The Mikado again

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EDCI 571 Week 2

An observation:

This reminds me of a court room cross-examination. It would go something like this:

Kozma (the defendant):   “Media influences learning.”

Clark (the prosecutor):   “Are you asserting that a student could learn better from, say a computer program, than a human?”

Kozma:   “Yes.”

Clark:  “What if the teacher taught in the exact same way as the computer? Would the student learn more by the computer?”

Kozma:  “Maybe not more, but probably faster.”

Clark:  “Aha! But the student would still learn the same.

Kozma:  “Yes, but faster.”

Clark:  “Let’s not get sidetracked by speed. Regardless of teacher versus computer, if the method of instruction were the same, would the student learn the material?”

Kozma:  “Yes, but…”

Clark:  “Just answer the question.”

Kozma:  “Yes.”

Clark:  “No further questions.”

Kozma:  “Can I just say that I have some clairvoyant tendencies, and that the media we have now is not what we will have in the future. I think it presumptuous to think that media in 1993 will be the same as in, say, 2019. I agree that based on what we have now for media, it may not influence learning, but in the future, we may be interacting with media in ways that we deem impossible now. And those ways may not be replicated any other way, including by humans. So we may not have flying cars, but we may have telephones that are also TVs, and computers, and who knows what else! And they may provide learning environments never seen before, in a completely unique way. Just you wait!

Clark:  “You’re crazy.”

End scene

To be fair, Clark is a product of his time. In 1983, his assertion was applicable, and his meta-analysis was looking at many other studies over years (years which, while many developments in media happened, the change was much slower, leading up to his originally published paper in 1983).

As for Kozma, in the decade that followed from 1983, not only did the hardware of computer technology increase dramatically, but so did the software. By 1991 software had become more interactive, and more for the masses. As for hardware, having a computer was less and less a luxury, and more and more standard electronics in the house. This is an important shift that was not present in 1983. However that fact does not negate Clark’s argument; it merely softens its rigid stance. Kozma believed that media was changing, and that technology was going to allow for different ways to learn that did not yet exist. His writing is eerily prophetic now: “In the not-too-distant future, we will be faced with a situation where telephone, cable television, and digital computer technologies will merge (Information Infrastructure Task Force, 1993; Stix, 1993). This capability presents the prospect of interactive video integrated to large multimedia data bases among people in offices, classrooms, and living rooms all over the world.” (Kozma, 1994). He goes on to (sadly) accurately give warning about the dangers of not capitalizing on the immense learning potential of the future technological systems: “If by then we have not come to understand the relationship between media and learning-if we have not forged a relationship between media and learning-this capability may be used primarily for interactive soap operas and on-line purchasing of merchandise with automatic funds transfer.” (Kozma, 1994) That sounds like Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook!

By 2010, when Becker re-examined the Clark-Kozma debate, enough time had elapsed to see which point of view passed the test of time. Clearly Kozma seemed like a modern-day Nostradamus. But not so fast! The question still remained, because Clark’s argument was specific to media’s influence on learning. Even Becker had to acknowledge that, “In spite of various volleys back and forth by Clark, Kozma, and others there remains no conclusive evidence that any one medium is more effective than any other (Becker’s italics).” (Becker, 2010) Throughout Becker’s article, she focuses squarely on Clark, and gives Kozma barely passing reference. Based on the focus on Clark over Kozma, the title of the article really should be, “The Clark debate in the 21st Century.”

How have things changed in the ten or so years since the Becker article? As media pertains to computers and computer technology, there may be programs that allow a person to learn more even when method of instruction is accounted for. An example that may refute Clark’s argument may be in the use of theoretical mathematics. We now have computer programs that can work out computations that would take entire human lifetimes to work out. Having the ability to input data and receive results that would further aid in learning to solve a theoretical problem would support the claim that the method of instruction would be the same whether the computation were done by hand or by computer, but the use of the computer influenced the learning.  The student could not proceed in learning because he or she would die before the computation could be answered by hand. Thus, the computer is necessary for learning.

In 2015, Robinson and Bligh published an interview with Richard E. Clark in which he maintains that, “We continue to waste huge amounts of scarce education resources on the expectation that the use of a new technology will solve learning problems.” (Robinson & Bligh, 2015) There is truth in his observation, but that may still change. Imagine a computer powerful enough to analyze a problem and offer a solution that humans would not think of? Is it possible for computers to think that independently? We are seeing more and more evidence of a computer that learns from its own mistakes to change its approach. Even when humans try to be unorthodox, we now have programs that learn from that. Recently, in 2016, AlphaGo defeated the world champion Go player, Lee Sedol in what was touted as historically more significant than Deep Blue defeating Garry Kasparov at chess. In 2017, AlphaGo Zero made the next step, which was to master the game of Go without human input. It is now realistically possible to expect that a computer will find a solution to a human problem like learning, and the solution would be unique to any previous human method.

Of course to be critical of Clark is to have the benefit of hindsight. Having seen a revolution in educational technology means that Clark’s argument seems trite and irrelevant in 2019. At the time however, in 1983, and in 1991, his argument was more relevant. The limitations of learning through the media available at the time were clearer then. Now, advancements in artificial intelligence and programming mean that the medium of computers provides experiences in learning that were previously impossible.

In way of analogy, I can relay an example from my classroom. For many years I used the novel, Animal Farm for one of my novel study books. Of course I would also show the movie version at the end of the unit. In fact, there are two movie versions – one is from 1954 and the other from 1999. These movies are significant because the original novel was published in 1945, just at the end of World War 2.  Since the character of Napoleon was modeled after Josef Stalin, when the novel ends, the fate of the animals is very much up in the air, but it does not look good. Since the pigs begin to resemble the humans, the dictatorship of Farmer Jones, or Czar Nicolas, has just been replaced by the dictatorship of Napoleon, or Stalin. That’s where the story ends.

Significantly, the first movie version came out the year after Stalin died, in 1954. In that movie version, the ending is changed slightly. The pigs do begin to resemble the humans as in the novel, but the director added one more part – in seeing the transformation, the rest of the animals begin a collective charge against the pigs. This was wishful thinking on the part of the filmmakers that the people of the Soviet Union would rise up against the now Stalin-less leaders, and it finishes the movie on a somewhat positive note that the original novel could not have, as Stalin was still very much alive and in firm control in 1945.

When the second movie version came out, in 1999, the communist regime had run its course, ending in 1989. In this version, the ending is completely different – not only is there the glimmer of hope that the animals might rise against the pigs, but they successfully do, and symbolically the skies clear and there is a dawning of a new day at Animal Farm. This ending could not have been possible in 1954 or 1945. It is only possible because the director had the perspective of hindsight from which to see what had transpired in the 55 years following the original date of publication. The novel was true for its time, and the subsequent movies were true for their times even though they veered away from the original ending.

So I agree with Clark based on his observations at the time. As for those assertions through a 2019 lens, I am not as convinced, given how media has changed since 1983. While I believe that media is a tool for learning, I also believe that there may be ways that media can be used in unique ways to aid in learning that other methods cannot reproduce.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post! In particular I enjoyed how you framed the Kozma/ Clark debate as a dialogue.

    • dalesaki

      September 23, 2019 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks Leanne! It just seemed that Clark has become intractable and will never acknowledge the possibility that media may affect learning.

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