Technology Column

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At a convocation on educational technology held by the National Academy of Sciences last week, precollegiate educators were criticized for failing to close the "technology gap'' between the classroom and the living room.

But one unmentioned factor that may have slowed that transition is the wariness of the public for technological quick fixes.

And one viewpoint that was not heard at the meeting was that of the skeptics, such as Michael Shrage, who in a May 6 column on the The Los Angeles Times business page, argued that money spent on computers and other technologies is largely wasted.

He noted, for example, that despite a healthy investment in technology, American students do not fare well in international comparisons of science and mathematics achievement.

"Somehow, students in Italy, Taiwan, and so forth manage to do well without being connected to a multimedia Intel chip or wired to an Apple-generated mathematics simulation,'' he wrote.

He derided the large technology investments made by such states as California, Florida, and Texas and the eagerness with which technology firms are competing for those funds, warning taxpayers and parents that "the computers-in-education technocrats are likelier to become the 'welfare queens' of the Information Age.''

Meanwhile, at the academy, despite complaints by some well-respected educational-technology experts that the three-day meeting at times became tedious, the sentiment ran counter to Mr. Schrage's cautionary tone.

And some scientific "big guns'' were brought in to send the message home.

Although he is better known for giving birth to the concept of satellite communciations, Arthur C. Clarke, the noted science-fiction writer, also is a strong proponent of the uses of technology to further educational goals.

In addressing the convocation via satellite from his home in Sri Lanka, he pointed out that many years ago he wrote a paper entitled "Satellites and Saris'' in which he suggested that satellite-delivered instruction could be an educational boon to Third World nations.

That prediction, he noted, has been largely fulfilled in such countries as India, where satellite-broadcast instruction reaches even the most remote corners of the subcontinent.

But he readily demonstrated he is not necessarily a hardware addict by posing the question "Have you ever considered what a wonderful technology a book is?''

And he wryly scorned the position--taken by some educators and parents--that computers are a threat to the cherished interaction of student and teacher.

"I'm fond of saying that any teacher [who] can be replaced by a machine should be,'' he chuckled.--P.W.

Vol. 12, Issue 34

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