It is tempting to see Kaplan's distinction between social and technological determinists replicated in the debate over the implementation of information technologies in US education. Certainly there is no lack of education professionals who have seized upon the thought of hurtling along the information superhighway with the unadulterated optimism that she attributes to technological determinists. For example, in a recent issue of Computers and Education devoted to the proceedings of the 1993 European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning (EUROCALL) conference--the title of which was "Emancipation Through Learning Technology"-- Graham Chester notes that many of the participants saw technology as freeing them from:
[t]he pressures of mass education, the irritating constraints of time, place and accessible resources in the learning process, the burdens of teaching and assessing basic language skills, the limitations of text-only environments--all these and more. Not all the shackles could be cast off at a single conference of course, but the strongly collaborative atmosphere characteristic of EuroCALL conferences no doubt enhanced the sense of a cause, and aspiration towards liberating the potential of technology in language learning for the benefit of both teachers and learners (1).
Chester's invocation, apparently with no trace of irony of "emancipation," "liberation," and casting off the shackles in a glorious common cause, is characteristic of one prominent strand of rhetoric that has accompanied the recent growth in those technologies we can label infotech.xvi This is not to say that computers to not have liberatory aspects, those of us who can still remember writing on a typewriter would be hard-pressed to argue otherwise. And certainly innovation must always be accompanied by a certain optimism if it is going to convince people to adopt the innovation. As Richard Lanham observes, humanities scholars in particular have always been such natural Luddites that taking an optimistic view of the impact of infotech upon humanities teaching has in the past amounted to a radical act in its own right (23).xvii
But an unqualified optimism, of which Lanham himself is guilty becomes counterproductive if pushed to extremes. For one thing the inevitable simplifications inherent in such a view inspire predictable reactions; just as there is no shortage of enthusiasts concerning the potential of infotech in education, so there is no shortage of skeptics. Thus Frank T. Boyle in an article entitled "IBM, Talking Heads, and our Classrooms" blasts the trend to incorporate Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) in classrooms. He argues that the assumption that educational problems can be "solved" with the application of particular software packages or hardware configurations confuses the collection of information with the acquisition of knowledge. So while computers are capable of processing large amounts of information and producing a nicely finished product, but CAI is not capable of demonstrating the processes, often creative rather than purely mechanical, that are required to solve problems and produce knowledge. Boyle makes several points concerning the impact of infotech:
The first is that the promise of computer technology in the classroom is a repackaging of the most pervasive lie of commercial culture, that learning, like hair or sex or riches, may be purchased quickly and easily. The second is that, even if we as educators recognize that lie, it has been so inculcated in our students by way of television that we have no choice to pander to their beliefs by acquiring the machines that will make them believe that they are learning. Third, little distinction should be made between television and computer technologies: as television becomes "interactive" and computers become "mixed-media," the messages of these media converge as well. The fourth point has to do with the nature of that message. The message itself was perhaps best stated by Swift's modern fool - the one who thinks learning can be had without "the fatigue of reading or thinking" (625).