Virtual Education: Boon or Bane? Educators Speak

Manila Bulletin, March 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

Virtual Education: Boon or Bane? Educators Speak


Byline: Caesar I. Agnir

OF the social issues in virtual education, I can think of at least four serious ones. First, what kind of students will virtual education breed in a process where there is little, if any, physical interaction, either among fellow-students or between student and teacher? Or, as one critic puts it, in oa culture that seeks to ignore idiosyncrasies in favor of efficiency and homogeneityo? Behaviorists remind us of the important role in the learning process that is played by such intangibles as eye-contact, body language, instant responses, the spontaneity and multiple stimuli of a group discussion, and the like u all of which will be absent in technology-mediated instruction.

Second, will it really promote access to education and in the process help achieve what we have been discussing as universality? Or will it further emphasize the great divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots"?

Third, will it not further disadvantage the handicapped u that is, the mentally challenged who need personalized attention, or those who do not speak the language of the geographical area serviced by the network?

The first group is particularly worrisome. Rather than providing personalized attention, will not the "culture that seeks to ignore idiosyncrasies in favor of efficiency and homogeneity" completely marginalized them? As for the second group, in countries where there are large concentrations of minority ethnic groups who are not proficient in the host countryEs language, will these minority groups be not disadvantaged?

Fourth, will it promote or will it retard the development of social skills? Is there a risk that consumers of virtual education, particularly the young, will become isolated and therefore lacking in social amenities?

And now we come to the ethical issues. I can see three that stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. First, will not virtual education be more expensive to students and their parents than face-to-face instruction, especially in private institutions where students and their parents must necessarily share in the high cost of technology-mediated instruction?

Second, will virtual education reduce or will it exacerbate the cheating already taking place in the traditional instructional set p? This is particularly problematical in the area of research, especially in the Third World. At least, it is, quite frankly, in my country, where research in graduate programs miss often undertaken perfunctorily, merely to fulfill a formal requirement for graduation, rather than as an earnest response to a challenging question in the unending pursuit of truth. But while I speak here only for my country, this practice appears to be rampant also in other countries, East as well as West. It is a necessary offspring of the frenetic paper chase that is fueled by the undue importance attached to mere titles. In that context, will not virtual education widen the opportunities for dishonesty?

Third, in a provocative paper entitled "The Given and the Made: Authenticity and Nature in Virtual Education," Lee Herman and Allan Mandell raise the disturbing specter of "a world (that is) entirely virtual (presenting to) usa a reality in which every single thing can be constructed or reconstructed." They ask the question: "In a virtual world, when nothing needs to be as it is (underscoring supplied)a, what (really) is authentic?" That is a pivotal, fundamentally critical question; and it needs to be answered.

Finally, on the integrity of virtual education as a process, Herman and Mandell conclude: "(Virtual education), in its most perfect form, reduces learning and teaching to mere control and to instrumental behaviorsa What is known is completely systematized; what is to be learned and how it is (to) be acquired are programmed; and who the learners are, doesnEt matter. This depersonalized intellectual culture is orderly, slick and emptied of surprisea The knowledge likely to be achieved there is precise but irrelevant to illuminating the intrinsically precious and wondrous ends of human life: beauty, virtue, happiness. …

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