Frustrations and Fascinations

After seven years of teaching in electronic classrooms the failures probably outnumber the successes by two to one. I can recall many times of frustration in the midst of an enduring enthusiasm and fascination with computers in education. After many a class in the teaching theaters, I have emerged from the room mumbling, "I hate computers." Students who hear my frustrations are perplexed by the love/hate relationship with computers and technology. Why do I keep coming back day after day, week after week, and semester after semester? Why do I have three computers in my office and two at home and carry a laptop with me on trips and vacations? I am often frustrated, irritated, and even disgusted with technology. Is it good or evil? Is it a necessary evil? At times I threaten to quit and move to a mountain cabin with no electricity. My wife and family look at me with sympathy and compassion knowing full well that they do not need to start packing.

While this book promotes new technology in education, I do not view myself as a technophile. Technology is not the salvation of education. In fact, it is probably more of a negative and dehumanizing influence than an enabling technology. The coming age of computers in the classroom is not going to solve the world's problems of peace and happiness to the individual. It is a change that accelerates change. Other forces will determine our ultimate destiny.

Bad Dreams and Good Visions

As a student years ago I used to have the typical student anxieties and nightmares such as showing up for a final exam in a course that I had forgotten to attend for the whole semester or having my pen leaking all over while trying to write an answer on an exam. Since I have been a teacher, the teaching nightmares have been more persistent and personally disturbing. The usual one is forgetting that I have a lecture to deliver and trying to race to class. I fumble to find my notes; I hurry to the building; but have difficulty finding the room. By the time I arrive, everyone has left. Another is standing at the lectern, but unable to sort out my notes or even what class I am teaching. But these nightmares of personal failure in punctuality, spatial location, and presence of mind are nothing compared to the nightmares from the electronic classroom. The most recent was as follows: I dreamt that I entered the electronic classroom expecting to find a neatly arranged room with a student in front on each computer. Instead the room was actually a suite of poorly connected rooms with computers haphazardly arranged with dividers like a computer lab. I ran from room to room trying to get the student's attention and give them instructions to login. But it was hopeless. In the end I yell out in desperation, "Read chapters one and two in the textbook." As the dream ended and the students left, I recalled planning to have CuSeeme added to the system so that I didn't have to run from room to room.

To me this dream is about the greatest fears of all teachers: loosing the attention of the students and not being able to manage the classroom environment. There are many economic, sociological, and technological forces that are pulling us away from the focused attention afforded in same time/same place face-to-face education. Instead of enhancing and empowering the cherished time together, technology is one of the driving forces to supplant it by creating virtual bridges across self-imposed barriers. We create a poor substitute for being there, and then justify education at a distance. This is not the dream that I wish to live.

Instead we create and plan positive visions for our experiences teaching and learning in the electronic environment. We must strive to create better tools in education, not cheaper ones. We must increase the human element rather then replace it with computers. The proper place of computers is as an enabler not a displacer.

A Final Word

Writing this book has been very difficult for me, not so much in terms of the work involved, but in the difficulty in laying out the subject matter. It has been like trying to paint a vertical stripe on a moving train or like trying to nail jello to the wall. The first analogy speaks to the problem of setting anything right when things are moving so fast. The second analogy suggests that it is hard to pin things down when the topic is so amorphous.

I have resisted instructional material on particular technologies and how to use this and that package. These are constantly changing and obsolescence outruns the best of applications. I have avoided to an extent pedagogical issues and methods in education. In a way, I do not want to be pinned down to any particular approach. I am much too eclectic for that. On the other hand, I have exposed my own examples, experiences, and experiments revealing both successes and failures. I am not satisfied with the outcome and can only offer this book as a beginning, the first shovel of dirt turned at the ground breaking ceremonies for the construction of the new electronic educational environment.

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

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