Saturday, November 3, 2012

What Monster are we Creating?

More "great" news in our (Tacoma) school district...they're using iPads for little kids to learn letters. 
One teacher says, the iPads "enhance instruction" and the reporter notes that one student sat, "beguiled" by it. 
One effect that our short-term vision of 'enhancing' things like letter learning now is that we stimulate an expectation for "wow" later.  For some thought on this, read all the articles on electronics, brain development and attention (start with the NY Times from two days ago).
I see it routinely in 8th grade, where 76 of my students acknowledged owning a total of 247 personal electronic gadgets, and using 181 of them while doing school work, though not using them FOR school work.
On the other end of the (socio-economic) spectrum, it's not hard to imagine a student getting WOW letter learning on the school iPad then going home to much less 'engaging' reading material so not spending more time in reading at home.  
There is an implicit assumption underlying all this enthusiasm for technology that the reading mechanics learned on the WOW device will seamlessly transfer over to reading in any and all media.  My experience in 8th grade, however, is that the technology transfers, not the reading.  So youngsters are doing more with and on their gadgets, where socializing and entertainment grip them much more than reading (even on the gadgets) or schoolwork.
Yes, these electronics may 'help' now, but they also might create a path dependence that leads to educational difficulty later.  Unfortunately, school districts find themselves unable but to start down this path.  Faith in technology, plus social demand that schools--not parents, families or communities--do everything possible to improve outcomes, times Bill Gates insisting that computers are more effective than people equals a cultural climate in which schools MUST get more computers or they'll be deemed derelict. 
What gets lost in the discussion is that the parents committed to and involved in their children's education is much more potent than any Apple product.

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