In her article “Focusing the Digital Brain,” Marilee Sprenger takes a fairly critical view of the way that technology has influenced students’ thinking. She talks about the idea of multitasking and asserts that although this idea is popular, it is flawed and even impossible.
Although kids today are physically able to pay attention to many devices at once (the article mentions the common practice of simultaneously working on a laptop, listening to an iPod, and texting on a cell phone), Sprenger argues that this creates a state of “partial attention” and that the quality of attention paid to any one of the tasks during the process of “multitasking” is far inferior to the quality of attention paid if the student is focused on one thing.
Sprenger also discusses how the “hyper-connectedness” of today’s students can actually lead to increased stress and diminished social skills. She proposes several ideas for slowing down and focusing brains that have been trained toward this state of “partial attention.”
She suggests that teachers should have students’ journals in order to help them reflect on their own thoughts and experiences and to process their learning. She also suggests pairing them off in class to have face-to-face discussions of the material so that they can practice some of the elements of interaction that are lost through digital communication, such as active listening, eye contact, and body language.
Many of Sprenger’s points are valid and can definitely help to inform and influence educators. However, one of Sprenger’s arguments against the digital world is that it does not foster quality interaction.
Social networking contradicts that viewpoint. If the power of social networking can be harnessed in the classroom, this type of technology can make valuable contributions to the learning process. While physical interaction is definitely necessary, social networking can complement and enhance the physical community of the classroom. It can also document the learning and the community building as they are taking place, giving concrete evidence of which strategies are working and which ones are not. Social networking is a fantastic tool that teachers can use to capture the minds of today’s digital learners.
Like most technological advancements, the digital revolution has changed our lives in both positive and negative ways. As educators, it is definitely part our job to try to mitigate the damages from the negative aspects. However, we must not ignore the positive aspects and must try to use them to ours and our students’ advantage.