Friday, February 03, 2006

Good or bad? Discuss!

I suspect that many of you will have seen the posters that AOL have all over the place at the moment with the question:
"Does the Internet make children lazy or smart? /Discuss"
The poster has a picture of a child wearing a dunce's cap. Do you know the one I mean? I was talking about it with my wife the English teacher in the car this morning. She said that, when she was in Primary school, she was picked to take part in a debate. The subject of the debate? It was asking if television makes children smart or stupid!

Plus ca change... What else did we discuss in the past? "Do pencils make children lazy or smart?" What new technology will we question in the future?

Tags: | |

P.S. I had a quick Google to see if anyone else was talking about this, or to see if there was an image of the poster I could direct people to. Didn't find the poster, but did find a marketing blog, Offbrand, who questions the cynical motives behind AOL's campaign. Not sure who writes this blog, but his/her post title is much better than mine!

13 comments:

Chris said...

My father (an English teacher of some note) refused to have a TV in the house till I had finished my degree. He thought it would be too much of a distraction from the reading which was so much a feature of our life as a family. He was right, of course, and it still does. Almost as much as the Internet!
Does the answer to AOL's question, cynically used or not, not depend on priorities?

David said...

Hello Chris

I wonder what your digital native son makes of this argument? I know that I like to work with music playing (something that my father could never understand) and that my daughters seem able to deal with an even higher level of potential distraction than I ever could.

I'm guessing that with my father's generation it was radio that was going to lead to the downfall of education. Will there always be something that the older generation doesn't understand about the way the next generation works?

john said...

Hi David,
Well I approve od Dunce Hats more than AOL;-)

Raymond Soltysek said...

I think a lot of resentment towards new technology might have something to do with a fear of letting go. After all, if you hold all the information, you want to keep it to yourself, and any technology which broadens access - especially a technology you don't understand - will appear a threat. Caxton wasn't exactly universally welcomed, and his really was the technological revolution that widened access to information for the masses.

Still, Jon’s got a point – I wouldn’t necessarily want to applaud AOL as revolutionaries spreading democracy and universal suffrage around the world!

David said...

Hello John

I think it was the Offbrand post I linked to that described AOL as Internet Lite. This amused me. :-)

Hello Raymond

I think the Internet, more than many other technologies, signal a shift away from the teacher as the sole gatekeeper of all knowledge. I guess that could cause some people to feel "fear". It's not just education that is feeling the Internet effect - I heard Alan November talk about this in relation to doctors reacting with fear whenever a patient enters their surgery clutching printouts from the Internet.

P.S. Am I the recipient of your first Blog comment?

Raymond Soltysek said...

'fraid not, David - you're not my only blogging pal! Have found a couple of book blogs that are quite interesting, such as http://www.bookblog.net/ (how do hyperlink that?).

Still, it's all because of you in the first place!

Duncan_ said...

Raymond says that "any technology which broadens access - especially a technology you don't understand - will appear a threat."
But access to what? I often find myself reaching for a book, to confirm (or -- more often? -- refute) what I've read on the internet. It's certainly broadening access to something ... but what, precisely?

David said...

Hello Duncan

But is every book trustworthy? My original post made the comparison to television. Few would argue that television gives you access to loads of rubbish, but that does not deny that it has the potential to educate and inform and that sometimes it does so in a very powerful and effective way. So do we deny access to television because a lot of it is rubbish? Do we deny access to books because some of them are untrustworthy? Do we deny access to the Internet because... you get the picture!

My answer is the Internet doesn't in itself make people smart or stupid, but that we can teach people to be smarter about the way they use it. For example, an absolute basic of any research is to check your sources. This is exactly what you do when you reach for your books after reading something on the Internet. This is a very important skill to develop and may merit a post all to itself at some point in the future. :-)

Anonymous said...

AOL's ads on TV do seem quite strange.

(See www.aol.com/discuss)

The ads don't appear to advertise AOL just the above web page!

Also, I feel that having a discussion about the pros/cons on the internet is rather one-sided as people who hate the internet will almost invariably choose not to use it (unless forced).

For an example of the pitfalls of the internet, look no further than http://www.internetisshit.org/
I posted this URL on FirstClass a while back. (No offence is intended to any bloggers but the author makes some good points :)

I guess that the internet is just like any other tool that can be used for good or evil. However, when trusted computing takes over, things will get a little more interesting when you are restricted to what you can and can't do.

However, I have gone a bit off topic, but if the internet in its current form is bad how do we change it? Maybe at the moment it's the best of a lot of bad options.

Comments would be welcome.

Dave (Turnbull) - haven't got round to signing up to this blog malarky yet ;)

Video on "trusted computing"
http://www.lafkon.net/tc/

Raymond Soltysek said...

This is a good discussion!

I always remember the example Alan November gave about his students doing a search for Martin Luther King and coming up with martinlutherking.org - have a look. What student wouldn't trust a site with a name like that!

I agree with David - we should be teaching our pupils a lot more about how to read and evaluate what they find on the internet. It's part of the literacy skills they require in the 21st century. However, too often teachers - usually from other subjects like my own, English - concentrate on the mechanics and procedures of the internet - "This is how to do a search..." "This is how to bookmark a page...", "This is how you cut and paste to Word...". They don't mean harm, but usually focus on this because that's where their own skill and comfort levels are.

Duncan_ said...

Cut and paste to Word, Raymond?!! My current placement school has a rule that all pupils must paraphrase information that they find on the internet; i.e., type it again! At least that ensures that it has passed through their brains en route to their coursework assignments.

I take your point about books, David. How do we know that a book is trustworthy? Personally, I check book reviews, but how trustworthy are they? We used to be able to assume that if a publisher had put up the cash and gone to the trouble of publishing something, then it was probably at least half decent. But this seems less common nowadays. In the field that I know best, archaeology (field! geddit?), many publishers are keen to pump out titles which jump on the latest bandwagon (we had a flurry of Gladiatorial books a few years back; then Crusade books, and there are hundreds of Alexander the Great books).

Sorry, this is going on a bit, but I wanted to suggest that we have adopted the internet, wholesale, as an educational resource, in a way that television was never adopted in classrooms. Nor books: we don't set pupils loose in the Mitchell Library and tell them to browse at will. (Okay, perhaps a bad example, but you get the idea, I hope.)
The answer, as you suggest, is to teach pupils how to use the internet sensibly. My only reservation is that that's an awfully tall order!

David said...

"we have adopted the internet, wholesale, as an educational resource, in a way that television was never adopted in classrooms."

True, but the Internet is significantly more powerful and has the potential to give access to information when it is needed rather than when the broadcaster chooses.

"Nor books: we don't set pupils loose in the Mitchell Library and tell them to browse at will."

Again, true, but what we do is teach children how to use libraries, where the catalogue is, how to use a book's index, etc.

"The answer, as you suggest, is to teach pupils how to use the internet sensibly. My only reservation is that that's an awfully tall order!"

Absolutely! However, it is a challenge that we can't afford to igore given the information age in which we live and in which the children in our schools will have to navigate whether we like it or not.

David said...

"...type it again! At least that ensures that it has passed through their brains en route to their coursework assignments."

Not necessarily. You have heard the old definition of a lecture? It's where the lecturer's notes become the student's notes without passing through the mind of either! :-)