Saturday, March 12, 2005

School reports and the internet

When I started reading weblogs I was amazed at how many good writers there are. Any fears I may have had disppeared that technology might make books and writing obsolete. Even people with crazy ideas can be pretty good writers. Of course, word processing programs are helpful, and without spell checking I would be in bad shape. (That is one of my complaints about my blog: no user-friendly spell checker. But it's tacky to complain about something free, so I don't let it bother me. I just keep the online dictionary tab on the toolbar and use it whenever a word looks suspicious.) But I digress.

The point is that writing and learning are alive and well. In fact, thanks to technology, books are proliferating more than ever. Niche markets are being served by modern publishing that would have ignored them a few years ago. It's tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that the internet now provides so much information that students no longer need to be hindered by doing reports inthe cumbersome way that reports have always been done, with bibliographies including off-line sources.

Fred Wilson's wife ran into an interesting school policy:

As our kids do projects for school, they are told that they can not use the Internet only but must use at least one book and possibly one magazine.

My response to that was to say, that's ridiculous. So, the question that I posed to the Principal of the school is why? He happens to be technologically savvy. I posed the question, doesn't it make sense to teach the kids to use the Internet for research more intelligently. Don't we agree that kids who are more Internet savvy will be better off for their future? Won't there be more filters in the future that will allow students to find high-quality data? Are libraries at colleges eventually going to become obsolete?

He made the point that kids tend to just try and get the work done. They need to spend time wrestling with their thoughts, their ideas and come to some understanding of what they are doing.

Fred Wilson comments:

[The principal] said the "instant gratification" (my words not his) of internet research was leading to "cut and paste" (again my words not his) reports and the reason he wants kids to use offline resources is that it forces them to take time and think and construct real reports.
Now that's a great point. He's right about that. I see it in Jessica's work to be honest. It's good, but it does feel a little manufactured.

But I wonder if technology isn't a better solution to that problem. What if instead of creating paper reports, the kids had to post their reseach and thoughts online, subject them to comment and editing online, and evolve them over time from raw research to thoughtful considered online papers?

Maybe that's too much change in the system to expect in too short a time period. But I think that embracing technology is ultimately the solution to the problem because like it or not, our kids are going to use digital technology to do their work. We'd better show them how to do it well or risk creating a generation of cut and pasters.

Good point.
I can remember paying someone else to type papers because my own typing was so slow and full of mistakes. In the days of carbon paper, that was a terrible handicap that had nothing to do with learning. Typewriters, like slide rules, have fallen by the wayside.

I can't imagine, though, that curling up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book can be topped by a keyboard and monitor. But what do I know?

No comments: