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Note that lessons for the rest of term 2 will all be posted up on this blog, with resources left on the Dropbox folder. This is especially important for those of you who will be missing lessons during this period.

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Today’s (Wed 9 Apr) lesson, looking at some of the effects of technology on education, was split into two parts, one on a positive aspect and one on a negative aspect.

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The first part of the lesson focuses on the potential of technology to solve educational problems, in particular the problem of access to education. Much of this is with reference to this TED talk by Prof.Sugata Mitra:

The worksheet to guide your viewing is available on the class Dropbox folder.

As against this, the article No End to Magical Thinking When It Comes to High-Tech Schooling warns against the prevalence of ‘magical thinking’ when it comes to using technology to solve educational problems. The idea that such problems can be solved merely by providing technology to students is, the author warns, a failure to appreciate how difficult problems of education are, and will ultimately be a waste of resources if thought of so simplistically.

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The second part of the lesson (which was unfortunately somewhat short due to the lesson starting late) focused on the issue of multitasking, largely through a series of short videos.

Firstly, on a personal level, it should not be difficult to think of examples of multitasking, given its prevalence with the popularity of the smartphone; while already a problem with Windows on computers back in the 1990s, the ability to link together so many sources of information and communications within a small, mobile device has made this an almost permanent state of affairs for many.

The first video is essentially a (stereo)typical description of a teenager’s tendency to get distracted by other things calling for her attention when trying to get work done; crucially, she mentions how this leads to a defeatist attitude and enhanced procrastination.

The second video looks at the problem of the use of laptops in university lectures; although this video is about MIT in particular, the problems are general to colleges across the world (at least for those where students have access to such equipment). Lecturers that have taught for some time note that students now seem to require more stimulation to focus in lectures, while students defend their ability to multitask, and argue that it allows them to be more efficient — or even that it is an important work skill.

The third video is just one amongst numerous resources which point out that multitasking is actually performing several tasks in turn instead of at the same time. These resources point out that while this is effective for tasks that require relatively conscious attention (e.g. eating, listening to music), it is highly ineffective for work tasks, as we actually take quite long to get back on task when we get distracted by other tasks.

Finally, the article “How Today’s Computers Weaken Our Brains” (which we had no time to go through in class) argues that psychologically, we as humans are particularly bad at focusing on one task over time, but that this is exactly what allows us to achieve important tasks. Tracing the history of technological development in computers, he points out that early devices (such as the typewriter) performed only single functions due to the lack of processing power, while later devices were able to do more than one task at the same time, and argues that this, ironically, led to less effective work as we simply get more distracted by more things calling for our attention. While noting that we can overcome this (e.g. in panic situations when work is due), he argues that this is not really a reliable process, and calls for a redevelopment of technology to acknowledge our psychological weakness of being prone to distraction.

The article refers also to the idea of the ‘marshmallow test’. This is a simple psychological test involving young children who are offered one marshmallow and a conditional offer of one more marshmallow if they are willing to wait a certain amount of time. This is meant to test their capacity for delayed gratification: the willpower to do something difficult now to achieve greater reward later on; such an ability or rather character, it is claimed, is actually the basis for their later ability to work hard at tasks. In the context of this discussion, the equivalent ‘marshmallow test’ is whether teenagers and even adults are able to resist the call of notifications of e-mail, SMSes or other social media in focusing on their work tasks.

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