[EAS]Web Moral Vacuum

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Jun 28 15:03:19 EDT 2001

Subject:   Web Moral Vacuum

(from NewsScan Daily, 28 June 2001)

According to a survey of 4,500 high school students by Rutgers
management  professor Donald McCabe, who has studied cheating on
college campuses,  plagiarism from Web sites is even worse a
problem at the secondary level  than at the university level. More
than half of the high school students  surveyed admitted either
downloading and reusing an entire paper from the  Web or at least
copying parts of a paper without citation. Of college  students
surveyed, only 10-12% have admitted doing such things. But 
plagiarists often get caught, and the Internet sometimes taketh
away what  the Internet hath given... as can happen when a teacher
enters the five or  so words from a student paper and plugs them
into a search engine. Then the  game is over. (New York Times 28
Jun 2001)

Dear Colleagues -

After all the hoopla of putting computers into high schools, it is
my impression, having talked to students myself, that they see this
use of the Web not as cheating but as one of their "enablements."
Is this surprising?
Another form of perceived enablement are those broadcast requests
from high school students for information and help on projects, not
in the active phase of their project when they need to refine and
probe with the help of specialists, but at the very vague
beginnings when they are in effect asking "tell me what my project
should be."
(See also <http://www.yale.edu/engineering/eng-info/msg00813.html>).

In their application to human need, all technologies go through
three broad stages:
- the early "limited resources" phase, when technical skill is used
to deploy the limited available means most resourcefully for
well-understood needs (e.g. transistors replacing vacuum tubes in
- the "organizational" or "industrial" phase, when fairly ample
technological capability benefits most from the proper organization
of design and production, and finally the
- the "fluid" phase, when one is awash amidst competing alternative
technological possibilities and needs above all to recognize and
affirm the one's primary purpose (as an individual, as an
organization), if one isn't too confused and distracted. That's the
phase at which electronics and information technology have arrived.

See also
<http://www.yale.edu/engineering/eng-info/msg00382.html> and
>From the latter
> Attend any conference on telecommunications or computer technology,
> and you will be attending a celebration of innovative machinery
> that generates, stores, and distributes more information, more
> conveniently, at greater speeds than ever before. To the question
> "What problem does the information solve?" the answer is usually
> "How to generate, store, and distribute more information, more
> conveniently, at greater speeds than ever before." (Neil Postman)

This quote is from Neil Postman's 1993 book "Technopoly." How much
progress have we made since then in affirming purpose?


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