HARD, SOFT, OR MEDIUM?

Margaret Gillett

Abstract


Hard, soft, or medium? The issue involved here is not, as you might have hoped, "How do you like your eggs?" but it has to do with the equipment, content, and form of education technology. Hardware is the name in the trade for the mechanical or electronic tools and equipment; software is the material or the programs that are fed into, or beamed out of, the machines; medium is the agency or form by which images, sounds and other components of communication are transmitted. Thus, a TV set is the hardware where "Sesame Street" is the software and television is the medium.

Now that the title is explained so simply, is that the end of the issue? Hardly. The whole question of educational technology is full of controversy and fed by extremists, with the proponents of humanism on one side and the technocrats on the other. Both groups have their zealots and their radicals, their accepters and their questioners, their good guys and their bad. Within the two camps there are gradations of opinion but, between them, there is a real issue to quarrel about. The humanists accuse the technocrats of breeding mechanical monsters, of leading mankind into a computerized society devoid of human spirit and will, of engineering life into a frankenstein nightmare. The technocrats accuse the humanists of suffering from limited vision, of clinging fearfully to the past, of being irrational in their objection to progress, of adhering to programs and values that are irrelevant to the present and hopelessly inadequate for the future.

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