Thursday, January 26, 2006

Clifford Stoll's challenge to elearning

Probably one of the most consistent voices to question the value of the Internet in the classroom is Clifford Stoll. Recently, he debated Carol Twigg, National Center for Academic Transformation about the value of computers in the classroom.

Here are a couple of excepts from Stoll's comments:

I'm a reactionary. Technology is fun to play with. There are lots of cool gizmos. But does it belong in the classroom? Are our students well served by it? Increasing I feel that the answer is no....

I want to see in students curiosity, enthusiasm, a yearning to work hard, a willingness to confront and grapple with interesting questions. If you want to destroy curiosity, you couldn't think of a better way to do it than hook somebody up to a fire hose of information, so that any question they could possibly have would be answered just by typing ""

So, what's the effect of computers in the classroom? They take our mind off what should be happening in a class. They point us at a cool-looking screen with flashy graphics and let us shop for sneakers while the teacher is speaking....

If you want a quality education, it's going to be expensive. The same thing applies to education as applies to food. You can have cheap food, you can have good food, you can have fast food. If you want fast education, and you treat your students as if they are items on a conveyor belt, you can do it. But your quality will suffer, however you measure that.

What I want to get out of a learning experience is inspiration. A sense of direction, a sense of, Hey, I'm connected to a human being.

I've yet to see one Web site that's inspiring. I was weaned on filmstrips in the 1960s, but I can't even remember the titles of three of them, while I remember every teacher that I had at Buffalo Public School 61. I remember every teacher I had at Millard Fillmore Junior High School. I remember my teaching assistant in introductory freshman English.

What's the most important thing in a classroom? It's a motivated student and a good teacher. Anything that comes between them — whether it's a filmstrip, an instructional movie, an educational video, a cool high-definition Web site, or an iPod — may seem like lots of fun to students. But will it be good for learning? Will it be good for inspiration? Will students remember it? (from the Chronicle of Higher Education, December 9, 2005, p. B12-14.)

It is easy to agree with many of these comments by Stoll. But haven't we all also seen really bad teaching? Stoll says that he has never seen an inspiring film strip or website, but is it possible to build a website that engages students in a topic and then build interaction tools that engage that student who are also interested in that same topic. Can you only be inspired by people? Can you name a movie that inspired you? A book? A research study? Lots of things inspire us besides people?

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