Last night I watched the first 30 minutes of the Frontline episode, “Digital Nation,” in which MIT and Stanford professors discussed the deleterious effects which the Internet and virtual reality have on their students’ ability to think (if you don’t know the meaning of the big word in that last sentence, maybe you’ve been spending too much time on the Web).
As one of the professors observed, some concepts require deep, concentrated thought, which people who are continually multi-tasking are losing the ability to do. Some of the students who were interviewed seemed to illustrate the problem, as they spoke in loud, rushed sentences, as if they felt hurried to get through their content so they could get on to the next text or tweet. Has anyone else noticed that it is becoming difficult to hold a normal, courteous conversation with people who are always wired?
One of the professors said that he felt constrained to use multi-media technology in the classroom to keep the students’ attention. I think that this may be the last thing we want to do. If multi-tasking and media blitz are the reason why students can’t think, then shouldn’t we be intentionally low-tech if we want to engage our students in deep thought?
One other anecdote. One of the profs (from Stanford, I think) said that he quizzed students on the reading and lecture, asking general questions which anyone who was paying attention should have easily known. The average for the class was 75%. His point was that we aren’t able to multi-task as effectively as we think. We need to do fewer things, and do them well.