I wrote this essay as an assignment for class, but it seemed insightful enough to me that I thought I might share it with you:
An ancient axiom (taken from ecclesiastes 1:9-14) claims that there is nothing new under the sun. Even in this age of rapid progress, we would do well to remember that that is still the case. The computer is not new. It is only faster, and better, than the way we did these things before. The network is not new. It is only faster, and better, than the way we did these things before. After over a decade of widespread internet use, it can be fairly said that the technology is mature, that its possibilities have been fully explored, and that there is little left to think of short of outright invention. Therefore, it will be nearly impossible to discover some great application on the cutting edge of innovation.
Even so, were we to find such a place, it would be in the halls of education. Education has always lagged behind society, behind business, and far behind invention. Education is one of the slowest institutions in human society, and among the most traditional. Many things have been tried to enhance education through the use of computers and networks, and yet many things have, astonishingly, not been.
Outside these venerable halls, the internet is widely known as a resource. I hardly pick up a phonebook anymore, instead relying on superpages. I rarely see my old Random House College Dictionary, instead relying on Dictionary.com. Even my old encyclopedias sit idle, replaced by wikipedia, and various other information sites across the web. For society at large, the reference book, in hardcover form, is mostly a thing of the past. For educators, the advantages of this resource remain largely untapped. Teachers use the Internet to present their lecture notes, to post course calendars and assignment, but the student remains chained to the textbook. One of the highest costs for the student in education, the textbooks for one quarter could buy the student an inexpensive computer capable of performing most academic functions. For the price of a year’s worth of textbooks, a student could be provided with a laptop computer, offering even the same mobility as the venerable textbook. This is a cost a student (or, worse, a school board) must pay time and again, as the student moves into new classes, or new editions are released, or new textbooks are found which better suit the curriculum. With a captive audience, the prices of textbooks continue to skyrocket, as we pay for thicker books, and more color ink, and the textbook invariably becomes obsolete all too quickly.
If the dictionary can be replaced by a web site, if the encyclopedia, the phone book, and the Bible can all reside in electronic ether, so can Network+ Guide to Networking, Fourth Edition, or another book as well written and more continuously updated. Instead of spending millions of dollars on textbooks, schools could pool their money to produce electronic textbooks, written by top educators with real knowledge in their fields, which could be continuously updated and used by any student (or, in fact, any person) anywhere in the world. The savings would be enormous!
Instead, we see the internet being used as an attempted substitute for the classroom environment, which it is not. Internet classes such as those provided at CBC only take away one of the most important aspects of the academic environment: face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers. Meanwhile, the textbook function continues to be provided by a ream of paper bound between two pieces of cardboard, a medium that became obsolete in the 1980s.
So, there you have it: internet-based teaching and internet-based textbooks: both innovative, for education: The one vastly superior to other, the other vastly more popular. The reasons are unclear, but it has to make you wonder.