Professional Journal Article 4/6/99 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

The Web, A Classroom Sans Walls - Jill Herzig

The article I have chosen to review is entitled "The Web, A Classroom Sans Walls, by Alistair B. Fraser. This was of interest to me because I am a teacher on the brink of bringing computer technology into my classroom. It begins with a very good description of early technology and how it was and in many places still is used. It states in early times the best way to convey information was with a scholar's board that was written on by students and professors and then erased. This was considered interactive in that it could be transported from place to place. The blackboard, which reigned supreme for many years in schools across the county, soon followed this mode of sharing information and I hate to say it, is still used as the primary source of shared information in many classrooms today.

The problem with many teachers entering the computer era and Web use is that they still are thinking in a blackboard frame of mind. "The material that is presented is being cribbed from the yellow pads of paper previously used to assemble notes for the blackboard. The imagination that went into the preparation of materials is constrained by the presentation capabilities of the blackboard." The article goes on to address the problems associated with the closed-mindedness of the users of the medium, that they were only able to produce text and images and did not take advantage of all the Web has to offer. It goes on to state that not all people were limiting their use and many were able to take their teaching to the next level as a result of the Web and more importantly the introduction of Netscape and its plug-in technology. The possibilities are growing and the writer then focuses on the primary areas of interactive pedagogical animations to aid students in visualization of concepts or processes. It then addresses the usefulness of academic resources and the consequences of publishing them on the Web.

The majority of this article deals with the concept of taking a class and making it available to the students, not only at the lecture, but also through their home computer via the Internet. A good example is given on a visual demonstration and how it is best utilized by showing the students step by step with a computer visualization or interactive animation. The writer questions how effective the old way of conveying visual information was when an instructor used metaphors, words, and line diagrams to convey a visual image that the students then had to reconstruct by formulating a mental model in their minds and very rarely came up with the successful image that was intended by the instructor. Examples of the use of animation and visualization show the benefits of having an accurate and concrete data at their fingertips. Students would have access to any lecture information at any location. They would be able to reconstruct classroom lectures and access diagrams to further enhance their learning.

The questions the article raises are where will this type of medium go and how will we utilize it? Should software packages be available for classroom use or would Web browser involving building a classroom interface be the answer? Do we let students use the information from the sources as study tools or do we initiate the availability of taking classes directly on-line and not use the physical campus at all? In the future will we be able to take classes from many different institutions throughout the world and what are the implications of that? In closing the article summarizes that the profession of teachers will evolve more in the next decade then it did in all of the previous century.

In response to this article, I find the implications very exciting and a little frightening. We have definitely come a long way from the scholar's board to where we are today. I see the need to take technology a step farther and increase its use over a wide spectrum of topics. We are on the brink of a boom in technology, but at what cost? College campuses are an ideal arena for exploration in this field of expanded research. We can see how the availability of classroom lectures at the fingertips of students would increase the students knowledge and give them the advantage of having all the information at their disposal anytime and as often as needed. The students would no longer have to rely on their note taking and diagram drawing skills, but would be able to concentrate on what the professor was saying, confident in the knowledge that all the notes and images would be available on the Web for review.

This raises a question about the quality of classes taught and kind of contents available through the Internet. Could you take a class from more than one institution at on time without ever leaving your home? Will it come to that? Why would you want to take a psychology class from a university when the best psychology professor is offering the same class somewhere else? We will begin to see a decrease in the classes taught by professors that really don't have a strong background in the area they are teaching in. The students would not settle for second best when signing up for classes in this new Internet world. They will want the best education with the best educators and that could pose some difficulty in the future. How would we limit enrollment and who is in charge of these new multi-institutional degrees.

One of my main concerns with this whole trend of eventually taking classes on your computer and not in the classroom is that this dehumanizes our world and cuts out much needed human contact. Part of the college experience is socialization and the ability to interact with others. Computers are already responsible for a decrease in human contact, many people chat for hours in chat rooms but do not hold conversations in their own homes. I see this as a sad trend that is growing. If young adults are able to take college credits by never leaving their homes, they will be missing out on a great opportunity to grow socially. When they get into the work place they will be missing necessary skills that are needed for everyday interaction. Even at an elementary level, I see some students who are becoming best friends with their computers, at the expense of the classmates around them they are losing precious social skills.

In closing, I can see the benefits of technology and I look forward to being a part of these changes in my school. With Internet access, we can gain more knowledge and are able to present concepts visually with accuracy. The future of the medium is unclear and is evolving faster than we can imagine, but we have to be careful. We have to remember that we are dealing with humans and that they have feelings. We cannot take the human element out of our teaching or we will be doing a disservice to our students and the society as a whole.

-- Anonymous, April 06, 1999

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