It’s Complicated

If there’s any liberatory impulse in education it’s the existential challenge of complication. Especially in undergraduate education, the goals is to move students away from the simple, emotion-dominated decision making common to both adolescents and commercial culture, and towards the more complex, nuanced, rationality-dominated thinking that is the ideal goal or most important skill of both adulthood and intellectual culture.

Adults and intellectuals can fall (back) into simplistic thinking almost as easily as adolescents, depending on the subject and circumstances. (Love comes to mind.) That’s why I favor research that works as a counterweight to conventional thinking; it’s complicating adult simplicity. That’s especially true of intellectuals my age (especially but not all men) and technology (which we love as much as our dogs). This piece (“Study: Not All Kids Are Computer Whizzes“) fits the bill nicely.

Actually this is a brief radio interview with Dr. Allison Druin (University of Maryland; Director, Human-Computer Interaction Lab. You can find out more about her research here). One off the great cliches of computers in general and computers and writing in particular is the idea that the younger you are the more you know about technology. In my experience, it’s more true that the bigger the age difference the greater the differences in technological knowledge.

Men my (50-ish) age know a lot about the personal computer but often little about game consoles. Men 30 years younger are most often the opposite. Dr. Druin’s research, too, suggests that there may well be developmental and cognitive differences in how we use new communication technologies, in this case, search engine results. Young kids, as it turns out, tend to find conventional search engine results difficult to interpret. Dr. Druin is investigating alternatives that may work better.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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