Monday, July 27, 2015

Isaac Asimov on education and the Internet!

Yesterday, I listened to this excerpt of an interview with Isaac Asimov on Radio National's Future Tense program page. It is characteristically prescient:
Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries ... If there's something you're interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else ... you ask and you can find out and you can follow it up and you can do it at your own speed, at your own home, in your own time, then everyone will be interested in learning.
Asked whether he thought the computer would dehumanise learning, he made the following point:
As a matter of fact, it's just the reverse ... In the old days ... a person who could afford it would hire a pedagogue, a tutor and he would teach the children. If he knew his job, he could adapt his teaching to the tastes and abilities of the students. But how many people could afford to hire a pedagogue? Most children went uneducated ... Now there is a possibility of a one-to-one relationship for the many. Everyone can have a teacher in the form of access to the gathered knowledge of the human species.
As I listened to him make these points and others about how following one's interest can lead to learning a number of valuable things, I could not help thinking that this vision was now fulfilled: The "computer outlets" are in every home and they are connected to "enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference material."

On the same day, I read this article about a 16 year old who lives 45 minutes from me and who is taking a physics course at MIT. He is doing it online, of course.

I am dying to emulate that boy but the only time that I have been able to complete a MOOC was when I was on long service leave. Still, I have been learning (often re-learning) computer science concepts from Youtube videos and university websites. How did I complete a computing degree with textbooks and papers I downloaded via FTP?

We live in times which luminaries of past generations dreamt about. We are privileged in this one thing: We can learn and we can do it continually. I hope that we can take full advantage of this fact and that, as teachers, we allow our students the space to learn from "the gathered knowledge of the human species".