Education reform and technology

Are today’s young people, immersed in social media and similar technology, qualitatively different from the young people of twenty years ago? Many education reformers argue that young people are indeed different, and that we must reform educational practice so that we can engage them effectively.

However, Joe sent me a link to an online peer-reviewed journal article in which Grinnell Smith of San Jose State University “questions the validity of the claim that technology has changed our children in ways relevant to the way we should structure education” (“A critical look at the role of technology as a transformative agent,” THEN [technology, humanities, education and narrative] Journal, issue no. 8, winter, 2011). Smith begins by challenging the notion that children have been fundamentally changed by technology:

A typical approach to supporting the premise that children have been transformed by technology is not to refer to empirical evidence but rather to drag out a few suitably stunning statistics about the pace of technological breakthroughs or to provide a few overwhelming anecdotes illustrating the comfort of adolescents and young adults with regard to technology in the hope that the reader will leap to the “obvious” conclusion that today’s youth is qualitatively different….

Smith then argues that despite the prevalence of such anecdotes, there is little real evidence that young people are learning differently:

In the large view, rather than the creation of something entirely new, what our latest explosion of technological advances has done for us, by and large, is to provide us with new ways to do the same old things we’ve been doing since we drifted out of the Olduvai Gorge across the Serengeti and fanned out into Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Therefore, Smith says we should be skeptical of claims that today’s young people are all that different from the young people of a generation ago — and we should be skeptical of claims that we need extensive educational reform because of social media and/or other technological innovations.

3 thoughts on “Education reform and technology”

  1. Dan, Interesting post on the Grinell Smith article. While I would agree with Grinell that from a neuro-biological, cognitive-constructivist, and socio-cultural point of views, computer technology and the Internet has not significantly changed how children (and adults) learn, I disagree with Grinell in that Internet and computer technology (ICT) have influenced the habits and preferences of children in ways that educators need to pay attention to and need to alter instruction in response. There is evidence that American children today are more likely to “multitask” with electronic devices (e.g., do homework while texting, IM’ing, watching YouTube and listening to music, at the same time). In addition, electronic mass media has become an even stronger competitor for children’s attention and mindshare than ever. For schools and educators, this means we need to make learning more interesting and engaging, especially for students in the mid- and lower-end of the achievement spectrum. Furthermore, we may need to devote more time in formal and informal education settings to teach students how to focus and concentrate on one thing for extended periods of time.

  2. Joe, thanks for the alternate viewpoint. I feel your last sentence is especially important; I’m definitely seeing the need for that in the religious education I do.

  3. “To teach students how to focus on one thing for extended periods of time” is a definition of education. Multitasking is just distraction made acceptable. Driving, turning a corner while talking with a cell phone in the other hand–made possible by automatic transmissions, impossible by shifting–is an example of multitasking as distraction. One cannot drive well, or talk well, in such a circumstance. Yet no one notices–as no-one notices our supposedly smart US Prez has his b-ball buddy from Chicago–who taught two years of GYM–heading our national public education, with billions of dollars to turn our schools into coaching marvels. Does Germany have such an uneducated Sect’y of Ed? China?

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