Technology Shrinks the World and the Classroom

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Without wearing the title of “master of the obvious” let me state from the outset that most of you already know the impact of our technological advancements, even if we do seem to

take some of them for granted, much like we take gravity for granted.

Some cases in point include the fact that the number of televisions and telephones in each American household has increased tenfold in the past five decades, two-car families are more common than ever, and the majority of households today have two incomes.

These facts are all results of the increase in technological discoveries and advancements. At the same time, the telephone is considered a necessity, and the distance from home to economic opportunities seems to mandate access to one’s own form of transportation to work.

Previously I have posited that the two single-most impacting technological implementations on the advancement of human knowledge are Gutenberg’s moveable printing press and the personal computer equipped with the internet.

Because organized education is by it very nature imbued with apprehending and understanding knowledge it is immediately affected by any enhancement of its ability to deliver its product.

Hence, we have seen a multiplicity of technical implementations for the classroom from the devices and machines always associated with the “A-V Office” – that is, the “Audio Visual Office” for those of you who may have forgotten.

Today, the functions of the A-V Office have been superseded by the Office of the Director of Technology, or some similar position, and include far more than the overhead projector or, more recently, the VCR.

They include maintenance of internet access and regular maintenance of the computers which are in many classrooms.

The impact on education is undeniable.

Access to knowledge is as fast as your computer, whether it be dial-up, DSL, or cable modem.

When something happens around the world, we have it posted on the internet through a variety of news agencies and other cyber-outlets.

Mercy, we even have personal “Blogs” out there which are merely individual “editorial columns” for those with enough moxy to maintain their cites.

In an excellent article entitled “The Little Red Cyber-Schoolhouse” in Current Issues in Education, Jennifer Hendricks points out just how important these technological advancements have been for the classroom.

In effect, she observes that computers and the internet bring individual learning to a new level because learning as a human venture is quite expansive.

Hendricks says, “Classroom learning takes place not just in the stable, orderly, controlled, linear, sequential, mechanistically ‘lawful’ environment; but also in those situations which are open, fluid, dynamic, ever changing – even educationally ‘chaotic.’ The classroom environment molded on ‘means/ends’ determinism – and pedagogically predicated on a Modernist scientific worldview of prediction, certainty, and stability – is not the only environment in which learning takes place. A ‘learning’ classroom may be modeled on a postmodern worldview in which the uncertain combination of ambiguity, randomness, and contestable knowledge challenges the students (and teacher) to think.”

Each student has a different learning rate and a different learning style.

Some are fast readers, some cannot read well at all.

Some learn better by listening, some by seeing, and others by doing.

It is possible to accommodate each student’s learning needs

through the use of the personal computer equipped with internet access.

We have been able to build “schools without walls” through the internet.

We have given our children, traditionally protected from the realities of our world, access to that very world with all its warts and fleas.

And we have had to install some sort of censoring device, i.e., V-Chip,

to make certain that the moral vagaries of that world do not adversely affect their development.

But we have access to more knowledge – access which reaches farther than any of us could ever have imagined-and this has changed how we must teach

We have to take into account that even though the classroom has expanded to new horizons and is, therefore, not bound by the traditional buildings, halls, and campuses, learning is an internal activity, a private enterprise, and the best we, as pedagogists, can do is to become facilitators in a process best called “guided discovery.”

Socrates called this process of teaching “becoming a midwife to discovery”.

Its notions of self-discovery are not new, but our contemporary world has forced it to take on new dimensions – dimensions which transcend that little red schoolhouse.

Today, our youngsters are bombarded at home with all kinds of access to television programming.

They are bombarded by advertisers who convince them that their product is something children simply “must” have.

They watch news accounts of tragedies occurring immediately which generations before were removed from not only by space but, owing to time constraints of communications, by time as well.

This gives them a sense of “belonging” to the real and the “adult” worlds, but their processing mechanisms are not quite developed enough to fully comprehend the long-term effects of the events to which they were exposed.

This is where the teacher/pedagogist takes position and assists students in processing the information so that real conclusions can be reached – and this develops better thinking and discretion skills.

While our technology has, indeed, shrunk the world and access to it, the classroom is still that special time-space coordinate where children can lay out the information and make informed decisions about its application to their lives.

And the march toward more effective and efficient technology continues to advance.