[From Bill Powers (970205.0955 MST)]
Chris Cherpas (970204.1104 PT) --
Computers can represent knowledge, organized for teaching, in more
subjects and in more depth than the average teacher, let alone the bad
You're comparing the ideal computer program, with capabilities far beyond
any that now exist, with the average or bad teacher. That is hardly a
By the way, who programs these computers? God? Are good programmers
automatically good teachers (in my experience, the better the programmer,
the more incoherent the explanations)?
because they were angry and controlling,
Computers do not get angry; I'll leave the "controlling" for you to unpack...
I was, by implication, pointing out that good teachers don't exhibit these
frailties. Of course computers don't get angry; neither do good teachers.
because they didn't understand the kinds of difficulties a student would have,
Computers can maintain longitudinal models of each student, including a history
of "difficulties" the computer was able to detect...
So can a good teacher.
because they were inaudible or incomprehensible,
Computers for education provide an individualized multi-media environment
which includes earphones with a volume control, the ability to interrupt
and back up, look up a term in a glossary, or (in some programs) type
"I don't understand" without any interruption to a group-paced class...
So can a good teacher.
because they didn't like children,
Computers do not dislike children.
Neither do good teachers. And good teachers are not emotionally indifferent
to children, while computers are.
and so on down the list of human frailties.
If you're going to compare computer-aided learning with teacher-aided
you should pick only the best teachers, just as you pick only the best
programs. Otherwise the comparison is meaningless.
Sorry if I sounded like I was comparing the best programs to the not-best
teachers. But, in general, Mr. Scientist Man: I would want to study
distributions, not just the best. I would like to learn something about
process here. Otherwise the comparison is less meaningful.
Sure, but when you do that, Mr. Programming Man, you're back to making an
honest comparison of human vs machine instruction, without any preconceived
notion that the computer version is better just because it's not human. You
might even decide that a mixture is better than either one alone.
By the way, are you concerned that books are created to replace teachers?
(I believe there are also those who claim writing to be the work of the devil.)
I just answered that question.
The main thing a computer can't (yet) do is answer questions and help
solve problems of understanding. You can't pause in the program and say,
"Wait, I don't see how you got from the first step to the second step."
And you can't say "I'm discouraged, I'll never understand this," and
expect anything but a mechanical return to a previous step. The computer
can't say "Well, let's talk about that. When did you start getting
discouraged?" And the computer would never say, "Are you still having
problems with your father coming home drunk every night?"
The way we get from what a computer can't do (yet) to what it can do is
to try. Are you saying it's not worth trying to get a computer to do
As Hugh Petrie said, you're talking about simulating a whole human being.
You're several light-years from that goal -- and anyway, why not just use
the human being for what a human being can do?
A lot of life is lived in classrooms, interacting directly with other
people, students as well as teachers. Would that chunk of life be more
worth living if it took place in a cubicle with only a computer for >>company?
The point is not to restrict the student to a cubicle with only a computer
for company; the point is to not restrict the student to a corral with a
herd of conspecifics, when a computer in a cubicle could provide the
student with company as an alternative.
Herd of conspecifics? Oh, is THAT all we are!
Yes, these are the idiots that go into the field of education, dragging
the next generation down yet another few rungs of the cultural
evolutionary ladder, as they relive their cheerleading and "first
cigarette" halcyon days!-)
Speaking from your perch at the top of the cultural evolutionary ladder?
What is this? Computer-aided snobbery? If so, hang on to that program. It
Actually, the times I liked best in college involved things like sitting at
the eyepiece of the 18.5-inch refractor, looking at M13 through a
low-powered eyepiece, inventing constellations in the cluster like "the Bear
Paw" and shooting the bull with my buddy Harry Rymer until dawn's early
light. Or hanging out in a restaurant booth with other friends arguing about
philosophy and other stuff, or talking over problems with school or teachers
or life, or reforming the universe. I can't think of a computer I would
rather have spent those years with. I guess it must have been different for you.
Bill, nostalgia's for losers. How about a Pentium166?
Those are for nerds. Let's see, what do I want to be -- a loser or a nerd? I
think I'll pick chocolate.
It may be that some parts of learning would happen best through using a
well-designed computer program. Less time would be needed for rote learning
of rules and memorization of facts like multiplication tables.
God almighty, he has seen the light!
I'm impressed. I've never been in a position to show God the light.
I'm not against computer-aided learning. But no computer program is going
to have the richness of a human personality,
No will any human have the richness of a well-programmed simulated
You have a much higher opinion of programmers than I do. It's all I can do
to get a stick figure to reach out and touch something. Where is the
programmer to get his idea of a "rich personality?" Grolier's Encyclopedia?
or serve as a role model by acting, speaking, and being a certain way
that kids can look up to and imitate.
Jesus. Give me a world without the necessity for the hero, for someone to
look up to. A computer program, at _its_ best, represents the combined
intelligences of every human in recorded history.
Not any program I have ever seen. They look more like products of the
_average_ intelligence of a bunch of program-writers who don't have much
experience with life. Throwing gigabytes of words on line does not
Anyway, you're going to have a hard time finding a kid who doesn't look up
to someone. Children aren't born knowing what they want to be. They don't
even know what's possible. The way you find out what's possible, as in any
field, is to look first at what's been done. Wasn't there ANYBODY you ever
It is animated, simulated culture.
Just like TV, only it takes itself more seriously.
If we want to bow down to some idol, let it at least be the achievements
of history as a whole, not some cult of personality.
But what do you do if people decide they WANT a cult of personality? Gas
them? What if they're not interested in the achievements of History as a
Whole (whoever he is)? Grab them by the necks and MAKE them be interested?
Is this more of that "behave, dammit" stuff?
No computer is going to help kids learn to be human, and that's MOST of
what a good school is about.
How do you detect when someone is learning to be human?
When the person is learning how to take disappointment, grief, and
discouragement without being destroyed. When the person learns the value of
loving others as much as the Self. When the person learns how to control
what matters, and let what doesn't matter go. When the person learns that he
or she is just like other people, regardless of their station in life,
education, or bad habits. When the person learns to want others to have what
they want, even if it's incomprehensible. There's a long list.
How do GOOD schools help kids learn to be human?
See Ed Ford's program.
Would someone who did not attend school learn to be human less?
Given the way things are, yes -- because most of the other kids are in
school. You learn to be human partly by observing what others do and coming
to understand them. You then understand things about yourself that are hard
to see from inside. Part of the way we learn to be human is to interact with
other humans, especially those who have been there and done that.
Eventually, of course, you invent yourself. But when you're a kid, you can't
get there in one jump.
Chris, you're in a shaky position on this subject. You make your living
developing computer-based instructional programs that compete with live
Because of my "shaky" position, I can talk about the actual use of
computer-based instruction, rather than communicating from an armchair
position. Listen and learn. I'm trying to give you a survival kit here
and you're not listening.
You can talk about the actual use of computer-based instruction, but
unfortunately you are also offering _evaluations_ of this instruction,
making up the criteria yourself. What I would like to see is an evaluation
by someone who has no particular fondness for computer-based or
teacher-based instruction, but who simply wants to know the pros and cons of
each. I would pay less attention to anyone who is obviously putting on a
hard sell for either side.
You shouldn't wonder if some of us can't tell whether you're giving us an
unbiased opinion, a commercial, or a review of an unfortunate personal
history with teachers.
Why not all three? However, my job is not to advertise products which
my company develops, so I can't claim any credit there.
Only the first is of any lasting value. The commercial aspects have obvious
effects on one's willingness to discuss, or even look for, drawbacks in the
product, and the personal history with teachers is hardly a basis for
drawing universal conclusions: I believe that approach is called anecdotal.
I do remember
being very bored in school, thinking that the time could have been
better managed by the "experts" in charge. As far as the unbiased
opinion, I would agree that I have an opinion. My opinion is that:
The computer represents an advance that can be used in education, and
that it will probably change the role(s) of the teacher from having to
do everything to having more time to do what the computer can't.
No problem with that. I'm not against computers in education. I taught my
older grandson to run my computer when he was 4 years old. Inside a year, he
was turning it on, giving the DOS commands to bring up his favorite math
program (or underwater game, whichever), running it, and shutting it down,
all from just watching how I did it for him. He learned Windows as soon as I
got it, and when he found Windows 95 on my notebook, he figured it out right
away. His little brother learned how to work Paintbrush at 3, although his
hand was way too small for the mouse. I'm perfectly happy to have my
grandchildren learning on computers. But I made sure they understood from
the start who was boss: THEY turn the COMPUTER on. And I don't stand around
admiring them while they play with it. It's just a thing to use.