Tag Archives: internet

An introduction to digital citizenship for year 8s – in 20 minutes

Our new Year 9s (still 8s) arrived today for their orientation. Thanks, Nick, for inviting me to do a few sessions as an introduction to their ipads. I’ve shared the slideshow and hope it will make sense without much of the talk behind it.

 

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I agree, don’t blame the internet for your diffused attention span

Just as we used to blame TV, we blame the internet for our diffused attention span. People, what happened to taking responsibility for your own web browsing?

Amplify’d from www.guardian.co.uk

I’m a bit fed up of articles in which journalists complain the internet is destroying their attention span. Many such pieces have appeared as reviews of the book The Shallows, which argues that spending hours online rewires your brain, bringing your most immediate and superficial thought processes to a fizzing, bubbling boiling point that eclipses the more meditative parts of your bonce.

Marshall McLuhan was wrong, back in the 60s, when he said “the medium is the message”. He was talking about television, but even as his ideas circulated, David Attenborough was commissioning Kenneth Clark to make the inspiring documentary series Civilisation. The vast differences between good and bad television, which still exist – and which were confirmed in the 70s by the rise of eloquent television critics like Clive James – showed the medium is not the message. What you put on the medium is the message.

Online culture is no more inherently brain-addling than television. It depends what you put online, and someone somewhere is putting anything you can think of on the web. It is clearly a lot less passive than TV at its worst: here you have constant choice and the instant ability to interact. Journalists and all professional writers have found this confusing, threatening, and sometimes maddening, but let’s not confuse our self-interest as people who have somehow found a way to get paid to write with the Death of Western Culture.

More harshly, when it comes to we journalists quoting The Shallows, well … people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I have written for all kinds of publications and in all kinds of sections of newspapers; while I love journalism, there is no doubt that you often have to filter ideas through a grid imposed by editors according to their definitions of what readers want. I still have an editor on this blog, but I have more freedom, and can address readers directly – which also involves you replying, often directly. I am not really sure how that is less intellectual, more superficial and shallow, than, say, being asked – as an art critic – to interview a famous flower arranger for a colour supplement, which happened to me once at another newspaper.

Read more at www.guardian.co.uk

 

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Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre: We’re drowning in the shallows

Last night I attended a talk by Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre.

One of the world’s most ground-breaking and thought-provoking writers on technology and its impacts talks to Gideon Haigh. The celebrated journalist and author of The Shallows, presents his arguments about how the internet’s pervasive influence is fostering ignorance.

Nicholas Carr has a point: the internet is addictive; there’s so much to investigate and dip into, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to move from A to Z without darting off into various directions along the way, and you may not even get there at all.

The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being ”massively remodelled” by our ever-intensifying use of the web and related media.

I’m not even going to go into the topic of brain rewiring, but I think that if our neural pathways can change depending on the nature of our activity, then we are still not doomed as long as we don’t turn into robots.

It is possible, though, that we might be at risk of losing our ability to focus on any one thing in a deep way, what with so much clamouring for our attention and our focus being diffused  through a myriad of hyperlinks.  And this is worth thinking about especially in the context of school education.

However, during Nicholas’ talk and subsequent question time, I realized that the culprit for the loss of deep concentration, defined loosely as either ‘the internet’ or technology,  was being bandied about in a disconcerting way, and that it is important to define exactly which activities on the internet we are talking about when we start blaming ‘the internet’ for rewiring of neural pathways and even ignorance.

Nicholas Carr referred repeatedly to online activites such as those on Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging/chat, when he spoke of distractions which prevented us from deeper concentration and understanding. He was using a broad brush to paint a picture of what the internet has to offer,  focusing on the more superficial exchanges as if this was all there was to the internet. Gideon Haigh, the presenter, jumped on the bandwagon and made a disparaging remark about Web 2.0 in education, saying that Facebook and Twitter were hardly learning – and he got an applause for that remark. It was obvious that the audience were not all on the same page. How is it that ‘the internet’ is limited to the more superficial social media? And please, inform yourselves before you judge technology as the cause of lower academic performance. Technology and the internet are only as good as the people who use them, and that is always about educated and intelligent teaching.

From  my own experience, it’s clear to me that the introduction of new technologies requires support, not only how to use these technologies, but also the thinking behind pedagogy – how to use these technologies  to enhance learning, not to tick off boxes for technology use. Obviously technology without the support is going to mean a backwards movement.

If the internet –  and Nicholas Carr also mentioned ebooks with the distractions of hyperlinks and commenting, online research, and multimedia –  if all these things are responsible for the loss of deep concentration, then why don’t we blame television for distracting us from serious novel reading, and why not blame popular music (and the radio) for taking away generations from an appreciation of more serious music and the ability to listen to a long ‘classical’ music performance? Even years ago how could we compete with Sesame Street when teaching young children in the traditional way?

If Nicholas laments the quietness which, he claims, is conducive to deeper thought and concentration, solitude even, then we should really retire to a convent and possibly an Amish community, so that there is no electricity to enable all these distractions.

I know that’s a little extreme but really – aren’t we being a little purist? Who are the people who focus deeply on reading? Are we talking about a scholarly article or book, because then we are talking about academics, not those of us who prefer to sit in front of the television for light entertainment after a long day.

As one of the guys in our computer centre said to me recently – by encouraging teachers to use the internet, aren’t you leading them along the path to addiction, and what will happen to stillness?

I think ‘stillness’ disappeared long ago even with the advent of radio and television. Yes, modern technologies are more mobile, more interactive, more engaging, but aren’t we in control of our online behavior? And if not, we should be. Pick out the wheat from the chaff, or teach yourself to do it. And if you want stillness, perhaps you should consider monasticism.

So Nicholas, before you say that what we need is money going into good teachers instead of into technology in education, please do your homework. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? We have always needed good teachers but we also need teachers who prepare kids for their world. And like it or not, that world is connected. More than ever we need to understand what engages young people and how they learn and socialize, so that we realize the power of social learning. Not because we think Facebook is the answer but because we think Skyping a class from the other side of the world and engaging in authentic conversation is more engaging and informative than reading from a textbook. Because we think that choice and hands-on creativity is more productive than passive learning. Because we find experts all over the world, and not just in the teacher who happens to be standing in front of the class.

I was amused that Carr quoted a 6th century bishop, Isaac of Syria, when he said that our furtive internet behavior was responsible for the permanent loss of the capacity for dream-like concentration:

“With prolonging of this silence,” wrote Isaac, “the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart.”

Bishop Isaac of Syria was a monk, an ascetic. The silence he speaks of is no doubt the silence that comes with private prayer and monastic isolation. Should we then go back to eating in silence while we listen to the readings of the lives of saints?

Finally, Carr discovers shocking statistics about multi-taskers. New research shows that multi-tasking results in poor comprehension. I say there is a difference between multitasking well and dividing your attention between too many things and not doing any of them well. Definitions, people! Let’s not be sloppy with our definitions, let’s be specific when we judge an activity such as multitasking, or something like ‘the internet’.  It’s just as easy to blame the internet as it is to blame society. As Alison Croggon says

The internet is whatever we make it. It isn’t an abstraction: it’s the collective creation of millions of individual human beings.

To conclude, if Nicholas Carr has decided to take a break from being connected 24/7, then rejoined online life after discerning what was valuable and what wasn’t, then isn’t this just part of the evaluative process we should all be going through? Aren’t we doing that already? As teachers, isn’t that part of our job in forming critical thinkers?

I am reminded of the episode about ‘the Internet’ on the IT Crowd. Seems appropriate for today’s post.

Nicholas Carr’s latest book, The Shallows,  is worth reading – or skimming…

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Filed under debate, internet, network literacy, Social media, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Don’t drop the Internet!

Well, we’re winding down at school with this week being the last in term 2. I’m thinking about all the things I’d like to explore in depth online, but at the same time, I’m hoping to enjoy interests that get shoved aside during the term.

It’s Sunday night and I thought I’d indulge in a light-hearted post, in anticipation of the term holidays. Here are two videos parodying the internet.

Web crash 2007 is a humorous parody of the causes and consequences of a major internet crash (which I can’t embed, unfortunately)

The IT Crowd is a favourite comedy show in our house. Here’s the episode when the IT guys manage to convince Jen that they’re handing over ‘The Internet’ to her.

The humour of these two videos rests in the mystery and awe which used to surround the internet. A little like how the old TV shows used to depict computers – either as robots or massive machines with flickering lights. I think that Web 2.0 technology is still viewed with varying degrees of mystery, although it’s usually not awe but a kind of negative or fearful reaction that is demonstrated. I suppose that it’s part of human nature to resist change, but I think that approaching something new with caution is a good thing, while criticising it without looking into it at all is not a good thing.

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Is the book dead? Is reading dying?

dogreading

Photo by Sansanparrots on Flickr

Another article about whether reading – in the way we have known it – has changed forever; and is reading books becoming extinct as we are lured by  online offerings.

People of the screen by Christine Rosen in the online journal The New Atlantis: a journey of technology and society is certainly worth reading. It tackles this subject with a wide net, and even though you may not agree with everything that is stated, it is an excellent basis for discussion.

 The article deals with many aspects of the reading issue. Here it talks about the decline of reading for pleasure:

In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published a report, To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, which provided ample evidence of the decline of reading for pleasure, particularly among the young. To wit: Nearly half of Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure; Americans ages 15 to 24 spend only between 7 and 10 minutes per day reading voluntarily; and two thirds of college freshmen read for pleasure for less than an hour per week or not at all. As Sunil Iyengar, director of the NEA’s Office of Research and Analysis and the lead author of the report, told me, “We can no longer take the presence of books in the home for granted. Reading on one’s own—not in a required sense, but doing it because you want to read—that skill has to be cultivated at an early age.” The NEA report also found that regular reading is strongly correlated with civic engagement, patronage of the arts, and charity work. People who read regularly for pleasure are more likely to be employed, and more likely to vote, exercise, visit museums, and volunteer in their communities; in short, they are more engaged citizens.

Here is an interesting take on the type of personality apparently suited to online reading:

 For centuries, print literacy has been one of the building blocks in the formation of the modern sense of self. By contrast, screen reading, a historically recent arrival, encourages a different kind of self-conception, one based on interaction and dependent on the feedback of others. It rewards participation and performance, not contemplation. It is, to borrow a characterization from sociologist David Riesman, a kind of literacy more comfortable for the “outer-directed” personality who takes his cues from others and constantly reinvents himself than for the “inner-directed” personality whose values are less flexible but also less susceptible to outside pressures. How does a culture of digitally literate, outer-directed personalities “read”?

I disagree with the contention that screen reading discourages contemplation; in fact, the commenting in blogs, for instance, creates a string of contemplative replies. That this type of contemplation is interactive is surely a positive outcome.

There is too much in this article for me to cover it in a short post. The advantages and disadvantages of the Kindle are discussed, the attention span of young people, the changing nature of libraries, research and librarians’ roles, as well as the future of literature with the advent of hand-held devices that save books as iPods do with music, creating mashups of the paragraphs within different books.

Have a read. Tell me what you think.

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Filed under reading, Teacher librarians, Web 2.0

Different kinds of reading – internet and literature

noteasytostayfocussed

 Photo courtesy of imago2007

I’m aware that my reading behaviour on the internet is different from when I read a book, in particular fiction. In addition, I think that my book reading focus has altered since I’ve discovered hyperlinked online reading.

I’ve included a paragraph from a piece written by Sven Birkerts on Britannica blog, Reading in the open-ended information zone called cyberspace.

Again, I’m not saying good or bad, I’m just saying. When I am online I am perpetually aware of open-endedness, of potentiality, and psychologically I am fragmented. I make my way forward through whatever text is in front of me factoring in not just the indeterminacy of whatever is next on the page, I am also alert, even if subliminally, to the idea of the whole, the adjacency of all information. However determined I am to focus on the task at hand, I am haunted by this idea of the whole. Which is different than what I might experience sitting in a library chair knowing that I’m in the midst of three floors of stacks. The difference has to do with permeability, with the imminence of linkage, and it is decisive.

 Here is the complete article.

I’d like to explore this topic to gain an understanding of something that affects our students and us as teachers.

What do others think about the author’s views? What are your thoughts about the different kinds of reading? Do you think our generation of online students are affected, and is this positive or negative?

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, Literature, reading, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

In a world in which information is like air, what happens to power?

JP Rangaswarmi  wrote a post about Us Now, a one-hour documentary by Ivo Gormley about participative citizenship, mass collaboration and the internet, and their implications on government as we know it.

The Us Now website links to the thinkers asked to determine the opportunity for government in the radical new models of social organisation. Some of these are George Osbourne, Ed Milliband, Don Tapscott and Clay Shirky.

It’s interesting to follow the new democracy that online social organisations have opened up. More than interesting. As stated in the Us Now website, ‘In a world in which information is like air, who has the power?’

The Us Now blog includes interesting information by Paul Miller from the School of Everything. The School of Everything is a social learning network that connects people who can teach with people who want to learn.

Having been led to read about the School of Everything, and linked to Wikinomics through Paul Miller, I started to think about how, on the whole, we accept schools as the way to go with learning and trust them with our kids. My father, who completed his school education at the age of  14 so that he could get a trade and contribute to family finances, revered Education as a hallowed institution. Throughout my schooling, though, he had moments of disillusionment when I was unable to understand the politics in the TV news report, when I was useless at practical things or what he termed as ‘common sense’, or when I started philosophy and started questioning whether the table was really there. My own experiences as a parent saw me disillusioned at times when my older son was told to dumb down by the primary school psychologist so that he could more easily fit in, and even now, fighting  frustration when my younger son is instructed not to cut and paste, but to use his own words in a project that simply asks for basic facts about a country.

I have friends who have home schooled their children. Is this an option? Hasn’t  home tutoring been one of the ways to educate young people throughout history? And yet, these options have always made me nervous. Maybe because I was told my children would be socially impaired without normal social contact with their peers. Or maybe simply because it wasn’t the norm, and therefore frightening.

I’ve just had a conversation about this and alternative schooling with my older son who has completed year 12 recently. He’s a good example of a passionately curious child who stood out from ‘normal’ children and suffered for it in his primary years, but eventually toned down to fit in. It was interesting to see him become defensive and uncomfortable when I mentioned the School of Everything and questioned the relevance of traditional schooling.

No, you can’t have that, he protested.

Why  not? 

Well, it’s not all about learning of content, it’s about being with people and learning from them.

Who said that an alternative or online learning program excluded face to face contact or social opportunities?

OK, well, you can’t just do your own thing. You have to learn that not everything in life is interesting.

Tell me, how many teachers did you find boring and unengaging, and how much of your schooling have you retained or found valuable in life?

(squirm) But you can’t have life without suffering. You need to learn to cope with disillusionment and disengagment. You can’t totally remove it.

I’m not going to unpack this. I’m just going to ask you to give me your thoughts.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, debate, Education, internet, learning, parents, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0