Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wireless Distractions

There has been a lot of discussion in a group that I belong to about all the distractions in the classroom now thanks to wireless technologies - cell phones, iPods, laptops, etc. Some think it's a big deal that their learners "aren't paying attention to them", others, like me not so much.

Most of my students are, supposedly, as Mark Prensky calls them, "digital natives". There has been a lot written on these digital generation and their ability to multi task, that their brains are wired differently to receive multiple information sources simultaneously unlike us "digital immigrants" with our analog minds that move at the speed of clay tablets and papyrus and quill. I have discovered however, that very few of them can actually handle more than one digital input at a time, and are easily distracted from task.

There is a reason for this - they are, in fact, NOT true digital natives - those are still in the K-12 system and they are represented by children like the young son of a friend of mine who taught himself to play the piano by watching a video from You Tube. This glaringly obvious glimpse into reality was made clear to be my a very wise new friend from Second Life, John2 Kepler (his avatar's name - I will let him introduce his "real" self if he chooses) who possesses great insight into the minds of our learners today. My current students are not digital natives, but they have all of the digital tools. For many of them this creates a great deal of angst. Try asking them to use chat or a wiki as a learning tool - many don't know what you are talking about. There is a lot more to being a digital native than surfing the Web, IMing friends, and listening to MP3s all at the same time.

And as for the original thought...are all of the digital distractions in our classrooms a bad thing? Why aren't our learners paying attention to us? Is it bad faculty or bad learners? Should I as a faculty member be upset if my learners aren't paying attention to my brilliance?

Let's see - the answers are - 1. No, not necessarily unless they distract those learners who do want to learn; 2. Some are paying attention and some are not, but ultimately they are responsible for their own learning, so it is THEIR choice; 3. I don't think it's bad learners or bad faculty, but perhaps both parties need to adapt to the new digital age; 4. I refer you back to No. 2 - adult learning is the responsibility of the adult learners - if they choose not to learn, that is their right. It's my job to provide them with a learning environment (with their input) that will engage them and allow for, most, but not all, to be successful as learners. So, no, I should not be upset if learners don't pay attention. Does that mean that I am not upset when that happens? Well, that's another story...

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