The Web of Language

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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news

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  • From pencils to pixels, technologies won't fix our schools

Comments May 8, 2007 5:18 pm

I think any writer should be proud to coin the phrase, "From pencils to pixels" and I was glad to see you up date your fine essay in this blog. Just by chance, my classes have final meetings this weeks. I think your blog is a great "live" update from an author my students have learned to "use" to deepen their ideas in essays about education, technology, and exploring cyberpspace. I intend not only to send them the link but will also suggest reading "The Web of Language" as a way to continue our good learning experiences together.


Thanks again,

Will Hochman

Southern Connecticut State U

Reply to at 5:18 pm May 8, 2007 6:18 pm

(a bit of a rant here): I found it interesting that the only technology cited for production (the typewriter) was shown, in that particular study, to increase test scores.  Yet, the rest of the conclusions drawn by those now deciding that computers aren't helping our students do better spoke only of the computer as a means of consumption.

Even the supporters seem to be missing the opportunity they have: "Supporters of computers in education are responding to this story byblaming teachers for not understanding or correctly deploying thelatest technology.  The computer brings the world to each student’s desktop as no library ever could, they explain."

Library? Sure, a computer is a great tool for finding information.  But it's also a great tool for multimedia production.  As with all those other "gee-whiz" technologies cited, seeing computers as just another device through which to sit back and take in information is misguided--simply focused on consumption rather than production--reproducing all the ways we see other reception media.

I also, find it interesting that when "they [the computers] weren’t crashing, computers didn’t raise students’ scores butinstead offered them new ways to cheat, download pornography, and hackinto local business sites."

If only the schools could have found a way to channel the energy put into cheating and hacking with some other sort of production.  

"Instead, we should be wondering, why have schools repeatedly boughtinto technology when no educational machine's performance never matchedits promise?"  I can't speak for the past.  Maybe it's simply that we always know we could be doing better as educators, and we're willing to experiment with new things.

But I do think the computer can be a tool for change, if we stop thinking about our student as empty vessels needing to be filled with knowledge ("look at how easy it is to find scholarly articles!") and, rather, begin to see them as smart and creative people with the potential to produce wonderful things with their cultural resources and technology. 

I'm lucky to work with many intelligent undergraduates each semester and see how energized they become when they learn, for example, to write a Wikipedia entry.  They get to see what it's like to produce for a potentially world-wide audience and experience a community of knowledge construction working together to set and maintain standards.  And during the process they learn how to evaluate (and consume) information in this space.  I can't see any way of making this happen with pencils and paper, no matter how fantastic the teacher.

So, in the end, I agree with this point: "Supporters of computers in education are responding to this story byblaming teachers for not understanding or correctly deploying thelatest technology."

We need to look to those educators that have already found engaging ways to deploy the latest technology and take what we can for use at other locations.  I don't know what the situation(s) were for those mentioned, but perhaps they did the best the could with the knowledge they already had and the training they received.  I agree that "the answer won’t involve taking the human element out of the learning equation."  At this time, the 21st century, it seems education needs both the human and the machine because neither is going away any time soon.


Reply to at 6:18 pm