Monday, January 23, 2012

Blinded and befuddled by technology?

Should we have more technology in schools?  Ask the grade 3 students I interviewed recently and they would unreservedly agree.  They’ve had iPads in their school for the last six weeks and tell me that math, for example, is much better with the iPads than “normal” math.  What’s normal? I asked.  They stared at me for a moment, stumped.  Boring, one girl said.  It’s just paper and pencils. There’s no colour, another girl stated emphatically.

Grade 3 students watch their interview.
I was reminded of a story a colleague told me.  Her grandson was visiting and they were watching TV together – it was an old black and white TV, but their family didn’t watch often and it served their purposes.  The little boy, after learning that the TV wasn’t broken, that is was just different, settled in to try to watch.  Finally he burst out, but I can’t see the TV.

I wonder if our children, raised in constant colour, motion, and sound are increasingly blind in still, black and white, monologue-driven spaces.  Or passive places.  The grade 7s I spoke to today told me - Having technology in the classroom is better because we don’t have to listen to one person.  We really don’t listen anyway.  With the iPads, there is the whole world to teach us and we get to work and learn together in small groups so we learn even more.

Should we be worried about this new blindness?  Riley, a grade 12 blogger, is.  She fears that we are forgetting how to communicate.  She writes, “instead of using the skill to communicate face-to-face, technology has developed countless methods such as text messaging, email, and social networking to avoid vulnerability or confrontation.”  Her classmate Deanna is worried, too:
Even now, as I try to express my ideas into this internet realm, I’ve browsed Facebook, Tumblr, and taken lengthy texting breaks before even completing my first paragraph. It seems as though our lack of attention is taking a toll on many things…. How are we meant to have an insightful and inspiring conversation with a friend over tea while someone else could be on Facebook at that exact moment changing their relationship status to “Single”? It’s impossible, it just cannot be done.
Should we be worried?  I'm more inclined to see another bright spot.  Listening to children, I’m less worried today than yesterday.  We need to rethink education but that’s not new.  The one size we’re used to has never fit all and those it doesn’t fit are objecting now.  But if we pay attention to students (and ask them to read complex literature and thought-provoking articles and ponder these big ideas in public), they’ll keep reminding us of what’s important.

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