[Edu-sig] The trackball reality

Arthur ajs at optonline.net
Fri Oct 24 12:59:51 EDT 2003

(I wrote this, so may as well send it out somewhere - edu-sig being the

Am I lost in a conspiracy theory?  Dammit if I don't hate consporiacy

But the fact is that I have a business, rather than technical background.
And in most contexts, I put no value judgments on the workings of the

I feel differently about education.

At a wedding of an old friend I was introduced to a gentlemen who was a
professor of HCI at a New York university. Who freely talked of the funding
of grants to departments like his from corporations like Micorosoft and IBM
for HCI studies related to the educational use of software.

One could  choose to conclude that these Corporations were "giving something
back" to the community by providing these grants for these kinds of studies.
If one had a good sense of humor.

And the nature of the studies he described were no surprise to me.  And it
seemed to be consistent. "Useabiliy studies" related to highly graphical,
game-like interfaces for educational software.

I am perfectly convinced that if I were given 25 grant proposals to assess -
based on choice of rhetoric, prosposed techniques to be employed, citations
it selects to highlight, etc. - it would be child's play to identify those
studies inclined to come to conclusions supportive of ideas I might find

And its my money and I will fund the projects I find "interesting". Who
could dispute that?

Much of the value I see in Python in education is in providing an important
tool for an alternative approach. And alterntive reality, where maintaining
a decent emphasis on word-based, text-based, keyboard based apsects of HCI.
Not becuase it is more "useable" -  but only because, in particular, what we
are looking to achieve is "learning".

"Learning" needing to be in quotes, because that is the crux of the matter.
Because if one defines "learning" as what one might gain from interfacing a
computer with a trackball, then one will conclude that the trackball is a
great interface for learning.  Of course - its a simple tautology.  And if I
prefer to define "learning" as what one gains by interfacing with the
keyboard  - I simply can't loose to trackball.

Who is prepared to define learning?

I insist that whatever it is, its  definition has not been changed
fundamentally by the advent of data processing machinary. Though great
learning went into its advent - to be sure.

Having no funding or the resources to fund studies *I* would find
"interesting" - all I can claim to have is a Zen position, which has an
atttendent bit of ideology attached.

But that is what is in controversy, really - as far as I can see.

If anything I am a backward looking (I perfer that to "reactionary") - for
the *important* stuff, I think it important to look backward and try to
understand if we have lost, and - if so - what we have lost, and why, and
how might we regain as much of it as we can.  And it is fully plausible to
me that we have lost much in the realm of education. But there is nothing
inconsistent to me in a position that it is fully plausible that computers
could and probably should play an important role in retrieving some of this.

But this is  - in my view  - the antithesis of redefining what is

The support for these kinds of redefinitons - which would be considered
radical, were there not so many mainstream forces addressing it as if it
were not - is something to the effect that we are preparing citizens for a
new reality.

The trackball reality,

Who's reality is that?


>Games tend to push the envelope of computing, especially for user
interfaces, and nearly every aspect of computer
>science must be addressed in the context of a game, so they are great
learning tools.  And there is nothing like games to hold >attention or
motivate kids.

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