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Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Friend or foe?

I recently finished a book called Alone Together by Sherry Turkle (2011), a professor at MIT. The book discusses how social media and technology has infiltrated our lives and its visible effects on human connections. Turkle explains that ICTs – e-mail, text, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – are fundamentally changing human interactions; they change who we are.

As I read the book, I felt like I was reading my personal diary. I was the individual who, in her book, was constantly connected yet felt the need for more interaction. Turkle explains that through this technology, people present the best of themselves, an ideal; they can type, delete, and edit every interaction. She says, “Human relationships are supposed to be messy, but now they are edited and perfected.” When I thought about this, I thought about how this affects our learning environments for all students. How have these ICTs influenced our classrooms?

I’ve had experience in university classrooms as a student, teaching assistant, and even as a lecturer. One thing I’ve noticed is that many students are only half-there; there is a cluster of students who are texting, emailing, on Facebook, or doing other assignments. How do these distractions influence learning? How does it impact the classroom atmosphere? What are the effects on classroom discussion?

First let’s discuss ICT influences on discussion. I recently read a post about improving class discussion. The author discussed how students often talk to the professor and not to each other; they have difficulty building on other’s ideas. Personally, I think this has something to do with what ICTs have done to our relationships. We’re so used to editing ideas that sometimes we are afraid to speak to one another; or, since we’ve minimized human relations, maybe students just want someone to listen to their idea. Either way, getting students to participate is tricky. There are many strategies that teaching faculty can employ, one of which is making it a rule that students have to agree or disagree with each other. No matter how it’s done, class discussion is an essential learning activity as it actively engages those who participate.

For those who don’t want to participate, or who do so half-heartedly, say it’s because they can multi-task well. A study by Wood et al. (2011) examined the impacts of technology, multi-tasking, and student achievement. The researchers found that devices such as Facebook and MSN were distractions and students who engaged with these ICTs had lower levels of academic achievement. Additionally, the study compared “technology users” and “pencil-and-paper users” achievement scores; the pencil-and-paper users out-scored the technology users. While Wood et al. (2011) agree that these results should be taken with a grain-of-salt, I think they lend important insight into the effects of ICTs on student learning. Another study showed that faculty and professors find these tools to be distracting. One professor noted,

Part of the reason I have been “fighting” social media in the classroom is that I have had students who are not paying attention to class and then are upset to find out they do not do well on exams. That is why I am considering a much more overt use of social media. If students are going to FB during class, I want it to be about class! (Faculty Focus, 2011, p. 16).

Recently, I sat down with a professor at McGill University to discuss the idea of ICTs on human relationships and classroom learning. Interestingly, he pointed out that he’s talked about this idea with some of his students. He shared with me that there is a professor who provides students with a “technology break.” This is where the class stops and the students can pull out all their gadgets and get their technology fix. He explained that one of the students found it to be a great strategy; they knew they would have their break so instead of multi-tasking, they focused when they needed to, and connected when they were permitted.

Together, we discussed whether we thought this was a good idea or not. Is it sad that students and teaching faculty need a technology break? (It sounds like ICTs are an addiction!) Or, is it a wonderful strategy to help students focus in the classroom? In her book, Turkle explains that for the upcoming generation, being tethered to each other through ICTs is considered‘normal,’ but for the ‘older’ generation, it’s not as normal. However, I think we are adapting – many of us are in constant contact with each other too!

I don’t think ICTs are a bad thing, I believe that they can be a positive learning tool. In fact, I just completed my thesis of the Effects of Twitter on Undergraduate Learning and the results were generally positive. I think it’s about how these ICT tools are integrated into course design. Nonetheless, it’s still important to consider how these tools are positively or negatively (you decide) changing the educational landscape. Whether you know or don’t know, pick up Turkle’s book, read it, and see where you stand.

Faculty Focus. (2011). Social media usage trends among higher education faculty. Faculty Focus.Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/free-reports/social-media-usage-trends-among-higher-education-faculty/.

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together. New York: Basic Books.

Weimer, M. (2014). Class discussion challenge: Getting students to listen and respond to each other’s comments. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/class-discussion-challenge-getting-students-respond-others-comments/?utm_source=cheetah&utm_

Wood, E., Zivcakova, L., Gentile, P., Archer, K., De Pasquale, D. & Nosko, A. (2011). Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning. Computers & Education, 58, 365-374.

Picture References:
Gauge Design. 2014. Book review: Alone together. Retrieved from http://www.gaugedesign.com/2012/11/book-review-alone-together/.

Stadermann, A. L. (2011). Book review on Sherry Turkle: Alone together. Retrieved from http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl

I am an Instructional Technologist at the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. There, I provide direct support to faculty for technology integration into their curriculum design. A recent graduate from McGill University, I hold a Masters of Arts in Education and Society, with a direct focus on Twitter and Education. Outside of work, my priorities consist of family, friends, food, and outside living - in that order! Twitter: @LaurenSoluk

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