Tag Archives: computer lib/dream machines

Am I Fantic? Thinking About CAIs and My TAIs

1 Mar

In “Computer Lib/Dream Machines,” Ted Nelson reads as if he could be the spiritual father of Jaron Lanier, the virtual reality pioneer and author of You Are Not a Gadget.  (I’d be shocked if Lanier hasn’t read Nelson’s work.) There are a variety of ways in which these two seem philosophically aligned, but I’ll just consider one:  Lanier’s idea of “lock in” and how that goes alongside some of Nelson’s critiques of the American educational system and of “Computer Assisted Instruction” (CAI).

Lanier has written about how certain bad standardized designs in computer programs and on the web have gotten “locked in” so that they are difficult to change, and how those designs help lead to a variety of problematic or even calamitous effects (exploitation of internet users, losses of creativity, flattening of individuality, among others).  I heard echoes of this when Nelson was critiquing some of the problems of our standardized education system and the way it can stifle the creativity and learning of students.  I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Nelson had to say there, and was also heartened to see some of his critiques of CAI advocates.  Nelson strikes a good balance between advocating for the technological and the human.

Among the designs of the off-line world that are indeed “locked in” in many respects, our flawed education system is a prominent one.  I feel this every time I have to grade my students, or every time I have to rush through some lesson in class that this group of students over here needs much more time with while another group of students in the same class is ready to move on.  I’ve often felt that in an ideal world, I could act as more of an individual tutor or guide to each student, pacing the work accordingly to keep them engaged and learning, tailoring my lessons to their abilities and interests. (A modern-day governess, maybe?)  Given the structures and limits within which I have to work, I can only do this to a certain extent.  Computers or CAI may be a way out of this.

But CAI is not a panacea. Nelson appears to know this. To achieve the best results for students, to keep them engaged and foster their individual experiences, it seems to me that there needs to be a very careful balance of CAI and TAI (Teacher-Assisted Instruction).  I suspect Nelson believes this too.

The question for me then comes to this:  do those who advocate for modern-day versions of CAI–including the expansion of on-line learning here at the University of California–believe this?