Susan Nguyen | Manifesto

1. Online classes should not completely eradicate traditional classes

Online education isn’t a new concept because of the readily available information on the internet. However, free massive open online courses (MOOCs) have recently been on the rise due to their popularity with students who would otherwise not have the chance to reach this level of knowledge. These courses are excellent ways for students who lack the financial means for a traditional college course, lack the time to deal with the same strict deadlines, and so on. While I agree that MOOCs are a great way to receive a sophisticated education for those who are motivated enough to stick with the course, I don’t think that online classes should ever replace traditional courses in which students can actually interact face-to-face with their professors and peers. The truth of the matter is that most students don’t have enough of the motivation necessary to keep up in the online classes already offered at most colleges.

The “attrition rates” for online classes are particularly high because students often do not take them seriously or do not keep up with the intended schedule/syllabus because there is no official meeting time and no one personally berating them to get their work done. Personally, I ended up dropping out of my one online class that I was enrolled in because I couldn’t keep up with the schedule even though I knew it from the beginning of the semester. I also didn’t feel like I was getting as much out of the literature class as I could have been compared to a real classroom in which natural discussion could have taken place. Also, while I consider myself a relatively motivated student, I did not appreciate the Math Empo course that I had to take as a freshman because math is a subject I struggle with and I wanted to be taught by a real person as opposed to teaching myself from a screen.

While online classes may work for some extremely motivated students who choose to enroll in them, online classes shouldn’t replace college classes because struggling students will not get as much of the help or guidance that they need or build the personal relationships that they want. If a student is paying college tuition, I think they definitely deserve the option of learning from a human professor who can help tailor their teachings in a way that makes sense to that individual student regardless of whether this occurs inside or outside of the classroom. In the long run, I think a professor in a traditional course can make learning more engaging (for the most part) and can have more of an impact because they actually know who their students are and see them as real people as opposed to just names on their roster. Professors in traditional courses can also help build up their students’ confidence and show that they care about their future, which further encourages them to do well.


2. Technology leads to more methods of communication, but it should never replace face-to-face interaction

Thanks to advancing technology, humans have more ways to communicate with others than ever before whether it is through texting, calling, social media, the internet, smartphone apps, and beyond. While I think this is certainly convenient and even practical in many cases, I don’t think people should ever turn to communication through a technological medium first and foremost if they have the option of face-to-face communication. Obviously, this isn’t always the most feasible option nor is it always the most desired, but I think the important takeaway is that human interaction should always hold more value than the often trivial, shallow interactions that take place when we Tweet at someone or “like” their Facebook status.

Just because we may have more ways in which to communicate with others, this doesn’t mean that our actual communication is any more profound or meaningful. Having more methods in which to “connect” doesn’t mean we build any stronger or sustainable connections – there is a distinct difference between communicating with someone and actually connecting with them. While we have easier and more numerous ways in which to communicate, I actually think this generally leads to diminished levels of interaction because we dabble a little with various communication outlets.

Of course, face-to-face interaction or even talking on the phone isn’t always possible. In these cases, texting or using smartphone apps such as Snapchat are useful because at least you’re still getting to communicate in the first place. With apps such as Snapchat or Vine or Instagram, many people aren’t necessarily looking to have profound interactions. Instead, they just want to share something that they think is worth sharing or they just want to have a quick interaction instead of a long or deep conversation. All of these things are totally fine, but communicating through the means of technology should never replace human interactions because I think these interactions inherently hold more value and meaning – you get to see, hear, and experience a greater range of emotions, body language, and physical presence and urgency.


3. Using technology such as smartphones and the internet can be a habit meant to ease our daily lives, but ought not become an addiction

Social media, smartphones, and other forms of technology should be used to augment our day-to-day lives and make them easier. But if an individual starts feeling the urge to constantly check their Facebook for updates or is always watching television instead of taking part in the real world, then this could be a serious problem. But how do we differentiate between a “bad” habit and an obsession/addiction?

Habits are easier to break free from than a full-fledged addiction. If you do something frequently enough, it usually becomes a habit because your brain tells you do to it instinctively, but you still maintain some level of control. On the other hand, addictions mean you feel compelled, even controlled, by your desire to do something and you feel like you cannot curb this impulse. If you try to stop your addiction, negative consequences usually follow.

I think technology should definitely be used to entertain, educate or enlighten, communicate, etc. After all, technology is meant to help us by making some element of our lives easier or better and there are many great aspects about it. However, we should never become so dependent on these forms of technology that we feel like we must always be on them. Technology should not always be on our mind regardless of whether we are actually using them. We ought not to allow ourselves or others to become addicted to technology because this means not fully experiencing life in its present reality. Technology should always be used to make lives better and not worse in terms of its possible negative consequences.


4. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) should never replace human intelligence and instinct

While artificial intelligence can exceed human intelligence in terms of speedy recall and accuracy of factual information, A.I. should never be confused for true human intellect. For one thing, A.I. still has yet to achieve common sense or natural language processing abilities. While it is uncertain where A.I. will be in the future, it is probably safe to assume that it will have advanced quickly and way past its current stage.

However, I find it doubtful that machines with A.I. will ever have human emotions as we know them. Some people may argue that emotions are unnecessary with A.I., but I think emotions are one thing that truly separate human intelligence from A.I. – our emotions color our thoughts and influence our actions. It could be argued that emotions actually get in the way of making logical decisions, which technology with A.I. is presumably great at doing, but without emotions there is also no conscious or set of moral values that would stop A.I. from engaging in activities that we would consider to be unethical.s

As A.I. gets increasingly smarter, I still think that a clear distinction between A.I. and human intelligence should be made because our inherent ability to experience emotions and hold strong values makes us far more superior in my eyes. At this present moment, I have a hard time seeing how values could be imparted into A.I. I imagine that if A.I. were to ever hold their own set of core beliefs and values, they would differ greatly from those that the majority of humans hold.


5. Written and creative works should be graded/reviewed by professors and not algorithms

If students are paying college tuition, then I think it’s only fair that their work is graded by actual professors who are ideally more invested in helping students succeed than grading machines that are more concerned with turnaround time. While it might be convenient to submit an essay to some machine that uses a grading software that will return your work in mere minutes, I would feel uncomfortable and unsatisfied with this situation. It’s hard to believe that a machine could truly know what makes “good” writing beyond correct sentence structure and grammar. While these technical aspects of writing are definitely important, the actual content in terms of critical thinking and synthesis seems tricky to grade because everyone thinks and writes differently.

Furthermore, I’m very skeptical of software that claims it can fairly and objectively grade creative works, whether this is in the form of creative writing, painting, etc. Again, there are technical aspects to these various arts that could potentially be plugged into an algorithm, but I think grading technology can never be as sufficient at reviewing creative works simply because they are not human. Creative works that speak to us should ideally evoke some emotion or stir something within us that is often unexplainable.

Another concern with grading algorithms is that students will purposefully start tailoring their writing or creative works to these algorithms once they figure out what moves will get them the highest scores. For instance, it is possible (and it has been done) to trick an automated system into giving a nonsensical essay a high grade. While automated systems may be more efficient at grading in terms of time, they ought not to replace human professors who are better equipped to score meaningful content, development, and organization among other elements – these elements cannot simply be condensed into an algorithm because of every individual’s unique style of writing or creating.


6. Technology collects identifying data about us all of the time based on our online activity, etc., but this data ought not tell us who we are

Just by using the internet and visiting its varying sites, data about my assumed preferences is collected. This leads to advertisements tailored to specifically appeal to what I presumably like. As much as I may hate to admit it, sometimes the ads I see actually do interest me – not most times, but enough that it makes me wonder how much someone could truly find out or assume about me based on such collected data. While I believe you could make some rather accurate projections or predictions about someone based off of such collected data, I think it’s important to note that this shouldn’t be confused with actually knowing or understanding a person.

Perhaps I’m naïve in the fact that I like to think there is more to each of us as individuals than what can be collected about us in terms of data points. Even if the data collected about myself was correct in knowing that I was a college student with two part-time jobs but no siblings, so what? What does this actually tell you about me? You might assume that I was broke because I’m a college student hence me working two jobs, and maybe you would guess that I was spoiled because I’m an only child (not true). While these details are informative, they don’t really tell you much about who I really on a more human and existential level. The only way to really find that out is to actually get to know me in real life, which I find immensely more attractive and authentic than trying to decipher data points. Maybe I place a lot of emphasis and value in the belief that humans are complex enough creatures that we are unpredictable and hence could never truly be figured out within the sole context of collected data, but I prefer it this way.