“I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me. And it’ll happen to you.”
A trip to Nicaragua in December gave me an opportunity to visit a number of Christian schools that are part of the ACCEN (Association of Evangelical Christian Education Centers of Nicaragua). I traveled with a former student, Dave Stienstra, who is currently a partner missionary with CRWM (Christian Reformed World Missions) working with computers at Nicaragua Christian Academy. At each of the schools I visited, I immediately asked to see the computer facilities. I was curious to see how Christian school teachers in Nicaragua were doing when it came to computing and education.
The book of Genesis opens with the creation account describing a beautiful world of sea, earth, sky, plants, fish, birds and other animals. And then God places a man in the garden. Immediately following this part of the story is a curious verse, which at first seems out of place. The verse is Genesis 2:12, which parenthetically mentions that “The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.” A small footnote suggests that aromatic resin might refer to pearls. Why is this significant enough to be included in the creation account? As an engineer, I wonder whether these raw materials – latent in creation – have any implications for the role of technology.
On March 2, 2004, in a marvellous feat of technology and engineering, scientists sent a spacecraft (Rosetta) and its lander (Philae) on a 6.4-billion kilometre, 10-year mission to meet and land on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasienko. On November 12 this year, after circling the comet for six weeks, Philae was sent down to 67P and landed successfully on its surface: bull’s eye!
Discerning technology begins with asking good questions.
I teach computer science, so the notion of banning computers from my classes seems absurd. My approach has been to treat college students as adults; if they want to squander their time playing games and reading Facebook during class, it is their responsibility. However, as a teacher, I am also responsible to ensure that the activity of some students does not affect the learning environment for others. Furthermore, the culture of the classroom, including class discussions, can be impaired when students are distracted. For this reason, I have recently insisted on a “laptop contract” with my students. In this contract, students are encouraged to use longhand, but may use laptops on the condition that they disable their wi-fi connection (except when necessary to minimize distractions) and commit to using the laptop for class-related work only.
A colleague at Redeemer University College recently shared the following parable: There once was an architect who designed a beautiful building. The construction crew came in, dug a big hole and laid a perfect foundation. Then the crew left. A crowd gathered to admire the beautiful foundation.
End of story.
He shared this proverb as a means to ask a provocative question: Is Christian scholarship and teaching like this?
I have always appreciated a Redeemer education – how it can bring computers and the arts together in a liberal arts education. But I am also grateful for how it brought technology and the arts together in another way – in the life of a particular engineer and a fine arts major 25 years ago.
While computers have triumphed against human opponents in several different areas, the year 2000 came and went without any passing the Turing Test. However, last month, precisely 60 years after the death of Alan Turing, a supercomputer officially passed the Turing Test at an event held by the University of Reading.
Although I now teach computer science, my first fascination with technology was not with personal computers, but radio.