Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology and Learning

Letting Technology Do all the Talking (and Learning!)

On February 5th, 2010, the Province published an interesting opinion ( piece about technology and its influence on the young. Entitled, 'Heavy Use of Technology Undermines Learning,” Michael Zwaagstra cites the results of a Kaiser Family Foundation ('Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8 to 10 year olds'). In that survey of 2000 young people from 8-10 years old, he sees a direct correlation between the use of technology and its impact on reading and learning, with social implications.

When compared to five years ago, TV watching has risen by 16%; computer use by 44% and video gaming by a huge 49%. The study further divides the technology users into 3 groups, namely the heavy users (more than 16 hours per day), the moderate (between 3- 16 hours per day), and the light users (less than 3 hours per day). People who are in the heavy and moderate categories report the following characteristics:
  • More easily bored;
  • Dissatisfied in school;
  • generally unhappy with life;
  • Readily get into trouble.

Zwaagstra argues convincingly that the increased use of technology undermines learning. He then suggests that adult role model themselves in front of the children in terms of controlling technology usage. Some practical steps include switching off the TV during dinner time, moving the TV out of bedrooms, and physically taking the children out to watch real-life sports events like Hockey instead of another night on the couch. He concludes by suggesting that parents take a balanced perspective with regards to technology usage.

My Comments
Personally, while a balanced approach is a typically predictable answer, Zwaangstra could have given more alternatives, rather than simply saying no to the technological gadgets. Like Zwaagstra, I have no problem seeking for controls over the extent of technology use especially in the classroom. Whenever I see schools proposing plans for more computers in their premises for kids, I roll my eyes. Here are some of my personal arguments.
  • More Computers? With many families having more than one computer at home, children already have access to computers in their homes. Do they really need more computer time in school?
  • More Information? Does the kid know which web site is suitable for their learning? If adults are already struggling with information deluge, would not a child be drowned or easily misled in the sea of data?
  • More Babysitting? Is the computer or TV media another form of babysitting to wile away time in school, so that the teachers in charge can then do their own thing?

Sadly, I see this trend (of uncritical use of technology) increasing as I listen to my young children excitedly telling me about what happened in their schools. Now, I am not surprised to hear them share about the latest Hollywood movie which they watched in school, or to tell me about their need to 'Google' for information, without any awareness of guidelines to interpret and handle the massive amount of information. It seems like the best and more accurate information are the results presented by Google on Page 1. So who does the learning? The child or the search engine? Instead of going to the library, to learn to use the catalog, and to perhaps browse the many books on each section, we see the child learning the lazyman approach to information search.

Another advantage of learning the catalog is being able to understand the organization aspect of cataloging. Moreover, we know that the catalog does not give us all kinds of advertisements or strange weblinks when we go to the Internet search engines.

Three Positive Steps
What can we do? I offer three possible steps forward for us in a technological society.

A) Present Need: Human Attention / Personal Touch
We desperately need a human touch, beginning with our kids. We cannot assume that children has the same kind of discernment and wisdom as adults do, when it comes to searching for information. Bad information can corrupt, and unlimited information can corrupt young minds absolutely. There is a further problem, which I think Zwaagstra did not address in his article. Kids take after their own. Kids parrot what they see in their parents and in their respective community. They are highly impressionable. When we say that technology use is hampering our children's learning, are we demonstrating a similar self-control so that the kids can see that technology is not everything? How often has the parent exercise self-control in front of their children.

I am equally guilty as well, especially in the morning. Even as my kids prepare to leave for school, sometimes I will be glued to responding to an email, that I miss the precious little morning time to just hear about my children's day activities ahead. Embarassingly, I occasionally to forget some of their school events, like Parent-Teacher meetings. I believe that controlling technology usage for children is only one factor. The other factor is how adults reinforce that in children, that technology is not everything. The key word is attention. Adults need to demonstrate attention to their children.

  • Without giving a child the attention he needs, the child will invariably look for a substitute parent.
  • Without giving the child the guidance she needs, the child will search for alternatives, even bad ones.
  • Without taking the time to understand the child's unique learning styles, the child can become easily frustrated when their academic performance falls below average.
  • Without enough attention, children grow up widely exposed to all kinds of technological gizmos, but poorly equipped with people handling skills.

For all its power and effectiveness, technology needs a human touch. Even technologies that happen to be more user-friendly, and more 'human,' one cannot hug a computer screen with a perfect digital rendition of a mother's face. In other words, the problems with technology and learning today, is not technology per se, nor the exposure of children to technology that dampen learning. It is the lack of attention that is more problematic. It is this lack of attention, that children grow up easily bored, unhappy and unable to make meaningful friends. Worse, children grow up to imitate what they see: Busy parents, so busy that they do not have time even for a simple conversation.

B) Needed: Awareness of Our Weak Condition
The root of busyness has to do with the fallen nature of men. Pascal in his classic Pensees, argues that we all need to recognize the 3 fundamental things about human beings. They are, 'boredom, inconstancy, and anxiety.' They are all linked to the restlessness of being human. Firstly boredom. It is because of restlessness, people are constantly in search of new things, new ideas and new directions. Perhaps, the fear of being bored is in itself a driver toward dissatisfaction. Technology, for all its power, will be boring in a matter of time. One friend I know upgrades his cell phone almost once every 6 months. Indeed, the novelty do not last. Within 6 months, the brand new latest-and-greatest device is rendered obsolete. What is new yesterday is old tomorrow. The second problem is 'inconstancy' which can be understood as faithlessness or fickleness. It is the opposite of intentional living. It is the opposite of perseverance. In a throw-away culture, even modern cellphones, especially the free pre-paid ones are not expected to last beyond a year. The third thing that flows out of the root of busyness is anxiety. As long as people are not grounded on a firm foundation, they can easily float like an aimless kite, blown in any direction by the strongest wind available.

The Psalmist confesses:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart today; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See of there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139:23-24, NIV)

C) Present and Future Need: Hope for Recovery
The road to recovery is always in the LORD. The Psalmist recognizes that he cannot solve his restlessness on his own. He admits that he needs help. He knows that things inside the heart require spiritual intervention, that his heart needs to be searched. He needs the attention from the LORD. He needs to be tested in order for his true self to be discovered. Embedded within his heart, is the root of busyness and anxiety: sin and wickedness.

When was the last time we ask the LORD to search our hearts for any leech of sin inside? Leeches are despicable. They appear as tiny little worms initially. The moment they are allowed to latch onto any part of our skin, they start to grow in size. How they grow! They grow at our expense.

What are the leeches of our life? Is technology a leech, or the failure to turn our attention to people around us? I believe that the latter is more true. Blaming technology for all our social problems is a cop-out for something far more serious and sinister. We may be generous with spending time with technological gadgets. However, when it comes to spending time with people, we are scrooges.

Well, just as technology cannot be a do-all-for-us device, criticizing technology is not the solution as well. We need to give attention to each other. We need to recognize our limits. We need to believe that there is hope that is not technology-dependent. As far as technology and learning is concerned, we need humans to BRIDGE the two. Anything else will be non-human.

Control technology use for our kids, beginning with ourselves. This is why a technology Sabbath once a week is good for the soul, and our children as well.



Rosie Perera said...

That must be a typo in the Province's article, calling "moderate" use between 3-16 hours per day and heavy use "more than 16 hours per day. There's no way up to 16 hours per day of technology use is "moderate" by anyone's reckoning. That's the entire waking day (assuming 8 hours of sleep), leaving no time for getting dressed or eating or anything else non-technological. And if someone isn't getting 8 hours of sleep per night, their technology use is most certainly not moderate.

I couldn't access the original study (the website seems to be down right now), but another site which reproduced a slide presentation of data from the study included a chart that showed "Total amount of media exposure in a typical day, by age." For ages 8-10, it was 7:51; for ages 11-14, it was 11:53; for ages 15-18, it was 11:23. So I think the "moderate" category of usage could not possibly be 3-16 hours per day. Probably it was 3-6. And more than 6 hours per day was considered heavy usage.

Well, probably too long a reply just to report a typo in your source article. But I agree with your findings and had nothing else substantial to say. My technology usage is more than heavy, it's obsessive. It's now 4:42 AM, and I still haven't gone to bed. :-(

YAPdates said...

Thanks Rosie.

I suppose they will need to add another 3 sub-categories under the word MODERATE: light (3-8), medium (9-12), and heavy (13-16).

Probably the heavy users don't sleep. After all, even though growing teens need a lot of sleep, when they are psyched up, what's 'sleep?' Ask any of the younger folks roaming downtown Vancouver Olympic city right now? With groggy eyes, they can still sing O CANADA!

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