As you all know, I’m a big proponent of the use of mobile technologies in our classrooms. In previous posts I’ve blogged about the benefits of BYOD and posted a research paper I wrote about mobile devices as vital learning tools. This article from theJournal discusses how today’s mobile technologies are “creating today’s active learners” who crave immediate access to educational content and timely feedback from teachers and peers. The author makes some valid points about meeting today’s “digital natives” on their turf. But then I came across this video on UpWorthy…
…and it got me thinking: Are mobile technologies creating more active learners, or more distracted learners? And if this important distinction hangs in the balance, what can we, as educators, do to determine the answer to this question?
I know from first-hand experience that the narrators of this video are right when they say that the Internet creates a “perpetual state of distraction” that “crowds out the more contemplative, calmer modes of thinking.” To illustrate, just last week I was enjoying a book talk at Central Office with author Allison Zmuda while participating in a live chat of the event on Twitter. There I was doing my best to multitask, listening closely while tapping out some of the key concepts on my phone’s Twitter app, when a text message notification appeared on my screen. It was from my brother. The notification displayed a thumbnail preview of a photo of my nephew grinning widely, holding a baseball in his hand as if it were some lost treasure, and a truncated version of the text that let me know he had just hit his first home run. Proud uncle that I am, I just had to read the full text. Before I knew it, I had lost one of the key concepts Ms. Zmuda was explaining. My attention was divided, and thus, my learning interrupted. I’ve seen this happen with students, too. Once, while helping one of Luke Arsenault’s Video Production students with the attention-demanding task of planning her PSA on digital citizenship, a text message notification appeared on her smartphone that sat on the desk between us (students were instructed to use their mobile devices to brainstorm on their group’s online discussion board). I commended her for not becoming distracted by her phone, but there is no doubt in my mind that, had I not been sitting right there with her, she would have picked up the phone, totally losing her train of thought in the process.
Yes, thanks to mobile technologies, the Internet has the potential to constantly divide our attention and puts at risk our ability to think conceptually, critically, and creatively–the very modes of thinking we know are so vital for our students to develop. But the Internet is such an information and idea-rich place! Without it, I would never have come across the article or the video that prompted this blog post and challenged me to grapple with and synthesize these two pieces of information that seem to be at odds with each other. And without the Internet, I wouldn’t be able to share them with such ease, and collaborate with you on trying to find a solution to the problem this information presents. Thanks to the Internet, I am engaged in a cognitively complex task that calls on my ability to ask tough questions, think critically, and attempt to solve this problem of how to harness the power of mobile technologies to foster deep learning, not shallow, distracted learning. Moreover, thanks to the Internet, I am not alone in finding a solution ( I hope). We can work on this together.
I have some ideas that begin with an open discussion among students and staff about how to manage our digital/academic lives and control the notification settings on our smart devices. But I need your help. You’re the ones in the trenches, day-in, day-out. Share your experiences. What ideas do you have about how we can utilize the power of mobile devices to produce deep thinkers, not distracted, superficial ones.
Please leave your comments below.