Technology in Education
My boss here at DTS is working through a series called “Five Things the Church Should Know About Technology“. This fall my alma mater began their Mobile Learning innitiative.
In the fall of 2008, ACU became the first university to distribute Apple iPhones and iPod Touches to the incoming freshman class, allowing us to explore a new vision for mobile learning. Now all freshmen and their teachers are able to integrate technology and learning both in and out of the classroom. The initiative began in the fall with the introduction of a portal, ACU Mobile, to help connect students to the campus through news and calendars, course documents and media, in-class surveys and polls.
I’ll be honest, when I first heard about this, and the copycats, like Oklahoma Christian’s decision to move their wireless campus program (providing laptops to new students since Fall ’01) to MacBooks, I was ticked (at this moment I’m contemplating trading in my car for a MacBook). Now that I’m over it, I’m thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of such programs.
The first drawback is obvious: attentive students may make great use of these technologies, but average college kids will probably use them to distract themselves and each other. I’m just thinking of my friends watching movies with subtitles on their laptops and playing solitaire or minesweeper on their PDAs. Also, many teachers already seem to have the idea that theirs is the only class their students are taking, and I wonder what the ability for unbroken contact with the class will do for that phenomenon. But aside from distraction, I wonder what effects this will have on learning.
Productivity will probably get a boost, and students will have an easier time keeping track of calendars, events, assignments, and announcements from their teachers. But it seems like it will have some negative affects on student’s interest in internalizing the information they consume, or the concepts they learn.
For those of you who were at least teens before the wide adoption of cell phones (before 1999 or so), did you know your best friend’s phone number? You probably did. But what about your parents number? Or some other friends? Did you know the number to the pizza place? I would think the answer is yes to most of those. What about now?
Quick, think of your brother’s (or sister’s) phone number! Now your mom’s! You might know, you might not, but it seems it’s become much less common to memorize something as simple as a phone number, even to someone you call all the time. The ability to look up anything at any time makes it much less important to remember things. Let’s call this Google Syndrome X. There’s no reason for the “X”, I just like it.
Google Syndrome X is the mindset that you don’t have to memorize anything, because you can always look it up; birthdays, phone numbers, favorite foods, how to scramble eggs…it’s all there, all the time. But when you don’t have to memorize something, you don’t internalize it, and you’re much less likely to innovate. If you’re following the directions for tuna salad off the internet, you’re probably not going to substitute or experiment, unless the suggestion is included.
If you won’t experiment with your tuna, how likely are you to experiment with ideas on economics, chemistry, philosophy, or sociology? How likely are you to find new ways of pursuing education, or parenting, or even playing guitar if you have to read the music off the sheet every time you play? Not very.
This technology doesn’t have to affect us this way. It can be a tool to build on the knowledge we internalize, to increase the information available to us so that we can learn more and be more innovative. But we have to be careful that we don’t use it as a crutch that allows us to get by (maybe even excell in some ways) without really learning.