Higher Education in the Information Age

The Future Student

Question and Answer:
Susan Fuhrman, Respondent


Susan Fuhrman: Thank you Kathy, Sasha, Tina, Mike, and Adam. That was very exciting. These are our future students, these sophisticated overachievers. I'd like to spend just a couple of minutes talking about these students as current students in a K-12 system that is preparing their colleagues to reach our shores. And there are several themes that emerge from this discussion, and from the video, and form the larger focus group that I think it's worth highlighting.

First of all, unfortunately, current technology use in schools is very limited. This is increasingly less a question of access, because I think now the latest figures are about one computer per class. That's rapidly increasing. About every 23 students. It's not a question of access. It's a question of the use. There is extremely little instructional use. I think you heard this morning about word processing, about using the computer instead of a typewriter. Occasionally you read about exciting things. Recently in the newspaper virtual experiences like dissecting a frog, using the computer, which satisfies both the squeamish and the animal protectionists among us, but that's very rare. And as rare as it is for virtual experiences it's as rare for demonstrations for design, even for calculation. The most prevalent use is really for word processing. I know that's not that much different from higher education, but it's certainly still true in K-12 education, despite the sophistication of the students on their own.

Now, the biggest growth in computer use in the elementary and secondary schools is in the Internet usage, as these students made clear. By the fall of 1996, 65% of US schools had access. That's going up 15% points each biennium. 87% of the rest had plans to be connected by the year 2000. We all know that's accelerating as we speak. But one can question how that usage is related to instruction and to learning. In some ways, and some of these things come out in the discussion, the Internet is becoming a faster, quicker, more exciting encyclopedia. It is a tool for information and not necessarily for the processing that Kathy referred to for the actual learning for making meaning and applying it, but more for just accessing it.

A third issue that came up this morning, and that generally is the equity one. There still remains a strong relationship between income level and access to computing, both at home and in school. Public schools with higher levels of students in poverty are less likely to be connected to the Internet. Home computer use is strongly associated with income and race. Lower achieving schools, as revealed through the national assessment of educational progress, are schools where computers are less likely to be used for instruction in any of the subjects at that assessment studies. And as was raised this morning, with the issues of obsolescence related to cost, schools that have severe resource constraints are really kind of puzzled right now about what they should invest in if they are going to make investments that in two or three years are going to be out of date.

The fourth clear theme is the limits to teacher knowledge in the elementary and secondary schools. This is a major problem. These kids think their teachers pretty much don't know how to use technology, and that's true. they're right. Only 15% of American teachers, and only 10% by the way of Pennsylvania teachers, have had just 9 hours of training in instructional technology. And that kind of training is probably pretty limited. It's probably computer literacy. Turning on the power switch. And not much more. Not only is it probably bad in quality, but it's probably very much like professional development more generally in this country for elementary and secondary school teachers: quick, one shot, no follow up, no support. You know, go to a workshop off-site and come back to a classroom with no help in the school for actually using the technology for instructional purposes.

So we can, in higher education, wait for them, Adam, Mark, Sasha, and Tina who are sophisticated to come to us, or we can, as I'm going to suggest, do more to work with elementary and secondary education to improve technology use in the schools. There are some clear ways to do that. Research on learning for both children and adults is obviously critical, and how various technologies support making meaning, constructing, understanding, applying knowledge to routine problems, to new problems. How various technologies interact with aspects of learning. Which are particularly promising? And which can be incorporated? And which are appropriate for learning different things? And which are appropriate for how different people learn, as Tina suggested.

Clearly we also need research on policies and organizational approaches that promote good use of technology in elementary and secondary education, For example, there are a lot of canned courses out there now, canned software. Are states and districts setting up good evaluative mechanisms to guide teachers in selection and in choosing software and various technologies that are appropriate to the standards, the expectations held, for student learning? What kinds of policies and organizational structures support good professional development in technology and in instruction more generally? As was mentioned this morning, research in education is woefully underfunded, and in fact I think it's less than one quarter of one percent of total spending now that's actually devoted to research. That compares very unfavorably with other fields, with agriculture, health, with whatever. Those of us who care about education research have been lobbying just to get that up to one percent, which would still mean that it would suffer by comparison to other fields, but would still be a huge improvement.

Also, clearly those of us in higher education have to do more about teacher education, both pre-service and in-service, in professional development. We need to help teachers learn how technologies can assist instruction, be incorporated in instruction, how they can be used to enhance learning. And how to create when it's necessary to create, how to select when it's better to select. We have this romantic notion that teachers, be they in K-12 or higher education are going to go around creating curriculum on their own all the time, and that's probably less and less realistic with sophisticated technologies, but it's not even realistic when it comes to using text books. We don't always have to go around reinventing the wheel, but we need good evaluative skills to choose what's appropriate and what's most likely to enhance learning.

One final thought. I was struck, and I'm sure you were, by the students' interest in continuing social interaction and how the technology for them is social. When they're on the Internet, they are communicating with other people. But they still also value personal interactions, and I know that's important to them and it's important to all of us. So we want to keep remembering that.

I'll be glad now to entertain some questions for the students. Yes.

Audience Member: I actually have three questions for the student guests, and you don't have to answer all of them. You can pick whichever one seems interesting. First, I don't know whether it was Michael who said on the video, "Sometimes I don't know if I am making the Web page or the Web page is making me." Did you?

Michael: I did.

Audience Member: That's a very deep question, and puts you in line with a lot of very distinguished social theorists, and I was wondering whether you could, or all of you could be a little more specific about ways you might feel even imprisoned by this technology or oppressed by it, and how you think you might be able to change the relationship to it in a way. Or what are aspects of it that seem constraining rather than liberating. I guess the second I'll ask--do you want to do that one and then do another one?

Michael: I don't care.

Fuhrman: Why not?

Michael: O.K.. Well, that actually cut off. There was actually more to what was said there. But what I was trying to say, what I went on to say was, with my Web page, I spent probably several hours--maybe two, two and a half hours, you know looking for a specific picture so I could put it on the bottom. I spent probably about an hour looking--I play the trombone. I spent about an hour and a half, maybe an hour, looking for a good picture of a trombone, and I found, you know, an animated, sliding trombone. So I put it on my Web page, but an hour and a half later I looked, I'm like, "I didn't accomplish anything. I put a little picture on my Web page." And I, you know, I looked at the computer, and why did I spend all that time doing that? No-one cares if it's animated, if it's sliding, if they glow in the dark-no-one else would care. And you know, after--I have two Web pages now. After this one I made another one. And I see that, although I enjoyed doing it, I spent probably entirely too much time on stuff that really doesn't matter and stuff that's aesthetically pleasing and kind of is just for my sake, and it kind of doesn't get me anywhere.

Fuhrman: You get so caught up with what you can do

Michael: Yes,...

Fuhrman: that you forget to think first about what's most important to do.

Michael: And you know, there's always homework, and when I spend--I mean it's not like I have seven hours of nothing to do, and usually I feel like an idiot after I spend an hour and a half doing pointless stuff and realizing that I have probably four hours of homework to do.

Audience Member: I was also wondering just a couple of other things. Tina I think most particularly was talking about the importance of being in contact with people that are very different from yourself. You know, when you want to be a journalist in another part of the country, for example. I was wondering the extent to which using a computer a lot, do you think that it's a good way to get at people or get at experiences that are more different from your own, or do you think that in some way it runs the danger of narrowing you in that respect? And I guess, I'd also ask, whichever one you prefer, maybe to Tina and Sasha particularly, today we've got a balanced group: two boys, two girls. When the camera panned out in the room you were all sitting in, I couldn't tell how many girls there were in that room compared to boys, and how you feel the computer is or how it's used by the girls you know, the boys you know. If you have any thoughts about-in Ciceronian fashion, I will now draw attention to the gender ratio in this room. But how do you feel in school about the way boys and girls are connecting to the computer?

Tina: O.K.. Question number one. The computer--I think the computer helps a lot. I mean, just as like a tool to find out who's who, where're these people at, how to find them, etc. You know, you can't look in the yellow pages for them, so you have to have some way of finding them. So I guess the computer would do that part for me. But to actually go and visit and talk and, you know, you get the little comments that you really can't get on the computer, just the little things which make something really big. So I guess that the computer, it may narrow it for me, but then again it increases it a little bit.

And on the second question. I think the--I always thought that the girls were, I mean like the ladies were up on everything, but the men were just laid back, but I guess now that we've got these computers it's increasing the boys to get more involved with the computers, and I guess it's making for the boys the learning more easier.

O'Connell: Sasha, you want to address that same question?

Sasha: Well, the boys and the girls, like, when you're on, if you're talking to somebody, then they could be either gender, and they could be across the country or right next to you and you're all doing the same thing because you're all the same age. And you can't tell what they look like, you can't tell what they're really like on the computer, unless the announce it, and even then you can't tell who they are. And it kind of makes it interesting because you don't know who you're talking to, and all you know is their opinions and their thoughts and what they're like, without knowing what they look like or what's not important.

Michael: I think, with the boy and girl issue, I don't think that you should really look at it as how many girls and how many boys because it kind of doesn't have much to do with the gender. But like in sixth grade when we first came to middle school, some people started acting, some people started playing sports, some people started playing music, and me and Adam are two that got caught up in music. And while other people are, you know, some girls might be playing lacrosse, but other people who have a computer and who aren't at--it's the opportunities. If you have the time, if you realize that there's something that you want to learn, then you could go ahead and do it. All the--like if there were some girls that play softball, if they didn't play softball one year they could have sat at their computer and started fiddling around and then they might use the computer for the rest of their lives. And it's the same with boys. If boys play baseball or basketball or whatever or if they start acting, and they don't have enough time to get on the computer, it's just when you have the time, if you have the time I guess, and if you really want to do it. I don't want to speak for either gender, but some boys might look at the computer as a waste of time. Some girls might look at the computer as a waste of time. And those people obviously won't use the computer. But the people that look at it and see a valuable took, a tool that you can use, and a tool that would be fun and easy to use and would help you later in your life for god knows how many years, I think those are the people that start using it and that sort of thing.

Adam: I guess I personally don't really believe in like the gender, affirmative-action sort of thing when you use the computer. I mean whoever like shines when they use the computer, it's whoever happens to be--I don't think it should be, like if there's more boys say in one group of people than girls, I don't think there should be any extra instruction to try and encourage girls to use the computer a little bit more. I mean they've chosen what they wanted to so. And I'm sure, like Mike said, if they were playing lacrosse or field hockey, I personally don't want to spend all my time playing lacrosse or field hockey. I'd like to use it on the computer. And their decision is their decision, and I don't think that the issue should really be placed gender-wise, because it's not really gender that's the issue. It's whoever chooses to use the computer, and that's it.

Michael: It starts at a young age. So if you start at a young age playing sports or if you start at a young age doing whatever, swimming, ice skating, then that's probably what you'll be doing for the better part of your life. And we were--me and Adam play in a jazz band, and we were at an elementary school and there are, I think, three or four girls in our jazz band, and the principal--these are--it's an elementary school, you know, up until fifth grade. They were young people. And the principal told all the girls to stand up and say, "You know there are only four girls. All the girls go and fix it." Well, not every girl is going to want to play music, and I think that if you get on this gender issue and, you know, "The boys are overpowering the girls in playing music," or, you know, "Come on girls, show 'em what we've got." At such a young age, I don't think--I think they should decide for themselves. Even with boys if there's an assembly and it's acting and there were lots of girl actors and maybe two or three boy actors, and the principal got up and said, "Look boys, there's so few boy actors up there. Why don't you get up and in a few years start acting so there'll be more boy actors," I mean I think that's kind of a silly thing to say. I mean people decide on their own. They don't need to be brainwashed when they're at a young age like that.

Sasha: And when it's music or the computer, it's not pink or blue, it's not boy or girl. It's whoever's interested. Nobody has really stepped in to make it either gender. It's not separated. So whoever wants to do it can do it without feeling different.

Fuhrman: More questions? Yes.

Audience Member: As you know, on the Worldwide Web, there's a lot of junk. And as educators, those of us in the room and your teachers are very concerned about, especially when you're working on a project more or less on your own or at home, getting access to bad academic information, just bad information. Do you feel, the four of you, feel you're capable of distinguishing--and I'm really concerned about academic information, information that will help you, let' say, write a history paper--are you capable of distinguishing the junk, or incorrect information, from the information that seems accurate or is accurate?

Michael: Well, we just finished a project maybe a month ago called "benchmarks", and for this you, they claim that it takes all the information that you've learned in middle school, and you need to apply it to one project. And at the end a teacher said, "You really shouldn't always depend on"-- because a lot of information was gotten from the Internet--"You shouldn't always depend on the Internet because it could be false". So like when we were looking in the Bureau of Labor statistics, he was saying some of that information could be false, or if you're looking at Web, even just a normal Web page like "Bob's Weather Web page". But the thing is noone--when he said that, I kind of laughed to myself, because on my first Web page I probably spent a total of like a week and a half worth of work on that Web page, and I don't think anyone would really you know sit there and go, "Heh heh, I want to mess up some middle school kids on a project" and put like the war of 1812 was fought in 1915 or something. I mean because people, I don't think, although some people are out to mess with kids mind, I don't think they'd spend so much time, because it takes a lot of time working on a web page, with false information. I mean they might as well give the correct information.

Audience Member: Let me just ask more specifically, has anyone taught any of the four of you how to distinguish good, supportive information on the Web, from bad?

Adam: For me, I kind of taught myself. Right when I got my Web page up, like as soon as I learned to do the FTP process, because it took me like, because I have a Mac and you know there's no real instructions for Macs out there, and I had to call like a lot of support people on my Web server to get the page up, and right when I FTPed my page up, I kind of got a whole picture of what really was the meaning of what they stand for.

Adam: You can kind of tell from the URL if anything ends in ".gov" you can tell that it's pretty much going to be, it's clear cut, you know? I mean ".gov", that comes from the government. I mean, I really don't believe they're going to lie to you. In most cases. It's like in the user names also sometimes you can tell, like where it says "Tell the user name", if it's like a junky user name, usually I can find the same information somewhere else. If it's a university server and you have to go through so many paths and directories, you can also tell that that might not be so trustworthy because it comes from maybe a student who is fooling around or something like that. And just from the URL you can find so much about the page that you pretty much know if it's going to be accurate or if it's going to be a piece of crap.

Audience Member: I'll stop after this rhetorical question: have you ever thought of asking your teachers?

Michael: Well...

Tina: Well, since we do--well, we do have the Internet right now. So our teacher he like--O.K., well, he teaches us, maybe he might teach us like, "O.K., you can use this handbook report, but maybe back it up with some book information." And but there's always going to be the ones who don't care, just take anything. So you can't just say, well, if those people who put it on the Internet, if it's bad--you can't--I mean, there's always going to be those people who will take anything instead of sitting there, going through it. He tells us to back it up with some accurate information, not just get it off the way it is and turn it in. You have to like go maybe research it yourself or something or ask someone else or get it from somewhere that you know where it's true.

Sasha: When I try to find information for a report or whatever it is I'm looking for, I usually try to find the same information from two sources and two sites that are totally different and make sure that it's correct, logically if it makes sense. And really there aren't going to be many people, I don't think, that are going to be out there trying to trick you when you're doing a report on whatever, like the great depression.

Michael: With the first thing about bad and good information, I think it's easier to label them as valuable and invaluable, because if you get a Web page and it's the generic gray background with black text, and if you're looking for weather, and it has a list of weather from February to now, that might not be as valuable as if you do www.weather.com and you get people who spend all this time and probably have a lot more information. I mean if you get to a Web page, the information isn't necessarily bad. It's not as plentiful and probably not as easy to get more of it. But if you get to a Web page where you can tell that these people know what they're doing and they did it for a reason. And if they're doing it for profit even, if they're doing something so they get their name out and they're doing it for profit and it's a company as opposed to a guy or a girl doing something, then you can tell that that information is more valuable and possibly more accurate, but not even necessarily.

Fuhrman: Yes.

Audience member: Can you reflect for a minute and think, what would be the ideal environment? Broaden it beyond what we just talked about: accuracy of information. If you could design a classroom, could design the type of teacher, what would it be, given that you--no constraints. You can do whatever you want to at home and with the computer and the Internet, what would be the type of classroom that you envision as the real ideal classroom?

Sasha: I think the ideal classroom would have the teacher knowledgeable enough for the kids who have access to a computer and the kids who don't, and he would be able to help them. And if there is access in the classroom, that the kids that don't get it at home could get it at school.

Tina: I would guess that we'd split them up--I don't mean like split them up. Maybe the kids that do have computers could be in one class and the kids that don't--and I don't think that the classes should be so big as they are now in school. Like we have 33 kids and one teacher, which you can't get enough individual help. So I would think maybe lower the children and the status would go down to maybe ten kids per adult, like we do on trips and stuff. And I guess that the teacher, like she said, would have to be good enough to use the computer a lot or maybe like the kids who don't have access to a computer at home, maybe give them more help. The kids that do have computers at home, they're getting all this, all this stuff is coming towards them, and not enough for the kids that don't have it.

Fuhrman: Yes, go ahead. One more answer here? O.K.., no. Another question. Yes.

Audience member: I was going to ask about Railroad Tycoon in SimCity. What was interesting when you were all telling stories about what you actually did on computers is that part of it was using these tools in word processing and putting together paper and that a lot of it was looking up stuff on the Internet, finding information. And I was actually thinking about what my own kid has said, and the third element that he and his friends do a lot of stuff with is all these simulation games. Which started out just being games and who cared. The interesting thing is one day he came to me and asked where an economy came from, because he'd been playing Railroad Tycoon, which is a very sophisticated, intricate, accurate representation. And so I was going to ask whether, I mean you didn't talk at all about using the computer as a laboratory, where you could either do experiments with economies or with chemistry. Does that not happen? Is it not interesting? Or are the two uses that you listed really where it plays?

Adam: I guess it's about every other month or so, I go through like these Sim phases. Like sometimes, I have a lot of the Sim programs, like SimTower or SimCity, and I happen--I built--I mostly work on SimTower because for me it's the most use I can get out of it. I build up these amazingly tall--if you don't know the game, you build up skyscrapers and you build condos and apartments and offices and restaurants.

Audience Member: Is this a game, or are you learning something from it?

Adam: It was actually meant, as I think all the other Sim programs were, they were used as university tools, and eventually Nexus bought all these, the series of games, and they're programs that they were used and advertised as games. I think, yeah, the original SimCity used, I forget where it was developed. It was developed at some college, but it was used for like social planning and city planning, stuff like that. And then somebody saw it and said, "Hey, kids would love this," and they started marketing it. But I go through these SimTower phases where I can build up these amazing towers, and then what I do is I leave them on for hours at a time, because, you know, people are paying you rent every month and you're making more money so you can build more stuff and so I guess that's one of the main parts of it. But it seems that every month I go down for lunch one day and I come back, and there's little animations of people--they're all running towards the fire escapes, and I'm not sure why. I think it might be like a problem in the program, but there's no fire anywhere, there's no monster attacking your building or something like that, and so I just kind of get really pissed off at the game and I don't use it for a month, and then I just sort of rediscover it. But I guess it is pretty useful because you kind of get to know the artificial intelligence that's built into the program. Like nobody's going to want to live in a condo that's six stories underground because it's just not appealing. So you put a parking garage under ground, and then you get to know that people are going to use that parking garage and then go to their condo that might be in the penthouse. And that's the way that I use the simulations.

Sasha: I do the same thing. I go through these phases, and I build up a successful city in SimCity 2000. And I do learn economy, and it seems like real life, except the interest, the taxes are only one percent or whatever. Everything else seems very real. And once I build up a successful city, then I feel very proud and like a real mayor or whatever, but then it fails and I get very discouraged and I quit the game for a long period of time until I can start again.

Michael: I think I do the opposite of most people that play the game. I kind of build up a city, or at least wait for my brother to build up a city and then steal his, and then just get the bulldozer out.



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Last modified: 12 January 1998