Panel discusses Internet and academics

By Keith Blackman
The Daily Pennsylvanian

Discussion of course material does not necessarily end at 10 minutes to the hour every other day. With the advent of mailing lists and newsgroups, students can exchange ideas -- whether at home or in a computer lab -- 24 hours a day.

Whether this is an advantage for the educational process was the topic of a panel discussion Tuesday, entitled "Education in the Electronic Information Age."

The program, presented by the Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, featured four panelists with differing views as to the appropriate scope of the Internet in education.

The discussion was held in a question-and-answer format, mediated by the fraternity's parliamentarian, College junior Jeremy Kraybill.

The panelists spoke on a wide range of subjects -- from race and gender problems in cyberspace to a current lack of faculty-student interaction.

But most of the conversation centered around the academic use of newsgroups, mailing lists and World Wide Web pages.

Al Filreis, one of the panelists and the undergraduate chairperson of the English Department, was in favor of extensive use of electronic media in the classroom.

"Now that the information age is here, we can do what we've always done in an augmented fashion," he said. "[We can] teach and advise students better and more efficiently than before."

Panelist Janice Madden, the vice provost for graduate education, agreed that the Internet opens new doors for educators and students. But she emphasized the need for classrooms.

"There is a difference between Internet communication and presence in the classroom," she said. "The Internet is not a substitute for classroom discussion, but I also think that classroom discussion is not a substitute for the Internet."

But Annenberg graduate student Andrea MacDonald, who also served as a panelist, was skeptical about the benefits derived from increased use of the Internet.

"The Internet accentuates male learning styles," she said. "According to studies, women are not as likely to use technology considered 'male.' The Internet provides a division across race, class and gender lines."

Computer and Information Sciences Professor David Farber, who was also on the panel, disagreed.

"Many of my female colleagues would take great exception to the fact that they are considered 'incapable' [of using the Internet]," he said. "Many women are comfortable with the technology."

Farber went on to discuss a possible electronically oriented educational system.

"A 100-person lecture is no worse through Internet than in person," he said.

Madden said she agreed that face-to-face interaction may not be needed to the extent it is available today.

"Student exposure to physical contact is important," she said. "But maybe [contact for] four years, nine months a year isn't needed for an education."

BETTY YUAN/The Daily Pennsylvanian

Vice Provost for Graduate Education Janice Madden and English Department Undergraduate Chairperson Al Filreis discuss the electronic information age in Stiteler Hall Tuesday.

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