =
education: =

the adult factor. The I.S. will enhance the way in which all people of a=
ll ages
continue to be active learners all their lives, as well as active teacher=
s. Many, if not
all, of the current educational distinctions based on age ("child", "adol=
escent", "post-
graduate", etc.) will disappear, their place taken by distinctions based =
on interest, on
skill level, on personality, and on other newly-created social differenti=
ations. What the
Information Superhighway will bring about is the transformation of all of=
society into
an instrument of continuing education.=1A=