Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Education and the Digital World

The other day I wrote a post commenting on an article by Doug Mann, a University of Western Ontario professor who calls into question the wholehearted embrace of all things digital in the classroom, arguing that efforts should be made to curb its distracting potential.

A good letter by David Collins appears in today's Star advancing that discussion. Since it makes eminent sense, expect it to be ignored by educational authorities.

I reproduce it below for your consideration:

Re: Unplug the digital classroom, Opinion, Oct. 7

When many whose level of education should make them know better are towing the party line equating use of the latest technological devices in the classroom with “progress,” professor Doug Mann's straightforward account of the actual effects of this thinking in education is most welcome.

Having been both a TA and a college instructor over the past 10 years, I can confirm there has been a dramatic drop in literacy, numeracy, critical thinking and basic verbal comprehension among college and university students in that time, coinciding with the rise to ubiquity of mobile/digital devices.

While no cause can be definitively proven, the amount and type of use of such devices by students in the last few years is the only real demographic difference between them and students eight to 10 years ago.

More important than proving a cause is the recognition that mediating education through computerized devices is actually less engaging, more passive (students become mere users of programs, while the programs do the work!) and, by reducing education to content delivery, promotes the uncritical acceptance and regurgitation of information far more than traditional approaches.

To say today’s learners learn differently is a cop-out; if students show difficulty understanding via listening, reading and in-person discussion, the answer is surely to give them practice in these skills. Handing them computerized crutches to make up for lack of ability while ignoring the fact they're using them to surf the Internet and “chat” in class is not helping — it's manufacturing artificial disability.

David Collins, Toronto Cross-posted at Politics and Its Discontents

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Psst! What's The Latest On TMZ?

In the latter part of my teaching career, I had the feeling that those in charge of education, especially on the local level, were suffering from a kind of drift that was largely absent when I started my career. More and more, administrators were embracing technology, and the next 'big thing' that it promised on a regular basis, as the solution to student underachievement.

The process started off mildly enough, with the introduction of video (reel-to-reel was actually the first format used in the classroom) as a supplement to instruction, but by the time I had retired, whiteboards, school wi-fi networks, etc. were starting to gain currency. As my last administrator said, we have to hold their interest with new technology, a statement I took as sad evidence of pedogogical bankruptcy.

All the while, I was dubious of each new marvel; any reservations I openly expressed were readily dismissed, the assumption being that I was some kind of Luddite naturally resistant to change. And of course, for those who harboured notions of advancement, objecting to any new 'paradigm' would have been tantamount to career suicide, the institution of education quite Machiavellian in imposing its own brand of control on critical thinking.

It was therefore with some satisfaction that I read a piece in today's Star entitled Let’s unplug the digital classroom. Written by Doug Mann, professor in the sociology department and in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario, it argues that the ubiquity of digital technology in educational settings is not an unalloyed good, and suggests what some would regard as drastic measures in an effort to curb the distractions students fall prey to whilst in the thrall of that technology.

Cross-posted at Politics and Its Discontents.