5.0166 Why Prove Computers Do It Better? (1/50)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 20 Jun 91 16:34:14 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0166. Thursday, 20 Jun 1991.

Date: Wed, 19 Jun 91 23:07:55 EST
Subject: Humanities Computing

Re: Vol. 5, No. 0146. Tuesday, 18 Jun 1991 from Willard McCarty

>My question is this: if it's fundamentally impossible
>to measure the true effectiveness of instruction, how can we possibly
>hope to prove that computers do it better?

I have never exactly understood why it is that we need to prove
that computers do it better. Aside from the question of better
than what....

In spite of realms of prose concerning teaching evaluations, which
suggest building up dossiers including course outlines, comments
from students, peer-review, comments from alumni, etc., no one
has, to my knowledge, managed to evaluate *human* instruction
effectively. Textbook evaluation is quite sensibly done not by
statistical studies but by fairly subjective commentary solicited
from practitioners: i.e. is it likely to be effective or not?

Technology such as language labs and video, to mention only two,
has somehow managed to avoid the Evaluation Question. Why then
this intense interest in somehow proving "objectively" that
computers are "better"...?? Good teachers need many supplemental
tools, ranging from the blackboard to a clear speaking voice, all
of which tools are acquired through differing means and used with
differing effects.

The use of computers in teaching, at least in language teaching,
has been compared, darkly, to the supposedly defunct language
lab... both being fads which blew up out of clear blue skies and
promptly expired from lack of adequate software. In reality, the
language lab is still alive and well and calling itself something
ressembling "Language Learning Media Centre", offering a panoply
of useful tools to those instructors who take the time and
trouble to familiarize themselves with the possibilities.
Somewhere along the line, the usefulness of these technologies
became self-evident, and nobody now feels the need to evaluate

Now why on earth can't computers, which have been quietly
integrated into the former language lab as "computer-assisted
language learning" (CALL), be accepted in the same way as other
technologies? Why do we feel we constantly have to prove, in all
learning fields which use or hope to use computers, that the
little machines are not only useful but are "better"
than anything else??

Dana Paramskas Lngdanap@vm.uoguelph.ca
French Studies DanaP@CoSy.uoguelph.ca
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1