The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

Page 74 << PREVIOUS >> NEXT Jump to page:
Go to contents Go to thumbnails
This book is also available for the Kindle

Should the Computer Teach the Student, or Vice-Versa? (How much longer will the computer illiterate be considered educated?, computer administered instruction (CAI), reprinted from 1972 Spring Joint Computer Conference, Writing Assisted Instruction (WAI))
by Arthur W. Luehrmann

graphic of page

How much longer will a computer illiterate be considered educated? How long will
he be employable and for what jobs? ls it enough to be merely a subject of
computer administered instruction?

Should the computer teach the student, or vice-versa?

Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

This sermon begins with a parable.

Once upon a time in the ancient past there was a nation in which writing and
reading had not yet been invented. Society was as advanced as possible,
considering that it had no mechanism for recording the letter of the law or of
writing agreements, contracts,or debts. Nor was there a way of recording the
heritage of information and knowledge that had to be passed on from generation
to generation.

As a result, a great fraction of the total effort of the society was spent in
oral transmission of information. Master teachers, who themselves had been
taught by older master teachers, lectured before children and young people of
the society. Training a master teacher was a long and expensive process, and so
the society could not afford many. For reasons of economy the curriculum was
quite rigid and lectures were on a fixed schedule. Teaching, obviously, was a
labor-intensive industry based on skilled, expensive talent. Education,per
force, was a luxury that could be afforded by the elite classes only.

Then, one day, writing and reading were invented. Not surprisingly, the first
application of this new technology was to business and government. Money was
printed; laws were encoded; treaties were signed.

In response to these needs, a reading and writing industry grew up. Within a few
years it was able to offer a broad range of reading and writing services to its
customers. The customers found this to be a convenient arrangement, since hiring
readers and writers from service vendors eliminated the need for each customer
to invest in an expensive R&D effort of its own. The customers remained

At first the situation was somewhat chaotic. Each vendor of reading and writing
service tended to develop its own favorite language and its own technique for
encoding information, leading to incompatibilities that impeded the spread of
the new technology. After a winnowing-out period, however, the number of
competing systems settled down to a few and major difficulties were handled by
translators-though inevitably something seemed to be lost in the process.

Always looking for new markets, the vendors of reading and writing service began
to examine the area of education. In view of its elitist role in the society it
had been dismissed at first as too limited a market. A few, more imaginative
people, however, argued that the application of reading and writing technology
could turn education into a mass market. They proposed the following plan of
attack. Reading and writing specialists and master teachers would work as a
team. The master teachers would deliver their best,most carefully prepared
lectures to the reading and writing experts, who would write them carefully
verbatim into books. The books would then be copied many times, and each copy
would be made available to a new type of educational functionary-the reader.

His only job would be to assemble groups of students and to read aloud to them
the recorded lectures of the master teachers. In view of the fact that training
such a reader would be far less expensive than the education of a master
teacher, the on-going cost of such a program would be far less than that of the
conventional lecture method. The new method came to be called Writing Assisted
Instruction, frequently abbreviated to WAI.

Needless to say, WAI had its opponents. Established master teachers expressed
doubt whether a less skilled reader would be able to communicate subtleties of
inflection, and they were certain that a mere reader could not process student
responses with skill or intelligence. WAI proponents counter-charged that the
master teachers were merely expressing their vested interest in the present
educational establishment, and, indeed, that they ought to be fearful because
the superiority of WAI would ultimately drive out the conventional
practitioners. Even within the education establishment some younger members
became WAI supporters on the grounds that the new method was a boon to education
research. Until then, teaching had

Reprinted from Proceedings of Spring Joint Computer Conference. 1972. Copyright
1972 by AFIPS.

Page 74 << PREVIOUS >> NEXT Jump to page:
Go to contents Go to thumbnails
This book is also available for the Kindle