Faustian Rants

Are Today’s Students REALLY Rewired?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jim on June 16, 2010

An excellent article by Daniel T. Willingham entitled “Have Technology and Multitasking Rewired How Students Learn” appeared in the Summer 2010 edition of the American Educator. In it, Willingham reviews what we think we know about technology and its impact on student learning. I highly recommend it. A few important takeaways I got from this article are:

  • It isn’t technology that students find engaging.  It is solvable mental problems.
  • Technology can increase student engagement if it aids in presenting and helping students solve these problems.
  • Students  cannot multitask.
  • Technology can provide rapid changes to what a student sees or experiences. This may or may not translate into increased engagement or learning.
  • The whiteboard analog used in the article is excellent.  Students may LOVE the whiteboard, but does it really translate into enthusiasm for the course.  Studies suggest not.
  • Younger people are better at multitasking than older people, but not because they practice it.  It is because they larger working memory capacity.  They are not better at it than they used to be.
  • Interestingly, College students that report being multitaskers are actually worse at it than their counterparts.
  • Bottom line – if you need to get something done, multitasking is never a good idea.

The article goes on with more important points.. but this will give you a flavor for it.  It does reiterate a few points worthy of remembering.  Using technologies effectively is not as obvious as it might seem at first.  For example, hypertext reading, as it relates to working memory, has to be considered carefully.  If the reader has plenty of prior knowledge, thus uses less working memory while reading, hypertext links may be ok.  It the reader does not it can be disruptive.

Finally,  things to consider as a teacher.  Encourage students to NOT multitask.  If you are using a new technology, get connected to a community of teachers using it and share stories.  Finally, think about what the technology can and CANNOT do.  For example, videos are good for showing things over time, photos are better for showing static concepts.

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