Archive for April 26, 2010
I don’t buy the argument (made in the below referenced article) that the iPhone discourages students from pursuing computer science because it’s a “closed” platform. So are cars, cable boxes, credit cards, and the weather, yet kids still get interested in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, banking, and meteorology. You don’t have to tinker with something to get interested in knowing how it works.
However, this second argument (that I think is the point of the quote below) is more intriguing to me. Do students start to see the iPhone as an appliance, as something that is not only not-knowable, but it’s not even interesting to know it? For several years, I asked people who might know the answer: How does a microwave oven work? The answer I got back almost all the time was, “I don’t know, and I’m not particularly interested.” (I have an idea now how it works, but am not absolutely sure that I really get it.) As an appliance, a microwave becomes unworthy of consideration or study.
What’s more, you rely on an appliance. I tinkered a lot as a kid, but not on the family television, refrigerator, or oven. Not only were those things dangerous, but I knew full well that things I tinkered with didn’t still work the same after I was through. I didn’t want that to happen to something that was important!
Does the iPhone make the technology simply disappear? From a usability perspective, that’s great. From getting kids interesting in computing? It’s pretty hard to get kids excited about something that’s invisible to them.
“We have a generation growing up that’s extremely comfortable with technology – no problem using it. But they don’t seem to be that interested in understanding it,” Harle told silicon.com.
“People can use their iPhone… but they don’t want to delve into it, they don’t want to understand the depths behind it. And I have a sneaking suspicion this is partly because we’ve got to the stage now with computing, computer science, IT, whatever you like, that it’s now such a black box, such a complex thing that you can’t really fiddle in the same way as people used to.”
As a teacher, I definitely understand this phenomenon. Yes, the laptop can really enhance learning. But when 75% of your class has their laptops open in class, and 90% of those are on Facebook, there’s no opportunity for classroom learning. Last week, I broke up my class into smaller groups, and I had to re-explain the activity to several students who had been sitting there the whole time, but in Facebook, so not really there.
As a culture, we’re at an odd crossroads regarding personal computers. For years, educators have been clamoring to put technology in the hands of young students through partnerships with big tech companies, best symbolized by the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
But by the time those kids grow up, they may well find university authorities waging a war on laptops in the classroom. In 2008, the University of Chicago Law School turned off Internet access in classrooms. At the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Kieran Mullen became an Internet sensation when a student recorded him freezing a laptop in liquid nitrogen and shattering it.