World Bytes: Is Digital Technology Eroding Students' Ability to Learn?

World Bytes: Is Digital Technology Eroding Students' Ability to Learn?

BY Terrance Malkinson Posted: 14 Jun 2016

Is the rampant use of digital technology eroding students' ability to learn?  Dr. Michael Rich (Promise and Perils of Technology - Part 1), associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Paul Howard-Jones (Promise and Perils of Technology - Part 2), a neuroscientist from the University of Bristol (U.K.), explored this question in their 2012 presentations to the Alberta Teachers Association. Polls of educators suggest that, while they appreciate how technology enhances instruction, they also believe it is also becoming a barrier. Children are less ready to learn, they are fatigued from lack of sleep, are cognitively challenged, addicted to technology, unable to think independently, have lost the ability to perform basic conversational, writing and math skills, and are easily distracted. Additionally, technology can result in a less physically active lifestyle, potentially resulting in childhood obesity, digital eye strain, damaging posture, early onset acute and chronic illness and in some cases early mortality. In many cases, technology is so ingrained that people see little difference between texting and face-to-face conversation. Research is ongoing on the impact that technology is having on education, personal development, and interpersonal communication. Technology skills are essential in today’s world. The challenge is to harness the power of technology in a more balanced way to benefit the development of the individual. Good technology management skills learned in the early years will be beneficial throughout an individual’s life. How to achieve that balance is critical.

What do you think? Is digital technology eroding students' ability to learn, and if so, how can balance can be achieved?

Other Bytes

  • McKinsey and Company published its March 2016 snapshot of Global Survey of Economic Conditions [www.mckinsey.com]. This article offers insights into what executives are thinking about where national and global economies are heading.  Caution and uncertainty are the predominant themes; primarily a result of slowing growth in China. Survey respondents (n=2772) tended to be pessimistic with 48% expecting global conditions are worse while 21% believe global conditions are better, and 31%  believing that conditions remained the same compared with predictions made six months ago. Expectations vary greatly by region and by industry. Executives from developed markets were more likely to be negative than those from their emerging market peers. 
  • As we progress through life it is inevitable that you will be exposed to incivility.  Christine Porath in her managing yourself feature article “An Antidote to Incivility” [Harvard Business Review, 94(4):108-117, April 2016, www.hbr.org] explores the prevalence of incivility and identifies tactics that you can use to minimize the effects of rudeness on performance and your health.  Results from over 20 years of her research reveals that 98% of the thousands of workers surveyed had experienced uncivil behavior.  Interestingly, only a small 15% of respondents were satisfied with how their employer handled incivility.  Strategies are presented that you can use to handle incivility. Effectively used when you encounter rude behavior these strategies will make you more assertive and confident – perhaps even saving your job and preserving your health.
  • Graham Winfrey provides analysis of four of today’s hottest industries for entrepreneurial people wanting to start a business [“The Best Industries for Starting a Business Right Now,” Inc., February 2016. Page 24, www.inc.com/best-industries-in-2016].  A link is provided to the full list. Profiles cover topics such as: why the industry is hot, skills needed, barriers to entry, the downside, competition, and growth.
  • One hundred years ago (August, 1916) the US Congress created the National Parks System.  Kristin Ohlson describes how this legislation ended up preserving some of the best research sites in the world [“Americas Outdoor Laboratory,” Discover, April 2016, 37(3):38-48, 2016, www.discovermagazine.com]. She profiles ten key research projects in progress within national parks and discusses the unique features of our national parks that offer a bonanza of information for researchers on the natural world.  Importantly, she elaborates on the challenges in keeping them natural.
  • Fortune provides its annual ranking of America’s greatest workplaces [”The 100 Best Companies to Work For,” Levering, R.,  173(4):141-204, 15 March 2016, www.fortune.com]. Leading the ranking is Google followed by Acuity Insurance and Quicken Loans. Profiles of each of the best workplaces are provided.
  • Communications technology is becoming embedded into many products resulting in new business models, improved business processes and reducing costs and risks.  Michael Chui et al discuss important aspects of how the Internet of Things is changing pathways of information and the necessity of people in all industries to give thought to its impact and opportunities likely to emerge from the Internet of Things.  The discussion falls into two broad categories 1). Information and Analysis and 2). Automation and control. 
  • Fast Company’s annual guide to “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” [Issue 203:28-114, March 2016, www.fastcompany.com]. Leading the ranking is Buzzword, followed by Facebook and CVS Health. Included are listings of the most innovative companies by sector.
  • Dan Jones contributes a special report entitled “The Power of Mind” [New Scientist. #3064, pp. 28-31, 12 March 2016, www.newscientist.com], which discusses how our minds are open to manipulations that can change us for the better.  Psychologists call these “wise psychological interactions” and the concept emanated from the pioneering work of the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead and the social psychologist Kurt Lewin.  Today it is believed that apparently simple actions can produce long-lasting changes in behavior that that this could be the solution to many problems such as educational underachievement to obesity.  You remove psychological barriers that keep people from progressing past damaging patterns of behavior. 
  • In a Scientific American special report “2016 The Future of Medicine: Cancer” [314(4):42-51] three articles discuss promising new treatments for this disease.  “The Cancer Defense” discusses how researchers have found effective therapies through enhancing the body’s immune system.  “A Vaccine for Cancer?” discusses research on vaccines that target cancer cells that could help treat tumors.  “Germ Warfare” discuses research on how certain types of intestinal bacteria may boost the body’s immune system to fight malignancy. 
  • A series of articles published in Science [Vol 351: #6279. 1280-1293. March 18, 2016 www.sciencemag.com ] describes findings from the New Horizons fly-by space probe mission to the planet Pluto.  Pluto’s small moons are difficult to observe from earth. This mission enabled high-spatial resolution panchromatic imaging of the moons, providing a wealth of information on their shape, composition and many other features.  The technology that enabled the imaging and transmission of information to earth for detailed analysis clearly demonstrates the advancements in engineering in recent years and what skilled people working together in multi-disciplinary and global teams can accomplish; many of whom are IEEE members.

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Terrance Malkinson is a communications specialist, business analyst and futurist. He is an IEEE Senior Life Member and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the World Future Society. He is currently an international correspondent for IEEE-USA InSight, an associate editor for IEEE Canadian Review, editor-in-chief IEEE TEMS Leader, and a member of the editorial advisory board of the IEEE Institute. Additionally, he leads a number of applied research projects. The author is grateful to the staff and resources of the Reg Erhardt library at SAIT Polytechnic and the Haskayne Business Library of the University of Calgary. He can be reached at malkinst@telus.net.

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