Higher Education in the Information Age

The Future Student

Panel Discussion:
Kathy O'Connell
Michael Caputo
Tina Carroll
Adam Flicker
Sasha Kinney


Michael Eleey: Welcome back. I've been watching my teleprompter for the technical cue and just got it. Curtains have been closed, as opposed to open, and the show goes on. We turn now to "The Future Student" segment of the symposium. We're fortunate to have with us four future students, all in the 8th grade. They are Sasha Kinney of Drexel Hill from Drexel Hill Middle School, Tina Carroll of Philadelphia from Shaw Middle School, Michael Caputo of Lower Merrion from Bala Cynwyd Middle School, and Adam Flicker also from Bala Cynwyd Middle School. A few weeks ago Tina, Sasha, Adam, and Michael participated in a focus group we commissioned in preparation for this symposium. Twelve 6th, 7th, and 8th graders from 6 school districts in the Philadelphia area participated in this focus group. In a few moments you'll see a short video condensed from the record of that session. Following the video, Tina, Sasha, Adam, and Michael will explore with Kathy O'Connell the role computers and networks are playing in their lives and speculate a bit on what they might find when they arrive on our campus in the year 2001.

Kathy O'Connell is Producer and Host of Kid's Corner, a nationally recognized radio program produced at Penn's non-commercial radio station, WXPN-FM. Kid's Corner, which Kathy originated nearly ten years ago, features a live mix of modern popular children's music, interviews, science segments, and call-in quizzes. It's received every significant national and regional radio award, including the Armstrong Award.

Following the student's conversation, Dean Susan Fuhrman of Penn's Graduate School of Education, will provide some color commentary and lead a general discussion to close this segment of the symposium. The George and Diana Weiss Professor of Education, Dean Fuhrman is also the founding Director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. After teaching history at the secondary level, she received a joint Ph.D. from Columbia University and Teacher's College in political science and education, taught politics and education at Teacher's College, and joined the Eagleston Institute of Politics at Rutgers in 1979 where she was professor of education policy in '89 until coming to Penn in '95. From '94 and '95 she was also professor in the department of public policy at Rutgers. She serves on a number of national advisory panels, and was a member of the K-12 Task Force of the Clinton-Gore transition team.

Now let's take a look at the video from our focus group.

Video-voices separated by paragraphs:

Probably most of my time is spent on-line. I have an Internet account. I have a web page I designed.

I realize that if you want somebody to go on your Web page the key is to have good graphics.

I learned everything just from poking around at it until I figured everything out.

I also read the help files and lots of programs until I figure out how to do stuff with them.

The Web page was probably the hardest thing to learn. I got a book on html and tags and coding and stuff like that.

I think the most exciting thing is when a program you wrote works.

[General agreement.]


I was up all night one night just working on it, and then the next day it was so great to see it, how it was all done and everything. It looked like a real professional Web page.

I don't know. Like when an artist's painting turns out really good, something like that.

Last year we were responsible for writing a book on the Macintosh computers. So everything we do now is on computers.

I guess the most exciting part is the most convenient part about it.

And you can get more information more precisely off your computer than like you can from a book. I mean you have to manually copy down the information from the book, whereas you can just select it, copy it, paste it, and then do some text alterations so you're not totally plagiarizing.

In our classes, we're running businesses, you know, doing all that stuff, and money's actually coming out of the businesses.

Yeah I like--I used to go to the library every week, and then when I got into the computer I realized I hadn't gone for over a year.

I like how on the computer you can save and erase it. You can just go right back to it. You don't have to like, you know, you don't have to go searching for some pieces of paper and stuff like that.

I guess things get on my nerves because they get broke and they mess up and you know like Error 28 and Error 46 just screw up. So just stick with the paper and the pencil.

The teachers, they pretty much don't know how to use the computer.

As of right now, I'm teaching adult staff and fellow classmates how to use the computer.

The teachers, they get paid to go to these computer literacy classes, and they come back not knowing a thing.

I did a lot of things for my principal on the computer. So now it's like a trend. They always come after me, looking for me to do stuff.

Everybody in my family keeps coming to me whenever they don't know what to do.

I tried to teach my mom, but it didn't quite work.

I tried to teach my family, but they're still looking for the power switch.

I taught my dad how to use our computer. At first he was kind of like really stubborn and kept on saying that he wasn't going to get it. But he finally got it after he read a couple hundred books. But I believe that using the computer, it requires a way of thinking that's like a new kind of logic. He hasn't quite gotten it yet.

I know it's changed my way of living. I used to kind of be pensive, and all information came to me somehow, you know?

But in the computer lab you can go explore, and they can teach you so many things that, you know what I mean? It's so open.

I don't know why, but I learn better at the computer. I prefer looking at a screen.

The screen is in front of your face, and you have what would be both your book and your writing area in the same place. It's like you can access both aspects at the same time, and quickly.

Well like in a book there's not this place where you'll click and they'll show you a video or where you can hear a sound clip.

The main reason we got our computer in 6th grade when I got it was because I couldn't... like I don't write. It would take me to 12 or one in the morning just to get my homework done, and I can word process for like 5 hours a day and I'm perfectly fine with it.

And on the screen you also have that sense of real time but not real time. It's all changeable, but not kind of like how on a piece of paper if you make an error or something, you have to erase it with a pencil. So you scratch the paper or rip it or something and you have to totally rewrite the whole thing.

I still write on paper, try to think the way I think, and paper will just do it for me better than computers.

I'd rather get information from a computer encyclopedia, but I don't think using Netscape and looking at, you know, stuff that won't make a difference in a week and a half isn't as kind of enriching as reading a book. And like a lot of time I'm thinking, you know, am I the product of what I'm doing on this--you know, am I making the Web page, or is the Web page making me?

At times I begin to hate technology because it seems like its making us this...

Sometimes it makes me look dumb. We use our brain more when we go looking in books and we go searching for information then when it's just right there in front of our faces.

And that's better?


I think our generation is I don't know, somehow we have like a built in logic system. It just helps us out a lot better when you see things electronically. I think my needs are going to stay pretty much the same as they are now is to keep absorbing information and never really stop.

I think that the older you get, I think you need to do more hands-on-like I always thought learning would be better if you go out into the community. If you go out into the neighborhood, you go out into the community, you work positions. Like if you want to be a reporter you stand next to another reporter, you know, do her footsteps. Going on-line, you know, you just get opinions and stuff like that, but if you go and you experience it for yourself, not you know from someone else's position.

Yeah, I agree with how she says the hands on experience is really important, versus what you can get on the computer and what you can use.

Senior year and the junior year they're going to have you looking for colleges, and on-line you can find like different colleges on-line...

What the requirements are, what the tuition is, what is actually going to be taught there, and maybe who some of the teachers and some of the students who have been there.

Basically what they specialize in and everything that I need to know to live there, like tuition or requirements to get in there or the classes.

Definitely tuition, which is steadily going up every year.

I think tuition is just plain too high. And then you get computers in there and electricity and that's going to make it even more higher.

[End of video]

Kathy O'Connell: I want to reintroduce Adam, Michael, Tina, Sasha, four of the panelists from the initial focus group. The first thing I want to address is, you have all this information coming at you, unlimited information and opinions. Why bother going to college at all? Is that still part of your future? Sasha-

Sasha Kinney: I think it's more interesting to learn from teachers and other people, and also something that if you don't understand they can explain it to you. And there's ways to learn from college. You're exposed to different things that you might be exposed to further in life.

O'Connell: How, specifically, Tina, could going to a university give you more help in becoming a reporter in your future? All the information's right there on the screen.

Tina Carroll: Well, I prefer going--I'll just say, it's a chance to get away from home. To give you a chance to, you know, explore different things. Like the reporters in Philadelphia maybe have a different technique than someone far out maybe in Texas somewhere or California.

O'Connell: Let's talk about that built-in logic system, Adam. Let's get right to that. Let's talk a little more about that. What kind of built-in logic system does your generation have? And how are colleges going to have to anticipate that?

Adam Flicker: Well I guess we just kind of have problem solving abilities.

O'Connell: Meaning?

Adam: Like when you can figure out stuff a little bit better like on a computer, I guess. I guess for me it's you have to explore every aspect of if it's something that goes wrong with the computer, you have to try everything out no matter how obscure or unlikely it is because eventually you're going to find the answer. I mean, in my experience, there's no real problem that can go unanswered. Unless of course your RAM is shot, you know. But if it's a software problem, I mean, it's going to happen and you can be able to fix it eventually if you keep trying. And I think that's what I meant by that.

O'Connell: Yeah. And having that, and that makes perfect sense. You know, keep trying until you find the right answer. It's got to be out there. So what do you expect from the way you're going to be learning once you hit the university?

Adam: I think I'd expect like the classes to cater to that sort of way that it works I guess. You know, like give more problems to solve. More fixing things and figuring out things for yourself and stuff like that. But still like given a fixed situation in order to do it.

O'Connell: Michael, jump on in.

Michael Caputo: Well I think, like a lot of teachers are, right now are, if there's something that now you can do on a computer, they're giving you an assignment that's harder so it will be harder to do on the computer. Which kind of doesn't make much sense, because if you always have the computer, in real life you won't be given a situation that's harder than you can do. There won't be someone trying to give you something that you can't do on a computer. So I think that possibly even competency from the professors or the teachers, you know, knowing about the computers and knowing that it can be done somehow is beneficial.

O'Connell: You talked somewhat about how actually having the computer and having the information on the screen has changed the way that you take in the information. You said that you used to be more of a passive learner. How is, and this is for everybody, how is sitting there looking at a screen making you a more active learner? Sasha? Michael? Go ahead.

Michael: Well I guess like if you're on the WorldWide Web or in a computer encyclopedia, you can kind of, there's the "See also" menu that you can keep on branching off to more topics of the same area. If you start in World War II, you can go to the Holocaust or the battles or biographies and all these people, and you can, you know, you're pointed to the right direction, and you basically can get everything that you want. And actually you can probably get a lot of things that you don't want. Kind of a bad side effect I guess.

Sasha: It's very convenient and easier to do it on a computer because you can just minimize a certain document or something and go right to what you're trying to do. Or if you find information that you want, you can just copy it and you have it right in front of you, instead of having 20 books open on a desk and trying to find what you need.

O'Connell: Yeah. A couple of you also talked about you still like books, you still like going to the paper. Tina?

Tina: Well, as we all know, we're all different types of learners. Everyone learns from different perspectives. And I still believe in paper and pencil because a computer just gives you all the information right there in front of your face, and right now, since I'm in middle school, everyone's giving us these tests that are open ended. You have to really use your brain. You can't get the information off the computer. So you have to like, it's like you have to explain what you're doing. And on a computer, you can't explain every step. You can't explain everything. So when you go to the library and look up the information for yourself, you learn more instead of just copying off the Internet and handing it into the teacher, because that's what most kids are going to do anyway. But if you go to the library and look at the information, read the information--you have to read in order to know what you want. Also, in order to read it you're learning more than what you expected to learn when you go to the library instead of just going to the computer.

O'Connell: Yeah, so you have kind of an independence there.

Adam: Yeah, because I have a Newton, and I don't know if anybody knows about like the Newton books that you can just download off of the Web or something like that. There are like lots of novels and encyclopedias and dictionaries. And I tried to read that kind of stuff off electronically, and I seem to get distracted constantly, like by trying to hack into something else on the Newton or something like that. I mean I also tried electronic books on my desktop computer, and it just doesn't work out because I'm always interested in something else. I have to sit down and read a book. It's much easier to do it when it's on paper because there's nothing really else you can do with that paper except for read it.

Michael: Yeah, I guess much like Adam said, with the Worldwide Web--especially with the web, if you're looking at a page on something you're interested in, you get down to the bottom and they might have 15 links or so. So you, you know, read one of the links, go to that, and ten minutes later you're in a topic that's completely different, and an hour later, you forget what you were on the computer to begin with for, and then you know you have a mom calling upstairs so...

O'Connell: So you're still doing your homework 'til midnight. Let's take you to the day you get accepted to whatever university you want to attend. What information can be made available to you. You already know you're going to go there, so it isn't a matter of finding out what courses are offered or tuition or anything like that. You need to find out about kind of the big transition that your life's about to take. What kind of information can be made available to you? Sasha, let's start.

Sasha: Well through a university there's people who have already learned what you need to learn again, and if I'm going to be a veterinarian or something like that, it's important to have the hands on learning.

O'Connell: Michael.

Michael: I still think that visiting the college is still probably the most beneficial thing you can get out of it. My brother is a freshman in college, and he has a friend who went to a college without even visiting it. And his only opinion on the college was what you read in books, and he kind of has a different opinion of the college now than he did when he entered it. And probably looking at a Web page, I mean no college is going to--if it's a bad college, they aren't going to flat out say, "Don't come here." So whatever they do, they're going to show all the, you know, prettiest pictures of the campus on the sunniest days of the year. But visiting there and meeting the students and the professors and you know looking at the campus. I mean there's nothing wrong with real life.

O'Connell: Tina, you want to go to college away from home.

Tina: I want to go to UCLA. When I first get to the college I guess I'm going to be expecting extra-curricular activities. I guess to stay in line I'd consider taking an activity like a sport, maybe volleyball, track or basketball because I guess it keeps me in line with my academics. And I guess I'd be looking for a computer. But I would only take a computer as a tool in my learning, not as something that I'm going to depend on every day. I guess like you say, you can communicate with the computer with another computer, and I guess that's better than the phone, even though the bill's going to be about the same once you've added in electricity.

O'Connell: Adam.

Adam: I guess the whole point of college is that there's somebody like, no matter how good you are at no matter what you want to do, there's going to be somebody whose going to be better than you. And so it's vital that you learn from that person that's better than you so you can learn to top--or whatever limit you set for yourself.

O'Connell: Let's talk about when your actual college career begins, when you set foot on the campus. What are your expectations? Are any of you, first of all, really satisfied with what your learning on now in your schools? Michael.

Michael: Well, just before, we were at a period and a half of school before we came here, and the first period our teacher sat us down in the computer lab and said, "Just start writing," because we're reading science fiction novels in school, and she said to start writing about your science fiction novel. And it's a group where there's 20 other students sitting around, you know, just typing. And all I know is that, when I'm at home and I have the computer there and it's just me and the computer, it's a lot easier to not be in a lab where there's tons of other people and distractions and people playing games they aren't suppose to and that sort of thing. But I think that having access to a computer where it's just you or just a small group or you're in a, I don't know, a booth or a small room or something is probably it's a lot easier to work in that sort of situation, especially if it's a hard topic that you need to concentrate on.

Sasha: I think that they can specialize in what you want to learn more in college and as our education progresses rather than now when they're just trying to give you kind of samplings of what we want to get into in the future.

O'Connell: Let's talk about having access to a computer. Tina, do you have a computer at home?

Tina: No.

O'Connell: And how is all this information about the university and about what's out there, how's that supposed to get to you if you don't have a computer at home?

Tina: I guess I'm dependent on them. Well, it depends on the person. I think it depends on the person theirself. If someone is, I guess, active and going towards it, they're going to go look for it instead of the information coming to them. Like maybe go see a counselor I guess. It depends on the person. If the person is active, they're going to go for it, go for it themselves, instead of waiting for it to come in. But I guess I would just have to wait on mail because there's no way I could...

O'Connell: Or find access to a computer.

Tina: Yeah, or find access to a computer nearby.

Michael: People have done it before. I mean, people have gone to college 20 years ago, and there was, you know, no such thing as the, or not such a large thing as the Internet. And even people ten years ago. There's ways of finding information to get to college. You don't need a computer for everything in your life. And it's kind of, it seems like some places, like places that say you can order stuff from our Web page, it's kind of useless. You could just order stuff from the catalogue that comes in the mail of the exact same thing. It seems like a lot of people are just having--a lot of companies and universities are getting Web pages so they can, I don't know, so they can feel big, so they can feel that they're technologically superior. If they have a spinning icon of a spinning "E" for their e-mail or you know some sort of neat animation when you click on. It's not for the person looking at it. It's so they can feel bigger themselves.

Adam: The thing with like the information on the computer--everything that's available on the computer, in some way or another, if you look for it, you'll find it on paper or in a book or something like that. And the main thing is, like Sasha said, is the convenience of the computer. In five minutes you can jump from 15 different topics, as opposed to if you were at a library you'd spend like two or three hours there. And I'm not saying the computer's better for that. It's just much faster. And it's an easier way to access information.

O'Connell: One of the things you said is that one of the things you can do with the computer is to keep absorbing information, having the information just come at you. How can we make it easier for you or better for you to process that information once you get it? You have all this information. What are you going to do with it?

Sasha: Well when you need to write a report or something, you try to learn as much about that topic. And sometimes if it's a topic that's more recent than, like, history, it's easier to do it on the computer because there's not as many books written about it because it's just too recent information.

O'Connell: Tina, one of the things you said, "Out on the Net, it's a lot of opinions." Talk a little bit more about that.

Tina: There's a lot of opinions instead of facts and stuff on the computer. It's like if you go on the Internet and you're looking for maybe you want to join another religion, and you want to know about the religion. There's a lot of opinions about the religion. There's not enough facts. I'd rather speak to a person to get more--someone who has been there, someone who knows all about it, someone who can go step by step with me, instead of a computer. It may come in faster, but I'd rather be right than be faster.

O'Connell: That's kind of a revolutionary idea, you know, to be right instead of faster. O.K., back to the first day of school. What do you want there?

Michael: Jeeze. I guess I'd like a, although it seems kind of impossible, I'd like maybe a computer just for, like a computer designated to maybe ten people or a dozen people, so you can come in and it's kind of not just you, but you're one of the people working on it on a computer, not half the campus. And I guess I'd like easy access to computers. And I know most colleges, if not all colleges right now, give their students Internet accounts, and I think that's a real good thing, because if you're a student probably the last thing you want is to pay for that sort of thing. But that's very useful because, I mean, you can talk to your family. You can write back and forth to your family without spending any money, and that's a very good thing that I think colleges are doing. And I think they should keep with that as much as possible. And I guess I kind of just want colleges and universities to know that, you know, people use the computers and some people really use the computer and feel that the computer is necessary, as necessary as food. But I think that if professors or teacher or, I don't know, deans or whatever--the person that's most fit for the job--realizes that people are going to be at a computer for several hours of the day and would probably want to get there as easily an fast as possible. That is probably a good thing.

O'Connell: Adam.

Adam: I guess from the moment I step on the campus I 'd expect--well, since a college, it thrives on what the students give the college--like, you know, tuition--I'd expect only the high end stuff. Like I wouldn't expect anything lower than middle high end I guess, you know, because I'm paying to be there and that's just it. If you're paying to be somewhere, they should cater to what you want and only what you want.

O'Connell: Sasha.

Sasha: I agree with Adam when he says that if we give them money to do what we want, then we need--we want to go there for a reason, and they should really cater to that reason and really try to be what I want it to be and try to give me the information that I want.

O'Connell: Tina.

Tina: I expect a college, but a college can be what you make it yourself, so I guess when I first step on the campus I'm going to be looking for some great dorms maybe.

O'Connell: Let's talk a little about that in closing. It's not just going to be an academic change that you go through once you go to the university. It's going to be a big social change in your life as well. What changes, what can a university do to kind of make that transition a little easier? Sasha.

Sasha: Well I guess the computer can never take the place of real people, even, well, through the computer if you're talking to somebody you don't care about what they look like because you can't see that, but when you're in with real people then you have to interact and you have to learn with different people, rather than you can't just shut them off or anything.

O'Connell: Tina.

Tina: Well yeah. Like I said, I want to go far away so. Since I want to go far away, I'm just moving down there by myself so I guess communicating with people would be the best most next thing to do.

Michael: I guess just extra-curricular activities, where you can go out and meet people that, you know, know who you are and everything. I think that would be good because you can pretend you're anyone if you're on a computer. You can pretend you're 40 years older than you actually are if you're on the computer. Probably most people would believe you. But, you know, there's nothing wrong with real people. You know, people are--some people are so hung up on using the computer that they develop these circle of friends with five letter words and numbers and they aren't real people, and I think people have to realize that human contact is not obsolete yet.

O'Connell: Adam.

Adam: Yeah. I guess the thing when you get to college, you're bombarded with all these different opinions and you have to be able to learn about these opinions and process them, interact with like the actual people that have the opinions, in order to figure out what they mean and to share your own opinions. And I guess that's the only way you can get by.

O'Connell: One more question for you, Tina. Has doing a business--how is doing a business on the computer different from your academic studies? Do you think you've learned in a different way by actually running a business?

Tina: Well, in school we work on Macintosh. And the business that I ran, I ran it on an IBM. So this way I got to learn IBM, too, with a Macintosh. And I guess a business--well, I wasn't really planning on, you know, going into business and all. I was just planning on getting an "A"!--just getting a grade. Well, being an overachiever and going further, I guess a business was right on the target for me. So let me see. The business mostly got me, I was most interested in the business when I heard the word "money". When I heard the word "money", I was like, "Well, hey, that's me." Well, I guess, working at--academically, I mean in school you have your--you have to do this and you have to do that. In a business you can do it on your own time. You can go as fast as you want, as slow as you want, and you're getting paid here, and in school you're not.

O'Connell: Thank you all for being part of this.



Contact: heia@pobox.upenn.edu
URL: http://www.upenn.edu/heia/proceed/present/futurestudentpanel.html
Last modified: 12 January 1998