Jim Holtz column – A vision of a New Age in education

Second Opinion column for regular Gazette contributor Jim Holtz.

Recently some educators were upset when a study concluded that tweeting, texting and playing video games on laptops during university lectures leads to poor retention and understanding of course content (Sana, Weston, and Cepeda, “Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers,” Computers & Education, March 2013).  Despite both that study and common sense indicating that casual multitasking on laptops during lectures is harmful to academic performance, many techno-gurus feel that the practice must not be discouraged. For instance, Martin Laba, PhD, teacher in the school of communication at SFU, insisted in a recent Vancouver Sun column that because “immersion in, and dependence on media and communication technologies are socially commonplace” the social use of laptops in university lectures must not only be accepted but encouraged, and that, indeed, the universities must change the format of their classes to accommodate laptop users. “The classroom,” Laba states, “is no longer capable of containment, and it has become a zone of social media chatter, breakneck texting, and other digital distractions, as well as, of course, the delivery of academic content.”  For Laba, apparently, academic content ranks a poor fourth in the classroom behind, chatter, texting and digital distraction. It is understandable, Laba says, that classrooms have turned into just another place to socialize via the web because the old fashioned lecture, that “medieval model of professorial authority,” is soporific, putting students to sleep who have been “socialized in a culture of speed and impatience, network and immediacy.” He goes on to state that “This environment of change demands the universities pursue the assets of an unbounded and malleable concept of the classroom.” Laba is not alone in his vision of a New Age in education. Many public school trustees and administrators, futurists, technocrats, counsellors and education reformers demand that educational institutions adapt to the behavioural propensities of modern students. Because these students tweet, chat and text continually, classes must not only allow the tweeting, chatting and texting, but encourage it. Education used to be about helping students understand and internalize concepts and the facts that support them. Educators were trained to teach students how to analyze ideas, reorganize them and synthesize them in new and significant ways. In the process, students were themselves changed by what they learned and the processes they employed. Now education is all about teaching students to access information, creating human mini-Googles, flesh and blood extensions of the Internet, that can efficiently cut and paste other people’s ideas. The level of their intellects is no longer based on what they know, understand or can express, but by the speed and dexterity with which they can mine the Internet’s veins of information. And thus a university professor’s lecture, researched, developed and polished through years of study, becomes no more significant than a YouTube photo of Justin Bieber’s monkey or a co-ed’s Tweet about her last cappuccino at Starbucks.

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