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Monday, January 07, 2008
  Technology makes you dumb!
Or maybe not! Way back in 2007 Nichthus posted in The new illiteracy a few extracts from the announcement of a report: The Dumbest Generation: How the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardises our future. The extracts made me want to scream and cry.
The problem is that often people look at only the front end of what technology has to offer instead of the back end, or the outcome. An elementary principal told me that his fifth- and sixth-grade teachers are having problems when assigning research projects. The students view it as a procedure where they cut and paste information off a Web site, add some sentences of their own and turn it in. The information passes too quickly from the screen to the homework papers and isn't processed through the mind. The speed and ease of the digital resources actually conspires against producing long-term understanding.
Now, I know exactly what this is about, I've seen it. My daughter preparing work for school, and slowly I am becginning to see it in my Intro class students. What makes me want to scream and cry is that the fault is not the students, it's the teachers! I said I was beginning to see the problem crop up in younger students in the Intro classes. Why do I not find it in the same students in level 2? Because we have taught them better. Returned work saying it is unacceptable, and explaining why it is unacceptable, and students learn to behave differently. They learn the behaviour proper to an academic environment, they learn to interact with and process what they read. Why can't this school principal get his teachers to do the same - after all the younger kids are brighter and more adaptable than the young adults we teach ;-)

They can't either because they lack the courage and imagination, or (my guess, because I'm impressed by the dedication and imagination of most primary and secondary teachers I meet) because "the system" won't allow them to test for real skills, but rewards students who can "manage information" in a simplistic way. In NZ it is the stupidity of the NZQA "National Framework" with its tiny quantifiable manageable "skills" that causes the problem. Now I recognise, and indeed have preached (in the very different academic context of the University), the value of clear coherent small learning outcomes, but only within an overarching system of values and goals (an academic culture) that sustains and gives context to these smaller "learning outcomes".
You improve your writing only when you are pulled up and challenged. The blogs keep them [young people] networking only with their peers and that holds them at the same level.
Duh! Of course, but what is the teacher's role in this, the technology of blogging allows the student (at whatever level they are) to interact with writers who are more advanced than themselves. I've watched that work in a blogging community of Biblical Scholars. Now so far as I know no secondary students have interacted with that community, but there is no reason, if the student has some humility and common sense they could not. I'd bet it would be the same with communities of organic Chemists, or Poodle Fanciers. It is not the technology that is the problem producing dumb students, it is the teaching that is lacking, allowing dumb students!
Opening titles from the TV series
Nichthus' own final comment points up clearly where the problem lies. Technology does NOT make you dumb, dumb teaching driven by dumb pedagogies do that, and the dumbest of all is "an answer-driven pedagogy", everyone who has listened to, read or watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy knows that it is not answers that matter but questions!

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