Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age
A growing body of research is emerging to show the detrimental impacts of the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops on people's attention spans, learning abilities, social and communications skills, and overall mental health. These findings also have relevance for our thinking about broader social issues such as social cohesion, class and racial polarization, and social movements. The following links provide resources for critical reflection on the uses of technology and its effects in our classrooms. They also address some of the larger societal concerns and issues that emerge as new generations of young people are increasingly socialized around digital technology.
"Technology often causes us to lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior and, as a result,perfectly nice people become unbelievably rude and insulting." --Dr. Cara Finnegan
More and more people are taking occasional "digital detox" breaks to improve their concentration, performance, relationships, and overall health.
The following links provide resources for critical reflection on the uses of technology and its effects on learning, attention, productivity, and mental health.
Learning, Memory, and Productivity
- "Skim reading is the new normal, the effects on society are profound" The Guardian Aug. 25, 2018.
- "To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand" The Atlantic May 1, 2014</span>
- "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting."New York Times November 26, 2017
- Is technology and the internet reducing pupils' attention spans? The Guardian March 11, 2013
- Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don't Read This in Traffic New York Times March 25, 2007
- Technology Is Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say New York Times, November 1 2012.
- "The Internet Makes Us Stupid, and Here's Why" Kabir Sehgal Fortune Feb. 3, 2016
- When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom, Chronical of Higher Education, July 20, 2009
- Sherry Terkel (2012) Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other
- Sherry Terkel (2015) Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
How is Technology and the Quest for Success Affecting Society?
Mental Health, Social Well-Being and Anxiety
- My Students Don't Know How to Have a Conversation - The Atlantic
- "Social Media, Screen Time, and Young People's Mental Health The Lancet Editorial| Volume 393, ISSUE 10172, P611, February 16, 2019. "Without leadership from the health community, we risk not protecting—or worse, harming—our greatest asset: the future generation's mental health. As per the speed with which young people adopt social media, the evidence is also moving very quickly, and by the time frameworks are imposed, they might be obsolete to young users who have already left those particular digital platforms behind. Our understanding of the benefits, harms, and risks of our rapidly changing digital landscape is sorely lacking."
- Death of the private self: how fifteen years of Facebook changed the human condition The Guardian January 31, 2019. "Facebook age marks a break from traditional human behaviour in key aspect. In the past, we could regularly take a break from acting, and revert to some sense of our private, authentic selves. Now, as we constantly prod at our smartphones and feel the pull of their addictive apps, when does the performing ever stop?"
- The Coddling of the American Mind, by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, addresses the intersecting dynamics that have created a more polarized society, focusing on how changing parenting styles, university practices that reinforce "overparenting" tendencies, and changes in the larger technological and physical environments affect young people's well-being and their ability to confront the critical challenges of our day. [More resources at authors' website thecoddling.com.
- "Snowplow Parents: How Parents are Robbing their Children of Adulthood." The 2019 scandal surrounding campus admissions reveals the implications of the broader problem of growing and related competition in our educational and labor markets. Young people have increasingly been socialized into constant high-stakes testing and competition to get into the best schools, in preparation for an increasingly competitive work environment. But are they better prepared for life as adults in a world that faces critically urgent challenges?
• Resources for Addressing Perfectionism (UNSW Sydney)
• More College Students Seem to Be Majoring in Perfectionism New York Times
• Resources to address challenges of college perfectionism and psychological health
- Digital Technology and Mental Health Janet Olsen, Michigan State University Extension, January 25, 2016. Overusing digital technologies may affect areas like sleep, concentration, learning and relationship behaviors.
- Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety? New York Times Magazine October 15, 2017
- Face-to-Face Contacts (Not Facebook Connections), Impact Your Health and Longevity (TED talk)
- Why do we use social media? | New Humanist
- Why Social Media Can Never Fill the Void in Our Depressing Lives Vice.Com May 2, 2017. "Drawing from Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism, Gilroy-Ware [author of Filling the Void: Emotion, Capitalism & Social Media] argues that the impoverished life of the contemporary worker “ precarious, alienated, bored “ is exploited by social media, which promises emotional fulfilment in its endlessly regenerating timelines."
Lessons on digital technology, privacy, corporate concentration, and democracy/ social conflicts:
- Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action, by Shoshana Zuboff. New Labor Review Jan. 2019 (Excerpt from Zuboff's book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2019).
- Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report UK House of Commons Investigation-2019 report calls for greater regulation of industry: “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use everyday."
- How Facebook and Google Threaten Public Health and Democracy The Guardian November 11, 2017
- Facebook executive acknowledges how tool manipulates human psychology The Guardian, November 7, 2017</span>
- "Our Minds Can be Hijacked-Tech Insiders Fear Smart Phone Dystopia" The Guardian October 6, 2017"</span>The attention economy incentivises the design of technologies that grab our attention, he says. In so doing, it privileges our impulses over our intentions. That means privileging what is sensational over what is nuanced, appealing to emotion, anger and outrage."
- How to stop Google and Facebook from becoming even more powerful | Barry Lynn and Matt StollerThe Guardian, November 2, 2017--In addition to sensitizing students to issues related to privacy and data security, this article is good for helping students understand and think sociologically about corporate power and how corporate mergers and policies that favor corporate interests can threaten broader public interests.</span>
- Let's Stop Google from Gobbling Up Our Schools by Jackie Smith - Alfredo Lopez June 3, 2016 </span>
- Race, Class and the Internet: An Emancipation Proclamation for the Digital Age, by Alfredo Lopez and Jackie Smith Source: This Can't Be Happening June 24, 2016</span>
- Constitutional Democracy and Technology in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Paul Nemitz,'Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A' 376:2133. --This essay by the European Commission Directorate General for Justice and Consumers, highlights the dangers of corporate concentration for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
- Professional Identity Crisis: Race, Class, Gender, and Success at Professional Schools by Carrie Yang Costello.
Professional Considerations and Interventions
AAUP’s Education Not Privatization toolkit from our One Faculty, One Resistance site
Mainstream communications including communication fostered at universities send few signals to students about the need to be more critical and selective in how one uses technology. We can play important roles as teachers to invite students to think critically about how technology impacts both their own practices and learning abilities and how it shapes broader social trends and problems. Introducing limitations in your classroom is a way to model such practices for students and it can encourage them to become more effective learners and sociologists. We should note that many students will protest such restrictions, since they are rarely required to disconnect from their devices. But holding firm to technology limitations can teach important lessons and life skills that many students in your classroom will (silently) appreciate.
DRAFT SYLLABUS CONTENT
Technology Policies*Drawing from research on the detrimental impacts of technology on education and learning, I have adopted the following technology policies:No assignments will be accepted via e-mail, and my preferred method of communication is face to face or by office phone. Please use opportunities after class or in office hours to discuss your work in the course. Do not use laptops or text messaging devices in class, and silence your cell phones and place them out of your sight.
The Problem of Digital Technology and Divided Attention--In recent years the saturation of cell phones, text messaging, and laptops, combined with the broad availability of wireless in classrooms, has produced something called the problem of divided attention. A March 25, 2008 article in the New York Timessummarized recent studies of productivity in business settings. Researchers found that after responding to email or text messages, it took people more than 15 minutes to re-focus on the "serious mental tasks" they had been performing before the interruption. Other research has shown that when people attempt to perform two tasks at once (e.g., following what's happening in class while checking text messages), the brain literally cannot do it. The brain has got to give up on one of the tasks in order to effectively accomplish the other. Hidden behind all the hype about multi-tasking, then, is this sad truth: "it makes you slower and dumber." For this reason alone you should seek to avoid the problem of divided attention when you are in class. But there's another reason, too: technology often causes us to lose our senses when it comes to norms of polite behavior and, as a result, "perfectly nice people become unbelievably rude and insulting." For both these reasons, then, turn off your cell phones or set them on silent mode when you come to class, and refrain from using laptops and any other electronic devices during class. *Source: Dr. Cara Finnegan. (See also work by Sherry Turkle- Reclaiming Conversation in a Digital Age)