Monday, May 16, 2005

Ongoing Irony In Education 

An open memo to the prep school administration

So the executive committee and the academic committee are concerned about students playing videogames, using the internet for "non-academic purposes," and watching/listening to programming of all sorts during study hall. You've asked for data to explore how much Internet use is occuring during study hall, and the way you've asked for it seems -- to me, mind you -- to pre-emptively include some base judgement on that data about which of it is academic in nature.

But watch out for the easy blame-the-technology solution. Before you fall into the trap so many of us have before, consider:

Did anyone check the research to determine if such activities are actually detrimental to "our" kind of learning? Is there a way to know whether this sort of behavior is actually interfering with homework? Is there a way to know whether it is serving some students positively while serving others negatively? Will you be able to tell if the data you collect reflects the only activity students are engaged in, or whether it is but one layer of a multitasking environment that includes simultanous active homework and study? Is it possible that such data will actually be a reflection of too little homework assigned, and not enough leisure brain-rest time given to our students -- that we're about to blame the technology instead of ourselves for what turns out to be not at all a problem in the first place?

Some words of caution, folks: think empirically. The plural of anecdote is not data. Observation is not a demonstration of causality. Before you act, make sure you read the recent assumption-challenging work of Stephen Johnson (Like this. And this.)

And, most importantly, beware the power of role modeling. It's always temtping to blame the technology -- it's shiny, distracting, and can't fight back. But human problems demand human solutions. Limiting behavior in service to an academic ideal when little or no causality between that behvaior and the ideal can be demonstrated is more transparent than you know. Unless you're sure...don't do it.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:16 PM |

Ah, back-room gatherings, held by an elite few, hell-bent on limiting the flow of information in an institution that prides itself on fostering individuality and creativity.

Kinda reminds me of the time I spent on the Revised Ethics & Technology Committee ;)
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