Thursday, January 29, 2009

An article that may be a victim of its own conclusions

This article stimulated a little discussion today. Is Technology Producing A Decline In Critical Thinking And Analysis?

Clay Burell took the time to address most of the issues in the article, debunk most of it.

I had to chuckle a bit at the authority they were breathlessly quoting, Patricia
Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor psychology... and the assertion that ".... Greenfield has been using films in her class since the 70's." You can almost see the 16 mm projector, the yellowed notes and the cracked overhead transparencies.

I was reminded of the excellent book by Steven Johnson, "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter".

This is an excerpt from this interesting and popular book about the changes our culture is experiencing as a result of the emergence of ICT. This story challenges the assumption that reading text is the best way to learn. The premise is that video games were popularized before books and now books are being introduced to support learning. This is how the teachers, parents and cultural authorities might react.

"Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of game-playing- which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sounds-capes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements-books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.

Books are also tragically isolating. While games for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new "libraries" that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles reading silently, oblivious to their peers.

Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia-a condition that didn't even exist until printed text came along to stigmatize its sufferers.

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control the narratives in any fashion- you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today's generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they are powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active participatory process; it's a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to "follow the plot" instead of learning to lead."
Johnson, S. (2006). Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. The Berkley Publishing Group., pp19-20

Some very interesting points that may provoke us to review the overwhelming dependence of the education system on printed text.

I suspect once again the book publishing and print media dinosaurs are feeling the heat and have a fear mongering campaign going to freak out all the moms and pops who don't understand the new era of technology enhanced living that their kids live and breathe.

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