Saturday, August 09, 2008

Maybe the most important tech skill

After talking to a CUNY professor who is an acquaintance of mine recently it occurred to me that maybe the most important tech skill for students to learn in high school is when to use their computer and when to close it and pay attention to something (or someone) else. This professor complained of how quickly technology, or his undergraduates' expectations given its affordances, is changing the lecture hall landscape—their disappointment and boredom when his lectures don't include eye-catching multi-media, their frustration with his "slow" response to e-mail, and their annoyance at his insistence that they not be using computers to be off task in class. His sentiments echoed the feeling of an upper school math teacher in my school who said that laptops being used during his classes were more of a distraction than an aid to learning. While I believe that the root of the problem is that the teacher needs help incorporating activities that require students to collaborate, produce and present information, and integrate multimedia, it's clear that there's nothing a student should be doing with a laptop in a lecture style class but taking notes and it should be the teacher's job to make that clear. And if they don't find it easier to take notes on a computer it should be closed. If we're not clear that the laptop is only there to aid in learning then students are going to lack the understanding of how to use it productively and courteously in the more independent context of college. To the student, affordances are deceptive. Just because technology makes it possible to do something doesn't make it the best choice. �

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