Now Hear This - Technology Brings a Paradox of Power

By Midshipman Second Class Thomas Wester, U.S. Navy

Midshipmen are expected to accomplish more than the typical college student, and technological integration is the means by which this is possible. Homework, used as reinforcement of concepts learned in the classroom, is for some classes entirely online. For instance, all my chemistry and physics homework is completed online, an excellent means of learning when carried out properly. However, problems emerge when one realizes the program seeks only the correct answer. It does not care how you get there or if you understand the concept; it simply knows whether or not your answer is correct. To free up some time in their overloaded schedules, midshipmen often turn to yet more technology.

Chegg, an online study aid, is available to anyone with Internet access. The Wiley and Blackboard programs provide variations on problems in the textbook, but in many instances “learning” means simply plugging in new numbers (which are provided) and following the steps outlined for the solution. Thus, students believe that time and energy can be saved by finding similar answers online. Furthermore, oftentimes when I encounter a difficult homework question, I use Google to search for a comparable problem. In an environment where we are expected to accomplish more, spending time problem-solving and thinking critically can easily be trumped by the desire to complete our numerous tasks. This mentality defeats the entire purpose of the homework, and correspondingly of learning.

The process of learning may, in fact, be turning into a technologically driven regurgitation of information. There may be no need to be proficient, because if we are stumped, the Internet provides a database of solutions. The situation deters many midshipmen from engaging in real intellectual pursuits. Not only does this disrupt learning, it also hampers our development as officers. Thus, in seeking to facilitate learning, technology, when misused, may have the reverse effect.

Technology is necessary for future naval officers. But the ability to resolve issues and conflicts without depending on it to discover the answer is also crucial. This expertise depends on the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills developed during our education at the Naval Academy. Thus, we need to think more about the use of technology and the effects of its implementation. We must use it appropriately: to enhance learning, not to replace it.

Midshipman Wester is majoring in applied mathematics. He conducts independent research on cyber security and security policy and was a delegate at the 2014 Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference Human Security in the Information Age .


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