|Bowers, C.A. (1988). Toward a New Understanding of Technology and Language (Chapter 2, pp. 23-38). The Cultural Dimensions of Educational Computing. New York: Teachers College Press.|
September 17, 1997
I teach Grade 3. Interesting thought processes can occur when you deal with children all day long - their concerns becomes your concerns, their problems become yours. Sometimes, this environment is fertile grounds for philosophical pondering which would otherwise remain unexplored. I found myself in the midst of one of these musings with the custodian at the school one morning this week. We were discussing the recent popularity with students of “Tamagotchis”, “NanoBabies”, and “DinoPets”. These are all different kinds of “virtual pets” which need to be electronically cared for, or else they “die”. We began thinking... What if someone designed a computerized version of a virtual pet? A “virtual, virtual pet”, if you wish. Would that not constitute a double negative, which would logically cancel each other out to produce a positive -- a “real” pet?
Somehow, I do not think that Ihde (1979, as cited in Bowers 1988) had this type of discussion in mind when he explained how technology transforms human experience, yet it is a perfect example of how it does. Ihde talks about how computers alter the nature of our experiences. According to Ihde, aspects of human experience can be either amplified or reduced by technology. Technology can amplify certain aspects of the experience, or it can reduce them. Regardless, the new experience is fundamentally different than it would have been had the technology not been used. It is different. It has changed. It is not the same. If technology has so pervaded our everyday lives, finding its way into functions and objects of which we are not even aware, how are we to objectively assess its impact? What has it amplified? What has it reduced? I am trying to think about how technology has changed the learning experience for the students in my class. Amplified experiences include transcription of thought (through keyboarding), distance communication (through the WWW and email), access to factual information (e.g.. CD-ROMS, Internet), and sensory experiences (through the use of multimedia). Reduced experiences include manual calculations in math, handwriting skills in communication, and tactile construction of non-computerized displays and projects. Referring back to the virtual pets that were mentioned earlier, one could argue that technology has been effectively utilized to demonstrate to young children that care, responsibility, and effort are required when owning a pet. On the other hand, it is obvious that the real experience of death is an experience that is reduced by the technology.
One criticism that Bowers (1988) has with computers as experience generators
is that due to the rigid and objective nature of computers, children will
not be aware that, “the data represent an interpretation influenced by
the conceptual categories and perspective of the person who ‘collected’
the data or information” (p.33). How is this different than the 8-year-old
who learns from the teacher (human experience)? The transmission of information
from teacher to student is fraught with bias as a result of the underlying
assumptions, values, and beliefs held by the teacher! Indeed, the quote
above, taken in another context, could apply directly to this model. Content
is biased by whatever, or whomever, delivers the message.