October 1997

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A Critical Look at Technology

by John December

I've said it before: no one ever said this was going to be easy. Technology is not a panacea for education, democracy, society, or even a good time. I doubt many people believe technology is some "magic bullet," but the tendency in some publications is to "cheerlead" an already over-hyped marketplace of ideas about online communication.

So this month, we continue a theme of taking apart the hype. [] Steven G. Cameron's lead article questions:

"Have computers given today's students a better education in the creative arts fields in our Universities? Are they better prepared, because of the computer applications at their disposal, to design buildings, draw pictures, produce advertising, and enhance cinematography?"
He explores these questions by relating his experiences as a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson's Department of Visual and Performing Arts teaching courses in video, multimedia, and 3-D animation. His insights, I think, help us see that technology need not come first. Indeed, his observation that, "Although all of my students must have some basic grounding in computer techniques before taking any of these courses, strangely, they are not required to take any basic art courses first," points up a strange irony. Today's educators are so quick to embrace online technology as a key part of instruction, they can loose track of subject matter. More seriously, educational institutions slap together slipshod courses and programs in "Web publishing," "Web design," and "electronic media" that do little more than cover the trivia of technology at a cost of hundreds of dollars per credit hour to the student.

[] Hoffman's essay relates a real-world experience of the "wonderful" world of online conferencing. Again, the real-world implications of the reality of oline conferencing are far-reaching. The American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) company has often portrayed videoconferencing as the future of communications, even proclaiming "YOU WILL," to the many people who have rejected videoconferencing time and time again. Ignoring the social realities of online communication is poor business practice.

Robley [] Curtice's report gives us a series of brief glimpses into the hype-fests that are industry conferences. Full of buzzwords, tired metaphors, and stale bromides, these festivals are not for the easily bored. I hope Curtice will continue to provide us with dispatches from his self-proclaimed "search for the 21st century killer app."

[] Bunz's review of Digital Literacy and [] Clark's response to my "Last Link" essay of a few months back round out the issue.

As always, I'm interested in insightful essays that have a point of view and attitude--please drop me a line if you would like to contribute.

John December ( is editor of CMC Magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by John December. All Rights Reserved.

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