Technology and Common Sense

We all want that silver bullet for learning. In the movies it’s that computer input thing that you watch and quickly absorb the history of a civilization or maybe it’s a pill that allows you to instantly speak a language. We all want a short cut but it may be that the more or less laborious process of learning is exactly what makes learning so effective. Our brains may be structured to learn and change slowly, over time, in a a kind of trial and error, or at least non-linear, fashion.

Those of us who teach online need to be skeptical when it comes to the latest technological innovation or tool. The hype is usually louder than the reality. A recent piece in the New York Times (“Mind Over Media“) seems to have no other point but to bring us back to a kind of biological reality: our brains evolved into their current shape over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years and nothing that Steve Job invents is likely to change much of that quickly.

An excellent case in point might be the introduction of electronic book readers, which many– including myself– hoped might break the back of the textbook industry and trim down some of the costs of education. (My school is going to electronic books, which may have similar issues, but are a slightly different matter.) As it turns out, at least according to one report (Amazon Kindle flunked by college students), students felt stymied by the new technology.

Creating that messy, inconsistent process–so easy with a traditional textbook– is turning out to be hard. Fast searching, apparently, is no substitute for flipping back and forth; you can’t scribble in the margins of an electronic book– yet. Once again, the generational theory– the younger you are the more used you are to new technology and so more able to adapt– is proving to be more complicated than we thought. How long did it take for the book to take over from oral story telling?

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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