Abstinence-only Web Education

So I came up with this term a couple of minutes ago, and was surprised when I Googled it to find it didn’t exist.

So here it is. And here is what it expresses — my utter shock that when talking to some otherwise intelligent adults about the fact that we are not educating our students to be critical consumers of web content, or to use networks to solve problems, etc — my utter shock that often as not the response to this problem is “Well, if students would just stop getting information from the web and go back to books, this whole problem would go away.”

Shockingly crazy worldview, I hereby name you “Abstinence-only Web Education”.

Adding this: there is always this resentment of people in the Academy toward the term “real world” — as in what we teach them “in here” has to pertain to the real world “out there”. I sympathize with that resentment, and even commiserated about the inappropriateness of the term with a coworker a couple nights ago.

But it’s things like abstinence-only web education that make that term relevant and, yes, often a legitimate critique. It’s not everybody, true, but the belief of even a percentage in higher education that what we really need to do is get back to printed books to solve the information filter problem is evidence enough that we are insulated from the world outside the campus, and to a stunning degree.

8 thoughts on “Abstinence-only Web Education

  1. Not using Web based information would be like insisting that the only good information was handwritten when the printing press came out, or only set type rather than typewriter print, or written on legal pads rather than computer screens, etc. It’s not the medium but the content that counts. We all had to learn to read, but did it really matter if it was written in the sand, on paper, or on a computer screen to provide the intellectual content? No.

  2. I think it’s even bigger than that. Gardner Campbell has it right when he says we are not talking about something on the scale of the printing press, but on the historical scale of the invention of the alphabet.

    There are huge differences to how one approaches learning, commerce, politics and anything else in a oral vs. literate society.

    The university today teaches skills appropriate to conversation, and appropriate to mass communication, but ignores this weird but crucial world of mass conversation, which operates on different rules than the other two.

  3. I should probably start ducking rocks now, but it seems to me that the real problem is how teachers are compensated, or at least the perception of how they are compensated. It’s just not attractive to professionals who are successful in “the real world” to leave that world and go into Academia to share not only the skills they’ve honed in the actual situations students should be educated for, but also the viewpoint that comes from performing the task professionally and hopefully well.

    This means that academians, by and large, are people who come out of university and go right back in as teachers. They don’t have any chance to really understand at a gut level what their students need to learn. And so they groom the next generation of academians to lean even more that way, and students come out less prepared for the “real world” with each cycle, as they learn from teachers who have less and less understanding of what they’ll actually need.

  4. No need to duck rocks Amy. At the POD conference many people also noted it was the professional divisions of the university that were showing the highest embrace of things like the need to teach kids technology-mediated collaboration. Certainly the nearer and more connected to that-world-we-shall-not-call-the-real-world one is, the more, on average, they are likely not to see the web as a “separate thing”.

    Of course, there’s no hard line here: those connections to life beyond the campus can happen in any pursuit — academic pursuits, civic engagement, etc. So part of the thing here is that the push to get campuses engaged with non-campus populations may be inextricably tied with the push to get them to see the web as more than the bastard brother of the almighty printed word.

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