Posts tagged ‘Internet’

googolplex (the number, not the place, or company)

I read an interesting article over at the CBC today on the adverse effects of computers in the pre-university learning environment.

I don’t take issue with the overall point made in the article. I just think that perhaps a larger problem that confusing to and too is the problem of confusing a contraction of the word have with the word of because it indicates a greater misunderstanding of the language. And I would argue that using an advanced tool because it entertains or simplifies a process is the entire raison d’ĂȘtre of having the tools – there’s no way I would have spent the time to figure out how to use the convoluted array function in Excel if I didn’t have to actually use it.

(Aside: Word 2007 doesn’t pass the sentence “Sew bye virtue of spell Czech their wood seam too bee nut thing rung width work like this.”… at least not until you correct bye to by.)

The only thought I have to add on to the research point is this: the Internet is happening right now, whether we like the effects in schools or not. It would be nigh impossible to turn back the clock and insist that papers be written based solely on print sources – the students will then Google (it’s a verb now, just like Kleenex is a noun) the information and then specifically search for print sources stating the same (I’ve done it, I know other people who’ve done it).

The Internet is rapidly becoming the first place we turn to to look up information – what’s perhaps most important now is that we understand where that information comes from, and that we can verify its source up to a mutually (mutual in the sense of society) trusted entity. Printed sources were particularly trustworthy, since in order to be published, the author usually had to have a sufficient gathering of followers of the ideas being printed – trustworthiness defined insofar as those with the resources, clout and power to publish books. With the flick of a wand (and the strike of a match), entire schools of thought and knowledge could be wiped out, simply because they weren’t convenient at the time.

Of course, in our world now, where everyone and his sister can post new content online and have it crawled by computers who then archive it for at least the remainder of humanity’s computer-aided history, we have simply replaced the devastating impact of book-burning with yet a different one – a deluge of primarily useless monkey dung.

We as a species have come to the point where we have so much information that it is getting increasingly harder to build brick and mortar buildings to contain a sufficient cross section of our cumulative knowledge. I’m probably among the last generation to have had to use a card file in a major North American city’s public library system – and I remember that thing being packed so much that there was just barely enough room to peek at the contents of the card as you rifled through each drawer (I can only imagine what it would be like to be told: we got some new drawers. go redistribute the cards evenly.)

Now is not the time to coddle the next generation and say “learn to research things in a library first” (be it noted that finding things in a major city’s public library system today probably means “execute a query on a computerized search engine that is accessible from the Internet”). The reality is that they are going to be faced with reams of information at their fingertips, and they need to learn to sift it for precious metals.

So let there be more assignments in schools where the only allowable research is from the Internet. And when they come back citing this here blog or that there Wikipedia, hit em where it hurts.

In the grades.