Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How I Learned About Uranus

For the second semester, we had a required subject called 'Science, Technolocy, and Society' (or STS for short), where we discussed just that: science, technology, and society. One of our sessions tackled the Internet, and at the end, we were required to answer two questions: 1) Is the Internet good or bad for your education?; and 2) Is our educational system outdated? I should warn you that the following is a reaction paper, thus, I might not make much sense. Thank for you for being nice.

When it comes to identifying with a generation, I don’t limit myself to just one letter (like X or Y), although whether I really believe in such classifications is a totally different matter. I consider myself a product of two time frames not exactly distinct from each other. As a kid, I grew up watching VHS tapes, pressing seven-number codes on a telephone, and being engrossed in pages upon pages of non-school books (that’s basically how I learned about Uranus at six). Then, there’s this other half of my current self whose recreational time seems predominated by the thing (?) everybody calls the Internet. If memory serves me right, I started surfing the Net on my own at ten or eleven, and at the time, those prepaid cards were my key to entering the noble world of, an aviation enthusiasts’ heaven. From there, it was a fairly predictable path to the present: Yahoo! Mail, Friendster, Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, Blogspot, Facebook.

Now, as if it’s not obvious enough, I owe a lot to the Internet. And by that, I’m going beyond the virtual connections that Facebook has afforded me, or a space for self-expression that’s available over at Blogspot, or even information-for-stalking that Google has so generously provided through the years. I’m talking about principles in organic chemistry that Wikipedia’s made so much simpler and easier to understand, about pictures and diagrams of embryos that have made matters in Biology 30 far less complicated, about answers and explanations to Physics problems whenever Giancoli (the textbook) runs out of them. I’m talking about the trillions upon trillions of information that’s seen many a research and analytical paper come to fruition, about sources that’s made themselves available at the click of a mouse when the library can hardly provide them. Most importantly, I’m talking about knowledge that school would hardly care to provide, knowledge that academicians wouldn’t really deem important enough to make it to the classroom, knowledge that can only be easily accessed online.

So when I hear people say that the Internet is detrimental to my education, I simply shrug and get on with life. As far as I know, it hasn’t been; after all, how can I agree with them when the Internet played a big part in the completion of my Communications II research paper three semesters ago and tons of analytical papers during fourth year? Beyond the personal things, how can you say that something so vital to life in the 21st century can be… bad? This is the part where I say that I somehow see the perspective of the detractors.

I have a friend whom we shall call Barney. Barney grew up just like any ordinary well-off child. He watched tons of TV, went to a famous school, owned lots of toys. Then, the Internet came along. Because Barney already had his own room and personal computer at ten years old, he basically had the entire world at the tip of his fingers at such a young age. At eleven, he was already devouring Web pages upon Web pages of porn. Before graduating from grade school, he had already mastered the art of sleeping beyond midnight, thanks to online games. But when the time came for him to scour the Net for information for research projects and papers, most of the time he ended up clueless and empty-handed.

So now, contrasting my semi-self-righteous anecdote and a semi-fictional account of a facet of a friend’s life, the debate on whether the Internet is a good or bad thing for education boils down to this: It depends on how you use it. Forks and chopsticks are no different from each other in terms of function, but someone who’s never used the latter won’t definitely get past the fumbling-with-food stage. The Internet has provided us with an alternate universe, a library that contains everything that is and was in existence. To quote Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility (I tried my best not to utter this cliché, I really did).

Parallel to the question on the Internet’s effects on education is that on our educational system itself. Is the system outdated? No, it’s not. A fork will forever be a fork. What we need in the system, if the Internet is to be a problem, is to teach our kids how to properly use the vast ocean of knowledge that’s available in their computers. We’ve been at it for centuries, teaching people how to use things properly. Like how we teach our children to properly use their legs or where to urinate, so must we teach them how to maximize the benevolent effects of the Internet in their lives. Well, in a way, this is also updating the system, if ‘updating’ means including new things to teach and introducing newer techniques for learning. I think the best we can do here is to include the Internet as part of the learning system, but that does not mean that the system needs a major revamp; I like to see it as just leveling up.

In the end, perspectives will always vary. My definition of good may not be the same as yours, nor will my definition of outdated be. But I guess we can agree on one thing: The Internet provides us with a plethora of choices to go with. Our species is generally rather good at making choices (so I’d like to believe), so a word of advice: The Internet is there. Use it well (Again, a cliché).

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