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4 JANUARI 1942 – 10 JANUARI 2006
From: Branko Popazivanov <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Sunday, December 7, 2008 9:53:15 AM
Subject: few excerpts from book The jDumbest Generation: How the digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future by Mark Bauerlein
The evidence is in. Spending too much time in front of a computer versus just plain old reading a dog-eared paper book doesn’t lead our children to learn more or to become more intelligent per say. In fact despite all the inflated claims for benefits of computer use in schools, the evidence actually points out that spending too much time in front of computer or TV screen makes our children less educated and less intelligent than previous generations that did not have "benefits" of computers and TV sets! You can read about this [that is if you still read books] in a book, The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. What Prof. Bauerlein is presenting in his book is not new, as many authors and researchers have written the same in their books. Read books by, Neil Postman, Clifford Stoll, Marie Winn, Prof. Jane Healey, Jerry Mander et al. Will such warnings help us to break our spell with computers and be more realistic and skeptical about "benefits" of computers in schools? I doubt it. To anyone with a historical perspective about mankind, one trait stands out. Blinded by his inordinate "love" of something [an idea, a thing, or a person for that matter] man will frequently continue to persist in the course of action which clearly leads to error and disappointment in the end. I am afraid our love affair with the computer as a society and our reluctance to see it objectively and without "blinders" will indeed lead to disappointment in the end. Please don’t get me wrong, I am no Luddite or an anti-technology fanatic, I love computers and think that they bring many benefits to us which we couldn’t enjoy before, however they also diminish and often marginalize tried and true methods of obtaining knowledge and learning [writing or drawing with pen or pencil on paper or reading a book, newspaper a magazine etc., printed on actual paper, as it’s almost impossible to read such material for any extended period of time on a computer screen, your eyes begin to water, tire out etc.] All the best,
It starts early, with researchers finding in one study that by three months of age around 40 percent of children are regular watchers of television, DVDs, or videos, and by 24 months the rate reaches 90 percent (Zimmerman et al., "Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger than 2 Years"). In 2002, in Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives, Todd Gitlin phrased it in a simple existential axiom: "being with media."
For instance, buried in the depths of the Kaiser report Generation M is a startling finding about different media use and student achievement. It shows that leisure reading of any kind correlates more closely with a student’s grades than any other media. While eight– to 18-year-olds with high and low grades differed by only one minute in TV time (186 to 18 7 minutes), they differed in reading time by 17 minutes, 46 to 29– huge discrepancy in relative terms (a 36 percent drop in leisure reading for kids with low grades), one that suggests that TV doesn’t have nearly the intellectual consequences that reading does.
…then Johnson and other votaries of the screen have something else to explain. It’s the question we ended with in the previous chapter. Why haven’t knowledge and skill levels followed the same path? If cognitive talents rise correspondingly with the proliferation of screens and the sophistication of shows and games, why hasn’t a generation of historically informed, civically active, verbally able, and mathematically talented young adults come forth and proven the cultural pessimists and aged curmudgeons wrong?
The screen doesn’t involve learning per se, but, as Sweeney says, a particular "learning style," not literacy in general, but "viewer literacy" (Bomer’s term). It promotes multitasking and discourages single-tasking, hampering the deliberate focus on a single text, a discrete problem. "Screenmindedness" prizes using search engines and clicking 20 Web sites, not the plodding, 10-hour passage through a 300-page novel. It searches for information, fast, too impatient for the long-term acquisition of facts and stories and principles. As an elementary school principal told me last year, when the fifth-grade teachers assign a topic, the kids proceed like this: go to Google, type keywords, download three relevant sites, cut and paste passages into a new document, add transitions of their own, print it up, and turn it in. The model is information retrieval, not knowledge formation, and the material passes from Web to homework paper without lodging in the minds of the students.
Years of exposure to screens prime young Americans at a deep cognitive level to multitasking and interactivity. Perhaps we should call this a certain kind of intelligence, a novel screen literacy. It improves their visual acuity, their mental readiness for rushing images and updated information. At the same time, however, screen intelligence doesn’t transfer well to non-screen experiences, especially the kinds that build knowledge and verbal skills. It conditions minds against quiet, concerted study, against imagination unassisted by visuals, against linear, sequential analysis of texts, against an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing else.
But what evidence do we have that the world has dilated, that the human mind reaches so much further than it did just a decade or two ago? The visionary rhetoric goes on, but with knowledge surveys producing one embarrassing finding after another, with reading scores flat, employers complaining about the writing skills of new hires as loudly as ever, college students majoring in math a rarity, remedial course attendance on the rise, and young people worrying less and less about not knowing the basics of history, civics, science, and the arts, the evidence against it can no longer be ignored. We should heed informed skeptics such as Bill Joy, described by Wired magazine as "software god, hero programmer, cofounder of Sun Microsystems," who listened to fellow panelists at Aspen Institute’s 2006 festival gushing over the learning potential of blogging and games, and finally exclaimed, "I’m skeptical that any of this has anything to do with learning. It sounds like it’s a lot of encapsulated entertainment…. This all, for me, for high school students sounds like a gigantic waste of time. If I was competing with the United States, I would love to have the students I’m competing with spending their time on this kind of crap.” [Emphasis added]
In the education and hi-tech worlds, Joy is a countercultural, minority voice, but the outcomes support his contention. In an average young person’s online experience, the senses may be stimulated and the ego touched, but vocabulary doesn’t expand, memory doesn’t improve, analytic talents don’t develop, and erudition [learning] doesn’t ensue.
Pro-technology forces play up the better attitudes as signs of progress, and who doesn’t want a happier school population? When we isolate actual learning, however, the self-reported happiness of the kids begins to make sense in an altogether opposite way. Digital technology might brighten the students’ outlook not only for the obvious reason that it gives them mouses and keyboards to wield, but also because it saves them the effort of acquiring knowledge and developing skills. When screens deliver words and numbers and images in fun sequence, digital fans assert, the students imbibe the embedded lessons with glee, but, in fact, while the medium may raise the glee of the students, we have little evidence that the embedded lessons take hold as sustained learning in students’ minds. For, in the last few years several studies and analyses have appeared showing little or no achievement gains once the schools went digital. Various digital initiatives have fallen short, quite simply, because students who were involved in them didn’t perform any better than students who weren’t.
In 2000, Kirk Johnson of the Heritage Foundation analyzed NAEP data on students who used computers in the classroom at least once a week and on students who used them less than once a week. Controlling for the major demographic factors, as well as the qualifications of the teachers, Johnson created a statistical model and applied it to NAEP’s nationwide sample of fourth– and eighth-graders who took the reading test in 1998. His conclusion: "Students with at least weekly computer instruction by well-prepared teachers do not perform any better on the NAEP reading test than do students who have less or no computer instruction." (Johnson)
In 2004, two economists at the University of Munich analyzed data from the 2000 Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), the achievement test for 15-year-olds discussed in chapter one. They compared test scores for students in 31 countries with background information collected on PISA questionnaires regarding home and school computer use. Their conclusion: "Once other features of student, family and school background are held constant, computer availability at home shows a strong statistically negative relationship to math and reading performance, and computer availability at school is unrelated to performance." (Fuchs and Woessmann)
In winter 2006, two University of Chicago economists published an appraisal of E-Rate, the federal program of subsidies to public schools for Internet access. E-Rate revenues started to reach schools in 1998, climbing to $2.1 billion by 2001, and the researchers wanted to find out if the program did, indeed, improve learning outcomes. Focusing on California, which administered regular achievement tests to students and maintained records on computers in classrooms, they determined that from 1997 to 2001, the portion of schools with Internet access in at least one classroom leaped from 55 percent to 85 percent. Some gain in student learning should have emerged. Yet, the authors conclude, "the additional investments in technology generated by E-Rate had no immediate impact on measured student outcomes." Furthermore, more time online didn’t help: "When we look at the program’s impact after two years, the estimated effects go down, not up." (Goolsbee and Guryan)
As part of the Technology Immersion Pilot, in 2004 the Texas Education Agency directed $14 million in federal funds toward wireless technology in selected middle schools in the state. Teachers and students received laptops, teachers underwent professional development, and technical support was ongoing. The program included an evaluation component concentrated on student achievement. When the evaluation appeared in April 2006, it reported improvements in parental support, teacher productivity, and student behavior, but it said this about academic outcomes: "There were no statistically significant effects of immersion in the first year on either reading or mathematics achievement." Furthermore, the "availability of laptops did not lead to significantly greater opportunities for students to experience intellectually challenging lessons or to do more challenging school work." (Texas Center for Educational Research)
In March 2004, the Inspectorate of Education in Scotland produced an evaluation of information and communications technology (ICT) in the public schools. Over the preceding five years, Scotland had invested E 150 million to integrate computers into all areas of student work, and the report resounded with cheers for the aims and progress. "The potential to transform patterns and modes of learning and teaching is clear," the chief inspector intoned, and dozens of assertions in the report back him up, such as "Use of ICT by learners encourages independence in learning" and "Learners use ICT well to develop their understanding of the world in which they live." But several skeptical remarks keep popping up, almost as afterthoughts. "This did not often lead to enhanced learning in the subject area," goes one, and another: "The burden placed on teachers by the need to monitor the content of learners’ personal pages on [networking] sites led some teaching staff to question the net value of these services but all learners found them valuable and enjoyable to use." The most damning judgment comes at the end in a decisive summation: "Inspectors found no evidence of increased attainment, in formal qualifications or against nationally defined levels, that could be directly attributed to the use of ICT in learning and teaching." (Scotland Inspectorate)
In March 2007, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance issued an evaluation report entitled Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort. Mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, the report examined the use and effectiveness of selected technologies in different elementary and secondary school classrooms. Fully 132 schools participated in the study, and Mathernatica Policy Research and SRI International conducted it. Vendors of the products trained teachers in their use, and researchers used control groups and conditions to meet scientific standards. Student achievement was measured mainly with test scores, and yielded an unambiguous first finding: "Test Scores Were Not Significantly Higher in Classrooms Using Selected Reading and Mathematics Software Products" (emphasis in original). Even though the research team chose 16 products out of a competitive review of 160 submissions, identifying them partly for evidence of effectiveness (12 of them had received or been nominated for awards), the products didn’t raise or lower student performance at all. Education Week drolly observed, "The findings may be disturbing to the companies that provided their software for the trial" (see Trotter). The conclusions are not decisive, as some of the control groups implemented other technologies in their work. But the fact that the most popular and respected technologies in reading and math education produced no significant differences calls into question the millions of dollars invested by the federal government.
In May 2007, the New York Times reported a policy change in a New York State school district that was one of the first to outfit students with laptops. Responding to teacher feedback and learning outcomes, "the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty and worse" (see Hu). The school board president explained, ‘After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement—none." The story also cited other hi-tech failures. A Richmond, Virginia, high school "began eliminating its five-year-old laptop program last fall after concluding that students had failed to show any academic gains compared with those in schools without laptops," and in 2005 Broward County, Florida, ended a $275 million program to provide laptops to 260,000 students after finding that the cost would exceed $7 million to lease the computers in only four schools.
Given the enormous sums of money at stake, and the backing of the highest political and business leaders, these discouraging developments should enter the marketplace of debate over digital learning. They are not final, of course, but they are large and objective enough to pose serious questions about digital learning. The authors of the studies aren’t Luddites, nor are school administrators anti-technology. They observe standards of scientific method, and care about objective outcomes. Their conclusions should, at least, check the headlong dash to technologize education.
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