The New York Times has been covering technology’s role in education since the paper first began publishing — from an 1872 editorial questioning whether to teach science or the classics to boys of “ordinary abilities,” (PDF) to Sputnik-era pieces demanding more technical education for American schoolchildren (PDF) to today, when you can hardly open, or click on, the paper without finding an article that references the impact of technology on schools, learning or thinking.
For Wednesday, the inaugural Digital Learning Day, a “nationwide celebration of innovative teaching and elearning through digital media and technology,” we’ve combed The Times’s archives to find articles from 1970 to 2002 on the impact of the digital revolution on education.
Just a quick glance at the quotes we’ve pulled from each piece will be enough to show you that the questions we grapple with today — on the “digital divide,” the educational value of the Internet, whether machines can replace teachers, if computers are changing the way we think, how teens are making the Internet their own, and even whether to “flip the classroom” — are the same ones we’ve been worrying about for at least 40 years.
One idea? Choose a piece to share with your students and have them guess in what year it was written.
Meanwhile, to further celebrate the day, we’ll be enthusiastically lending our voice to the call of the originators, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and our partners The National Writing Project, Figment and Edutopia, to encourage everyone, regardless of previous experience, to explore learning with digital technology by doing three simple things:
(Follow the links above for simple ideas anyone can try.)
We also have our own ever-growing resource page on Teaching With and About Technology, which includes lessons, links to more recent Times articles and multimedia, and a list of more than 25 still-open Student Opinion questions about the digital lives of young people, in and out of school.
So spread the word about this occasion on Feb. 1 by following some of our suggestions and links and joining the conversation. You’ll find us on Twitter @nytimeslearning, where we’ll be tweeting (and re-tweeting) about #DLDay all day long.
Some Times Articles on Education and Technology, 1970-2002
1970: Time To Teach Those Teaching Machines (PDF)
There are many reasons why the world’s most technologically advanced country has remained so backward in the uses of educational technology.
1972: Electronics Seen as Education Key (PDF)
Contending that higher education “now faces the first great technological revolution in five centuries,” the commission said that it expected such instructional tools as videotape cassettes, cable television and computers to be in general use on college and university campuses by the year 2000.
Mrs. Mattingly of Lamplighter agreed. “It would be hard to keep students toeing the mark,” she said. “You’d have an underground group that would be hitting the keyboard early in the morning before classes started.”
A senior at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., says he has “never written a paper onto a piece of paper.” Instead, he has done his writing on the word-processing terminals scattered around the campus. Armington has also used computers to study philosophy, create random geometric patterns in a course on art and technology and brush up on his French. To keep up with current events in a banking course, he spent $20 an hour for an electronic clipping service…
Despite the fact that we live in an age of technology – when every new car has a small computer to control the ignition and every newspaper contains articles about toxic chemicals and nuclear safety – most people are essentially unequipped to read and understand these articles. And most people are fashionably proud of it. It is no shame to say, ‘Well, I really don’t know anything about science.’
Computers are likely to supplement, rather than replace, textbooks and lectures. Right now, “we’re in a cusp where we can see it developing, but it’s not quite there yet,” said Douglas Van Houweling, vice provost for information technology at the University of Michigan.
Want to program a VCR to record the news every night for five nights? Ask an adolescent. Want to set the digital watch alarm to go off at 6:30 a.m.? Ask a 10-year-old. Literacy may be endangered today, but not electronic literacy.
1991: Classes Once Removed
…as more schools try to teach the subject in practical and sophisticated ways, educators say that some attempt to improve technology instruction is better than none.
Sixteen-year-old Jon Leger, a high school student in Port Arthur, Tex., does not consider himself a computer whiz. In fact he doesn’t see himself as particularly special in any way.
“People at school treat me like I’m nothing,” he said. But on the Internet, the network of networks, accessible to anyone with a personal computer modem, he has found his place in a world that extends far beyond his home city in southeast Texas. “On the net,” he said, “people are willing to talk to me. It’s a huge self-esteem booster.”
She put on a skit that she’d written, using two stuffed bears wearing sunglasses who were into software copyright infringement. She showed them a slick, 16-minute educational video that BellSouth has distributed free to thousands of schools in the Southeast, featuring Damon Johnson, the lead singer for the rock group Brother Cane. On the video, Mr. Johnson, who has hair like Cher and wears an earring, greets buddies by saying things like, “I see you finally went all digital,” and makes speeches about the dangers of bootlegging software.
The digital divide between these two schools in the heart of Silicon Valley provides perhaps the most striking example anywhere in the nation of a widening gap — between children who are being prepared for lives and careers in the information age, and those who may find themselves held back.
A little more than two years from the January 2000 target date set by the Clinton Administration for having every American school linked to the Internet, nearly 70 percent of the nation’s schools now have at least one computer with an Internet connection — even if fewer than 15 percent of individual classrooms have network access.
But the educational value of the Internet — once taken as nearly an article of faith — is being called into question at a time when so many of the nation’s students cannot solve basic math problems.
…much of what passes for education on computers is a far cry from the well-crafted programs of Scholastic. Most of it is akin to glorified video games offered in the vague but firm belief that access to endless information, regardless of quality, must be good.
With the arrival of the World Wide Web, video streaming, multimedia CD-ROMs and computer-assisted research, students now have easy access to more facts than scholars a few decades ago ever imagined, and those changes have made some administrators and taxpayers view a classroom lecture as an inefficient mode of imparting knowledge from one brain to many.
The teachers who gathered on Thursday in Room 313 at Public School 122 in Astoria, Queens, for the first day of a workshop called Introduction to the Internet were model students. They studied their list of vocabulary terms like “home page” and “modem.” They raised their hands. And when the workshop leader asked a question, they tried to answer:
Down the hall, third graders in Ashley Schuck’s class were learning how to scan photos into the computer and waiting to use the three digital cameras that float from class to class in the school.
…at a time when the corporate world and Wall Street are in the funk of a technology hangover, the students in Mr. Kernighan’s class have a perspective that seems a levelheaded antidote to the prevailing gloom, based on conversations with a few of them. They have no illusions that computing is a silver bullet for the economy or a sure-fire path to riches.