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Moving Beyond the Tired Classroom Laptop Debate

Why we should celebrate the digital competencies of today's students.

January 5, 2017
 
 

Can we get beyond the tired old discussion about if laptops should be banned from the classroom?     

I have my own opinions on this debate (see here and here), but I’d be grateful if we could move forward to a more fundamental set of questions.  

The discussion that we should be having is about how we can harness the digital competencies - and the digitally inspired behaviors - that our students bring to their own learning.  

Are we wise enough to celebrate the skills, capabilities, and competencies that most (I know not all) of a generation raised on the internet and the mobile device?  

Can we see that the way that many of today’s young people manage information is both adaptive to their environments, and well-suited to promote learning?

Have you ever observed a college student watching an online video? They are not passive video consumers. They actively control the in-video watching experience by speeding up and scrubbing through the video. They keep their cursor on the video controller and skip through the "slow" parts.  This tactic allows for videos to be viewed much faster than real time.  

Not only do students compress their video consumption by speeding and scrubbing, they also simultaneously interact with other content while watching. A video will share screen real estate with social media sites. They will chat, post, upload, compose, edit, scan, and scroll while also watching the video.

How might we harness these digital video viewing behaviors to improve learning?

My intuition is that digital video is changing how today’s learners interact with information. They are training their brains to expect both control of the pace of information flow, and to maximize the density of information exposure. And I suspect that this may be all to the good.

One of the reasons why students want devices in classrooms is that the speed and density of analog information transfer does not match that of digital.  

This is not an argument to give in to the pressure to conform our analog teaching to our students digital expectations. Rather, we should try and take advantage of the digital skills that today’s students bring to our classrooms.  

If they are good at digesting high densities of digital information, then we should feed them a high density curricular digital diet.  

I’m a fan of analog education. I’m a believer that authentic learning is built on relationships. I think that an effective education - or at least a valuable education - probably takes place only at a scale that is small, intimate, and personal.  

I think that the educator is the irreplaceable and irreducible variable in any quality education - and that any college or university that tries to save money by commoditizing teaching will quickly make themselves irrelevant in an environment of ubiquitous information. 

At the same time, I want to use digital tools - and digital thinking - to improve learning.  

The time has come to figure out how we can leverage the digital skills that our students bring to our classrooms. 

The time has come to have a more generous - or at least less neurotic - conversation about students, technology, and learning.

 

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