It is an important ongoing discussion: what is the impact of technology on our brains and our learning and our intelligence?  Science Daily, a useful site whose reports on research impacting education are often captured in the ASCD email round-up, had a story recently summarizing research in the journal Science.    Although visual skills have improved, the research reports, critical thinking and analysis has declined, all due to the rise of technology in our students’ lives.

This is obviously of concern for this blogger, who simultaneously is advocating education which better teaches for critical thinking and analysis, and which embraces the integration of technology into the classroom.   Acknowledging the concern however is not admitting defeat.  There is still plenty of agreement between myself and the lead researcher, who argues for a balanced approach: “No one medium is good for everything,” Greenfield said. “If we want to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet. Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops.”

21k12 seeks as much as possible the both/and approach of decisionmaking:  for example, our students will benefit in their learning from having more access to computers (desktops, laptops, or smartphones) in their daily learning AND from more reading of lengthy texts.  Students will benefit from more time working with technology AND from more time outdoors in creeks, mountains, and deserts.  But we need to be strategic about how we use every precious minute of time.   An example provided in the article captures this:

Among the studies Greenfield analyzed was a classroom study showing that students who were given access to the Internet during class and were encouraged to use it during lectures did not process what the speaker said as well as students who did not have Internet access. When students were tested after class lectures, those who did not have Internet access performed better than those who did.

OK, so let’s agree that students who are sitting in a lecture and have the opportunity to surf the web at the same time are learning less than those who don’t have that opportunity.   Stipulated.   But the next sentence, which the way it is reported here would appear to be the conclusion made from the above, is, I believe, a complete non-sequitur: “”Wiring classrooms for Internet access does not enhance learning,” Greenfield said.”

Yes, students will learn more in a lecture if not also websurfing, but they will learn even more if they are learning by doing, and doing research, and doing collaboration, and doing publishing of their product, with the best technology available.    Students engage with learning when they have the best tools for it.

Again, I am a lover of reading and want my children and students to be the same; reading is a hugely valuable way for kids to grow in thinking skills.   The report is entirely correct that “Studies show that reading develops imagination, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary,” Greenfield said. “Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills. Students today have more visual literacy and less print literacy. Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades.”

And she is right to call our attention to the critical need to teach critical thinking effectively.   Technology by itself does not teach critical thinking, and yet our new technological age, which is here whether you like it or not, and which is the water our digital natives swim in and the air they breath, requires greater critical thinking than ever.  So use technology to teach it– rather than running away from technology.