Confuser-based instruction

[From Chris Cherpas (970206.1428 PT)]
  [re Bill Powers (970205.0955 MST)]

Chris Cherpas (970204.1104 PT) --
...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... His little brother learned how to work Paintbrush at 3,
...I'm perfectly happy to have my grandchildren learning on computers.

An unusually hip grandfather.

But I made sure they understood from the start who was boss:
THEY turn the COMPUTER on.

Good instructional design on your part.

My goal is also to put kids in the driver's seat;
however, this is often difficult in a classroom
environment where a great deal of pacing is done
in a group, lock-stepped process. But let's forget
about computers for a minute and consider whether
it would be a "PCT position" that education would
be improved if it could be made more individualized.

For example, say each kid had not only the classroom
teacher, who orchestrates group activities, but also
a personal tutor during 1-2 hours of each school day:
would that facilitate a PCT-inspired approach to education,
which would otherwise not be so easy to implement?

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

I don't see that "representing knowledge organized for teaching"
is such a radical departure from using books. Can even the best
teacher claim that s/he is at least as capable of writing all the
texbooks or other instructional media used in the class, as the
authors of those many books? In fact, why even bother with
Shakespeare when the teacher could have just as easily put together
some stories or poems that teach whatever can be learned by studying
Shakespeare in class?

Teachers teach using instructional media: original works, textbooks, etc.
Is this something PCT-ers are against?

By the way, who programs these computers? God?

Yes, Bill it is God. But right now the people who author textbooks
have a huge amount of influence in what is taught and how it is taught.
I'm not exactly sure what this number means, but I've seen reports that
say 90% of the time spent in school involves heavy use of instructional
media. The teacher is most definitely playing a role, but the teacher
is drawing heavily on artifacts that were not invented on the spot by
the clever teacher.

Are good programmers automatically good teachers (in my experience,
the better the programmer, the more incoherent the explanations)?

When you say "programmer" here, you are talking about the people who implement
a specification, but not the creators of the spec. That design comes
from someone else, like you said, God ("How like a man!" paraphrasing W.S.).

Computers can maintain longitudinal models of each student, including a
history of "difficulties" the computer was able to detect...

So can a good teacher.

So those good teachers actually follow the student's academic career,
from K to 12, passing appropriate information on to the teachers in
the successive grades whom this same student will encounter. My,
those good teachers do get around.

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.

So this same, busy, good teacher can actually visit each student close up,
so that every word is audible, so that there is no conflict between
one student's asking for clarification of point A, while another
student is simultaneously wanting to talk about point B, so that
all visual displays are clearly in sight for each student equally,
even visually impaired children, so that the student's opportunities
for showing that they understand (remember raising your hand?) are not
in conflict with the other 19+ students in the class wanting the same thing?
Oh, OK.

cc: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.

First, I have never said or meant to say that a computer version is better
just because it's not human. Second, throughout this discussion, I
have just assumed that a mixture of unmediated person-to-person
education and instructionally-mediated (e.g., using computers) education
is most effective. Pure human instruction happens, but often, especially in
centers of education, like schools, media are used; without media, teaching
would be Homeric, not just heroic. The question is: where do we go from here?

As Hugh Petrie said, you're talking about simulating a whole human being.

Yes. Isn't it great?

You're several light-years from that goal

That's for sure. In the meantime, we might as well build what is possible
and learn from the experience. From nothing comes nothing.

-- and anyway, why not just use the human being for what a human being can do?

I like improvements. Besides, I'd like to make all work optional someday.

Meanwhile, maybe we can make education more accessible by systematically
developing instructional media whose effectiveness can be measured...instead
of _just_ waiting for that very special teacher to come along and make
everything perfect. With teachers getting slave wages, and many of the
good teachers having long gone -- since the places where talented women
could get hired got liberalized in the last couple decades -- I would not,
if we were now entering kindergarten, have as much hope as you might that my
good teacher would eventually appear for me.

Speaking from your perch at the top of the cultural evolutionary ladder?

No, from the scrapheap, where the general lack of progress in educational
quality has left me, wading through the trash in boots, looking among the
scraps of tried-and-forgotten edu-fads for vestiges of something that actually
might improve education.

What is this? Computer-aided snobbery?

No, teacher-aided robbery.

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

Good thing you had the telescope. Telescope-aided snob.

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.

Party down, excellent dude. You know you can go back to your computer-based
instructional program and get fluent on solving those equations you've been
learning about.

I can't think of a computer I would rather have spent those years with.

I can't either. Maybe if it had involved cybersex I could have taken
away a _few_ of those cherished hours from friends and teachers.

I guess it must have been different for you.

Very different. I _never left_ the restaurant. I stayed up until dawn
_every_ night. You apparently felt OK about sitting in rows of desks,
being quiet for hours at a time. No wonder your memories are so
wonderful: repression, my dear Freud.

God almighty, he has seen the light!

I'm impressed. I've never been in a position to show God the light.

Oh, raise your sights, my good fellow. More practice with the eyepiece,
less time sitting around rapping with Harry Rymer (probably smoking
cigarettes too).

No will any human have the richness of a well-programmed simulated

You have a much higher opinion of programmers than I do.

You have a much lower opinion of writers and artists who
cannot individually tell or show each student what they
are trying to express -- so they create an artifact which
can be disseminated to many people asyncronously. Computer
programs are an extension of this process.

Throwing gigabytes of words on line does not constitute intelligence.

Some. Let's not be hasty here. I'm sure you like having lots of
copies of your books around, as well as those gigabytes of stored
CSGNet posts. It's at least a _little bit_ intelligent to make what
people write or draw available to others.

Wasn't there ANYBODY you ever admired?

Sure. She broke my heart.

It [an interactive computer program] is animated, simulated culture.

Just like TV, only it takes itself more seriously.

It is more serious. TV, like nostalgia, is for losers.

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?

I just want to accelerate education for individuals. If they aren't
interested in that, then maybe the good teacher can help, maybe not.
Think of the student saying, "Teach me, dammit" and you'll get a
better sense of where I'm coming from.

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.

And a good list so far. Teachers and other humans can certainly be helful in
these areas. Denying children advances in computer-based instruction
must surely come from learning these lessons insufficiently.

See Ed Ford's program.

I'm interested.

Part of the way we learn to be human is to interact with
other humans, especially those who have been there and done that.

Hard to disagree with that, my smiling Buddha, hippest of grandfathers.

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.

Do you really want such an evaluation? Or are you simply not very
interested personally in this topic and I'm taking up air-time?-)

Honestly, I just think it's hard to learn about "studenting" very
well _without_ building an elaborate computer-based instruction system
into the schooling process, at least as some form of controllable
baseline from which to compare at least certain approaches.

I would pay less attention to anyone who is obviously putting on a
hard sell for either side.

I can appreciate that, of course. But did you have the same kind of
moderate, unbiased position when the issue was slavery?

The commercial aspects have obvious effects on one's willingness to discuss,
or even look for, drawbacks in the product,...

Do you really think I am motivated to write to this list about computer-based
instruction as a way of making money? That I believe that anything I am saying
here would have actually have an effect on sales? I really need to remember to
start thinking of you as "the cartoonist previously known as Walt Disney."

...and the personal history with teachers is hardly a basis for drawing
universal conclusions: I believe that approach is called anecdotal.

Hey, you're the one telling the stories about school days.
I shall call your approach "interesting."

Best regards,


cc: {...just kidding, of course...;-)}