Friday, June 21, 2013

Can Technology Hinder Learning As Well As Enhance It?

picture of an e-learning classroom
E-learning classroom (Wikipedia)
by Drew S Hunter

Whenever I place a research task in front of my pupils/students many of them struggle with the ground work that is essential to achieving the outcomes.

For example ... I had a pupil ask me what the name 'Adolf' actually meant because the website he found said simply that there are different versions of the name.

After praising the quality of the boy's question, I suggested to him that he might check the words he typed into the search engine and then read 3 or 4 results from the websites shown.

He looked at me with an expression of despair and grudgingly began the labourious task of taking the time to read several sources. After only 5 minutes of simple research he was able to clarify the meaning and use the information for his project.

This pupil had learned the valuable skills of information cross-referencing and quality checking (as well as 'how not to be lazy'). This is clearly an example of technology enhancing learning ... but more importantly it is a great example of technology enhancing the learner!

With the gradual increase in BYOD and AAL in schools (Bring Your Own Device and Anytime, Anywhere Learning), it is hoped that pupils will take advantage of using their own smart phones or tablets in the classroom.

However, it is surprising how limited many pupils are in research techniques, especially when we consider how immersed they have been in technology since birth. This is undoubtedly the most information immersed generation in history.

The value of technology, or perhaps more accurately, the level of understanding of the various uses of technology might be better explained with another example.

In the religious setting I teach a youth Sunday School class for about 50 minutes every weekend. Students come with traditional 'book' versions of the scriptures and others come with smart phones and tablets with digital versions of the same.

I always, without exception, let the students know that becoming familiar with the order and sequence of individual books, chapters and verses is better achieved with the book version. Digital versions do the searching for you.

It's usually at this stage that I explain my love of tablets and digital formats. However in the context of 'familiarisation', it's the page by page sequencing found in 'books' which remains the better method.

Search engines are not our masters! We are the learners and should remember that our research skills are enhanced by digital media when used correctly but not at the mercy of too much ease!

Perhaps we should possess a learning ethos which allows us to have one foot in technology and the other in tradition.

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