Monday, July 20, 2015

Imagination v Technology

Update: This is a repost of a popular post from the past. As a mom and educator I have seen  the negative results of students being exposed to too much technology. As my own kids have struggled with Sensory Integration Disorder in their younger years, and then to discover they needed Vision Therapy in their older years, we have learned more and more what I learned in college for my education degree...that when it comes to technology, less is more. It has been a goal of mine to try to choose technology time prudently. While our society succombs to an ever increasing deluge of technology, it becomes more difficult to pull away.  Not only that, the effects are detrimental.  I'm  happy to share what I've learned in case it helps anyone else.
I have updated information in the body of the text and added links to the bottom in list format. In fact, I am now going to add more links as I run across articles on this subject.  When I do so, I'll bump it to the top of the blog like I did this time.

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Time to bump up this post with a video on what different generations have done with their free time as kids. How sad that technology means more to kids today than the great outdoors. What will their kids do? We need less technology in the classroom. We need more books and more hands-on activities.

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This morning my daughter, who is a college student, was talking about her recent education class. The class was discussing the effects of technology in the classroom. I was surprised to hear that many of the students agreed that they'd rather have less technology than more, and they'd rather teach with less technology than more.  This is interesting since it is quite the opposite of what media tells us today. 

Then my daughter was telling me about her IT class, where the professor was talking about  communication skills being hindered by interacting more with media devices than with face to face presentations.  My daughter added how her speech professor talked about this too. No one was angry. They were simply making observations.

Actually I agree with these assessments.  Years ago I stumbled upon brain research critiquing too much media time in the lives of children that rewired their brains to need active imagery.  As a result, these kids are not able to interact at a slower pace by listening to speakers, such as teachers or historical interpreters. Nor can these media rich kids slow down to read a book.  Now with the advent of texting, poor spelling skills and week grammar are thrown into the mix.  I've been careful to both block this influx of technology as much as possible in my kids exposure, even saying no to programs that are media rich.  I've also been quite honest with my kids, explaining the problems of too much media. Understanding that, but taking it in smaller doses, have been acceptable to them.

Today I posted my daughter's experience in the first paragraph on facebook. Not only my homeschool friends, but also a college student friend, not much older than my kids, hit the like button.

All of this chatter we've had, reminds me of a recent news article on employer frustration:
http://www.nbcnews.com/business/why-johnny-cant-write-why-employers-are-mad-2D11577444

Unfortunately, teachers across America are being pushed to use more technology in their classrooms.  Some are on board with the idea while some are not.  My daughter's college professors tend to use excessive technology with their students.  Although there is some benefit to technology, we seriously need to do a cost benefit analysis of what and how much is used. Sometimes less is more.

Power points, for example, are great media devices to use for instructive information.  Teachers definitely should assign power point presentations once in a while, then have their students present it in person to the class, face to face. In our culture's search for  implementing media, people are losing face to face contact.  True communication skills are being lost.

One media device my daughter had to use for a college class is something called "Second Life."  It's sounds like an alternate reality inside the computer, where teacher and student are represented and communicate with each other weekly inside the computer via icons they choose for themselves. Students are required to spend a few hours in this alternate reality each week, not doing anything productive. Flora and fauna abound in the woods on my daughter's campus. Why doesn't this biology professor take the class on field trips learning to identify the local specimens. There are always deer and groundhogs out and about. Learn to keep a nature journal and note the change in seasons throughout the semester. Share observations face to face with Socratic discussions. Choose one item to use for a topic for a deeper research report.

How about teachers and electronic field trips requiring students to use cell phones in the classroom to give their opinion on this or that? Why?  Whole body movement while interacting face to face is better than pushing a button. Kids know how to use cell phones. My daughter and her classmates were discussing how they like a break from cell phones. In fact, many young people are abandoning smart phones in favor of flip phones...wanting a return to simplicity. Technology comes second nature to kids, however verbal and well written communication do not. There is definitely a place in this world for cell phones, but not the classroom. They are in fact banned from SAT, ACT and other testing sites. Cell phones are huge distractions in today's classrooms. They have a purpose and place, but not in class.

Recently I sat at a talk in a college parent orientation, where a professor was chosen to share a "class lecture" to give us parents a feeling for the style of teaching at a particular university. Although he didn't have us pull out our cell phones, he distributed a different type of gadget that allowed us to push a button to vote on a, b, c, or d.  We took a pre-test then after his lengthy, boring talk utterly devoid of meaning, he had us take the post test, which was in fact identical to the pre-test.  This test did not test knowledge but perception of cultural ideas. After his talk, the post test was supposed to prove that our perceptions  had changed about college student drinking (which is a valuable topic to discuss and address, but the professor went about it the wrong way). The pre-test question was, "Do you think you can have an impact on your child/student's life?" The resulting numbers were low. After the professor's power point full of statistics of teenage/college student drinking, he gave us the post test and asked again, "Do you think you can have an impact on your child/student's life?" His goal was that his talk was so inspiring that he would now have more parents feeling empowered that they indeed can have a positive influence on their college kids, so they don't rely so much on alcohol.  After we pushed the buttons, the results were lower than when we were first asked!  He was stunned!  Holding those mini-devices did not make  the audience more involved or whatever the goal was. The substance should be in the presentation. The problem was that the professor remained politically correct and only gave the statistics of the dire numbers of alcohol use among college campuses across America, which indeed is alarming. But he gave no hope! He gave no ideas for action points to help these kids. So how could parents, in general, feel more empowered? Also a lot of parents probably fell asleep after slide after slide of statistics. No anonymous but personal stories were told. That would have grabbed the heart and seized the emotions. Not a little electronic device that we pushed throughout the presentation to give our opinion on what the rating of statistics was going  to be for his numerous collections of data. Instead it was boring because we had to sit in silence with awkward pauses and wait for everyone to grab their gadget and push their button...or at least the professor gave us all that time.  Too bad since this is indeed a highly relevant topic, though poorly presented and not at all enhanced by a piece of technological gadgetry.   
In fact, today a trade magazine arrived in the mail that had an article written by an occupational therapist. My kids used to work with an OT when they were toddlers, due to sensory integration issues. Then and now the advice is the same. Whether our kids have sensory issues or not, they all need more time outdoors playing on big equipment (slides, swings, sandboxes, bikes, hopscotch, ball, etc) and less time with media devices. And now that my kids have been diagnosed with vision therapy issues...more technology is not the cure.  Some special infrequently used technology in vision therapy helps the eye, under the expertise use of a vision therapist.  My daughter has a take home reading program for her computer to use for her eyes. However that only comprises 10% of her total vision therapy homework load.  Most of her activities are hands-on...or eyes-on to work on those convergence and tracking skills.

I've always argued that anyone can do anything with technology.  Technology makes things too easy.  However the real thinking is to be creative without the technology.  That is what has always impressed me. How can we develop thinking? Turn off the media.  Natural boredom will cause each of us to seek out the creative pursuits deep within our soul.

One of my textbooks in my first reading education class was the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.  I highly recommend this book for every parent and educator (public, private or homeschooler). This book has been reprinted and updated numerous times.  In the first half of the book the author argues the case for less media and more thinking and family activities.   In the second half of the book he lists great books for kids to enjoy. 

To further the argument, is this video my daughter saw in her education class.

http://www.brainrules.net/brain-rules-for-baby-video (Click "Kill the TV?")

In my facebook newsfeed today, I enjoyed seeing pictures of a homeschool co-op of one of my friends engaged in various activities, interacting with other kids.  Some played chess, others interacted with logic puzzles, others were making goopy type stuff, and on and on and on.  It was great not seeing a single media device. However I know several of those kids, and I do know that they definitely know the intricacies of using and utilizing various forms of media, including smart phones. I'm glad they also know how to separate themselves from that and engage face to face with real people with thinking type activities. After all, there is a time and place for everything.

Also my newsfeed brought up a creative facebook page devoted to the antics of plastic dinosaurs engaged in everyday activities.  It's simply a silly little page where the parents are having fun with their children. In the vast world of technology, where everything looks the same, it's a delight to see creativity and imagination!

I will be adding to this page all of the news articles I find on this topic:
 

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