mm170: Technology and Education — A Debate!

MUDGE’S Musings

Left-Handed Complement didn’t start as an education weblog, although we reserve the right to comment on any subject any time.

In retrospect, no special expectation for education topics was probably unrealistic on my part.

While under-credentialed, MUDGE has done more than his share of instruction in corporate environments over the past bunch of years, and indeed, earns a living doing a lot of training.

Under-credentialed. Highly successful. Go figure.

So it’s probably not an accident that education, especially as enhanced by technology, has been featured multiple times in this space over the past more than five months of its active existence.

For example, an entire brochure could be developed around our posts on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission

And the topic of education in general has not been ignored.

mm067.1: Why I love…
mm106: Are we failing.. geniuses?
mm110: Grading mayoral control…
mm160: UC Berkeley first to post..

All this is prelude to the point of this post: The Economist, the best magazine on the planet, is sponsoring a debate this week on their website, www.economist.com/debate:

economist

Technology and Education — This house believes that the introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education.

Now, an Economist debate is not your League of Women Voters or CNN haphazardly posturing beauty contest.

Traditional Oxford-style debate

Oxford-style debate is most famously practised by the Oxford Union, the debating society of Oxford University. The Oxford Union’s invigorating debating chamber has yielded generations of British parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists and other accomplished advocates.

The Oxford style of debate is characterised by its formality and structure. Debates are hosted by a moderator and take place between two teams, the “proposition” and the “opposition”.

It began Monday October 15th (today for MUDGE as this is written, yesterday in the UK) with erudite opening statements from the highly credentialed proponent and his equally qualified opposition. Readers can register to vote (and change their vote as the debate progresses — how cool is that?) during the course of the eight days of the debate.

My instincts are that technology can only help education.

But, I’ve always believed this, where education (and almost any other field of human endeavor) is concerned.

After all, at heart, I am a technologist, fascinated even by the history of technology.

A personal story comes to mind, bubbling up after nearly 30 years.

It’s the late ’70s, and your future correspondent / education expert is, of course, under-credentialed but always creative (at least in his own mind).

His two (at the time) children are just beginning elementary school, and through the Parent Teachers Association, future-MUDGE is invited to a curriculum review session held for interested parents under the auspices of the school district administration.

This was (and is) a community that took (takes) immense pride in its efforts to provide high quality education to its students. How successful the effort is, is a matter of constant controversy, which seems, sorry to say for a community prideful of its integration record, to line up on racial boundaries.

Digression aside, this discussion is arithmetic and mathematics for the early grades. Remember it’s the late ’70s, portable calculators are coming down in price every moment, but still seem exotic, especially in a school environment.

I suggest, “How about issuing every child a calculator? This way, their understanding of higher order math problems won’t get hung up by concern over errors of simple arithmetic.”

The answer: Interesting idea. Of course we have no budget for calculators. It’s all we can do to make sure we have sufficient books for our students.

Here’s the gold-plated (for 1978) suggestion:

Talk to a text book publisher (and this is a town influential with publishers):

Suggest that they bind a calculator (they’re coming down in price every day!) into the arithmetic/mathematics text book.

This way, the district would be purchasing books, satisfying all statutory requirements, and our children could learn math without tripping over rote arithmetic.

Of course the over-credentialed functionaries never took the suggestion seriously. After all, what did future-MUDGE, a mere civilian, know about EDUCATION?

So one wonders what use is actually gotten out of computers in today’s thirty years on elementary school classrooms.

A curmudgeon might guess: not very much.

Read the Proposition in the Economist debate, and the statistics seem to favor that depressing observation.

Oddly, for MUDGE, I remain optimistic about the application of technology to education, and a fervent supporter of One Laptop Per Child.

Just the way the cellular telephone leapfrogged more than 100 years of ferociously expensive and painfully achieved infrastructure development to provide cheap and instant communications to even the remotest developing world village, so in the same paradigm shifting way can OLPC do the same for that village’s schoolhouse, and all this planet’s schoolhouses.

But, follow that debate this week in The Economist (and isn’t this a useful and most timely discussion for them to sponsor?). Go over to www.economist.com/debate and check it out.

You could even tell them MUDGE sent you (not that they’d ask, or care!).

And remember, as the giving season looms (the pumpkins are out, after all!), why not add OLPC’s “Give 1, Get 1” to your planning (orders to be taken Nov. 12–26); and as MUDGE recommends, just make that slight adjustment and you can call it “Give 1 (there), Give 1 (here).”

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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6 Responses to mm170: Technology and Education — A Debate!

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