I recently read two pieces of contradicting news:
- the first was about an economics professor who recently joined a Canadian University and who banned laptops in his class. He argued that ever since he did that, students are paying more attention and are being more engaged with the course material.
- the second was about a provincial minister of education who argued there is need for more funding for classroom technology. The argument is that the new generation is online, listening to music and doing their homeworks at the same time, and therefore to keep them engaged, educators need to recognize that the new wired, multi-tasking teenager needs more technology to function properly.
Is the wired teenager a new species? Is she multi-tasking indeed? In a presentation on new media, the speaker was enthusiastic about how their child was doing all those things at the same time and having the best grades. "How is this possible?" he asked rhetorically. A voice from the audience responded: "Luck!"
The truth is we do not know if the performance of multi-tasking, wired teenagers is high or low. It's true that we might need to change our definitions of 'performance'. If the purpose is to have them functioning in the new technologically mediated world, then yes, we need to imbue them with even more technology. No doubt a toddler raised with a computer will have far more skills for a tech-job than the one who first saw a computer when he was out of university.
But what if education has other purposes then preparing you for a job? Call me old fashioned, but I kinda like the idea that education is about developing your mind, your critical skills, your intellectual horizon. I like the fact that I had to learn all those useless (at least apparently useless) things, that I have a vague idea of what an integer or a derivative is, that I know what a tangent is, that I have an idea of what happened in 101-103 AD in the Roman Empire, that I know who Thomas of Aquinas was and what he had to say.
The question of the difference remains; it's not new. I think every generation had it, even those less technologically savvy... In fact, I read somewhere that it is precisely this debate between optimists and pessimists that makes change possible, because it introduces so many variables in the process that change is no longer in one unitary direction. What should I do for my next class then: ban laptops (unless we use them for class purposes) or not?
Photo credits: Mike Licht