Being Digitally Educated, Dewey, Technology, and Distance Learning

Michael Brint
Associate Professor and Director, Integrated Program in Humane Studies
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

I. The Experience of Education in Digital Life

In his 1995 book, Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte signals what many believe to be a paradigm shift from “atoms” to “bits”–from an “atomic” orientation to the world consumed by material interactions to an orientation unburdened by such impediments as space, time and atomic weight. Racing unfettered at blinding speed over vast distances of space, the bit, the smallest unit in the “DNA of information,” [1] has done more than help usher in the post-industrial age of information. According to Negroponte, it has become the basic commodity of interaction in the post-information age–an age in which the possibility of digital living has become increasingly viable:

The industrial age, very much an age of atoms, gave us the concept of mass production, with the economies that come from manufacturing with uniform and repetitious methods in any one given space and time. The information age, the age of computers, showed us the same economies of scale, but with less regard for space and time… [By contrast,] in the post-information age, we often have an audience the size of one. Everything is made to order and information is extremely personalized… The post-information age is about machines’ understanding individuals with the same degree of subtlety (or more than) we can expect from other human beings.Such customized digital living entails more asynchronistic communications (like e-mail), billions of bits of information on demand (in such forms as TV programs, videos, music, and news), and less and less dependence on being in a specific place at a specific time. [2]

In examining the educational implications of living digitally, Negroponte captures many of the central pedagogical points now being advanced by prominent policy analysts urging the development of distance learning opportunities. [3] In most instances, such approaches consist in the creation of highly individualized asynchronistic learning programs accessible on demand. This form of delivery is said to particularly aid the growing numbers of non-traditional students whose lives require that learning be less and less dependent on one’s ability to be in a specific place at a specific time.

Whether delivered to a classroom, laboratory, workplace or home, learning digitally as an experience is said to be one of individual exploration, experimentation, and expression. Emphasizing the benefits of computers as learning tools, Negroponte notes that

While a significant part of learning certainly comes from teaching–but good teaching and by good teachers–a major measure comes from exploration, from reinventing the wheel and finding out for oneself. Until the computer the technology for teaching was limited to audiovisual devices and distance learning by television, which simply amplified the activity of teachers and the passivity of children. The computer changed this balance radically. All of a sudden, learning by doing became the rule rather than the exception. Since computer simulation of just about anything is now possible, one need not learn about a frog by dissecting it. Instead, children can be asked to design frogs, to build an animal with frog-like behavior, to modify that behavior, to simulate the muscles, to play with the frog. By playing with information, especially abstract subjects, the material assumes more meaning. […] Anecdotal evidence and careful testing results reveal that this constructivist approach is an extraordinarily rich means of learning, across a wide range of cognitive and behavioral styles.[4]

“Learning by doing,” “finding out for oneself,” “playing with information,”–Negroponte’s orientation sounds a lot like an updated version of John Dewey’s educational approach. Stressing similar ideas, Carol Twigg, a senior analyst for EDUCOM and one of the leading advocates of distance learning, claims that “what we know about high-quality learning, cooperative learning, and discovery learning-implies a learning-by-doing model rather than the passive, classroom-based model that typifies the teaching infrastructure.”[5] Against such passive learning, Dewey notoriously stressed the importance of experience as an active process. “To ‘learn from experience’ is to make a backward and forward connection between what we do to things and what we enjoy or suffer from things in consequences. Under such conditions, doing becomes a trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like; the undergoing becomes instruction–discovery of the connection of things.” [6]

In a similar vein, discovery labs for physics and other natural sciences (like the CUPLE program developed at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) stress the experience of discovery through exploration and experimentation. By using a studio approach to learning, computer simulations allow students to discover scientific principles through their own active engagement. Jack M. Wilson, Director of the Anderson Center for Innovation in Undergraduate Education, explains the basic premise underlying such initiatives: “The focus is on student problem solving and projects,” he tells us, “and not on presentation of materials. The emphasis is on learning rather than teaching.” [7]

While the CUPLE program uses multimedia tools authored by experts for student use in the discovery, experimentation and exploration of science, multimedia offers new domains of student expression as well. “We are entering an era when expression can be more participatory and alive,” Negroponte tells us. “We have the opportunity to distribute and experience rich sensory signals in ways that are different from looking at the page of a book and more accessible than traveling to the Louvre.” [8] Rather than simply interacting with a designed exercise, students can become their own authors–designing and architecting multimedia projects that integrate both different disciplines and media.

CITYSCAPES at Kenyon College is just one example of a course developed to focus on the student as the creative agent of learning.[9]From a literary walk through the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires to an analysis of the role of women in the agricultural economy of Nairobi, students in this course become authors of multimedia projects that focus on specific themes related to particular cities or regions of the world. In addition to the Internet and library resources, these projects, currently produced as a CD-ROM, combine videos, photographs, recordings, interviews, and journals made by the students themselves. As authors guided by both local scholars and distant experts in various fields related to their study, students become increasingly fluid in coherently drawing together and creatively comingling function and form, method and subject, narrative and design.

Along with their expressive and experiential potentials, many see the greatest advantage of computer learning environments in terms of their potential for customization. Course materials can be delivered to fit the different learning styles of students and developed to help students realize their unique potentials and capacities. According to Massy and Zemsky, the two most fundamental advantages of information technology are the new “economies of scale” it offers and its ability to provide what they term, “mass customization.” “Technology allows faculty to accommodate individual differences in student goals, learning styles, and abilities, while providing improved convenience for both students and faculty on an ‘any time, any place’ basis.”[10]

In the post-information age, most surmise, the advent of sophisticated and customized simulations across the curriculum will increasingly provide the basis of experience for engaged learning. Many who are helping to lay the foundation for the future of information technology and education advocate the creation of a National Learning Infrastructure that could deliver these sophisticated simulations “anytime, anywhere, to anyone.”[11] If these trends continue, the experience of education in digital life may well be one of more convenient asynchronistic communication, customized educational services on demand, and less and less dependence on being at a specific place at a specific time. Yet, for all of the Deweyean-sounding practices that are supposed to accompany these educational delivery services–learning by doing, exploration and experimentation, play and discovery–I doubt it is time to begin celebrating the realization of Dewey’s educational philosophy in the post-information age.

II. Learning as a Social Environment

If many proponents of distance learning follow Dewey’s lead in emphasizing experiential and constructivist models of education, few follow his views regarding the inexorably social and relational nature of learning. Most of their accounts portray distance learning (at least at the level of higher education) as a highly individualized process of self-development, driven by the student’s own initiative toward the successful acquisition of specifiable skills.[12]

For Dewey, no matter how individualized or customized the material that is being explored, learning is not an isolated enterprise that takes place within the self or between the individual’s mind and the material it confronts, but a social activity that takes place within the context of a social environment. “As matter of fact,” Dewey tells us,

every individual has grown up, and always must grow up, in a social medium. His responses grow intelligent, or gain meaning, simply because he lives and acts in a medium of accepted meanings and values. Through social intercourse, through sharing in the activities embodying beliefs, individuals gradually acquires a mind of their own. The conception of mind as a purely isolated possession of the self is at the very antipodes of the truth. The self achieves mind in the degree in which knowledge of things is incarnate in the life about him; the self is not a separate mind building up knowledge anew on its own account. [13]

From Dewey’s point of view, even the ideal of education as self-development must be understood as a social process achieved through interaction and relation with others. Rather than fostering this ideal, advocates of distance learning, particularly those who stress self-paced, independent study, tend to reinforce individual isolation. “The effort at isolated intellectual learning contradicts it own aim,” Dewey claimed, for it “precludes the social sense which comes from sharing in an activity of common concern and value.” [14] In examining the economic efficiencies gained by computer innovations, Massy and Zemsky tellingly report that without a supportive social environment, “the students who would most benefit from self-paced learning have the least motivation to do so.”[15]

The prevailing attitude toward teaching is also particularly telling on this point. In Twigg’s words: “Because of the widespread availability of self-paced learning materials, direct faculty intervention throughout the learning process will lessen.”[16] Like a small country being invaded by a foreign power, the idea of faculty interaction is not said to be condemned simply because of the enormous costs of the labor involved (although one suspects that this is the most significant issue). Rather advocates of information technology assume a notion of independent learners at the center of the enterprise who simply do not depend on faculty as the primary source of their learning. While Dewey was among those to argue against a teaching-centered model of education, he would certainly reject the radically asocial dimension of distance learning as it is currently being discussed. [17]

Once again, Dewey’s position is that the social environment–the interdependence and engagement of individuals in the performative acts of learning–is a necessary condition for developing the unique capacities of individuals. Even if such a model as the National Learning Infrastructure could develop an individual’s dispositions for distance learning; in its current direction toward individualization, it would be difficult to account for the experience of sharing in a common activity that is central to Dewey’s understanding of both the social environment of learning and the social aims of democracy.

In contrast to Dewey’s concentration on the social functions of education, the individual ends of distance learning are most frequently described in terms of the acquisition of definable skills. “It seems to me,” Carol Twigg writes,

that our definition of learning is changing in a number of ways… Increasingly, viewing a college education as mastery of a body of knowledge is becoming outmoded. Instead we recognize that graduates need to have acquired skills… along with such abilities as finding needed information and working well with others.[18]

With this emphasis on acquired skills, we are also beginning to see more stress placed on educational outcomes. “Because of its capacity to focus on individual assessment,” Massy and Zemsky note, information technology “will make the teaching and learning enterprise much more outcome-oriented.”[19] In large measure this growing emphasis on skills and outcomes is related to a greater consumer orientation to education. Increasingly students are looking “for increased competition between higher education providers to work to their advantage as consumers.”[20]

While Dewey too understood the importance of acquiring skills, he would no doubt be disturbed by the instrumental and pecuniary ends of distance learning. In his essay, Individualism, Old and New, he claimed that “the development of a civilization that is outwardly corporate–or rapidly becoming so–has been accompanied by the prevailing mentality of the ‘business mind'” and the prevailing standards of value derived from pecuniary success alone.[21] On the educational front, the ability to buy economic success is understood in terms of the acquisition of skills of technical mastery sold at the best price. Yet paradoxically, Dewey argued, even if these skills are quite broad and fluid, such narrowly conceived individualist attempts to find economic security in an increasingly insecure economic world produces the conditions under which individuals become increasingly lost, unable to “find support and contentment in the fact that they are sustaining and sustained members of a social whole.”[22]

For Dewey, a highly individualistic or libertarian model of learning severely narrows and restricts the meaning and practical effects of education’s social function. In his view, the purposes of education in a democracy are necessarily both individual and collective in nature. They consist in developing individuals’ natural capacities and acquisition of skills in concert with their preparation for the activities of engaged citizenship and reflective thought. Indeed, without pathological effect, the growth of the individual–the unique development of the individual’s talents and skills– cannot be separated from the social environment of shared activities, values and common interests within which the individual is sustained and grows.

Although information technology has the potential “to increase learning productivity in the areas of codified knowledge and algorithmic skills,”[23] it may not serve these larger social purposes. Indeed, even if one could argue that sharing in common activities that are primarily non-algorithmic can take place within the social environment of distance learning, Dewey would strongly criticize the disembodied nature of such a “social” environment.

For Dewey, learning digitally may well push Cartesian dualism to new heights as minds connect over vast distances without the inconveniences of time, place and body. In his view, the separation of body and mind culminates “in a sharp demarcation of individual minds from the world, and hence from one another… [This] dualistic philosophy of mind and the world implies an erroneous conception of the relationship between knowledge and social interests, and between individuality or freedom and social control and authority.”[24] In educational practice, it often assumes the form of a body of knowledge distinct from its social purposes and a mind free from its social context and physical constraints. As Sidney Hook explains, a dualistic theory of mind and body, according to Dewey, “converts functional distinctions in the ‘moving unities of experience’ into separations of existence. Thus mind is considered separate from the body, whose activity is viewed as an alien influence on how the mind learns and the self is divided from its environing physical and social world.”[25]

Even as a real time-interactive-talking heads-model, being digitally educated decontextualizes the experience of learning and realizes in practice what Descartes only separated philosophically: Minds communicate through bits, bodies move through atoms. The most elemental dualism of the post-information age is thoroughly Cartesian. Detached from the motion of our bodies and disengaged from our local physical and social surroundings, education in the post-information age does not connect, but separates the self from the world, and thus from others. Rather than fulfilling its promise, learning digitally seems only to compromise the most significant elements of Dewey’s educational philosophy.

III. Learn Locally, Think Globally

Although information technology, like the printing press, opens up radically new options for education, Dewey would remind us that computers are, after all, tools. And, like all other tools, they provide ways of getting around and fulfilling one’s purposes in one’s environment. The question is how can we best use the tools of information technology for our educational purposes and aims?

In terms of delivery, advocates of digital learning often argue that information technology provides a better option than the traditional university. With its relatively fixed economy of scale and centralized location, the university has become a legacy of the industrial age. In Twigg’s words: “Our institutions of higher education are reminiscent of other kinds of industrial age organizations such as the factory and the department store–characterized by size and centralization–in contrast to the distributed, networked organization and mail-order shopping services of the 1990s.”[26] Twigg predicts that the ability to transmit through networked organization high quality learning tools customized for the individual student will begin to replace the traditional (teacher-centered) functions of the university. While there will still be a role for faculty and institutions of higher education in terms of certification, student services, and some collaborative experiences, she suggests, its centrality in the process of learning will significantly change as students become more independent and self-reliant and as physical contact becomes “less important to them.”[27]

Although Twigg may well be correct in arguing that the industrial designed university no longer provides the best option for educational delivery, her vision of the future predicated on independent learning, as we have seen, is not without its serious defects. In analyzing the profound implications of the printing press in America, Dewey noted that localism with its infinite variations and specific contexts tends to become stronger as the world (or at least information about it and our connection to it) grows closer.[28] And just as industry and politics are witnessing a tendency toward both decentralization and globalization, the best option for educational delivery may well be the more local community and small college system with new neighborhood and workplace learning centers further developed to meet the educational needs of both traditional and non-traditional students. Within these small colleges and decentralized institutions, the physical proximity of students and faculty would help to embody learning and knowledge as a social process.

To learn locally and think globally, students must have access to the tools of technology. Information retrieval, communication systems, and independent and collaborative learning tools are now necessary and even elemental parts of learning. But they are not sufficient. They must be contextualized within a learning environment. As most agree, learning tools can “stand in” for a physical and social environment, but they cannot replace it. One simply cannot replace the direct and palpable gravity of social interaction that is intrinsic to the atomic weight of learning with weightless bits traveling at blinding speed through thin fine fibers of glass.

As global communication systems eviscerate time and space, digital learning may transform the mode of educational production and delivery. It may even make the traditional university and large state institution obsolete. But as our access to the tools of technology become less dependent on space and time, as distance learning increases, the proximity of social interaction in the process of learning should increase proportionally: The more distant the means of delivery, the more proximate the learning experience should be in terms of the intensity, relation, and quality (if not quantity) of interactions between faculty and students. Rather than becoming less so, the physical and social environment may become more important as distant learning tools become more available. As in the case of localism and globalism, physical proximity and intensive social interaction may both compliment and counterbalance distance in learning. Although learning digitally may promise to make us less dependent on time and space, it is only within a social environment of learning that we can begin to celebrate the experimentation, exploration, and expression–the idea of learning by doing–central to the spirit of John Dewey.

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Endnotes

[1] Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, (New York: Borzoi-Knopf, 1995), 14.

[2] Ibid., 163-65.

[3] For example, see William F. Massy and Robert Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity” 4.

[4] Ibid., 199f. Return to text

[5] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure” 5.

[6] Dewey, Democracy and Education, in John Dewey, The Middle Works, 1899-1924, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), 147.

[7] Jack M. Wilson, “The CUPLE Physics Studio,” The Physics Teacher.

[8] Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, 224.

[9] A description of CITYSCAPES can be found in “Strengthening Teaching and Learning in the First Two Years,” PEW Charitable Trusts (Number 9, January 1996), 4.

[10] Massy and Zemsky, Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 2. (www.educause.edu/ir/library/abstracts/nli0004.html)

[11] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure.”

[12] Although one of these skills may involve collaboration, it is nevertheless described as a kind of “pull yourself up by your own boot straps” social environment of independent learning.

[13] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” 304.

[14] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” 44.

[15] Massy and Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 4.

[16] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure,” 8.

[17] On the role of the teacher and the social purposes of education, see Dewey’s The School and Society in The Middle Works, vol. 1.

[18] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Infrastructure,” 1. See also, Jeremy Shapiro and Shelley Hughes, “Information Technology as a Liberal Art,” Educom Review (March/April):31-35.

[19] Massy and Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 3.

[20] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Infrastructure,” 4. Return to text

[21] Individualism, Old and New in John Dewey: The Later Works, vol 5, p. 67f. Return to text

[22] Ibid. Return to text

[23] Massy and Zemsky, “Using Information Technology to Enhance Academic Productivity,” 2.

[24] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” 300.

[25] Hook, “Introduction to Democracy and Education,” x.

[26] Carol Twigg, “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure,” 5.

[27] Ibid., 8.

[28] See “Americanism and Localism” in John Dewey: The Middle Works, vol. 12, p.12-16.

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Women: Lost in Cyberspace?

Laurie Finke
Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
Date of publication: 1997

The Culture of Virtual Communities

In one passage from A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf’s fictional narrator finds herself walking across the grounds of an Oxbridge college deep in thought, contemplating an essay by Charles Lamb on Milton’s “Lycidas.” She remembers that the manuscript of that famous poem that Lamb cites in his essay is housed in the library of the very college whose grounds she walks. She imagines herself literally retracing Lamb’s footsteps “across the quadrangle to that famous library where the treasure is kept.” Finding herself at the door of the library,

I must have opened it, for instantly there issued, like a guardian angel, barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction. (Woolf 7-8; emphasis in original)

The narrator’s response shows how quickly alienation follows from exclusion, how quickly intellectual curiosity can become indifference: “Venerable and calm, with all its treasures safe and locked within its breast, it [the library] sleeps complacently and will, so far as I am concerned, so sleep forever” (Woolf 8).

I found myself returning to this scene again and again when I was asked to think about the consequences of emerging information technologies for the teaching that I do in a Women’s and Gender Studies program, particularly in relation to the kind of student-centered pedagogy that we, for the purposes of this project, are calling “proximity learning,” and opposing to the “distance learning” so often extolled as information technology’s future (Twigg, Alley). Surely such scenes of exclusion as Woolf describes in 1928 could not be repeated in an American university at the end of the twentieth century? No student of ours–female or male– would be turned away at the doors of our colleges’ libraries by kindly silver-haired librarians guarding the doors and rebuffing the unwelcome. Yet the refrain heard constantly among cyber-touts these days is that the locus of the library is rapidly changing. Soon the “treasures” about which Woolf writes so eloquently will reside not in atoms–in weighty volumes stored on scores of shelves in monumental stone buildings–but in ethereal bits, floating around in a non-place we’ve come to call “cyberspace,” capable of being disassembled and reassembled at our merest whim in any format we desire (Negroponte). Knowledge–or at least information– will no longer be “locked away” and apportioned out by the gatekeepers of culture, but will be available anywhere, anytime at the press of a button or the click of a mouse.

This enthusiastic assessment of the democratizing potential of information technologies, however, merits closer scrutiny. What will the effects of this dematerialization–this transformation of information from atoms to bits–be? In particular, we ought to pay close attention to the rhetoric of the sales pitch through which the benefits of cyberspace are being promoted. While the term is often used rather loosely to refer to everything from computer games to the World Wide Web, “as though each computer screen were a portal to a shadow universe of infinite, electronically accessible space” (Markley 2), it is worth noting how the experts talk about the concept. Michael Benedikt defines cyberspace as “a globally networked, computer-sustained, computer-accessed, and computer-generated, multidimensional, artificial, or virtual’ reality” (Benedikt 122). Marcos Novak characterizes it as “a completely spatialized visualization of all information in global information processing systems, along pathways provided by present and future communication networks, enabling full copresence and interaction of multiple users, allowing input and output from and to the full human sensorium, permitting simulations of real and virtual realities, remote data collection and control through telepresence, and total integration and intercommunication with a full range of intelligent products and environments in real space” (Novak 225,226). What both definitions have in common is their thorough erasure of human agency in the transition from a material to a virtual reality [1]. In both definitions machines are remarkably lively and intelligent. They “network,” “sustain,” and “generate.” They provide access; they “enable”interaction, “allow” input and output to circulate, and “permit” simulations. Humans, on the other hand, have almost entirely disappeared or are completely passive. Indeed we no longer have people attached to computers at all, but “human sensorium.” People have become little more than inert receptacles for “input” and “output.” As Donna Haraway writes, “Our machines are disturbingly lively and we ourselves frighteningly inert” (Haraway 152). This way of talking about computer technology is not limited only to VR visionaries. Most educators writing about the benefits of information technology use the very same rhetoric:

  • IT will change teaching and learning profoundly, no matter what the response of traditional higher education institutions. (Massy and Zemsky 2)
  • IT enables students to work at their own pace with continuous assessment, in contrast to the traditional post-secondary education method which can be described as batch-processing with episodic assessment. (Massy and Zemsky 4).
  • For not only will information technology accelerate the move toward a process focus and collaborative learning, it may change the fundamental relationships and understandings we’ve developed during the era when most information was stored on paper. (Batson and Bass 44)

In the first sentence, information technology is characterized as having the power to transform higher education in spite of whatever paltry resistance its institutions might mount (notice it isn’t educators, but only institutions that resist). Human agency can amount to little more than a pallid and ineffective imitation of computer efficacy (“batch-processing with episodic assessment”). In fact, in the technological determinism that marks most writing of this kind, human actors appear only as obstacles to the electronic transformation of higher education. Faculty and administrators who resist the inevitable digitalization of the university are seen as the problem to be solved: “faculty will have little interest in IT’s capacities to boost academic productivity to the extent that they lack an appropriate vision of learning productivity” (Massy and Zemsky 6). Sentiments like this are so common nowadays that they fly by unnoticed. But their consequences for how we think about information technologies and for the problems we gloss over are profound.

The effect of this discursive logic that endows machines with agency while erasing human actors is to write out of existence a whole host of material and cultural institutions and practices that create and sustain information technology, but which also determine who is allowed access to this information. Gone from the analysis are the programmers, designers, factory workers, sales workers, service technicians, patent and copyright lawyers, policymakers, executives, college faculty and administrators, as well as the hardware, software, electricity, and raw materials necessary to keep the production line moving. A whole host of technoscientific, economic, social, and cultural practices that regulate both knowledge of and access to information technology simply become invisible. Those who extol the democratizing potential of new information technologies rarely talk, for instance, about the complexities of copyright law, the economic costs of access to this information, or the inevitable pattern of breakdown, repair, and obsolescence involved in maintaining electronic equipment, all material practices that involve human actors who serve as gatekeepers, determining who will have access and who will be denied.

Even the most superficial examination of the material practices that sustain the illusion of “cyberspace” reveal that far from being a cultureless and egalitarian meeting place in which “status, power, and prestige are communicated neither contextually. . .nor dynamically,” in which “charismatic and high-status people may have less influence and group members may participate more equally” (Taylor et al. 18), emergent information technologies, because they are situated in networks of material and cultural practices, institutions, and economies, replicate all of the inequities and hierarchies that currently plague academia and the larger world of which it is a part. As colleges and universities celebrate the
promise of brave new technologies that will fundamentally change the ways in which faculty and students interact, it is important to keep in mind the very real danger that some of our students, because of where they are situated in these networks, may, like Virginia Woolf, find themselves locked out of the technological campuses of the future.

I believe that both faculty and students can use computer mediated communication (CMC) and IT to teach and learn in new ways that are more collaborative, interactive, and ultimately more effective, but I am also wary of the very real possibility that gender, race, and class hierarchies will (and have) all to easily become part of the “circuitry” of the new information technology on our campuses. I worry that these technologies could have unforseen and undesirable consequences for the politics of gender, race, and class in academia. The question I want to pose is, as teachers, how do we responsibly integrate new information technologies into our classrooms without excluding or alienating the very students we want to empower? My answer is that we can do so only when we pay attention to the material and cultural practices that accompany the adoption of new technologies.

The cultural practices that have sprung up around computer mediated communication (CMC) and information technology (IT), far from being gender-neutral, are, if anything, more male than the culture they mirrors. By almost any measure we might choose, men dominate the computer world through sheer numbers. 87% of all doctorates in computer science go to men (and two-thirds of all bachelors degrees); 92% of all computer science faculties are male (and 97% of all tenured faculty) [Shade, Simmons]. These numbers suggest that those who are designing hardware, software, and networks, supporting and servicing them, and teaching about them are most likely to be men. This is not to suggest, however, that women have nothing to do with computers. Women figure heavily in the global production lines of the computer industry (Taylor et al., 15), in data entry, and in secretarial positions. In other words, they cluster disproportionately in those areas of computer technology that are low-paying, repetitive, and routinized, those areas that are least likely to influence decisions about how CMC and IT will be used and who will have access.

On the internet, the heart of the revolution in information technology, depending on how you count, men outnumber women in proportions that range from 2 to 1 to 9 to 1. If you measure access men outnumber women only by two to one. If you measure actual use the disparity can be as high as 10 to 1. A survey conducted in 1994 by the Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center (GVU) at Georgia Tech showed that male internet users outnumbered female by a ratio of 9 to 1. A year later, the same survey showed that , at least in the U.S, the disparity had begun to shrink; women accounted for 29.3% of users in the 4th Annual GVU Survey. However, to be counted in a survey of this kind a user would have to find the GVU web site and complete the questionnaire. To avoid the potential biases that might result from self-reporting, Matrix Information and Directory Services (MIDS) and Texas Internet Consulting sent electronic surveys to the domains representing organizations on the internet. These surveys counted the numbers of men and women who could send e-mail outside the domain. In 1994, this survey showed only a two to one discrepancy between men and women who had active email accounts (64% to 36%, MIDS Survey). John Quarterman and Smoot Carl-Mitchell suggest that the proliferation of email on college campuses explains the smaller gap between male and female users in this survey. Students have become the largest proportion of internet users and the average university student population is pretty evenly divided between men and women. But the MIDS survey still leaves a 2 to 1 “gender gap” even for relatively simple electronic technology like email. Collectively what these studies suggest is that while men and women are becoming more equal in opportunities for accessing the internet, there are still wide disparities in how men and women use electronic media.

The reasons for this disparity, I believe, are not all that well understood. Much of the research on women and computing, even the feminist research, begins with the assumption that women are disadvantaged and even deficient users of computer technology. Such analyses locate the problem in the resistance of users rather than in the technology they are being asked to use, or better in the network of material and cultural practices that sustain the technology. Women, in this view, are intimidated by the technology and the communicative style of the internet because they communicate differently from men: men are comfortable with the kind of adversarial exchange characteristic of the internet, while women prefer a more supportive communicative style (Herring). Indeed, women’s and men’s communicative strategies are
so different that they inhabit different cultures (Mulvaney). Such views, however, are based as much on stereotype as on any empirical evidence. Michele Evard’s research on fourth and fifth grade children using a netnews-like forum in a classroom setting suggests that, before they encounter the culture of the net, boys and girls act in CMC in almost identical ways: girls speak as often as boys, they give instruction in equal numbers, and they flame just as often as boys (Evard). This study suggests that what ever discrepancies exist between men’s and women’s use of CMC and IT result less from profound psychological differences between men and women than from the practices, values, and institutions that
constitute and are constituted by the virtual communities that have sprung up on the internet.

To understand the discrepancies between male and female computer use and their implications for classroom use of CMC and IT, we must investigate the material practices that discourage women from participating. These include:

  • Economic barriers. Access to information technology requires hardware, software, and, increasingly, internet access, all of which require a significant financial output. Since women on average make less than men, they may be more disadvantaged as buyers of computer services (Shade, Simmons). Cost may have less impact on college students as the cost of some (though certainly not all) of these services are borne by colleges and universities. Nevertheless, as educators we must constantly remember that the increasing dependence of higher education on electronic technology will always work to the benefit of more advantaged students who can afford the cost of cutting edge technologies.
  • Lack of familiarity with computer technology. As children, girls are often have less access to computers than boys. When they do, their use of the computer is almost exactly the same as boys (Evard). The computer game industry, however, is notoriously male-oriented, producing few titles that would appeal to girls.
  • Learning styles. While the literature on infotech frequently promotes the potential of technology to appeal to a variety of learning styles (Negroponte, Batson and Bass, Alley), it is not always clear that training in the use of infotech accommodates a variety of learning styles, especially when the learner in question is resistant to technology or anxious about it. For some users (and here I would include myself), the rapid obsolescence of technologies once learned can be quite daunting and a disincentive to investing the time required to learn still newer technologies every six months.
  • Harassment and pornography. Information resources like the internet are not always friendly places for women. The kind of harassment that often plagues women in face to face communication  has, not surprisingly, become perhaps too frequently a fact of life in CMC (Anderson, Brail, Kendall). The libertarian, anything goes culture of the Web has made it an attractive place to sell and disseminate pornography. Without advocating censorship or indeed any reigning in of the Web’s decentralized (non) organization, I would point out that the climate for women on the web can be chilling; one need not actively look for pornography to find it. Recently I logged onto a popular search engine, looking for information on “women and the internet” for this piece. My query
    yielded some fifty entries, half of which advertised “the hottest women on the internet,” “lingerie lounge,” “Asian playmates,” and “SEX PORN XXX FUCK ADULT GAY WOMEN VIDEO.XXX.COM” repeated over and over in capital letters (the electronic version of shouting). My students have reported similar experiences. Women on the internet are both subjects and sexual objects.
  • Discursive inequalities. Although CMC was supposed to eliminate status markers like race, age, physical appearance and physical abilities, empowering those in low status positions,(Lee Sproull and Sara Kiesler, Taylor et al. 54, Stone), gender seems to be a status marker that persists even in  electronically mediated situations[2]. Recent studies of usenet groups show that, even when the subject matter focused on women’s issues, in mixed sex groups men contributed significantly more posts and that when women’s participation rose above 30%, they were perceived as dominating the discussion (Taylor et al. 17, 55, We). In a study of the relative participation of men and women in usenet groups devoted to women’s issues (where we might expect women’s interest, and hence their participation to be higher than elsewhere), Gladys We reported the following discrepancies between men’s and women’s contributions:
Newsgroup #responses %female %male %unknown
Alt.feminism 303 11% 83% 6%
Soc.women 292 13% 78% 9%
Soc.feminism 47 53% 40% 7%

 

These findings validate the experiences many women have had in internet discussion groups and raise questions about the consequences of their use in a classroom setting.

The Pedagogies of Virtual Communities

As colleges and universities invest more heavily in information technology and as IT becomes more integral to our teaching, educators need to think about those we may be leaving behind. And yet such discussions seem to me to be precisely what is missing from the literature on information technology’s pedagogical potential. Although much of this literature discusses forms of faculty resistance to classroom uses of IT (Twigg, Massey and Zemsky, Gilbert), rarely does it acknowledge that student resistance will also be a barrier to the successful integration of electronic media into our teaching. In fact, students will show the same diffusion curve in adopting IT that experts predict of faculty; there will be a small group of early users, the majority will only follow once a critical mass is reached, and the resistors are in real danger of being left behind altogether (Green 29). It would be useful to have some information on, for instance, how gender, race, and socioeconomic class affect these categories. Are men really more likely to be among the early adopters of IT? Are economically privileged students with access to the resources required to access cutting edge technology more likely to be represented among early adopters? Are women more likely to resist the change to electronically mediated classrooms? Are there students or even entire institutions who lack the economic resources to participate in the IT revolution? It would be preferable to rely on some empirical data to answer these questions rather than on stereotype. Once patterns of student use have been established, educators have the more difficult task of determining the causes of resistance. As I have tried to suggest above, resistance to IT among women students (and faculty) may result less from deficiencies in the individuals than from their resistance to the culture they are being asked to enter. Overcoming this resistance will require paying attention to the developing cultures of virtual communities.

We must also pay attention to the pedagogies we adopt within these virtual communities, and the assumptions that underlie those pedagogies. Enthusiasts of IT will often point to the shift electronically mediated learning requires from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered one (Twigg, Alley). As Carol A. Twigg quotes Alan H. Leader, dean of the School of Business at Southern Connecticut State University:

The purpose and outcome of our educational enterprise is learning, not teaching.
Teaching is what we do. Colleges do not exist in order for us to teach but so that
students can learn. . . .The focus must be on the student, not the instructor (Twigg 13).

The pedagogical writing about IT and distance learning extols the advantage of student-centered learning, but what is its vision of student-centered learning? Critiques like Twigg’ s of the traditional teacher-centered classroom, in which the scholarly expert, having distilled the truth from the best minds in the field, transmits it to students, identify real problems in traditional teaching methods. But what do they offer in place of what Paolo Freire has described as the “banking method” of teaching in which teachers
make deposits of knowledge in their students’ minds (Freire 1968)?

Even the most sophisticated writing on distance learning and the pedagogical applications of IT, as, for instance, Twigg’s call for a national learning infrastructure, views the primary goal of education as the delivery of information transplanted from the teacher’s brain into the student’s (Freire’s “banking method” of teaching under a slightly different guise–the scholarly expert has been replaced by a
computer). Such transfers, educational analysts like Massey and Zemsky or Twigg claim, may be more efficiently accomplished with greater convenience to students (who may even be able to learn in the comfort of their own homes) by computers in an individualized, asynchronous learning environment, which is an elaborate way of describing a student sitting in front of a computer terminal. (see “Being Digitally Educated: Dewey, Technology, and Distance Learning“) And if this is all education is about, they are undoubtedly correct. Computers can more efficiently convey information than human instructors. They can store, search, sort, transfer, transport, organize, replicate, and compute information much faster than any human can.

But do these enthusiastic claims about information technology confuse knowledge and information, transmitting with educating? Does student-centered learning refer only to students’ passive assimilation of data or does it require more active participation from them, more interaction both with their teachers and with their peers? Perhaps we cannot substitute a computer for the social interactions we claim occur in
proximity learning anymore than we can create a computer program to parent or an electronic therapist. Like parenting or therapy, teaching (and learning) does not involve a simple exchange of information. Information gathering is not the central activity. Like parenting or therapy, education integrates students into particular social networks–in the case of education we call these social networks disciplines. These social networks have customs, rules, procedures, and specialized languages. Some
of these are explicit, but many are unstated, taken for granted by those who have already been integrated into the social network. These rules, procedures, customs, and languages dictate what questions can be asked, what counts as an answer, what counts as evidence or explanation, who may speak at any given time, whose answers count, and how information is gathered. Students learn the customs, rules, and procedures of their chosen social networks or disciplines by acting as participant-observers, by learning the “culture” of their discipline, and not simply by acquiring the discipline’s content. A students become a member of the social network as she learns to create new knowledge, not as she learns to regurgitate information ( Brown and Duguid). The goal of higher education then only partly the transmission of knowledge; it also requires the creation of new knowledge.

Missing, then, from discussions of the technological classroom is a sophisticated analysis of pedagogy that unpacks the social networks students must learn to navigate during their college years. Those pedagogical discussions are, however, available in many other places. Feminist scholars, for instance, have explored these issues and their impact on women for nearly two decades. For two decades they have mounted a challenge to teacher- and information-centered models of education which has been remarkably successful at many institutions. That challenge has gone unnoticed in the literature on classroom uses of IT, this despite a virtual explosion of information on the subject. In the 1970s, feminist teachers, convinced that a female-friendly education required not only a transformation of the content of higher education but of its method of delivery as well, began to explore new teaching approaches. They found useful strategies in many different sources: the consciousness-raising practices of the early women’s movement, the progressive tradition in American education created by John Dewey (see “Being Digitally Educated: Dewey, Technology, and Distance Learning“), and the liberatory teaching promoted by Paulo Freire and others. What makes feminist pedagogy unique, however, has been its attention to the particular needs of women and its grounding in feminist theory as the basis for its multidimensional view of how classroom knowledge is constructed through the formation and maintenance of social networks (Tetreault and Maher). This information is voluminous and readily accessible [3].

Yet, despite this wealth of information, discussions of both feminist pedagogy and information technology’s impact on the women who constitute upwards of 50% of our students are notably missing in most mainstream discussions of the IT revolution, which tend to treat students as largely featureless and interchangeable cogs.

Obviously I believe that IT and CMC can and ultimately must have a place in a feminist classroom. I have use these tools–e-mail, electronic discussion groups, the internet, multimedia programs– on a daily basis in my own classes. And my experience has taught me that these tools, along with the networks of social, cultural, and material practices in which they are imbricated, will change how we teach. But finally it is up to us as teachers (and as members of our own social networks) –and not the technology–to determine the nature and extent of these changes. It is my hope that by understanding the particularities of our students, the nature of the social networks to which they seek access, and the nexus of material and cultural practices that IT both embodies and sustains, that we will not, to paraphrase Anne Fausto-Sterling, create an electronic academy in which cyberspace seems an illegitimate place for women and gender issues seem an inappropriate enterprise for the gatekeepers of infotech.

Bibliography

Albright, Julie M. “Of Mind, Body and Machine: Cyborg Cultural Politics in the Age of Hypertext.”

Alley, Lee R. 1996. An Instructional Epiphany. Change. Mar: 48-54.

Anderson, Judy. 1996. “Not for the Faint of Heart: Contemplation on Usenet.” In Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired_ Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.

Brail, Stephanie. 1996. “The Price of Admission: Harassment and Free Speech in the Wild, Wild West.” In
Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired_Women: Gender and the New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle WA: Seal Press.

Brown, John Seely and Paul Duguid. 1996. “Universities in the Digital Age.” Change. July/August: 11-19.

Cherny, Lynn and Elizabeth Reba Weise. 1996. Wired Women:Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle: Seal Press.

Evard, Michele. 1996.”‘So Please Stop, Thank You’: Girls Online.” In Lynn Cherny and Elizabeth Reba
Weise, eds. Wired_Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle WA: Seal Press.

Finke, Laurie A. 1993. “Knowledge as Bait: Voice and the Pedagogical Unconscious.” College English 55:5-25.

Finke, Laurie A. 1994. “Pedagogy of the Depressed: Feminism, Poststructuralism, and Pedagogic Practice.”
Teaching Literary Theory, eds. Dianne Sadoff and William Cain. MLA: 154-168.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Herder and Herder, 1 968

Gilbert, Steven W. 1996. “Making the Most of a Slow Revolution,” Change. March/April: 10-47.

Green, Kenneth C. 1996. “The Coming Ubiquity of Information Technology.” Change. March/April: 24-29.

Grusin, Richard. “What is an Electronic Author? Theory and the Technological Fallacy.” In Robert Markley.
Virtual Realities and Their Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996: 39-54.

Haraway, Donna J. 1991 “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Herring, Susan. “Gender Differences In Computer-Mediated Communication: Bringing Familiar Baggage To The New Frontier.”

Kendall, Lori. 1996. “MUDder? I Hardly Know ‘Er!: Adventures of a Feminist MUDder.” In Lynn Cherny and
Elizabeth Reba Weise, eds. Wired_Women: Gender and New Realities in Cyberspace. Seattle WA: Seal Press.

Kendrick, Michelle. “Cyberspace and the Technological Real.” In Robert Markley. Virtual Realities and Their
Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996:143-160.

Maher, Frances A. and Mary Kay Teatreault. 1994. The Feminist Classroom: An Inside Look at How Professors are Transforming Higher Education for a More Diverse Society. New York. Basic Books.

Markley, Robert. Virtual Realities and Their Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1996.

“History, Theory, and Virtual Reality.” In Robert Markley. Virtual Realities and Their Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996: 1-10.

Massy, William F.and Robert Zemsky. “Using Information Technology and Smart DNS to Enhance Academic Productivity.”

Milroy, L. 1980. Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Mulvaney, Becky Michele . “Gender Differences in Communication: An Intercultural Experience.”

Neville, Nicholas. 1995. Security and Privacy in a Surveillance Society, London: Ninja Books http://www.changeipaddress.net/

Quarterman, John S. and Smoot Carl-Mitchell. “Is the Internet All Male?”

Shade, Leslie Regan. “Gender Issues in Computer Networking.” ftp://cpsr.org/cpsr/gender/leslie_regan_shade.txt.

Simmons, Susan. “Democracy, Women, and the Internet.”

Stone, Allucquere Rosanne.1991. “Will the Real Body Please Stand Up? Boundary Stories about Virtual Cultures.” In Benedikt, Michael, ed. Cyberspace: First Steps. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.

Taylor, H. Jeanie, Cheris Kramarae, and Maureen Ebben. 1993. Women, Information Technology, and Scholarship
(Taylor et al.). Urbana, Illinois University Press.

Thompson, Graham. 2013. Test Match Special Abroad, Education Levels in Pakistan Cricket Team

Twigg, Carol. “The Need for a National Learning Infrastructure.”

We, Gladys. “Cross-Gender Communication in Cyber-Space.”

Woolf, Virginia. 1929. A Room of One’s Own. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Endnotes

[1] I am indebted to Richard Grusin for this point (see Grusin 1996, 40-41).

[2] Though “computer crossdressing” in CMC is by no means unheard of and given the lack of bodily cues, relatively easy to achieve, it is not at all clear whether such behavior has challenged or simply reinforced traditional gender stereotypes, see Stone, 82-85, Kendrick 155-159, and Kendall.

[3] A gopher site maintained by the Women’s Studies librarian at the University of Wisconsin contains a searchable bibliography on women and information technology with seven hundred entries. (gopher://silo.adp.wisc.edu:70/00/.uwlibs/.womenstudies/.infotech/.infofull)

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Learning A Foreign Language

Being fluent in another language provides opportunities and benefits. Learning a second language can be both thrilling and beneficial for all ages. It provides practical, intellectual and several aspirational benefits. In the world today, there’s over 7000 languages and even if you just learn one extra it will assist you in life massively. It’s never too late to understand although obviously it’s been demonstrated that it is easier for children to learn another language. However it’s perfectly possible for anyone, learning a language properly will always reward dedication and the effort. It can also help in building a career, language skills are always sought after.

Companies who plan to expand into foreign market are searching for staff, who can speak those languages and they will pay for that knowledge. Take for example media companies, you might think that a foreign language would be no help in a US media company but that isn’t the case. People want to watch different TV channels all over the world in different languages, just like the demand here for UK TV in the USA in this post. So on many levels the benefits you can get from learning a second language are outstanding, as they provide an advantage to the business.

Since you may bridge the gap between the two countries, by studying another language, you’ll be indispensable in the place of work. There’s no doubt that whatever the profession people with the capability of speaking multiple languages are more in demand in the workplace. There’s more though, medical research has shown the positive effects studying another language has on the mind. Studies showed that learning another language delayed the onset of brain associated disorders such as Alzheimer and dementia. There is a positive correlation in comparison to people who can only speak their native tongue. So forget about the world of opportunities that opens up – there’s health benefits too. If you choose to learn a language that is widely spoken, such as French Spanish or German, you can travel anyplace on earth without having trouble using dictionary.

You’ll have a far better experience when travelling in these countries as you can efficiently communicate with many more individuals. There is much evidence that this ultimately will open up your mind as well as put things to different perspectives regarding also the different cultures of the world.

As we go about our every day lives, we rarely provide a second thought to our own grammatical structure as well as vocabulary. When learning a brand new language, many individuals find they’ve a greater understanding of their first language. yes that’s right you’ll improve your first language too, how’s that for an extra benefit. Learning a second language focuses your attention on also the grammatical principles constructions of that language. This adventure gives people a brand new insight in their very own language and eventually leads to them improving their mother tongue, that will improve their every day lives.

John Williams

Learning about the Montessori Method

How we educate our children has always been an emotive subject with wide opinions across the educational spectrum. Of course, there’s never likely to be a definitive way and certainly some children respond differently to different approaches. However if you have the resources there’s no reason why you cannot choose the method that you think suits your child. One of the most popular methods in later years is called the Montessori method and you can read a little about it’s history and methodology below.

Maria Montessori, the first physician of Italy, inspired a worldwide movement’s birth. Drawing upon her background and knowledge, Montessori discovered young people learn best when engaged instead of simply being fed info. Her work created a blueprint- from gifted to understanding disabled-to become the self and lifetime learners. Montessori became intrigued in schooling while caring for emotionally challenged kids in Rome in a clinic. Her practices including a combination of techniques and sensory surroundings shortly elicited learning behaviours. Montessori continued by opening a children’s home in 1907 for pre-school 18, shaping her learning model.  A Montessori program’s hallmark is that your class room has an atmosphere that is ready for learning.

Montessori baby programs foster the growth of confidence and aid inside a nurturing atmosphere from the maturation of the character of the kid.  In a recent documentary, you can see the calm and tranquil atmosphere’s that are nurtured in the Montessori classrooms.   You can still catch the programme on BBC iPlayer by using a VPN to access it from outside the United Kingdom.  Toddlers in a Montessori class room are assisted as they meet the basic tasks of self control, and confidence, separation, independence. Should have sensitivity and an energy. The early childhood classrooms are the most typical age range found in Montessori schools. Montessori early childhood programs offer the program for parents who’ve the objective of preparing their kid. Almost everything inside the walls of a Montessori class room is kid sized. Children learn to solve problems, see pure connections in knowledge, learn skills associated with practical living, and for that reason, expand their imaginative thinking.

Probably the hands-on materials, cautiously selected and placed on kid height shelves, everything at its place and on view for kids to choose, is the component that joins Montessori schools collectively. Children can see and learn from their very own mistakes without a tutor pointing out the error. This is among the many aspects of a Montessori class room that fosters independence. Operating on the principle of freedom inside limits, Montessori schools inspire kids to work at their very own pace, alone or with others.

John Houston (Sales and Marketing)

Media Changes From the ‘Thunderer’ to the Iplayer

In 1785 a newspaper was established called – ‘The Daily Universal Register’. Not the most awe inspiring name but it was to become one of the most famous newspapers in the world over the next few hundred years. The newspaper was renamed in 1788 to the slightly more familiar – The Times and from then on as developed into a famous world brand.

The Times has not always been popular and in fact in recent years the days of it’s slightly mocking nickname of ‘The Thunderer’ would have seemed child’s play compared to the allegations currently being directed at the Murdoch’s empire. The media has probably changed more in the last five years than in the preceding two centuries.

The internet and TV have meant that news stories travel around the globe at a breathtaking speed, so your average newspaper will be way behind the times on many news stories waiting for the presses to roll. Access to the news has also become more global, if you have the right box you can watch live news from anywhere on the planet in your sitting room.

A Sky subscriber probably has access to more information than a News editor from the 1970s by a long margin. There is one corporation that has a significant advantage though in this media development and that’s the BBC. Despite the austerity cuts the BBC News online here has a huge Internet budget and access to possibly the most comprehensive media archives on the planet. The delivery mechanism will be crucial and although currently aimed at the domestic market there is hope that you will be able to access BBC Iplayer abroad very soon from anywhere.

At the moment it is restricted although there are several technical methods to bypass these. Unfortunately these technical issues mean that the audience is restricted globally. The restrictions mean that the audience will either be very technical (or geeky if you prefer) or they will have the means to purchase solutions to access the BBC IPlayer. In both cases it is kind of sad that the audience is restricted this way.

Technical Info Source:   http://www.changeipaddress.net/bbc-iplayer-blocked-vpns/

Poor Life Skills in UK Adults

Last year the UK Government commissioned a pretty big survey called Skills for Life. The survey covered the two important skills that adults need – language and numeracy. The findings were pretty surprising and quite worrying for a modern nation.   After all we’re increasingly hearing about how humans will be not needed in the low skills employment areas being replaced by robotics.  The worry is that do we have the educational skills to ensure we are able to complete the skilled job requirements instead.

Here’s a clip from the infographic provided by the report –

As you can see the figures are quite surprising, in London for example 17% of respondents had a literacy level of a 9-11 year old. The same result was recorded for the North East, but throughout the country around 10% of Adults has a literacy level worse than a primary school child. The sample for this study was adults aged 16-65. In Maths the survey found even more worrying results in many areas, 25% of adults who took part in the survey had the mathematics skills of a 9-11 year old.

If these figures were transposed onto a national level that would mean 8 million UK citizens are lacking even basic numeracy skills. This of course will cause many problems for those involved. They will be seriously disadvantaged in careers, in health and of course as parents.  This latter role is likely to see these disadvantages in many cases passed down the generations through their children.  There’s plenty of evidence that children from these families are also likely to have educational problems too, even if their parents try to support them in these areas. For those who may find themselves with adult literacy or numeracy problems – it’s worth checking out the BBC education site.

There’s loads of online resources which can help people brush up on their skills in the basics of Maths and English. Most items are accessible internationally but some areas are restricted to UK only but you can use resources like this page to show you how to spoof your IP address and access through a UK server very easily.    One of the advantages of using these sites is that you can make a decent start learning without any sort of embarrassment or social stigma. It’s perfectly possible to brush up and improve basic literacy online using free resources from a variety of locations.

You should ensure that you use respected sources however as there is little need to pay for information and courses for lower level learning.   There is no shortage of sites which can provide information like this, however you’ll find it much easier to follow courses from qualified educators.

Further Information:

Access BBC iPlayer via a VPN program – http://bbciplayerabroad.co.uk/bbc-live-vpn/

Yes, Literacy Can Be Fun

Now I don’t know about your kids but mine learn a lot better with a little fun included. This is one of the real problems I’ve found with teaching my children to read, until they get to a certain stage the available books are just too dull for words. However fortunately we live in a world of interactive media, the internet and some genuinely quality educational resources and TV programmes. There are of course loads of resources available online, but I’d like to point you at one site that has just about everything you’ll need to help your kids at the earlier stages of their reading development.

The site is none other than The BBC and it contains a huge section of pages designed specifically to improve literacy. The site is called Bitesize and is split into three sections – science, maths and literacy. Here’s a screenshot from one of the literacy games designed to improve a child’s vocabulary.

All the lessons are interactive and can be replayed over and over again. This game helps with simple words and sounds that rhyme, most children really enjoy the cartoon type graphics and interactive elements. But these are more than just a selection of fun flash games to sit your children down in front of. If you look in the site you’ll find much more there is even a teachers/parents section with suggested lesson plans.

These incorporate the games and then expand on them with class based activities and tasks which the children can play without access to a computer. Of course the BBC are primarily known for their world class TV programmes online and the children’s channels are focused in two specific channels – CBBC and CBeebies for younger children.

All these programmes are available online using their custom video player called BBC Iplayer. Unfortunately access to BBC IPlayer is blocked outside the UK however there is a workaround. It involves using a proxy server to access the BBC and if you visit this page –  you’ll see the solution. It’s not very difficult, you just basically have to surf via a UK based server to make it look like you’re based in Britain, it’s quick and easy to do.    It does require a subscription however it’s not very much and opens up hundreds of media web sites across the world including all the UK media sites online/

You Can Learn to Speed Read

We are surrounded by information on paper and screen, the volumes dwarf anything that the human race have ever had to deal with. How many of us spend hours sifting through emails trying to find out if there’s something that relates to us, the modern concept of cc’ing everyone and his dog has not helped this situation.

Regardless if you are an entrepreneur who needs to learn more about finances and get through a few tomes or a college student with a giant stack of books and homework to read through over the weekend, you will make it a lot farther if you can comprehend more and read more speedily. Luckily, it will only take you a few weeks to at least double your reading speed so the sooner you get started, the less time it will take you to get through those dreaded text books.

 

One of the most essential things you can do to build up your reading speed is to lessen your obsession that you could possibly skip over something important if you don’t read each word on every page. This is an ordinary worry and we all have it, yet the instant we take note that no one will interfere with you reading the book or just some text or a chapter again, is the moment where you should free your mind, making it effortless to learn how to read quicker.

It’s kind of like watching a video and something you can practice on a well presented media channel – may we suggest a BBC live VPN to enjoy a well spoken broadcast to practice on. You can take in the information without your full attention and hence can move through quickly – check out this information on reading elsewhere,. At the start, the level in which you gain knowledge might have a slower pace, although your mind will catch up to your eyes and not only will you grasp the text, you’ll also increase your retention level. And don’t forget when you are reading non-fiction – the details are not as imperative as the key arguments. If you’re like many people, you tend to do a lot of rereading without even thinking about it.

If you’re reading something difficult or confusing, you may want to reread it to make sure you understand it; however, if you constantly reread everything without being aware of it, it’s just slowing you down without providing any real benefit. Many people are not confident in their reading ability, so they reread to make sure we actually understood something. This is counterproductive; even though you’re doing it to increase your understanding, it does the opposite because you never get into a smooth flow as your read. If you want to become a faster and better reader, then, try to reduce the amount of time you spend rereading. What you read can be digested much more quickly by structuring the material in such a way that is easier to process. If you are reading, for example, a nonfiction book, more than likely there are bolded phrases and subheadings.

Once you scan this material briefly, you will have a better idea of what you are going to read which will improve your overall reading speed dramatically. So, take ten minutes to read the table of contents and then skim the entire book, looking at headings, subheadings and anything else that is bolded or underlined. Once you read this, you’ll know what to expect. You will be able to fill in the proverbial blanks and ignore the filler, absorbing only the content within the manual. Speed reading can be learned easily, as it is a skill, not a talent. Like with any skill, though, you need to practice regularly. The suggestions in this article should help you increase your reading speed quite a bit, plus you’ll be buzzing through one book after another in no time, questioning yourself about what took you so long to become a faster reader.

Further information – http://bbciplayerabroad.co.uk/bbc-iplayer-blocked-abroad-an-update/

How to Home School Effectively

There are lots of reasons that people consider teaching their kids from home instead of sending them to school. Most countries will allow this, but obviously it is a big commitment and requires a lot of dedication and effort. Over the last few years homeschooling has exploded in popularity. Not too long ago, it was considered fringe and not many people did this.

It’s important to realise that you just can’t let your kids get on with it, because most will just end up on the internet.  Despite media sites like the BBC now blocking VPNs they’ll likely end up watching UK TV online or playing games if you don’t teach them properly. Now, though, there are a lot of families who choose to educate their kids at home, outside of the traditional school system. The reasons for choosing to do this are completely up to the family that chooses to do this.

It comes down to giving your kids the best opportunity to learn and receive a quality education. Many people have troubles initially when doing homeschooling for their kids. To help you out with homeschooling your kids, we have written this article full of useful strategies.  But before you start remember, the internet is a resource that has transformed the possibilities of home schooling.   If you invest in a little technology and perhaps a VPN to use as a Netflix IP address  then you can access educational resources from all over the world.

Reading is critical. There are several books to be had that will offer you guidance for homeschooling your children. Read as many books as you can. This will let you attain knowledge regarding approaches and suggestions that will help you be a more excellent teacher and cause your children to be better students. All together, you need to be careful about how many books you read. Your brain will turn to mush and you’ll be mystified if you read too many of those helpful manuals. A lot of these books contradict each other and figuring out which advice to follow can be a hassle. Therefore, just choose a few and then stop. Learn how to be disciplined yourself. Your kids are going to learn most of their social norms and values from each other and from you.

Even if your kids get frustrated at some point, don’t let them take breaks haphazardly during the day. It is essential that you make your children do their work in a timely manner. Playing “bad cop” is something you are simply going to have to do. It is very hard work to do this, even if you only have a couple students. You have to set a strong example for your kids. It is important that you do this every step of the way.

Academia is not the totality of the school experience. It’s about learning a work ethic. Give yourself time. Both you and your children will have to adjust to the new homeschooling schedule. It is something that each person will have to do on their own. Give yourself the length of a year to figure out whether it is actually working for you and then decide if you want to keep moving forward. Many people that find homeschooling too difficult to do may actually put their children back into the public school system.

This is easy to do as long as they were complying with educational state mandates. Homeschooling, if it is working for you and your kids, is something you should continue to do. It may take a little bit of time to become a successful homeschooling teacher. You need to give yourself a little slack as you learn along the way. In conclusion, homeschooling does not have the stigma that it once had. It is completely normal to home school your children, as it is to educate them through private or public school. Homeschooling, by no means, is easy! It is difficult for most people. It is our hope that the path for homeschooling your children is somewhat eased by the strategies we have revealed.

Do Schools Teach the Right Subjects?

Education in America has been declining steadily for the last 30 years. All studies show that kids in public schools are lagging behind their counterparts in other countries. This is a real concern and just part of the big problem with the economy and the future of the country.

It’s a difficult situation and certainly not an easy one for the students who are looking for colleges and Universities to prepare them for a role in society.  There is more choice too, an almost bewildering selection of opportunities.  Indeed from the comfort of your own home, you can fire up a high speed VPN and even take your degree online in a country on the other side of the world.

When kids graduate from high school they should either be prepared to enter college or be able to go out and find jobs for 18 year olds. Getting a higher education is preferable but not every kid is cut out for that. For those students that don’t go on to college, they need real training to be able to compete in the workforce and today’s schools aren’t helping enough with that.  There are real issues with an under educated workforce but there are similar problems with students being qualified in the wrong subjects.

There is little point for students to spend years studying a specific subject if there is no real demand for their skills when they leave.  You can of course argue that University teaches much more than the specific subject they study, yet it can be disheartening for people to discover their knowledge is not always required.  Then there is the real danger that they spend years relaxing and changing their Netflix IP (to access more films) while ‘expecting’ to walk into a job at the end of their studies.  Of course, it may never happen.

This is especially problematic now that colleges cost so much which means fewer students are able to afford them. It is a real dilemma for many students who wonder whether they should risk going into debt for that college degree or whether they should just try to get a job straight out of high school.

With little being taught in schools today about how to get a job, what will be expected of them, how to deal with a manager, and other things like that, they are ill quipped to prosper in the work force even if they are lucky enough to get hired. Public schools should start teaching what kids need: the solid basics like math, English, science, and history as well as real life job skills and information for those that might not go on to college. We have to start giving our kids better tools to deal with the real world before we turn them loose in it!

Is eLearning for Everyone?

Education is changing, and at a speed that can sometimes seem a little bewildering.   The electronic age has brought many changes to the way we live and the way we learn is changing too.

Some people resist it, but eLearning is without doubt the way of the future. Not everyone has access to the top notch universities such as Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, or Harvard and Yale in the United States. No matter how much money fine institutions like this have in their budgets, there is always going to be a limit to how many people can benefit from their expertise in person. Online and distance learning, on the other hand, provides the potential for people around the world to gain access to the very best professors via the internet. Now a boy or a girl in a small town in India or China can potentially watch lectures taught by the finest professors in a field online.

While it is early days yet, support for this kind of content delivery is slowly spreading among colleges and universities worldwide. Even students preparing for college have opportunities to learn from the best online. Not every high school or secondary school student has access to the best teachers where they live.

If they find themselves struggling with a particular subject or concept – let’s say Geometry – they can simply tap the abundance of resources on the subject available for free online. Many school teachers post information about the subject they teach simply out of a passion for teaching. The type of teacher who has this kind of enthusiasm is very likely to be able to engage with their viewers with their passion for the subject in a way an average teacher may not.

Even if we forget about the established sources of educational material, there’s still lots online.   Just imagine the material available on a handful of public broadcasters – the BBC allow you to download whole series and watch them offline.  That’s thousands of hours of multi-million pound educational programmes at the touch of a button.  Although it has to be said there are some restrictions on where you can download from so you may need a VPN in some cases (see notes below).

With ever growing budget problems for a growing number of educational systems around the world, I have no hesitation in predicting that we will see more people turning to eLearning resources to enhance – or even replace – traditional classroom based learning techniques. We should not fear this change, but rather embrace it an opportunity to better educate our children – something which is surely need

Notes:

How to Change IP Address to United Kingdom

 

Does Alcohol Reduce Dementia Risk

We’ve often seen studies that suggest moderate alcohol intake can actually be good for you. The problem is that these studies are often fairly small and then will be seized on by the media to splash across their front pages.

After all it’s we like headlines like this –  alcohol makes you live longer, donuts cure cancer, lack of exercise promotes a healthy brain and that sort of thing.   Yet underlying much of these studies are lots of caveats that when you read them pretty much destroy the beneficial conclusions.

Yet there has been enough positive signs about one of the scourges of modern living – alcohol, that perhaps there are really some benefits after all.  This latest study which has spanned three decades found that even heavy drinkers are more likely to reach old age without dementia that those who are teetotal.

The study was from the University of California and tracked over 1000 middle class men and women and their alcohol intake.   The participants had their cognitive health checked every four years, during the study using a standard dementia screening test.

The study was the first to consider people’s cognitive health later in age and they found that not only did those who drank moderately live longer, they also had a much higher chance of avoiding mental illnesses like dementia.

Unfortunately if you think that is too good to be true and there must be a catch – well there is.  If you drink too much alcohol, you actually put yourself at risk of developing alcohol related dementia.   So in effect you have to be careful that in avoiding one risk you don’t put yourself in a higher risk of something similar.

It’s becoming evident that alcohol can give lots of benefits to people especially in old age, yet if you stray over the line then those benefits disappear very quickly.  It is why some people are  trying to encourage the new strain of alcohol treatments which don’t stop drinking but merely encourage moderation.

One of these methods is called The Sinclair Method which is a relatively new treatment for those with alcohol problems.  The idea is that using a drug called Nalmefene, you can actually block the pleasurable endorphins released into the brain when we drink.  The idea is that this discourages excessive drinking by creating the buzz that alcoholics end up searching for.

The drug has been approved by various countries including the UK’s National Institute for Health care Excellence which has approved the drug under the brand name Selincro which is now available by prescriptions in the UK.   It has been seen in clinical studies to not only be highly effective in treating heavy drinkers, but also encourage sensible drinking in moderation.   Which if the Californian study is to be believed will have extra benefits to all concerned.

It should be remembered that with any study you should also consider what wasn’t included.  So before you start guzzling from that wine bottle consider that out of all the participants there were virtually no heavy drinkers.  This means that there was no way of assessing what damage might be done to individuals who did drink too much including their cognitive health.

Further Reading/Citations

National Institute for Health care Excellence  – https://www.nice.org.uk/

Articles on social, medical and political issues –  http://cipec.org/