The influence of technology on the human mind
Borivoj Brdicka
Charles University Prague Faculty of Education
Česká verze

These days, as more and more people speak about the emerging Information Society, we should think again how to prepare the society for the changes in the style of human life. No doubts that so-called Information Society has many advantages, for example in trade, production, services, communication etc. Unfortunately, it also has many potential risks that shouldn't be ignored. Some high level experts believe that improper use of technology could, in specific circumstances, cause the elimination of these advantages. From this point of view, the influence of technologies on the human mind is considered as the most hazardous factor. Increasing the use of technology instead of face to face communication could have negative influence on the human mind. It is most important to investigate this influence in the sphere of education, where the effects of these factors could be fatal. And vice versa. The appropriate use of technology could have a significant benefit for the whole society. That's why professionals in well-developed countries, which are on the edge of the Information society, start to pay more attention to these problems. But not only professionals. Even general public, media and politicians consider these matters very important. I am sure we should also pay more attention to it. In order to gain some basic orientation in this field, we will take a small excursion into some branches of science that may have certain connection to the impact of technology in education.


Sociology Psychology Cognitive Psychology Pedagogy Technology Philosophy Appendixes


Sociology
Marshall McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan

Daniel Bell
Daniel Bell

We will start the investigation of the history and meaning of the term Information Society. It originates in the science called sociology.

The first reference on the influence of modern technology on the social issues appeared in works of some sociologists in the late sixties of the 20th Century. Canadian Marshall McLuhan played one of the most important roles here. He was engaged in research of mass media and he was the first to use the comparison of our world to "global village". He believed that the importance of information was increasing and that technology could increase the ability of man but it also influenced the human mind. This is probably the reason why he tried to avoid most of the modern conveniences.

Next important sociologist, teacher and politician, who is often connected to the birth of the term Information Society, is an American scientist, Daniel Bell. In early seventies, he introduced the new historical classification of the development of the society as pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial. According to him, the Pre-industrial Society is the feudal society, where people were interested mostly in agriculture. The Industrial Society is the result of Industrial Revolution and many of its attributes can be seen even today. It is manifested mainly in the big emphasis on the production of massive amounts of material goods that the society doesn't necessarily need, and its consumption. This way of life becomes increasingly unsustainable. One of the main reasons is the aspect of ecology. Therefore, there must be, according to Bell, another revolution in the way of life on the Earth. Bell predicated that the instrument for these changes could be Information and Communication Technology (ICT). That is the reason why the term information instead of post-industrial is often used in the late Bell's works. This attribute of description of the future society has been widely accepted and used not only in the States but also in Europe.

William Gibson
William Gibson

Alvin Toffler
Alvin Toffler

Nicholas Negroponte
Nicholas Negroponte

L.S.Vygotsky
L.S.Vygotsky

Researchers and writers who are interested in Information Society are often called post-industrialists. Some of them are, for instance, a well-known Canadian writer and the author of the term cyberspace William Gibson and American writer and futurologist Alvin Toffler. Toffler is the author of the book The Third Wave. By the term "The Third Wave" he means the emerging post-industrial society. In another book War and Anti-War he articulated the theory in which he claims that in the current world, with its weapons, the old-fashioned war is impossible and, therefore, it will change into the war of economies and information. In this place, we should also mention the American scientist Nicholas Negroponte (the head of Media Lab, M.I.T.), who, in his book Being Digital (1995), describes the change from Industrial to Information Society as a conversion from atoms to bits.

Post-industrialists describe Information Society as an environment, where easiness of exchanging information, notwithstanding the distance, causes epochal changes. All domains of human activities will be affected. Trade, production, services, and mainly the management of companies, institutions and the whole states. The only person that can be successful in Information Society must be able to transform the information into knowledge and work in team, often without personal contact with his collaborators. Moreover, it also means the need for the ability to learn something new quickly. The progress is in fact so rapid that the knowledge obtained at school will soon become obsolete. Therefore, one of the most important attributes of Information Society will be the necessity of the life long learning.

It is very important to notice the way in which education processes work. Essentially, it is a social phenomenon. The main part of knowledge everybody acquires originates in social contact with other people. The school isn't the only place, where this process takes place. This is the basic concept of the work of Russian psychologist Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky who worked in the twenties in Moscow. Unfortunately, when he was 34 he died of tuberculosis. During Stalinism his work had not been published, that's why he became known after the translation of his book Thought and language as late as in 1962. Today he is, together with a few other personalities, considered the pillar of the modern pedagogical theory. Although sociology, psychology, pedagogy and other sciences are now, after 70 years, more advanced, Vygotsky's work has still some inspiration for us. Let's try to imagine how we could apply the Vygotsky's theory when using modern ICT in education. Communication technology makes possible to connect more people together and thus obtain the knowledge from the formerly unavailable people.



Psychology


Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Sociology has a strong connection to another science – psychology. Naturally, this branch has some contribution to our study of technology. Generally, the investigation of human personality progresses from simple to more and more advanced model. Czech Jew from Vienna Sigmund Freud first formulated the theory of the influence of unconscious on human behavior at the turn of 19 and 20 century. Freud's unconscious is a part of every personality and it is impossible to influence it by will. According to him, sexuality has big influence on the unconscious. Freud became well known because of his method of non-direct exploration of the unconscious. This method is called psychoanalysis.

Freud had many followers, which were discovering other influences on the development of the human consciousness. One of the best known was Alfred Adler, who believed in the importance of the impact of the sense of inferiority. Melanie Klein also belongs to the Freudian circle. She studied the influence of stress experienced during early childhood. Generally, the psychoanalysis of children is going to be still more and more important. Some schools investigate also the prenatal age and predict its big influence on the whole life.

Carl Gustav Jung
C.G.Jung

Carl Gustav Jung has a very specific position among Freud's followers. He came up with the term collective unconscious. It means that all human beings are, through unconscious, in some way connected together and are able to influence each other.

You may probably ask where the connection with technology is. It is a difficult question. Although we know only a little about human brain we can state that the principle of function is different to the function of current computers. Computer naturally doesn't have any unconscious, any sense of inferiority. It isn't able to feel any emotions and it can't perform the associations. When the computers appear similar to us, it is always a simulation made by the programmer. Such a simulation (artificial intelligence) is different to the behavior of real human beings.

We shouldn't forget about this fact when we use computer programs which are trying to influence or even guide us. There are many programs like that (educational or mostly games). When working with them, we interact with the computer as with a nonhuman agent [Rosenberg], which partly substitutes the author of the program [Matthis]. I do not want to claim that this situation is always bad. However, we are loosing the possibility of nonverbal communication and we should bear in mind what Mc Luhan reminded us – that the technology has influence on the human mind.

Sherry Turkle
Sherry Turkle

Slightly different situation arises when the computer isn't directly in control of the work. The whole area of communication technology belongs to this category. We also often loose the nonverbal part of communication here, but we are connected mostly to other human beings. The most up to date technologies contribute amazingly to further development of psychology. American psychologist Sherry Turkle demonstrated it on the behavior of users of the internet virtual digital cities (MOO). Everybody there can play the role of virtual persons, these can communicate with each other (chat) and construct their own environment. Many people create more then just one virtual person there, often with different characteristics. Turkle in her book Life on the Screen formulated the hypothesis saying that the behavior of every person is guided, in reality, by several different personalities which we are able (in opposite to schizophrenia) to realize. We can change them in the way that is similar to the way we change the tasks in windows on the screen of the computer. Psychoanalysis will probably have to accept this fact and build the real image of a person from several different points of view.

Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner

The results of another American psychologist Howard Gardner are very similar. He continued in former research of human intelligence and came with the proposition that we can't see the intelligence as one integral unit. Gardner recognizes several different types of intelligence – formerly seven (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal). Later he considered the possibly of existence of more then only seven types of intelligence. His results had a significant influence not only on the measuring of intelligence but also on education. Our schools often cultivate only some of these types of intelligence and others are left out completely. The proper way is to offer the pupils various different schemes of instruction and thus enable them to develop various types of intelligence.



Cognitive Psychology


Although we still can't describe the function of human brain very well, our understanding of this process is still developing. The science, which investigates the cognitive processes through the study of the brain, is called cognitive psychology. During the last years there has been some progress. Recently we have discovered that the most important role in the brain is played by the brain cells (neurons). We know that thoughts and feelings are the products of the activity of the interconnections (synapses) among neurons. We know that different parts of the brain have different functions. Generally the left side (hemisphere) works sequentially and takes care of speech, reading and writing. The opposite – right hemisphere is able to work simultaneously and is mainly concerned with the visual information. It is in fact the center of creativity. Simply, we can imagine the memory as a reflection of dynamic net of synapses, where thoughts are caused by impulses going through the synapses. The way in which the mind works is determined by the connections among synapses (association). The ability to make association is one of the most important criteria for the capability of the brain. Because of the ability of association, the acquired knowledge can be also used in other circumstances than those it has been learned in. This fact has the basic significance for the field of education.






Harry Chugani
Harry Chugani

Now we can explain why psychologists pay such a big attention to very young children. The brain's neurons are created mainly in the prenatal age and then, till the old age, this quantity doesn't change much. The average amount is about 100 billions (giga). On the other hand, the quantity of synapses is changing considerably during lifetime. The amount of synapses after the birth is approximately 50 trillions (tera). Which is about 500 per one neuron. In the early age the amount of synapses rises sharply until the age of about five, when the culmination is reached with maximum amount of about 1000 trillions synapses. After this stage the number of synapses goes down approximately to half (500 trillions) in the adult age. The fact that is very important is that this process is all the time dynamic. It means that no synapse is permanently present. It is possible to influence their formation and destruction. Especially in the early age, when synapses are rapidly developed, it is necessary to perform the right activity to help the formation of the best structure of them [Healy]. The way of performing this activity is by the stimulation of senses. This stimulation comes from the outside world (social principle again). Professor Harry Chugani (Wayne State University) compares it to a highway system where the roads with the most traffic get widened and the ones that are rarely used fall into disrepair. According to cognitive psychology, the very important tool for stimulation and developing of thinking is language [Bly].

Let's try to imagine what kinds of synapses are established in the brains of notorious players of improper computer games or viewers of action movies. Maybe some of these players are those pupils, who are able to kill their teacher if they don't like him/her.

Jean Piaget
Jean Piaget

One of the well-known scientists, who elaborated on the abilities of children's brains of cognition, was Swiss Jean Piaget. He came up with several stadia of this process. It isn't necessary to describe them here. The Piaget's general result is the only thing important for us. By him the common trait of every healthy brain in any stadium (include adults) is the natural ambition to be active and learn something new. And everything new comes from the outside world by stimulation and interactions with other people. The surrounding environment makes the influence, but, eventually, the learning process is always self-directed.



Pedagogy


Burrhus Frederic Skinner
B.F.Skinner


Before we start the discussion about technology, we should mention some of the pedagogical views of the principles of cognition. There are many different theories. Except some more or less ancient researchers (for example Socrates, Plato, Comenius, or Rousseau) which were in surprising accordance with current trends, most of the others followed the historical development of our knowledge of the human brain.

Even at the beginning of the 20th Century, the process of saving information in the brain was considered static. The model of cognition that would fit into this concept best is the one of the warehouse, where it is possible to store one information next to the other, without interactions. Psychological and pedagogical theories based on this warehouse-model believe that the location of knowledge in the brain and also the behavior is possible to program beforehand. It could be done by continuous direct control of all senses of such programmed persons. The relevant theory is called behaviorism. The origin of this name comes from the book of an American author John Broadus WatsonThe Behavior (1924). One of the best known personalities representing this theory is a psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner.

Behaviorism is partially valid. The Pavlov's experiment with a dog, which learned to slaver when he heard the bell waiting for the mess, is often used as an evidence. It is true that the senses have some influence on the creation of synapses. However, behaviorists didn't consider the 50 trillions of synapses of the newborns, which we couldn't induce (though somebody tried). In addition, the dynamic development of synapses and the associations, which could cause the possibility of using knowledge in other way than the way it was acquired, wasn't considered. In reality, the ability to use the associations is linked to the human characteristic called intelligence.

Behaviorism still has a strong impact on our school system of today. We can notice it wherever the education takes a form of directly controlled (programmed) process. Unfortunately, it happens almost everywhere. The control could be performed by a teacher and also by the author of a computer program. In reality, this practice doesn't have to be always bad. In some cases, it is impossible to acquire a certain particular knowledge or a skill without practicing under the guidance or supervision of an instructor or by following other template (instructive approach). The real problems arise when we forget that there could be no good results without the active involvement of the (brain of) student. Indeed, in instructive way, we can press into the heads of our students much of the encyclopedic information, but not the ability of generalization and association. When we want to develop their ability of association (intelligence), we have to pay attention to the meaning and the connections between the information subjects. We also have to search for the method of more active involvement of the students in the learning process (constructive approach). And it is not easy.

R.C.Schank
R.C.Schank

The branch of pedagogical science, which is based on this approach, is called constructivism. The main principles are:

Neil Postman
Neil Postman

These trends in well-developed countries call for the reform of school systems. One of the concrete traits is often excessive liberalization. The wrong understanding of constructivism could lead to a statement that learning must be funny and children mustn't be forced to work (edutainment). However, constructive way of learning couldn't be interpreted as entertainment. [Postman].

The change of teacher's position is another sign of constructivism [Dwyer]. It changes from the information provider to a manager and assistant of independent student's work. Sometimes the teacher can also learn from his or her students. The big emphasis is on the relations among-subjects and on the preparation of teamwork. It is evident that this characteristic is in conspicuous accordance with the needs of information society.



Technology



Now we can draw attention to the field of technology in the process of cognition. In reality, technology started its impact on cognition during the Industrial Revolution. If we count the printing as technology then it happened much earlier. It is very interesting, how often the optimistic forecasts of the crucial change of education through technology have come in the past. It happened during the big expansion of film industry in the twenties [Edison], during the emergence of portable radio receivers in the forties [Levenson] and then again later after the invention of TV and sound and video recording. In the early eighties, we have witnessed the first wave of feeding the computers into schools. But, still, no significant changes have been noticed in the school systems. Everywhere else the technology brought a visible shift. Many people have been visiting cinemas and listening to the radio from the twenties on. They have been watching TV everyday since the fifties. It is very common to carry your cassette recorder (walkman) and telephone (mobile) with you everywhere at all times today. Holidays without a video camera could be the reason of the sense of inferiority for the majority of the population. Additionally, there are computers everywhere around us. And their numbers will increase.

All this technology certainly impacts our minds and also education. Unfortunately, this process doesn't happen at schools. Thanks to technology, the portion of knowledge obtained outside the schools is increasing. But we can't be satisfied with the quality of such knowledge. Because of the action games and movies, the technology has influenced the current degeneracy of morality, criminality and violence. More and more people find out that it is necessary to adopt some correction.

This is a problem of the whole society. It is possible to solve it only on the global basis. The solution is not to stop using technology. It is impossible to discourage its penetration to everyday life. The only thing we can do is to try to use the technology in a more reasonable way and so eliminate its bad influence on society. This is the task for everybody, especially for parents. The schools have got their special position.

Steven Jobs
Steven Jobs


Cliffort Stoll
Cliffort Stoll

We have to be careful not to concentrate only on the equipment of schools with computers and internet connections [Jobs]. It could be the similar mistake as 15 years ago, when the schools in our country were supplied with computers equipped with only one program – programming language Basic.

I hope that my conviction of the impossibility of preparation for Information Society by programmed learning through computers is evident from the previous text. But if we look around we can still see many educational programs based on full control of student's work [Stoll]. They often lead to the loss of natural activity of the brain [Schwartz].

I think that cybernetics pedagogy or artificial intelligence in the form of genial automatic teacher still can't solve our problems. Such a machine must be able to simulate the function of human brain in a veritable way. With the current technology it is impossible. There are only some extraordinary and expensive exceptions in the military or medicine applications. The development of such applications (for example flight simulator) is still extremely difficult for the education sector. Maybe some changes could come in the future.

The instructive way of thinking is still preferred by many people, especially the school managers and teachers. If we adopt the constructive approach, we find out that the main task of technology isn't only to help to make the current system more easy, more automatic and more affordable. Technology could support the systemic changes of the whole educational system [David].

H.G.Wells
H.G.Wells

Vannevar Bush
Vannevar Bush

There are two basic conditions for the successful implementation of the constructive approach on education. The first is the self-motivated environment and the second is the accessibility of information. The well-motivated learner could take information and transform it into knowledge. Unfortunately, very often a lot of us interchange the information for knowledge [Eliot]. But these are not the same. There is only one method how to perform such a transformation. This can be done only by seriously taken work of every person involved.

For a long time, there has been the idea of creating a global network, which would be able to save and connect all the knowledge of mankind. First scholar, who came up with such a vision, was an English science-fiction writer H.G.Wells in the late twenties. In that time and for a long time afterwards, in fact not until long ago, it was a mere dream. Nevertheless there had been some visionaries who tried to find the appropriate tool for the concrete realization of this idea. One of the firsts was an American scientist Vannevar Bush in the late thirties. The World War II interrupted his work, because he was in charge of the coordination of American warfare science. That's why his project of the machine called Memex appeared as late as in 1945. The computers were in their early age then, therefore he used the microfiches. This idea has never been practically realized. But Bush was the first, who made the experiment with nonlinear connection of documents. This device has been a model not only for the realization of the Wells' utopia, but it is also in accordance with the scheme of storing information in the human brain.

Ted Nelson
Ted Nelson

The next one, who tried to realize similar idea, was a former Harvard student Theodor (Ted) Nelson. In 1960 he subscribed to the course of computing and, until today, he has been working on the implementation of nonlinearly connected documents on computers. Although he never managed the practical realization of his project (Xanadu), he has become well known because of his term for such a type of document- hypertext.

Nowadays, the hypertext systems are quite common. But there was a long way from the primary Nelson's experiments to the current systems. The first practically applied hypertext application was the FRESS (File Retrieval and Editing System) developed at the American Brown University. The FRESS prototype was used in the project Apollo as a tool for organizing the documentation. Later, hypertext has become the favorite form of product's documentation or of program's help. In this area we have been able to meet it for the last several years.

To increase the use of hypertext it was first necessary to improve the text editors for linear documents and these had to become widely used by the public, especially the teachers. Thanks to current technical abilities of computers, the hypertext systems could be enriched by the sound, pictures, animations, and movie sequences. Such applications are called hypermedia. Almost every encyclopedic title on CD-ROM today is based on this form.

T.B.Lee
T.B.Lee

The latest invention in an attempt of realization of the Wells' World Encyclopedia is the global net called Internet. Its history is well described in many materials. So we won't deal with this here. We will pay attention mainly to one widespread Internet service – World Wide Web. Although many people often use it, not all of them know that WWW was developed as a common hypertext system. Formerly it was constructed by Tim Berners-Lee only for the internal use inside the Switzerland's CERN. Now it looks like the WWW, which is under constant development, could become the applicable tool for realization of the vision of Wells and his followers.

But, as usual, everything turns out slightly different. The original intention of the world encyclopedia has been to collect and store only the proper publishable information. Partly it had been like this until the 1993. Till this year, the Internet had been considered as a noncommercial academic network only. Because of the high costs of its development, American government decided to open the Internet also for the commercial sector. That's why the internet is used more and more for trade nowadays. We can find a lot of advertisements, spam, pornography, etc. there. On the other side, internet is a good assurance of the freedom of speech. Thanks to the decentralization it allows the hundreds of millions users (1 billion is expected about 2005) to communicate through E-mail and publish their opinions on the Web no matter what the content is [Shenk]. That's why it is possible to find almost everything in this global hypermedia encyclopedia. It represents the mirror of the consciousness of the mankind and therefore it should be used in education. But internet solves only one of the two basic conditions for the successful implementation of the constructive approach in education, see above. It provides only the access to information, which is often hidden somewhere, and it is very difficult to recognize on the spot if it is valid [Postman, McKenzie].

The second condition is the self-motivated environment. It is much more difficult to meet. As the first one is mainly a technical problem, the second one is a social issue. The way our children use the internet depends on their interests. And what they are interested in depends on the environment they live in. Surely, there is the influence of schoolmates, commerce, and popular personalities. The prohibited movies, drugs, etc. are very interesting for them. It is very hard to imprint the ideas convenient for parents and teachers on their mind. There are many influences. One of the most important is the function of the family. As we can see, for example, from the divorce statistics, this often doesn't work nowadays. It is not only the climate at home that is important, but also the one at school.

To tell the truth, I doubt that our teachers are able to change the well-established old-fashioned instructive way of teaching to natural self-motivated constructive one, let alone the technology. That's why, I believe, the training of teachers should have the highest priority. Additionally, we have to start a campaign to explain this topic to the parents and to the whole public. Parents have the real responsibility for the education of their children. They should approve the state school policy and the quality of schools and teachers.

If I claim that the training of teachers is the most important thing, I should say a few words about it. We can often notice the myth that the knowledge of teachers about technology could be on the same level as common skills of clerks or secretaries. This is nonsense, of course. They need the basic computer literacy skills as text editors and spreadsheets, but this is not enough. The good teacher must know how to implement technology into his/her everyday work. There are some special skills connected with their subject qualification. There are more and more important special skills connected with general theory of education, psychology, and philosophy. The changes to constructive way of teaching, connected with the change of the teacher's position from the only source of valid information to the guide for independent learning, bring new possibilities, and even more - the necessity of using technology. As the main task of a good teacher is to establish the creative and constructive educational environment, the theoretical knowledge isn't enough for him/her. He or she also needs some manager skills and a gift little bit similar to an actor.



Spomocnik
Ucitelsky
spomocník

The main skills in the area of technology are connected to the efficient use of software in different situations (classroom, computer lab, home, with or without a teacher or parent). He/she has to be able to choose the most appropriate program for each particular situation. The basic orientation in the internet is still more and more important. It takes huge amount of time to become competent for advising on the best location of information required for each lesson. The average teacher isn't able to prepare his/her own technology supportive materials. That's why special services are required.

Such services are being quickly established in all advanced countries such as USA, UK, and others, usually with support of the governments and the state budgets. Some non-profit foundations play the active role in this area too. It looks like it will be possible to provide also some commercial services, especially for the education of adults in near future. The new form – distance learning has been introduced and its importance raises especially in higher forms of education. We, in Czech Republics, also want to join the advanced world. We founded a few internet services for our teachers, unfortunately mainly based on enthusiastic voluntary work. One of them, where I participate, is located at Department of Information Technology of the Faculty of Education of the Charles University in Prague. We call it The Teachers' Helper and you can find it on http://www.spomocnik.cz.





Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert

Lewis Perelman
Lewis Perelman

Alan Lesgold
Alan Lesgolg

Don Tapscott
Don Tapscott

The help, which we offer, is based on supplying the appropriate and actual materials to all Czech teachers. The most important part is The Helper's Linker with thematic and subject oriented links to Web documents that suite our elementary and secondary schools the best. Every teacher can find an inspiration to enrich his/her lesson there. The other part is dedicated to interesting News from the field of educational technology. The main interest of this service is to provide a continuous information about events in the world so everybody here can compare our situation with the situation abroad. The special part takes care of the international Internet projects. They represent one of the best ways of constructive use of technology [Piaget]. They allow us to open the windows of classrooms to the ideas of other schools, cities, states, continents, and maybe, someday, other civilizations. There are many projects that could meet every interest. They cover more then one theme and often more then one subject. Moreover, the work on these projects brings also the additional profit for the whole society. Children meet other people from different countries and learn to understand and accept their cultures. The positive outcome could be the tolerance, which the future Information Society on the Earth desperately needs.

Unfortunately, in reality, there are many experts with rather pessimistic view of future. Some of them believe that our current school system isn't reformable. They are afraid that the attempt to make changes could lead to the assimilation of technology into current old-fashioned way of thinking. Their judgements are often quite radical. They believe that the old system should be completely abolished and some kind of a new one should be created instead.

One of these people was professor Seymour Papert, former Piaget's co-worker and author of the first computer program which could be labeled as constructive – Logo. Lewis Perelman, the owner of the firm Kanban offering distance learning, also belongs to this group. He is the author of the common slogan "just in time”, which in educational context means that in Information Society everybody will learn what is needed at the right moment when it is needed. He/she will be able to choose the best teacher because they will be accessible on the internet through the virtual distance form. Perelman likes to compare the current school system to the success of Maginot line at the beginning of the World War II.

In my selection of quotations, which serves as a complementary document of the hypertext form of this report, even more pessimistic opinions can be found. For example, Alan Lesgold compares the technology to an amplifier that encourages both educational practices – the good ones and equally the bad ones. If we connect his doubts with apprehensions of Sherry Turkle that the bad ones could overweigh, we have something to think about.

Most people consider such opinions as too strong. There should be some system or an institution that would defend children when they prepare themselves for the entry to the dirty world of adults. Yet, we don't know what the best system would be. The only thing we are sure of is that it will be different from the present one. We are at a stage of big changes.

Fortunately there are not only the pessimists. The famous American expert on digital economy, Don Tapscott, thinks that the new net generation already exists. It is the product of the change of the children's position in society, where children have become technology experts. They are more self-confident, open, powerful, and they are not afraid of the conflict with authority. He believes that the whole society will benefit from the abilities of the new net generation.



Philosophy



K

For the final enlightenment, I would like to turn to philosophy. This is the ground science, which ought to give meaning to all human deeds. The most interesting thing on life is the fact that we can never know its meaning. We can only guess it. Maybe this is the reason for the existence of many different religions and ideologies, which are trying to replace our human uncertainty with specific ideas. This is a fertile soil for various types of fundamentalism and totalitarianism. In the Czech Republic, we can still well remember one of them, and about the others we can hear from everyday news, because of their terrorists acts. The source of such extremism is the desire of some people for domination and ignorance of others. It is certainly possible to say that the ignorance, or the imprint of patterns of thinking, is always on schedule of such regimes and other groups with selfish interests.

Here is another danger of the strong programmed learning. It could be easily abused and could influence the mind towards submissive intake of the ready-made attitudes. There are some cases where we can't avoid the instructive approach, but there are not many of them. For example the spelling, numbers to 10, traffic rules, etc. Such instruction can take place in classical way, but it could be easily converted to computer programs and machines could replace the work of teachers. But we shouldn't forget that this way mustn't predominate.

The opposite opinion, which claims that life has no sense, is also a danger. Such attitudes could lead to thoughtlessness, the lack of attention and the lack of concern about anything, and, finally, to total inactivity. In our school system, the pupils often find themselves in similar state. They have to learn something they are not interested in and they don't understand. But the teacher could also experience the same situation when he/she finds out that he/she isn't able to initiate the interest of his pupils. I dare to say that the teacher could easily come to the similar state, when he/she will be pressed to work with technology without careful professional preliminary training. There is a danger of finding out that the technical skills of his/her pupils are better than his/her. When he/she gives them the free access to Web, they will look for such things he/she doesn't want them to. If he/she gives them the privilege to send private E-mails, the content of letters will disappoint him/her. The result of wide liberalization could be very similar. The pupils would do only what they want to do and nobody could control the influence of technology on their minds.

vezeni.gif - 1,52 K

The evolution of philosophy isn't so fast as other disciplines. I mentioned earlier that the views of some ancient philosophers could be accepted even today. I mean mainly the Platon's analogy by which the education is the journey of the prisoner out of the dark cave to the light of knowledge (lat.educat = to lead out). During this journey we meet other people (guides, tutors), who lead us out - to freedom. Although it is impossible to reach the exit in reality, we can sometimes spot in a long distance. That's why we know it exists and guess where it is. We can't find the absolute truth and it is necessary to accept this fact. But it doesn't mean that we are allowed to stop on this journey. It would not be natural and the brain doesn't allow us to do it.

Jan Patocka
Jan Patocka

Radim Palous
Radim Palous

I am not a philosopher and I don't want to elaborate on this any longer. What we need is mainly the relation between philosophy and technology. Thoughts of two Czech philosophers proscribed in communistic era – Jan Patocka and Radim Palous could be relevant for us.

According to Patocka, it is impossible to do the upbringing without conflict between learners and educators, which are trying to influence the learner as his/her potential follower that could be someday better than the teacher is [Sova]. Radim Palous, the follower of Patocka and current professor of Charles University, sees the education from the holistic point of view. He divides the historical epoch to Antiquity, Middle Ages, New Ages, and coming World Ages, in which we have to turn back from the position of the external observer of the universe to the position inside. Holism is the philosophical school, which considers universe as one indivisible unit, which is always developing continuously and creatively and all its parts have the same importance. The human being is only one of these parts and has the co-responsibility for the whole. Nature always creates something new. That's why everybody is different. I hope we could meet the World Ages with Information Society.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein




Albert Schweitzer
Albert Schweitzer

The holistic view corresponds with all we have spoken about till now – with the theory of multiple personalities and intelligence, with the dynamic development of the brain, and also with the collective unconscious. In reality it corresponds even with recent insights of other sciences [Einstein]. The impact on education lies in the discovery that the curriculum, which fits to everybody, doesn't exist. The best solution is to be ready for such environment, where many different ways of learning could be on disposal. Everybody could choose, under the guidance of a teacher, the suitable way. It is evident that there is a consensus between all the sciences in this matter. The only one thing we are waiting for now, is the implementation of the current progress into the education process.

It is possible to describe this situation by the theory of Thomas Kuhn as the change of paradigm. He interprets the evolution of science as a non-continuous process, which happens in sudden jumps. All theories in each particular epoch accept their level of understanding and try to ignore everything that doesn't fit in. The streams that don't fit into these theories, grow. The majority of scientists, which are closely connected to their doctrines, are trying to neglect them as long as possible. Then the moment, when the amount of problems and the number of new theories dealing with them overwhelms, comes. In this moment the majority changes its opinion and the new paradigm is established. This is what happens right now. Unfortunately, education is always a little bit delayed.

Actually, what is the role of technologies in the current development of the human society? I hope we have said it yet. They are the accelerators, which give new possibilities to those people, who have the access to them and others fall behind (it is a really big problem!). They are a powerful tool that could become either a miraculous medicine or a vicious weapon. It depends only on us, what way we will choose. We all have the responsibility for the future. When we want our followers to be better than us, we have to give them not only technology and good teachers, but we have to be good examples ourselves [Schweitzer].


Appendixes:


The selection of references:
BoBr Borivoj Brdicka
http://it.pedf.cuni.cz/~bobr/
Department of Information Technology
Charles University Prague Faculty of Education
http://it.pedf.cuni.cz/

Mr. Brdicka (beaver, in Czech bobr, is the abbreviation of his name) has been working in the field of educational technology since 1983 when he assisted with the supply of the first personal computers to Czech primary and secondary schools. From that time he has trained teachers, designed educational programs, done the research, and mostly unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Czech public, government, and the management of his faculty about the importance of this work.


© 1999 BoBr