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Can Computers Transform Education?

      The previous section has a familiar ring. This is not the first technology which has been touted as a means of transforming education. Each wave of technological innovation washes on the shore of education, recedes, and then is swept over by the next wave. Will computers join the teaching machines, television sets, and other dust-gathering devices which have promised - and failed - to transform education in the past? Skepticism is entirely appropriate. Once bitten, twice shy; often bitten, very shy. However, I have a guarded optimism that this time the technology will become powerful (and cheap) enough to finally turn teaching inside out, and thereby transform education.

      Whatever the technology, however powerful and cheap, it should not determine the course of education. Machines are simply means to desirable and feasible ends of persons. The appropriate role of technology in education can be understood only within the larger context of the purpose of education.

      A larger vision of the purpose of education which I find helpful is that education is the process in which a person acquires the operating manual for our species. When I got my car, I got an operating manual; when I got my computer, I got an operating manual; when I got my brain (the most complex and mysterious system in the universe), there was no manual. I kept waiting for it - thinking it had been issued by another department and got lost by Canada Post. Halfway through my life, I realised that it was a do-it-yourself job. So I've been writing my own operating manual. It is based on the assumption that a brain is a brain is a brain. The difference between Margaret Mead and Albert Einstein (or whoever you think has most fully realised the human potential) and you and I is that they acquired a better operating manual.

      The problem with the use of computers in education so far lies not so much within the machine itself but within the metaphors of the machine in our minds. The major metaphors of the use of computers in education - computer-as-source, computer-as-tutor, computer-as-prosthetic, and so on - are all within the outside-in framework of traditional teaching. Computer-as-source is simply a device from pouring yet more information into the student; computer-as-tutor is a mechanical simulation of outside-in teaching which is mechanical enough already; computer-as-prosthetic allows people with sensory-motor problems to be stuffed full of information just like everyone else. The rest of the chapter describes three metaphors within an alternative inside-out framework of teaching, and the concept of education as the acquisition of the operating manual.

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