Russ Hunt
St. Thomas University

Rose-Coloured Glasses

Exploring the Role of Computer Technology in Learning and Teaching

Keynote Session (not "Address") for the St. Mary's University
"Computer Technologies for Teaching" workshop

25 August 1997

[This is the outline version; for a more readable one which includes written transitions and notes, click here]

[to go to the continuation of this discussion on a HyperNews Forum, click here]

First Part: Is there a baby in all this bathwater?

Bill Gates says it's revolutionary.

Frank McKenna says it's exciting.

The New Brunswick Education Department says it'll enhance learning experiences.

Nicholas Negroponte, on the Being Digital website, isn't quite so sure.

But Negroponte does admit that the triumph of the digital age is inevitable.

The Financial Post says we're all doing it.

But here's a bit from Clifford Stoll, one of the most well-known skeptics about the Internet.

You may have seen the recent (July) Atlantic Monthly article by Todd Oppenheimer summarizing some reasons to be skeptical about the role of computers in education

As a digest report available on the ERIC database points out, there are problems that go way beyond simply making the technology available, either to students or to their teachers (us). And a website at the University of Oregon suggests some serious considerations to bear in mind when expecting to use electronic resources in teaching.

And time to mess around with computers doesn't always result in miraculous leaps of learning and understanding. Here's a story from the EDUPAGE list, last July.

To promote thinking about, and sharing, people’s experiences, here’s what I propose (and this is not, I promise you, the kind of short, pointless "writing exercise" workshop leaders often conduct -- we’re going to allow enough time for people -- and me -- to learn from this):

OK, let’s talk about what just happened. Among the issues I’d predict might come up are these.


Second part: Text in teaching and learning (electronic and otherwise)

It's often remarked that the media are killing our ability to deal with visible language -- with "print," with books and texts. One of the most passionate statements of this view is that of Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies, a nostalgic lament for the ways of reading (and thinking, and living) which he sees as being irrevocably dislodged by the technologies of the media -- predominantly the computer, and especially hypertext.

So what really are the drastic differences between print on paper, bound in a volume, and print in a database displayed on a screen? Sven Birkerts thinks about this a great deal in his book. Here's an example, from among many:

Here's a chart displaying the beginning of some thinking about the relationships between these two technologies for dealing with combinations of letters.

I'm going to put you back to work again. This time, there are just two steps.

While we're doing that, here a little more of Birkerts' nostalgia.

Using electronic text for learning and teaching

Here are some of the ways in which I've been trying to help my students become readers (in Birkerts' sense of the word, but in mine, too).

Here are some of the consequences I think I find from using these strategies

And here's a conclusion, of sorts.

I've set up a continuation of this discussion on a HyperNews Forum, like the one used for Will's Virtual Restoration and Eighteenth Century Coffee House. To go there, click here. To write me (if your browser's configured for mail) click here.]

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