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Published at 10:19 PM on January 30, 2009
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If you are to believe Patricia Greenfield, the internet and technology are producing a decline in critical thinking. In a recent study summarized by ScienceDaily, she argues that technology has led to a decline in analysis and critical thinking. Yet the study has numerous holes in it, all stemming from an almost pathetic ignorance of what reading and critical thinking actually mean. Clay Burell has done an excellent smackdown of the article, showing how nothing in it actually serves as a good argument against technology. The whole post is well worth a read, but here is a summary of the main flaws in the study:

The study purports that reading for pleasure has declined, but isn’t willing to recognize online reading as reading. This flies in the face of the fact that me reading the article and you reading this post is reading — for pleasure.

How much should schools use new media, versus older techniques such as reading and classroom discussion?

Apparently, new media doesn’t include reading or discussion. Well, you know what you’re doing now? Reading. And see that thread below, with the box to reply? It’s a discussion.

Schools should make more effort to test students using visual media, she said, by asking them to prepare PowerPoint presentations, for example.

Yes, what we really need are more PowerPoints, covered in glittery fonts and distracting animations, and delivered by emotionless speakers. Before anyone touches a computer to give a presentation, they should take a course in Public Speaking 101.

However, most visual media are real-time media that do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games. Technology is not a panacea in education, because of the skills that are being lost.

This statement continues a thread of misunderstanding of technology throughout the article. For one thing, much of the web and technology still is text-based and asynchronous. But even the visual components can easily be given time to reflect. Every YouTube video has a pause button. Oh, and as for TV: there are these new things called TiVos. Ever heard of them?

Wiring classrooms for Internet access does not enhance learning,” Greenfield said.

There are dozens of studies showing that internet access does enhance learning, as opposed to this single, poorly-researched study.1

Sadly, many in both the media and educational establishment will continue to cite this study as they attempt to lambaste and oppose technology. If you do encounter an oppositional Luddite attempting to obstruct technology based upon this study, just point them at Clay’s excellent rebuttal. Maybe the only thing that we can be sure of is that technology is making it harder to control people and students, so many have a vested interesting in obstructing it.

Finally, for some laughs, think about it like this: what if someone had done a study like this at the dawn of the book? If they counted reading scrolls as the only form of reading, then surely there would be a massive decline in reading for pleasure. The satirical video which Clay linked to makes that point hilariously:

On a personal note, I’ve been getting over a bad cold which has made it hard to think and write. I have a long list of ideas, which I will begin following up on tomorrow.

Notes
  1. Though I'm sure you can find more examples, here's one showing the benefit of technology.

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There are 3 comments on this post. You can add your own below.
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Thanks, Morgante. That was a fun post to write. In all fairness, though, we should be clear that I’m responding to the Science Daily summary of the Greenfield research. How accurately it presents Greenfield is something I don’t care to spend the money buying the article at Science to find out.
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datadave
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Hello, Morgante Another favorite blogger has a counterargument: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2009/02/twitter-communication-and-my.html good timing!
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@datadave: A counterargument requires actual logic and evidence. The linked post offers neither. His supposed argument essentially boils down to a comparison of Newspeak and Twitter. First of all, nothing in the points I made was directly related to Twitter. Additionally, the comparison of Newspeak is false, at best. Twitter is not a tool for coercion, since it certainly isn’t a regulated language. In fact, new “words” are continually invented to add to the English language and used on Twitter: tweets, twits, etc. In short, that post reeks of dog-headed fear and misunderstanding, just like the research report.

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