Computers and our continuing education
- By John Monroe
- Feb 04, 2001
Governors, with the latest round of state of the state speeches and budget
proposals, have made their priorities clear: Every region needs access to
high-speed Internet connections, and every school should have computers
in its classrooms.
Unfortunately, our nation's leaders tend to frame such proposals in
vague terms, invoking the need to foster a tech-savvy workforce and to keep
U.S. companies competitive in the global market.
What's missing is an explanation of how computers translate into educational
and economic advantages. The sound bites suggest that learning word processing,
electronic spreadsheets and e-mail provides the needed edge, like a modern-day
equivalent of typing and bookkeeping.
But such an assumption is comparable to equating bookkeeping with online
stock market trading. If we approach education — of either children or adults
— with that mindset, we'll never realize the full benefits of computers.
Take my typical workday as an example. For much of the day, when I'm
editing stories, I use my desktop computer as a souped-up typewriter. I
insert text, move paragraphs and erase mistakes. I sometimes play CDs, which
wasn't an option with the Brothers electronic typewriter I used in college,
but that's about it.
But for several hours a day, I'm on the World Wide Web, and that's when
everything changes. The concept of the hyperlink epitomizes the difference.
The hyperlink, a staple of every Web site, has trained me to search for
information by free association, not logical analysis.
That is because the content available on the Web far exceeds the scope
of any particular search engine. When researching a story, my first stab
at Yahoo! or HotBot usually does not turn up the kind of Web pages I have
in mind. But those pages often have links to other sites my search terms
During the past seven years, I have learned to make effective use of
this rather messy way of doing research, often coming up with new lines
of research I never would have considered.
It's not just a matter of learning tools and techniques, but learning
a certain way of thinking. Like a relative of mine who designs video games:
He can master just about any video game in a short time because he instinctively
understands how they work.
A true computer literate is not just someone who can install software
and defragment a disk, but a person who knows how to tap the vast resources
the Web has made available.
It's not much of a sound bite. But that is why our states should invest
in ensuring that everyone has access to the Internet. That is why computers
should play a role in our schools and in everyone's continuing education.
John Stein Monroe