Education Technologies and Generational Divides (?)

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As a strong proponent of technology in general, let alone in the classroom, I do find myself often feeling misunderstood by those not into technology. Let me start with this: technology is a tool, not a replacement, for a teacher or any other kind of person. Moreover, I do not believe that technology is the saving grace of the world or education, and I do not believe that a bad lesson is made better when delivered through a computer screen instead of in person.

Of the three technology articles we read, I found myself most aligned with Reeves. I rarely appreciate black and white answers, as an English teacher, especially when it comes to social issues and issues of education. Very little in the social sciences is black or white; education technology and generational research is no exception.

When I first read Prensky, I guess I glossed over his over enthusiasm for education and the “digital natives” part of his argument. I read it as “the younger generation is different in using technology than the older,” just that simple. So naturally, knowing it was general, I agreed with that. However, upon reading McKenzie, I had to go back and look at Prensky again. I guess I glossed over the over generalizations the first time. However, I don’t believe I did that for lack of careful reading so much as just an assumption, on my part, that any research in the social sciences is understood as a generalization. That doesn’t mean the basis of strong research and facts is excused, but I usually take large-scale concepts from such readings and carefully do not make grand-sweeping changes to my thinking as a result of such essays. I didn’t take it as research, the way Reeves’s article seemed to be, but more of an essay of opinion on general observation.

With that in mind, I was a bit turned off by the anger I perceived in McKenzie’s response (not to mention the use of Comic Sans… but that’s just personal preference really…). I understand the frustration of reading something purported as fact and knowing it to be unsupported opinion, but I was a bit off put by the level to which the response went to discredit Prensky’s observations. I would have rathered the refute went Reeves’s way of disagreeing and offering more valid opinion than just a play by play of mistakes. The second style writing held more influence for me than the first.

Moving on from the review, I appreciate Reeves’s points about generational research being observation and not too scientifically accurate or sound. It’s clearly a set of research that’s difficult to hammer down into cold, hard facts. Furthermore, I appreciate the conclusion of employers making their own decisions, with or in spite of academic literature, on generations when it comes to trainings and hirings. I would say teachers, to a lesser extent, should be doing the same. I am of the opinion that how we learn does not fundamentally change with technology. We may have a Pavlovian response to a bell now (text message rings, cell phone rings, Twitter notifications, etc), and the moment we have a moment to look at our phones whether between classes or in an elevator or a waiting room, I don’t know that that changes HOW our brain learns. It just changes what we respond to. So as a teacher, I work to teach my high school students to take breaks from their technology, be aware of many of their over attachment to their phone and Twitter and Instagram, and instead, I encourage face to face conversation when it’s provided. This way, it’s a matter of teaching them how to make technology part of their life without it controlling their life. Again, it still doesn’t seem to me, from observation, to have changed HOW they learn. Furthermore, I also like to put technology into the classroom for learning purposes so they can see it as more than just a social device. They use their phones for Google Docs, to participate in discussion, to ask the class questions, to look up words from a dictionary app while they’re reading, and to take quick check quizzes for me that grade quickly (a technology that benefits me for time management and changes nothing for them in comprehension). Once again, the technology is a tool with which they have to contend, so I don’t view it as something that changes HOW they learn but something ABOUT WHICH they must learn, like anything else.

When they leave my classroom, I want my students to know how to use technology as a tool to benefit themselves in their personal and work life, to use it in ways to make their lives easier, to leave it be when it makes their life more complicated or stressful, and also to let it go when it gets in the way of real, face to face interaction. I don’t want them to walk away thinking a screen should replace conversation; I want to reinforce to them that a real person is still better than a screen, a real conversation is more than a tweet, and that these things are TOOLS for communication and to make it easier, but if you’re face to face, you don’t need the tool in most instances. And I think Reeves would agree with me there – it’s not perhaps changing how they learn but is just another thing for them to learn, regardless of their generation.

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One thought on “Education Technologies and Generational Divides (?)

  1. Rachel, I think that Reeves would agree with you – in terms of your use of the notion that technology is a tool. The bottom line for Reeves is that tools and ideas that are supported by reliable and valid data should influence your pedagogy and be considered for us.

    As a side note, I think you need to consider the time period and context of the Prensky and McKenzie pieces. At the turn of the millennium folks like Prensky and Tapscott (Net Generation) were everywhere in the media, and in the education system – and in the case of Prensky, getting paid housands of dollars to discuss their personal opinions (which they presented as fact). You can kind of understand some of the visceral reaction that someone like McKenzie might have had to this when he finds that Prensky is using misleading evidence and just making stuff up to support his position – particularly when his ideas had largely become accepted as fact by so many K-12 teachers!

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