Physicist Tim Berners-Lee was merely looking for a better way to communicate with his colleagues at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) when he posted the first Web page more than 20 years ago. I wonder, however, whether he anticipated the all-encompassing effect that the World Wide Web would bring to humanity.
In 1989, Berners-Lee first brought up the idea of the World Wide Web, saying: “The WWW project aims to allow all links to be made to any information anywhere.”
Today, the availability of massive amounts of information about anything anytime, anywhere has changed just about everything from the way we work to the way we learn.
The Way We Work
The Internet and the proliferation of portable Internet-ready devices have taken the concept of telecommuting to a whole new level. These days, people can work anywhere, and not just from the comfort of their homes. They also tend to work anytime, and not just from Monday to Friday. With netbooks, iPads, iPhones, and other such devices, work has become for some a 24/7 practice. The line separating one’s work life from one’s home life has become blurred somewhat. This can be very stressful, but because of the fast pace of everything these days, we have no choice. We just have to be more resourceful and creative in how we cope with stress and manage change.
The Way We Connect
The Internet has made the world a small place, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the microcosm of the universe that is Facebook. With just a couple of clicks of your mouse, you can find out just about anything about one person, from what his favorite TV shows are to where he was last weekend.
At AHEAD, we use Facebook to reach out to our students and give them extra lessons. We also use it to communicate with parents who want to be updated about their child’s progress. In a way, Facebook has also helped us reinforce our business relationships.
But does being connected to this vast network of family, friends, work colleagues, schoolmates, and acquaintances nurture real relationships? Sometimes, being connected helps, especially when you need a quick chat with a friend who’s miles away. But nothing beats face-to-face communication. And certainly, having 10,000 Facebook friends doesn’t mean that you have as many real friends in your real life.
The Way We Learn
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time in the library. I remember reading one book after another, copying important points on my notebook. Reference books were heavy back then, and it’s easy to know if a student was the diligent type just by looking at the load of his bag.
Kids today, they hardly go to the library. That’s because all the reference materials they need may be found on the Internet. Books can be read from Kindle, encyclopedias can be referenced online. In the United States, bookstores are going out of business because digital media has taken over.
Educational materials are so accessible that plagiarism has become a real issue in the academe. It’s so easy for a student to just copy-paste a page off the Internet than to spend a couple of hours doing real research.
And because these kids are so comfortable with technology, they are masters at the art of multi-tasking. They go through their notes while chatting and tweeting.
My eight-year-old daughter grew up in the Internet age. She grew up watching videos on YouTube, listening to music on her iTunes, and playing interactive games on a variety of educational sites. For her, learning is fun, graphic, and highly interactive.
Given such a learning landscape, how could a teacher compete? How could she be satisfied with just giving humdrum lectures and blackboard work when she very well knows all the bells and whistles characteristic of online education? How could she bring out her graphs and charts when she knows that her students can create videos, websites, and other digital presentations on their own? In some Korean classrooms, teachers are now using iPads and iPhones to keep their students’ attention; this maybe one way to go about it.
If we want to keep students like my eight-year-old interested in the art of learning, then we have to challenge the way we teach in the classroom. We have to engage these young minds for learning to be meaningful to them. We have to complement and supplement traditional ways of teaching with techniques borne of the Internet. This is the only way, I think, that we’ll be able to keep students like my daughter logged in.