Learning in the Computer Age

My grandparents comment regularly that they don’t understand how young people can keep track of all this new technology. “How can you concentrate on school work with all these computers and cell phones?” What my grandparents don’t understand is that computers aren’t a distraction or a novelty that we force into our lives, it’s necessary to compete in life.

Dr. Comer says that as computing reaches it’s terminal velocity of the physical materials in which computing lives, speedups will (and already do) greatly depend on caching and parallelism. This school of thought is the same in the analog world. Humans only have so much brain power and as we reach our physical limitations, how can we continue to parallelize and cache our thought?

College students can’t just go to lecture and read books on their areas of study anymore. We can’t just take notes and read them later. It’s necessary to do whatever can be done. This means finding and organizing all the information that exists and then processing all this information in parallel. Making all the connections we possibly can and being more accurate as a result of this update in processing power. Things like podcasts of lectures make note taking that much more intense. It’s almost like, to compete, we have to visit each lecture twice. Wikipedia enables us to explicitly define every… single… topic that is covered (along with animations of algorithms etc.)

Enhanced productivity is also a part of the computing age. It’s easier to more tightly schedule our time and coordinate with others. Coordination is huge in education these days! In my algorithms course, the TA mentioned to me that there is a huge split between the top students in the course and the rest of the class. The top students all collaborate as much as possible. Things like cell phones and Google calendar have only made this kind of coordination possible within the past two years.

I don’t know how much time my grandparents would spend working as undergraduates each day, but for me, I spend at least 12 hours a day on campus and in the computer lab. I like to think that this is a part of the computer age. Hopefully this kind of productivity will help the United States continue to be a world power in the face of all the new competition. So, grandma and grandpa, we don’t even chose to use these tools, we have to.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all still used to learning in lecture form, even if it is aided by technology. As a result, one of the coolest ways to learn is by watching tech talks or lectures on sites like Google video and YouTube. I like learning about the presidential candidates this way as well.
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