Week 3: Learning to Think in a Digital Age

What subtle changes are there in our behaviours after being immersed in digital device usage?

Video: Learning, technology and all things digital

People sometimes problem solve through pre-thinking (focused learning), sometimes experiment (which games particularly use), sometimes observe, interact & learn (literacy).

Article: A Pyramid of Digital Engagement

We’re looking at Steve Wheeler’s pyramid of digital engagement, in that we often start with watching, lurking and reading, as confidence is gained, we engage more:

Engagement Pyramid


So, don’t be surprised if a lot of what children initially do online is very passive, as they become more involved, they start to engage more meaningfully in ways that seem more transformational.

Article: Learning Through Communication

We learn huge amounts through social interaction – are children inventing new forms of communication, for example through text-speak – which offers speed/immediacy, and is evidence of creativity, although many are worried about digital ‘dumbing down’, especially of language literacy.

Video: Texting is Killing Language

John McWhorter, linguist & political commentator, sees texting as positive: a creative & energetic activity. See his TED talk:
[ted id=1718]

He identifies how recent (written) communication is, the differences between speech/writing (including in pace, structure), where the blurring of lines has come between texting (easy communication in your pocket) and written speech, and the worries that so many have about the ‘loss’ of punctuation, etc. We see the power of ‘LOL’ and how it’s being used as a mark of empathy, rather than an indication of humour; the power of ‘slash’ or other markers to indicate a change of topic (which many of us do with hmm, etc. in spoken speech). We have complained over the last 2000(+?) years that people are not well-versed in language skills [but people survive]. Texting is a linguistic miracle, happening right underneath our noses.

Discussion: A Generation of Texters?

I commented: I have seen students undertaking creative exercises (university level), in which e.g. Shakespeare scripts, Bible stories, and creative writing in general has been given a succinctness that is often not visible. It’s not the only form of communication that children (or many of us use), as always – it has affordances, and it has constraints.

Article: An epidemic of distracted youngsters?

See a report the 2013 version of this survey which indicates even higher numbers indicating study is not possible without technological devices, and that so many schoolchildren “can’t” go more than 10 minutes without checking their phones.

We’re looking at the issue of multitasking – does it aid learning, or is it a distraction?

Problems are identified with task-switching and lack of focus, and the possibility of paying only superficial attention to what they are doing because their attention is divided. But expert opinion on this is divided…

I commented: I wrote this in my book Raising Children in a Digital Age (Lion Hudson, 2014 https://drbexl.co.uk/writer/book-raising-children-in-a-digital-age/):

Attention spans and multitasking
By the age of eleven, the majority of children are online for two hours or more every day. For younger children, those visits tend to be driven by a specific activity, but many of the older ones have online sources on constantly, multitasking with them in the background. Younger children are more likely to be sharing their machine and to have a greater range of activities that require time. “Multitasking” is often described as something new to “millennials”, but Gina Maranto from the University of Miami says that information multitasking is not a new phenomenon: “My father, a corporate editor, used to watch television, read magazines, and listen to the radio at the same time long before computers, cell phones, or iPads.”20
Professor Livingstone defines two different types of multitasking:

Article: Multitasking as a new way of learning

Referring to Cardoso-Leite and Bavelier, 2014; Granic, Lobel and Engels, 2014, whose research has highlighted, that in gaming, children can learn strong multi-tasking skills, the rewards of trial and error, alertness, quick reactions and brain development as people keep an eye out for new opportunities in a game.

Article: Brain Development in a Hyper-tech world

Are children’s brains changing in relation to their use of games, etc.?

A central discovery of neuroscience is that the brain continues to develop its ‘wiring diagram’ well into a person’s twenties at least. The frontal lobes, regions critical to high-level cognitive skills such as judgement, multitasking, executive control and emotional regulation, are the last to develop fully.

Commented with some more material from my book: Brain change?

There are constant references in the media to the “fact” that digital media are “rewiring children’s brains”. Journalist Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows has been particularly influential in this context. He discusses changes in the brain, and how, as a child, he used to get lost in the twists and turns of a book, but now “can’t concentrate” as he clicks among the data his brain has become hungry for. As his old computer turned him into a word processor, so the new machine has made him into a high-speed data-processing machine.5 Technology certainly does make it possible for us to change our practices, but I am a notorious “polymath”, and a good book or film, or even (dare I say) the writing process, can draw me in for several hours, so I’m not convinced by his arguments.

Newspaper headlines have promoted the idea that the internet is changing our brains, typically for the worse. In the Pew 2012 “Hyper-connected” survey, a number of experts highlighted how every activity we undertake will affect our brain functioning or our thinking, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. Communications consultant Stowe Boyd said:

The reason that kids are adapting so quickly to social tools online is because they align directly with human social connection, much of which takes place below our awareness. Social tools are being adopted because they match the shape of our minds, but yes, they also stretch our minds based on use and mastery, just like martial arts, playing the piano, and badminton.

Blogger, journalist, and communications professor Jeff Jarvis said we are experiencing a transition from a textual era, so we are thinking differently, but that doesn’t mean that the physiology of our brains is different:

Before the press, information was passed mouth-to-ear, scribe-to-scribe; it was changed in the process; there was little sense of ownership and authorship. In the five-century-long Gutenberg era, text did set how we see our world: serially with a neat beginning and a defined end; permanent; authored. Now, we are passing out of this textual era and that may well affect how we look at our world. That may appear to change how we think. But it won’t change our wires.6

Video: Your Brain and Video Games

See Daphne Bavelier:
[ted id=1618]

Video gaming is pervasive, but the average age of a gamer is 33, not 8! Parents worry about the amount of time that their children are playing games, but wouldn’t have similar worries for kids with their heads in Shakespeare or Sudoku [because it’s ‘educational’].

Testing out some of the ‘Friday night pub conversations’ in the lab –

  • Extensive game players have increasingly good vision
  • Action video gamers have an ability to track objects well (6-7, rather than 3-4)
  • Gamers are better at multi-tasking (can see changes in the attention areas of the brain)
  • Not all multi-tasking is equal – those using a range of media have much poorer attention spans – so need care with ‘comprehensive’ statements.
  • Those who think they are good at multi-tasking are often surprised at how poor they are.
  • Like wine, there are poor uses, but the right quality in good doses can be good ‘for health’.
  • Seeking to use lab results to learn how to use games well for learning and brain retraining… but having to fight with a games industry that is [solely seeking ££?]

Article: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

See Raise Smart Kid website article The Positive & Negative of Video Games – an extensive list of pros/cons.

Discussion: Your View on Video Games

  • In your experience is there a link between video game playing and negative behaviours, such as violence, aggression and social isolation?
  • Being more of an optimist, what do you feel are the benefits of playing video games?

Look up Susan Greenfield and Neil Levy for more on videogames.

Great range of comments re which direction does negative behaviour flow – is the game the cause, or are those who behave that way attracted to aggressive games? If time is spent away from games are there other factors that may be improving behaviour, e.g. spending more face-to-face time with others?

Video: The Strengths of New Technology

Paul Howard-Jones, educational psychologist and optimist about digital technology – seeing it as reshaping neural connections in the brain & strengthening acquisition of new skills.

  • Games are teaching us: improved visual motor response, improvements in switching attention, even improvements in being able to not be distracted
  • People haven’t really understood the underlying processes of ‘gamification’, and often when educational materials have been ‘gamed’, children don’t understand why they are not ‘fun’ & don’t work as learning tools
  • The importance of rewards/dopamine, and the uncertainty of rewards – lead to engagement and excitement. [Reminds me of Martin Saunders recent piece in Christian Today]
  • Importance of sleep & nutrition, in which technology/caffeine can be disruptive.
  • Paul thinks about how he manages things with his own children – the younger are restricted to before 7pm, but older children are learning to manage their own communications/with friends so is more NEGOTIATION.

Article: Prescribing Video Games for ADHD

See McKnight and Davies, 2013 for examples of how technology is improving life for those with additional needs. Studies have shown that game-playing with children with ADHD has led to improved success in engaging in clinical support, and also increased ability to stay on task – but with a warning that all games are not created equal!

Article: Costs & Benefits

The hope is that people have learned that technology can be used in innovative/creative ways to be positive.

Next week “In the final week, you will look to the future for the digital child as a learner and what the learning environment might look like for them.”

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