There is a great debate on whether electronic publishing and networks have been the technological answer are making great advances in learning or whether computers in the classroom will sound the death knell on education as we know it. Without a doubt, the world is rapidly going digital and the capacity must be created to fully reap the benefits of technology. Students in learning institutions, who are the future generation of America, need to be equipped with the tools necessary to keep in stride with the advances in technology. Electronic publishing has been a revolutionary force in the field of education with far-reaching impacts. The thesis statement for this paper is that electronic publishing has numerous benefits to offer and what needs to be done is find ways in which its more negative aspects can be minimized.
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Learning in today’s world goes beyond the classroom contact of teacher-student interaction that was practiced in years gone by. With the advent of the internet, there are aspects of our lives that have been revolutionized and one of these is the learning platform. Students now have wider access to materials as the world goes digital. They also have an opportunity to interact with peers from all over the world and share their opinions and views.
Electronic publishing is defined by Arms (2001) as the publication of electronic books and electronic articles, as well as the creation of digital libraries and digital catalogs. The area of education that has felt the greatest impact of electronic publishing is in the sciences; where electronic books and journals are rapidly replacing the more traditional peer-reviewed scientific journals.
The more common type of electronic publishing is the one that makes use of web networks though there are electronic publications such as compact disc editions of encyclopedias, dictionaries, documentaries, and language lessons (Arms, 2001).
Why electronic publishing has been so appealing in the field of scientific research is because, with paper journals, there is usually a lapse of time before an article goes to print, which makes an inefficient format for distributing the latest advances made in scientific research. Even though paper journals in the field of science are going out of style, they still play a fundamental role when it comes to maintaining high standards of published material, archiving, and giving merit to the original writer of a scientific article (Arms, 2001).
Journals that are peer-reviewed have adapted to e-publishing by instituting electronic versions of their journals while others have opted to go wholly electronic (Arms, 2001).
Another phenomenon that is rapidly encroaching the education system is the digital library. This is a virtual library whose appearance has been facilitated by the internet coupled with ready access to computing equipment. Arms (2001) clarifies that the term digital libraries are used in reference to all kinds of information networks be they materials that had been published in hard copy and later made available online, or material that is only available in digital form. The similarity between the traditional library and a digital one is that they are both means by which information can be systematized, stored, or distributed and they rely on the information that others have created. Arms, however, points out those digital libraries can be understood even in the absence of the creators and consumers of their information (Arms, 2001).
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What is education and what is the role of education in American society?
Education, at least as understood by the average American, is meant to equip an individual with knowledge and skills in a particular field. Gardener says of education that:
“Education has to do with fashioning certain kinds of individuals—the kinds of persons I (and others) desire the young of the world to become… I crave human beings who understand the world, who gain sustenance from such understanding, and who want—ardently, perennially—to alter it for the better” (Gardener, 2000, p. 19-20).
The stand taken by Gardner towards education is representative of the American ideals of education, which have their roots in Plato’s philosophy on learning. Plato believed that education had to uphold the virtues of truth, and this essentially could help an individual clearly see the situations around him and be able to figure out what was to be done to change these situations to an ideal state (Gardner, 2000).
The traditional method of education applies Plato’s dialectic approach to teaching for as Plato made use of questions and answers to get his audiences to conclude on the merit of the virtues he so extolled, teachers in classrooms interact with their students to help them comprehend these truths(Gardner, 2000).
The American education system has always strived to achieve a balanced and holistic approach so that the end product, as Gardner puts it, is an individual who will continue learning throughout his life and is an ‘integrated and balanced human being’ (Gardner, 2000, p. 34).
With the internet, the American education system has had to adjust and adapt to the massive changes that have accompanied networking technology such as electronic publications. The impacts of these publications are being felt within the system and a thorough analysis needs t to be done on whether they are beneficial or detrimental to the learner. The question arises if the ‘old school’ approach to learning is much healthier than today’s electronic-based. What are the pros and cons of e-learning?
Empowering students through imparting knowledge contributes a major part to future development both social and economic. Electronic learning can provide the students of this generation with the information needed. Electronic publishing has opened up the world to American students in a way that learning never has before.
In 1993, research was done by the Federation of American Research Networks (FARNET) in coalition with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) where over 70 educational heavyweights came together to discuss the issues related to education electronic networking (Cradler & Bridgforth, undated).
They concluded that networking technology could provide the capacity to carry out extensive reforms in education. They decided that the use f networking technology can stimulate learning and create room for innovative teaching. They decided that networking could also create opportunities for teachers to interact with each other and help learners to become more active in their research (Cradler & Bridgforth, undated).
The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) is another body that has participated in funding projects that involve the documentation of how technology benefits education. The basis of this research is to furnish information that will allow for the implementation of networking technologies to make sure that programming meets the high standards of the dissimilar learning groups (Cradler & Bridgforth, undated).
The research findings from the 1993 FARNET consortium were used as a basis for the guidelines for the implementation of networking technologies in schools. The consortium came to the conclusion that when the content of ICT packages and the strategies applied in delivery was in per with educational standards, then the technology could be highly beneficial, and that networking technology boosts performance when there is a great deal of interactivity (Cradler & Bridgforth).
Another survey conducted by the Centre for Technology in Education (CTE) in regards to telecommunications found out that the best activities to carry out using networking technology were those that involved, creating social awareness and cultural exchanges. They also concluded that the most effective databases to use with students were those that provided newswire and scientific material. The survey indicated that what attracted the students to electronic networking was the aspect of having a global reach and the easy access of information that under normal circumstances would have been difficult to obtain. The survey also indicated that the same factors that determined the success of non-technology-based activities applied to the success of telecommunication activities. These factors they listed as being proper planning, co-operation between the teacher and student and amongst the students themselves, and most importantly, having clearly outlined, relevant project goals (Cradler & Bridgforth).
Innovative uses of electronic publishing
The research that has been done in electronic publishing takes on two aspects: first, there is the development of these electronic networks, which is followed up by assessing how these networks can be most innovatively used. The studies constitute cyclically developing, evaluating, and researching innovative network use with improvements made by revision of the system at each level of the cycle.
It is imperative that the students have adequate knowledge of management systems if they are to be beneficial for their education. This will encourage the students’ engagement and participation in electronic networking activities. The students should also have a familiarity with the technology so that they do not feel intimidated by it. The educator providing the networking technology should work with a well-thought-out class plan design tailor-made to suit that specific group of students (Chan & Leung, 2007).
The argument brought forward by some educators that ICT does not create dialogue, which is a backbone of education, can be refuted that even when using computers, there is a form of dialogue. Loveless (1999) is of the opinion that as students use their computers, they generate images and ideas, with the added advantage that these images can be stored so as to be later reviewed, revised, and improved upon with the additional benefit that students do not have to live in fear of criticism. The process by which the students work on their images and ideas constitutes a dialogue between them and the machine. Loveless defines dialogue as being, ‘the working method through which meaning resolves itself’ and hence computers provided as good an opportunity for dialogue as the traditional classroom scenario.
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However, even if student-machine dialogue is acknowledged, there is still criticism about the quality of this dialogue. Loveless does concede that being able to access information does not automatically mean that one will learn. Students with the technology to generate images may still show a deficiency in their work if not given the proper audience (Loveless, 1999).
Loveless (1999) concludes that it is therefore left in the hands of the educator, who should have a knowledgeable grasp of ICT, on how best their students can use electronic networks in the most beneficial of ways. She says that it is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that ICT becomes an opportunity for students to sharpen their critical, analytical, and creative skills. The teacher must ensure that dialogue between the student and the machine results in the development of the student.
For the teacher to ascertain that the student-machine dialogue is beneficial, there needs to be done continuous assessments on what the students have actually learned and in what environment it has been learned, because environment does play a role in the quality of ICT learning (Loveless, 1999).
Examples of how students use electronic networks and electronic material in classrooms
One of the research exercises involved students from greatly diverse parts of the world: California, Illinois, Japan, Mexico, and Israel taking part in a network-based community project where they had to collaborate in solving problems of crisis like water shortages within their communities (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
At the start of the project, the students relied on local resources to analyze the problem of water shortages as they understood it and hypothetical solutions. The students then went ahead and shared the solutions they had come up with with the others in the program. They reviewed the solutions that their peers had formulated to see if they were in line with their own. In the end, they learned new concepts that they had not formulated simply because they were not applied within their communities. The students in California realized that the drip method of irrigation was used in Israel while they did not practice it. They used this knowledge to make a proposition for its use in their own locale (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
Impacts of innovative educational networks
When a network is first introduced, it is seen basically as a way of getting information and as a gateway to the rest of the world. A student in Alaska can explore the hot deserts of Egypt and see the great pyramids, the jewel of the Nile, visit the national museum, and tour Alexandria. From his classroom, he can be able to talk to a senator in Washington D.C and debate with scientists doing research at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The establishment of e-networks has broadened horizons for learners not only within their own locale but on a global scale as well. One use of these networks for students is that they have been a way to establish writing communities where young writers get a chance to nurture their talent and get a broad and ready audience in the form of their peers (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
Other network communities have been science and mathematic communities where young learners have access to more material and can exchange ideas with others in their learning groups.
Educators have also benefited from the establishment of electronic networks because they too get to interact with teachers from other schools and trade views on how to improve on their teaching methods (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
For networks to be considered effective, they must move beyond making information accessible. Influential and effective ways of using electronic networking are through electronic publishing, cooperation in coming up with solutions to community problems, and beyond the community, carrying out inter-school learning projects with students from around the world which may at times mean applying different curricula, but provide students with an extensive selection of novel activities in which to take part. Network learning can have a huge impact on the learner as he or she strives to excel in the wider range of activities that the network affords as contrasted to those of the traditional classrooms (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
Levin and Thurston (1996) point out that the reforms that have been recently made on the American education curricular are geared towards developing a problem-based and project-based kind of learning. How networks come in is that they create the opportunity for these problems and projects to be gotten from the real world and incorporated into the classroom. This gives a more viable education that actually presents students with situations that are not only hypothetical but totally factual and relevant to the present day and time.
It is also advantageous to the outside world in that the solutions the students come up with can be applied by people outside the educational orbit. This approach is viable because while students lack the know-how and experience available by the experts specializing within their fields, the students give a new perspective to their projects that might not have been considered before (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
Because of electronic networks, students with the assistance of their teachers are becoming more and more a go-between for their immediate communities, and people from other parts of the world are coming up with viable solutions for the community’s problems. The students, having identified the problems within their locale and having done the research on how others under similar circumstances tackle their problems, approach the community through their teachers and present these solutions to them. This way, the students are more involved in community life which has a dual impact in instilling in them a sense of responsibility from an earlier age while at the same time integrating them into community life since they feel they are also stakeholders in the community’s welfare (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
Networking, as aptly seen in the case of the water shortage problem, provides a platform for analyzing the options that can be used to solve a problem that may not necessarily be based on the traditional forms found in the locale. These solutions may turn out to be far more effective than the ones that have been previously implemented. This way, the students become agents of technology transfer from the rest of the world to their own communities (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
Electronic networking is slowly but gradually transforming the relationship that was previously there between the school and the community. While before a school was viewed as a body totally independent from the goings-on in the community, and that as long as the students made the required grades and behaved civilly, the school was of no other use. However, now students can give back to their communities and contribute substantially to communal development (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
The innovative use of networks is one that is dynamic as the field of information systems keeps presenting the world of education with greater advancements and improvements in technology. Hence, the implementation of network learning has to keep readjusting itself to these changes and explore the ways in which they can be best used in educating the student (Leun & Chan, 2007).
Factors that limit the use of electronic publishing and networks in the classroom
Even though electronic networks are beneficial for the learning process of the student as we have seen, there are factors that limit successful implementation.
Learning institutions on occasion may lack access to these electronic materials. In areas with marginalized schools, there may not be sufficient funding to facilitate the purchasing of computers or to replace machines that are worn out (Leun & Chan, 2007).
The access may also be limited because of a deficiency in infrastructure coupled with the fact that the study of telecommunications is not incorporated into the curriculum (Leun & Chan, 2007).
Research done by the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) indicates that it is necessary for teachers to have access to electronic material within their own classrooms for networking technology to be effectively used(Leun & Chan, 2007).
Another difficulty that may be faced by educators is the resistance to new inventive ways of using technology in the classroom by peers who take a more old-school bent on education. Lack of teacher training can be a hindrance because it is the teacher who is to facilitate the use of electronic networks and if they do not have the necessary skill then the student will also go at a loss (Leun & Chan, 2007).
Factors presented as disadvantages of the use of computers in classrooms
The use of electronic publishing within the classroom has raised mixed reactions amongst educators; others are compatible with computers and advocate their use saying they are of great import to learning. Others feel that their students still need that ‘hands-on experience’ hence it cannot be comprehensively assessed on the whole whether computers in classrooms are beneficial or detrimental.
The educators who are anti-electronic networking in the classroom argue that it detracts from what education is meant to do; which is providing individuals with critical thinking and analytical skills. The degree of implementation results in over-reliance on ready access to information that dulls the students’ imaginative and creative instincts. If the trend of use of ICT in schools continues it might completely overshadow other avenues of students’ creativity in the long run. Students and educators alike may neglect ingenuity exhibited in the arts be it in drama, creative writing, song, and dance. Electronic networks conclude Bowers, impede students from experimenting with other media (Bower, 2000).
On the social aspect, ICT is detrimental to a student’s socialization skills. A feature of the traditional classroom is that it provides an opportunity for students to interact with each other one on one. The students get to listen, weigh and evaluate each other’s opinions. They get a chance to emulate traits from their fellows that they find admirable by critical observation. ICT limits these interactions because students absorbed in their computers do not pay attention to each other. The virtual platform cannot act as a substitute for face-to-face interaction because online friends are too abstract and distant, hence they do not give the same quality friendships as real-life connections (McKenzie, 1998).
The attempts at constructing comprehensive ICT units within schools are sometimes detrimental to community development when funds have to be diverted from other projects to subsidize the provision of computers. Other communities and school projects like the expansion of libraries are sidelined in order to create electronic networks within the school (McKenzie, 1998).
There has been a shift in the focus from education being an acquisition of knowledge to the acquisition of facts. Because of an overwhelming infusion of information, students end up having a superficial understanding of the information that they come across, without really absorbing the elements of it. Putting it in terms of a rather overused but still relevant cliché, ‘too much of everything is poisonous. McKenzie terms this as America’s obsession with ‘trivia-intelligence’- the kind of intelligence that calls for minimal effort in truly examining and comprehending a subject (Gardner, 2000).
ICT, in Bowers’ (2000) argument, brings the ugly side of globalization into the classrooms. He reflects that a character of globalization is the homogenization of world cultures a situation he dramatically describes as the ‘lack of global perspectives on the cultural roots of our ecological crisis’ (Bowers, 2000, p. 113). Here, he refers to the fact that electronic networks do not take into account where people are from, or what the culture in their locale entails. Since search engines are put up and run by rich western co-operations, what the students end up knowing maybe a lopsided misrepresentation of what is with a strong western tint.
In cases where the school has limited funding, there is lower accessibility to the machines and consequently, students who come from marginalized areas are put at a further disadvantage. There are also the physical negative repercussion, back, and eye problems as well as muscle cramps (Bowers, 2000).
Bowers (2000) is keen to take note of the fact that the dependence on computers is continuously increasing in all learning institutions. In 1989, the student computer ratio in American public schools was twenty-five to one. By 1997, the ratio had risen to ten to one and in 1999 it had risen even higher, 5.7 to 1.
In higher institutions of learning, students communicate with their professors via e-mail when handing in assignments and research papers; get their course outlines online, along with source material. To cap it off there are virtual online libraries where they can do their research (Levin & Thurston, 1996).
There is concern about the viability of the material found on internet websites. The internet is very much commercialized, with the focus not being on how reliable the material posted is, but on the profits that can be garnered. For students who rely on the internet to do academic research, this can be a pitfall because they may end up misinformed. Paper journals and publications undergo heavy editing and verification before they are taken to the press, ensuring that there are high standards and the accuracy of the information, contrary to the internet where any person can post material without verification. It may be argued that this gives students a chance to air their ideas, but it has detractions as well.
The internet is wrought with many distractions for learners. If unsupervised students may visit sights that are not even parental advisory. The internet also creates anonymity; hence students may be encouraged to post unsavory materials since they are aware that they will not be charged with the responsibility for their actions (McKenzie, 1998).
The push for computers in learning institutions may have political connotations that are not based on educational grounds at all, says Bowers (2000). He points out that in the year 2000, former president bill Clinton aggressively pushed for the use of computers in public classrooms to the point it would have got on thinking that computers were the heart and soul of the American education system.
With the constant technological advances that are being made, there is no doubt that a greater revolution in the American education system lies ahead. The use of computers not only in the classroom set-up but in every other area of our lives is an inevitable fact. Equipping students with sufficient ICT training is capacitating them to be self-sufficient future citizens, who are capable of holding their place in a techno-oriented world.
The best ways in which to integrate traditional learning methods and electronic networks are yet to be hammered out. There are constant revisions being made to ascertain that American students can reap the best of both worlds. What needs to be done is to fine-tune how electronic publishing and networks are used in learning institutions.
There is no justification in rejecting electronic publishing and e-learning as impractical detrimental to the students. Adopting this approach would much be the same as the ostrich hiding its head in the sand in the face of danger. Technology is here to stay, and we have to realign our systems to cope with this fact, least of all not being educated.
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