Tech is distracting, but it can also be a tool for concentration and much more
It’s rare to hear someone extol the benefits technology can bring to learning. And that’s fair enough: it’s hard to argue playing Candy Crush or checking out your crush’s Instagram is positive. But some are taking it too far as they harp on the negative aspects without ever giving thought to what good tech can do, could do, and is doing. Sensationalist stories get more clicks, which is why you’ll see articles with lines such as “smartphones are turning us into zombies!” or “humans are losing their ability to connect to other humans! –Oh, the humanity!” It’s easy to get all apocalyptic, but technology is merely a tool. In evolutionary terms, we’ve just started getting to know this new tool and yes, internet addiction has become an issue for some and others are struggling to deal with real-world problems because they’re too caught up in the cloud, literally. We aren’t, however, all going to succumb to addiction and morph into Wi-Fi junkie screen zombies. Let’s, however, start with a fact. Much of the tech we use is distracting. The notifications one gets from social media require shifting gears constantly. It’s called “task-switching,” and it’s something humans are bad at. But do we need to throw out every device and go back to quills and ink? No. Here’s five ways tech – when used smartly – can enhance learning
One: Technology can enhance learning by blocking technology. ‘Fight fire with fire’ so to speak – learn how to disable pesky notifications, and use tech to block tech. A growing number of students are learning how to block certain websites that are especially tempting or time-wasting. By using what’s called a blocking app, they’ve learned to control their study time… which in the end gives them more time for quality online fun.
Two: Technology can be a tool for self-discipline. There always comes a point in education when a student is ‘out of the nest’ with no mentor or parent or anyone to shepherd them but themselves. A student needs to learn to set goals, monitor themselves, evaluate themselves, and correct themselves. Using specific tech applications can help promote self-regulated learning strategies, and such tech is increasingly being used as an aid to gauge progress. Take the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s “Check My Activity” dashboard tool. Tools such as this allow a student to compare their level of studying activity, showing the student how they stack up against their peers (anonymously). Peer pressure here can equal positive change. A visual chart showing that someone they’re performing below average may be exactly the wake-up call they need.
Three: Technology can offer a boost by providing quick, targeted feedback. Instructors can use technology in a variety of ways to give timely or even immediate feedback to students regarding their performance. Automated systems are already in operation in many places. These bots can respond to questions and check answers on practice quizzes. These systems will only improve as machine learning – commonly known as artificial intelligence – continues its move into every aspect of life, including education. AI quite literally learns from its errors and gets better, something it could help students do as well.
Four: AR and VR tech can make learning come to life. Technology has the potential to be a huge visualization aid. Through harnessing virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), students can “see,” for example, a highly detailed virtual layout of colonial Boston as it would have appeared in 1776… and amazing benefit for a student about to take a course on the early days of the American Revolutionary War.
Five: Technology can provide students with connected, fun downtime. All work and no play isn’t a formula for a fulfilling student life. Technology can provide a much-needed avenue for play as well as connections to family and friends. Even social media, when used wisely, can provide some with a healthy sense of well-being and connection. True, there will be some who can’t get the balance right, but that’s been true in every age.
There has never been a time like now for a motivated student. The knowledge of thousands of years can be accessed via a device that fits in a palm. Slackers cannot use the ‘tech is distracting me’ excuse indefinitely. We are free agents and choose our own paths. The tools of technology are ours to use as we see fit. Use them wisely and prosper.