From: David Scott
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Date: 13 Dec 1996
I think the most valuable knowledge that I take away from this class is an increased understanding of how to work as an educator to children. I have worked with children as a baby-sitter and in daycares before, but this time was mainly spent entertaining them. Even though the point of working with the kids was not about deliberate instruction on my part, the interactions I did have with them while they were dealing with the computer gave me some added insight towards how they approach the machine. It was interesting to compare their attitudes with the adult and college-age people I have taught computer skills to before. For example, with many adults, it seems that if they have managed to avoid using technology thus far, then they have built up a wall of intimidation for themselves. They often consider themselves "computer incompetent" and not just "computer illiterate", even before they have tried to understand the beasts. However, the kids at BU have always been willing to give the computer a try. They may develop bad attitudes about the computer after working with it for awhile without success, but at least there is not that initial first obstacle that I have often had to help adults over.
But on the other side of the coin, it was more difficult to get kids interested in any of the programs than it would be an adult. I think an adult would reason that any program produced must have some interesting or useful content or function, otherwise it would not have been released. An adult would be more willing to learn the "top-down" reasons for using a program, and get deeper into any game that was not immediately entertaining before giving it up. The children, however, almost always required immediate gratification a the "bottom-up" level or the game was quickly replaced. If I had my way I would have limited the number of games available to each child so that they would be more inclined to work with what they had rather than quest for more. I also realize that I should have made myself more familiar with the games they were playing so that I could do a better job of guiding them in their explorations and showing them interesting parts of the programs.
I wish that there was the opportunity to teach the children more about computers than just how to get a game started. I many cases, I don't think they even know how to do that well enough. It reminds me of an experiment in artificial intelligence to create a computer-driven van. The computer would keep the van in its lane in the road well enough most of the time, but if it got too far off to one side, it didn't know how to get itself back on track. The van would continue to go away from the road until a human stepped on the brake. Without a deeper knowledge of how the computer is working, like the van, the kids would generally get lost if something happened that they did not expect and understand. This caused stress for the kids and put a burden on the educators to rush to get all of the computers turned-on and the games started once the kids arrived. With all of the computer problems we faced, the kids came to depend on us more than they should have, and an opportunity to add to the kids' self-esteem by making them feel computer-confident was wasted.
While I do not believe that informal educational techniques would be a satisfactory replacement for most instances of traditional formal education, I do see the value that informal methods can have when added to an existing situation that is not deliberately educational, such as a preschool, daycare center, or after-school program like BU.
And I've learned that it's good to balance the risk of skin cancer by exposure to the sun with risk of sterility by exposure to computer monitor radiation.