The history of computers in education has been variously characterized as an "accidental revolution" or "unthinking man and his thinking machines." Others have said that the computer revolution has changed the adage that "necessity is the mother of invention" to "in a computer world, invention is the mother of necessity." However characterized, it is clear that innovators in this field have created some of the most provocative and stimulating ideas in the history of education. What follows is a brief chronological history of some of the more interesting ideas and developments.
A CONFLUENCE OF CHANGES
Broadly speaking, the two major functions of education are to transmit the culture, values and lessons of the past to the current generation; and to prepare our children for the world in which they will live. Preparing children for the world in which they will live is becoming more difficult than ever. In retrospect, there has been a confluence of changes that have significantly impacted the direction of modern education.
1. The Global Economy
Modern, high-speed computers and telecommunications have facilitated the rapid movement of financial resources, goods and services, and have created an interdependence among the world's economies. To benefit from these markets, nations must be competitive, and to be competitive they must have a well-educated work force.
New, science-based, information industries are emerging in which knowledge and human capital are as important as industrial plants. Daniel Bell says a major characteristic of these industries is that they derive from work in theoretical science and are dependent on the codification of theoretical knowledge. The significance of this development is that if we choose to maintain our current standard of living, our knowledge workers must compete in an international market and must have a good understanding of science.
2. The Scientific Information Explosion
We are experiencing a scientific information explosion of unprecedented proportions. Today, scientists and engineers use computers to access thousands of rapidly growing data bases that store numbers, words, maps, chemical and physical structures; and they search them millions of times a year. The base of scientific knowledge today is huge. It is estimated that it would take 22 centuries to read the annual biomedical research literature or seven centuries to read a year's chemical literature.
Not only is the volume of new information large, but it is growing exponentially. Rapid changes in many fields are making basic knowledge and skills obsolete. Knowledge is continually being modified and basic concepts and theories are being revised. New theories emerge as new discoveries offer new ways of looking at the data. Disciplines are merging and hyphenated sub-disciplines are being formed.
Herbert Simon, Nobel Laureate, observed that the developments in science and information processing technologies have changed the meaning of the verb, "to know." It used to mean "having information stored in one's memory." It now means the process of having access to information and knowing how to use it.
3. The Emergence of Cognitive Science
There has been a major paradigm shift in education from theories of "learning" to theories of "cognition." Cognitive science approaches teaching and learning in a different way. It addresses how the human, as an information processor, functions and uses information. Rather than focusing on teaching facts through expository lectures or demonstrations, the emphasis is, instead, on developing higher-order, thinking and problem-solving skills.
The cognitive approach is important because it recognizes human information processing strengths and weaknesses, and the limits of human perception and memory in coping with the information explosion. It focuses, instead, organizing information to fit human capacity, and has changed the emphasis in education from learning to thinking. …