Two interesting articles on the effects of technology in the classroom and distraction

Recently, two very interesting (and somewhat lengthly) articles about technology, learning and distraction.

Because these articles are long, this might be an great opportunity to test out instapaper, a fantastic free service for saving and reading long pieces of text. You can also use instapaper to save these articles to your smarthone or tablet device for reading on the go.

In the Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores. This is a fairly interesting piece from the NYT that shows adding technology to the classroom in many school districts has have very little effect on reading and math scores on standardized tests.

A few interesting quotes:

Rather than being a cure-all or silver bullet, one-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring — for better or worse,” wrote Bryan Goodwin, spokesman for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, a nonpartisan group that did the study, in an essay. Good teachers, he said, can make good use of computers, while bad teachers won’t, and they and their students could wind up becoming distracted by the technology.

A review by the Education Department in 2009 of research on online courses — which more than one million K-12 students are taking — found that few rigorous studies had been done and that policy makers “lack scientific evidence” of their effectiveness.. A division of the Education Department that rates classroom curriculums has found that much educational software is not an improvement over textbooks.

Another interesting article, Collaborative Learning in the Digital Age, written by Cathy Davidson, an Humanities Professor and former Vice Provost at Duke, appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Prof Davidson describes some of the benefits of multi-taksing and distraction as recognizing the fundamental limitations of our ability to “pay attention”, as well as her experiment at “crowdsourcing” grades.

Here are some interesting quotes:

Given that I was teaching a class based on learning and the Internet, having my students blog was a no-brainer. I supplemented that with more traditionally structured academic writing, a term paper. When I had both samples in front of me, I discovered something curious. Their writing online, at least in their blogs, was incomparably better than in the traditional papers. In fact, given all the tripe one hears from pundits about how the Internet dumbs our kids down, I was shocked that elegant bloggers often turned out to be the clunkiest and most pretentious of research-paper writers. Term papers rolled in that were shot through with jargon, stilted diction, poor word choice, rambling thoughts, and even pretentious grammatical errors (such as the ungrammatical but proper-sounding use of “I” instead of “me” as an object of a preposition).

Research indicates that, at every age level, people take their writing more seriously when it will be evaluated by peers than when it is to be judged by teachers. Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.

I also liked the idea of students’ each having a turn at being the one giving the grades. That’s not a role most students experience, even though every study of learning shows that you learn best by teaching someone else. Besides, if constant public self-presentation and constant public feedback are characteristics of a digital age, why aren’t we rethinking how we evaluate, measure, test, assess, and create standards? Isn’t that another aspect of our brain on the Internet?

The blogosphere was convinced that either I or my students would be pulling a fast one if the grading were crowdsourced and students had a role in it. That says to me that we don’t believe people can learn unless they are forced to, unless they know it will “count on the test.” As an educator, I find that very depressing. As a student of the Internet, I also find it implausible. If you give people the means to self-publish—whether it’s a photo from their iPhone or a blog—they do so. They seem to love learning and sharing what they know with others. But much of our emphasis on grading is based on the assumption that learning is like cod-liver oil: It is good for you, even though it tastes horrible going down. And much of our educational emphasis is on getting one answer right on one test—as if that says something about the quality of what you have learned or the likelihood that you will remember it after the test is over.

I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas about these articles in the comments.


About John Burk

The ramblings of a physics teacher.
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2 Responses to Two interesting articles on the effects of technology in the classroom and distraction

  1. John Burk says:

    Another insightful response to the NYT piece: The Gilded Classroom, by Steve Miranda

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