Blame the Technology. Or the Students.

From the New York Times

There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday.

An English teacher quoted in the story complained “I’m an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention.” and later asked “What’s going to happen when they don’t have constant entertainment?”.

However, is technology the problem? Or what it’s “doing to” kids?

Although I can sympathize to some degree, the English teacher’s statement and the opinions of a majority in the survey are a little disturbing. The whole foundation on which these studies are based* assumes that whatever is being done in the classroom is right and the kids are “wrong” in some way, due, of course, to their “constant use of digital technology”.

I wonder if anyone – researchers or subjects – seriously questioned whether what the students were asked to learn, the assignments they were given, the instructional methods might, just might, be a major factor in their “shorter attention spans”.

Is technology to blame?

Or is a large part of the problem that our education system is largely unwilling to take a reflective look at itself, to reevaluate what today’s students need to know and how to best help them learn it?


*Admittedly I haven’t read either report so it’s possible I’m completely wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time.

Comments

  1. says

    I agree with you completely. I’m a representative of the fourth generation of teachers in my family, and even my great-grandmother told me that she had to be as entertaining as possible in her classes that she taught not only before the Internet but also before television.

    One can blame the students or one can try to engage them in learning. That is difficult and it doesn’t always work. But technology or no technology, one should always try.

  2. says

    I’m so glad other people had the same reaction to this piece. While I’m all for balance (with everything in life), I couldn’t get over teachers talking about “entertaining” students. I’ve heard this for years and I often think it is a great attempt to deflect the real problem; our entire educational system is antiquated and ignores what is known about learning. We sit students in rows, ask them to sit through 8 hours of mindless lectures and then wonder why they’re bored. It’s not about entertaining; it’s about creating environments where students are co-constructors in their knowledge. Alan November asks the question, “Who owns the learning?” Peter Pappas talks about the Four Negotiables: 1. Who owns the content? 2. Who owns the process? 3. Who owns the product? 4. Who owns the assessment? In far too many classrooms, the answer to those four questions is “the teacher”. When students are partners in their learning, there is little need to “entertain”. Let’s stop blaming the students…or technology and instead look at an educational system that simply does not work anymore.

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