Monday, February 22, 2010

Technology At Its Best

"When I was a young warthog..." - Poombah, The Lion King

I may not be young, but my wife would argue that I'm still a warthog. Meh. When I was young, however (7th grade), I can recall seeing my first computer: a Tandy Radio Shack, Z-80 (where the TRS-80 moniker originated) based PC with 4K of RAM and a cassette tape used for DASD. The local Tandy Sales Representative had dropped by my class (just before lunch) and showed us a simple program that was something like this:

10 PRINT "Hello world ";
20 GOTO 10

As I watched "Hello world" scroll across the screen at the speed of light, I was enamored. I just had to be a part of this phenomenon. Of course, being spoiled by TV shows like Lost in Space (funny, huh?) I figured computer programming was a cinch. So I, as a huge video games buff and a big fan of Space Invaders specifically, attempted the following during the last 15 minutes of lunch before they took the computer away.

10 Create 5 rows of aliens that are 10 wide; let them descend at the rate of 1 space per second
20 GOTO 10

I didn't want to make the program too complex, after all, so I "kept it simple." Imagine my dismay when the computer spit back the following:

?SN ERROR
LINE 10

READY

And that was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with computer programming.

(For what it's worth, I spent the better part of 8th and 9th grades teaching myself BASIC so that I could eventually write that Space Invaders game. Toward the end, my cassette tape got damaged and I lost everything I had done during the past 2 years. By that point, however, I didn't care any longer since my curiosity took me to many other places in the realm of application development.)

This trip down Nostalgia Lane was prompted by a New York Times article regarding the latest application of technology in an educational setting. I can recall many, many articles written over the past 20 years predicting the downfall of mankind because kids are exposed to too much technology. Oh, the horrors of technology replacing a good education! Oh, how their brains will rot and turn to mush!

I wonder what the authors of those articles are thinking now.

If you haven't yet followed the link, the story is about the Vail school district in Arizona, where a router with satellite access to the Internet was attached to a school bus giving students the chance to browse the web on the way to and from school. Along with Empire High School (in the same district), which was christened in 2005 as a digital school (meaning that students were given laptops instead of textbooks where they could access the Internet at over 100 wireless points in the school), this school district seems to have fully embraced the idea that technology - when used properly - can enhance the educational experience instead of replace it with mind numbing gaming and the endless use of Facebook and Twitter.

This doesn't mean that those things don't occur. On the bus, the author writes, you will occasionally see someone playing video games. But for the most part, students are quietly finishing up homework (that they submit electronically), writing essays, etc. Not only are they able to complement their education by learning how technology facilitates efficiency (and therefore illustrates the advantages of good time management) but the school bus is also much quieter too.

Ms. Cody Bingham, the driver of that school bus, said it best: "that was the quietest ride I’ve ever had with high schoolers."

Maybe it's because their brains have indeed turned to mush and are no longer able to communicate like the proponents of such disastrous consequences predicted during the past 20 years. My guess is that the students are simply getting their work done.

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