DECEMBER 27, 1995
Elizabeth Farnsworth gets two perspectives on technology in the classroom. Damon Moore is an eighth grade science teacher, who serves on a national commission promoting training teachers with technology. Clifford Stoll is an astronomer, and author of Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. Stoll is skeptical of technology's promise.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Thank you both for being with us. Clifford Stoll, you just heard that glowing report. What's wrong with it?
CLIFFORD STOLL: (San Francisco) It's--they're all over the place. There's this wonderful feeling that, wow, computers make learning fun, it's going to be wonderful out there, students have lots of information and boy, they're going to be really smart. But there's this wide gulf between information, which computers provide lots of, and knowledge, which computers provide none of. Moreover--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Wait, let me interrupt you a minute--why can't they provide knowledge? Why is not reading and learning about say the Odyssey via computer as good as reading, reading it in a book?
MR. STOLL: Because reading the original Odyssey means turning pages and reading it. Very few, if any, people read the Odyssey on a computer screen. You just can't read more than three or four pages. Yeah, you can turn it into a game. You can turn into a multimedia, gosh, wow, I'm going to go from here to there and have a lot of fun while prowling around on maps, but are you reading the text, or have you simply marginalized and pushed aside the reading and the thinking part and turned it into a game?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Damon Moore, what do you think? You heard that report. You think that this is a good way to teach, right?
DAMON MOORE, Jr. High Science Teacher: (Indianapolis) Yes, I do. It's their world. It is the world of tomorrow that they have to be able to live in. What we as educators have to be cognizant of is that we have to change what we do. We are no longer the guide or the protector of the knowledge. We are the guides for students to immerse themselves into the new knowledges. What CD-roms can do for students in the classroom is nothing short of amazing. The empowerment is something that we have known for a long time as teachers because we know we learn best what we teach. What we do with students and technology is allow them to become the teacher. They are empowered to learn, and we become guides to help them learn all they want to know.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me get some facts straight before we go any further. About what percentage, Mr. Moore, of classrooms have computers at this point?
MR. MOORE: Not nearly enough. There are two different numbers that you are probably aware of. One is the percentage of classrooms that have computers, which is not important. The important number is the number of classrooms that actually use those computers, which is probably less than 10 percent. That's my number. You'll see varying numbers, depending on which reports you look at. The reality is that most teachers are not trained to use the computer as a tool; therefore, the computers sit in the classroom and oftentimes go unused to their maximum.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Explain to me, what is it about the computer that so engages students?
MR. MOORE: The computer is a perfect tutor. It will wait for the student as long as the student needs. It will never raise its voice at the student for giving a wrong answer. It will never let them have a wrong answer and walk away with it. The computer used in a proper setting can become the perfect tutor for any student and level the playing field for those who are accelerated, as well as those who are not as accelerated. We have a lot of information about the ability of the computer to level that educational playing field.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Stoll, what's wrong with that, and before you answer that question, you, yourself, have loved computers. You chased spies on computers. You've written two books about it. What's wrong with using the computer if it does engage people this way?
MR. STOLL: I wish it did. Oh, like everyone else, I yearn for this wonderful solution to, to educational problems. Alas, I have this feeling that computers, like instructional videos, like filmstrips of ages past, are wonderful gadgetries that, that are simply no substitute for thinking, for analytic thought, and that they teach the student most of all that you can get the answer out of a cathode ray tube. You know, tough questions, the questions that students ought to be grappling with, yet can't get out of a CD-rom, you have to think for yourself, most of all, this whole idea of empowerment and self-directed learning, hey, what's the most important thing in a classroom, might it be an interaction between a good teacher and some motivated students? And anything that comes between them, whether it's a CD-rom, a filmstrip, an instructional video, an Internet feed, a World Wide Web site, anything that comes between that good teacher and those students might be bad for learning.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So we're really talking about a different educational psychology here. You think that the, the traditional interaction between teacher and student is what really starts people thinking, and that it can't be done by looking in a computer.
MR. STOLL: To me, the, the promise of computers in education is, hey, it makes learning fun, it's wonderful, kids love the stuff, parents want it to happen. School administrators and principals want to see computers in schools, but, wait a second, how much learning happens? It seems to me that learning takes work, takes discipline, takes inspiration, takes commitment--commitment, inspiration, and that stuff you can get from a teacher but you can't get it online.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Moore, what about that?
MR. MOORE: And that's exactly what we do. The machine is not replacing a teacher. The machine becomes a tool of the teacher to motivate the student. The machine becomes an extension of the teacher. Rather than my lecturing a student about the flow of blood through the heart, I can take a computer and animate that same lecture to show the student how the blood actually flows cell by cell through a capillary. We've done that using an encyclopedia CD-rom.
MR. STOLL: And I can show students on a computer pictures of planets. I can also take them out in the evening and look through a telescope and show them the Moon right next to the planet Venus, and I can show them craters on the Moon live, or I can show them pictures over a TV screen.
MR. MOORE: But their world is more attuned to what we can do with them on a TV screen than anything that we can show them live. To them, a star--
MR. STOLL: How sad, what a loss.
MR. MOORE: No, it's not a loss. I think it's an adaptation. What we have to do is realize that we have a generation of TV children. They've grown up with the television, and they have a certain expectation.
MR. STOLL: Why not bring TV into the classroom, why not just have a bunch of TV monitors there?
MR. MOORE: That is exactly what the computer can be partially. We are not--I'm not saying that we replace teachers or we replace classrooms with computers or networks. We use these tools to have students access and become self-motivated learners. They are in control. They can then analyze and begin to discuss with the teacher in small groups information that we would not have been able to, or they may not have wanted to discuss before. It is prime--it is a prime opportunity for us to use the technology for a world that they will be working in.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Moore, let me ask you, what about the difference, the growing gap between those schools that have computers and those that don't?
MR. MOORE: It is a--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's very costly, hugely costly to do this, isn't it?
MR. MOORE: Well, the cost I think is one of perception. I liken the cost to what we want to pay for a ballistic missile. How many ballistic missiles would it take to give every child in America a computer at home and one at school? You'd be surprised.
MR. STOLL: Another way of measuring it is: How many school art studios do you have to close? How many school music rooms do you have to close--
MR. MOORE: It's not a trade-off.
MR. STOLL: --to pay for--
MR. MOORE: It's not a trade-off.
MR. STOLL: --to pay for these things?
MR. MOORE: It's not a trade-off. The computer can be used in the art room, as well as the Home Ec room, as well as the music room, as well as the literature, the language arts rooms. The computer is just a tool. It's an opportunity for us to use a technology that is newly available to us to maximize every child's potential.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Clifford Stoll, let me ask you, what role do you see for computers?
MR. STOLL: Computers are--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, in the classroom?
MR. STOLL: They're neat gadgetry that are useful for plugging in to, in to pick up sort of encyclopedic knowledge, the kind of thing that you might open up an encyclopedia for.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you'd have it in a library, for example, to look up information.
MR. STOLL: And if that's your conception of, of an education, that is to say pour facts into somebody's mind, well, you know, I guess it's kind of useful, but to me, how much more exciting the real world is than anything that come across the--a cathode ray tube.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But let's say that you're in a very small school in a very small Kansas town, and it's really hard to get a big--all the resources of a big library, and you've already used the--
MR. STOLL: Well, hot ziggity, that's terrific! Look, in that case you're in touch with your community. Hey, you, you do a field trip to go out and look at a forest, rather than downloading pictures of trees. You go out and, and talk to people on the street and ask them, what do they think of, of what's going on in Syria and Israel, rather than downloading it from someplace three thousand miles away.
MR. MOORE: And my students can talk to the same people over the Internet, or they can talk to them on a chat line and ask their questions and receive direct information that they might never have had the opportunity to do before.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Stoll, do you think that we'll embrace this like we embraced filmstrips, and then it will just go away, that only a few schools will be left with these computers?
MR. STOLL: Hey, I remember filmstrips and instructional videos. Every Wednesday, we'd see 'em in Buffalo, New York Public School 61. You know, we all looked forward to it. Students loved it because, hey, every Wednesday afternoon, we'd watch the filmstrips and we'd go zip and flip our mind into new neutral because we didn't have to think for the next hours. Teachers loved it too. Computers are different, why, of course, but I'm concerned that we are relegating the teacher, the teacher and the nature of real experience to a secondary role behind computers. Mind you, I love computers. I've got a half dozen of them. It's that much more than computers I love teachers and real experience and real interaction with, with live human beings.
MR. MOORE: I am a teacher, and my students can have their world expanded by the use of this technology, and my interacting directly with them in small groups and individually, it is an opportunity that this country cannot pass up to make sure that every child has this technology available to them. It is the leveler for this uneven playing field that we call education.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I've got to interrupt. I'm sorry. Mr. Moore, Mr. Stoll, thanks so much for being with us.
MR. STOLL: Many thanks to you.