Yet another ‘disturbing’ (sic) report released pointing to the negative impact of technology on the learning of young people. The report published by Cranfield School of Management (UK) concludes that technology addiction amongst teenagers is having a disruptive effect on their learning.
Now I have to confess that I have not actually read the full report – just the BBC news item and a couple of other references to it, however, if the quality of this reporting is anything to judge the actual research by, we have a problem!
The report summarises the (not surprisingly IMHO) high levels of use by young people of a variety of technologies, before drawing some conclusions from what the researchers found. Some of the key findings reported are listed below, with my commentary in italics…
- The study of 267 pupils aged 11 to 18 found 63% felt addicted to the internet and 53% to their mobile phones. This appears to be a self-reported statistic, and has interestingly been used to inform the title of the report. I’m keen to know how they define addiction? What are the indicators the young people used to respond to – or was it simply a feeling they had?
- Just over one in five (20.2%) said they left the phone on in lessons – which is usually forbidden by schools. Should this statistic be a surprise – and what of the ‘forbidden by schools’? Does this represent a bias in the way mobile phones are regarded in a school setting? What’s wrong with having a mobile left on in class – provided the appropriate courtesies are observed about sound off and avoiding distracting behaviour etc.?
- They can’t get motivated to read for a long period of time. I’d agree – there’s plenty of emerging evidence to suggest we are facing a problem in the development of surface vs. deep reading – but the concept of motivation needs exploring further. Is what is being read simply the class text for a subject, or something chose by the student etc.?
- On plagiarism: For their homework, instead of reading the book, [young people] go on the internet and lift it, rather than reading it and understanding it and putting it in their own words. I remember this was the approach I took to many essays and assignments I had to write – long before computers were invented. I initially thought the photocopier was the greatest thing to come along when I didn’t have to write out all the stuff long hand, and then came computers and the internet! The problem here isn’t the technology used to access and re-produce content – the problem is about the activity that has been set, the parameters of assessment, and the development of skills and understandings that enable students to know and act on the appropriate ways of referencing other people’s work.
- On text messaging: [young people] have invented a new language. This kind of abbreviation they unconsciously bring into their assignments. So they will have difficulty communicating with others and making themselves understood. Of course, language should evolve but maybe not so quickly. Sorry folks – we’re not going to slow down this pace of change – we have to learn how best to assimilate these developments, and equip ourselves and our students with strategies for making appropriate choices about the style of language they use and in what context etc. We already do this with formal/informal writing distinctions etc. After all, a key part of what we are constantly doing in the education process is making what is implicit (‘unconscious’) explicit (‘conscious’) isn’t it?
I re-iterate, I haven’t read the report – so I don’t want to cast judgement on the researchers at Cranfield, however, we certainly need to do a far better job of reporting the research if this is the case, as the alarmist language used in these releases distracts from where the real thinking needs to be devoted. It’s useful to have updates (albeit from small-ish samples) suggesting what the current rates of technology uses are – but let’s think more critically when we interpret these sorts of findings so that we are better positioned to act in a positive and pro-active manner in our schools and classrooms.