The Wired Brain of 21st Century – why is this ‘technology’ different?

I have been at a metaphorical triple bypass crossroads for a very long time in my  career as teacher due to the ‘nature’ of the education process.  Deep in my heart I love books and reading, walks in nature, hands/eyes/ears on explorations in the science lab even though there is the computer based “dissectable frog” and a periodic table which can allow you to look at the possible formations of different molecular structures based on atoms you select to put together.  The dissectable frog is great for anyone not going into medical school because I do not want to be the patient of a doctor who got through med school without real comparative anatomy and tons of work on cadavers before doing real surgery on me; by token, visualizing a 3-D molecular structure for nano-tech is far different than understanding the physical and chemical reactions produced by different atoms in reaction and knowing exothermic and endothermic.  I do not abhor technology, rather I endorse it and believe it is necessary to move forward.  My only concern is the pace of the moving forward. 

 The largest part of me loves/ exhalts technology and believes this is completely necessary to learn science – once the essentials (tactile experiences and explorations) are in place and tackled- this is akin to my  idea of  there being no point in memorizing the multiplication tables without being able to visualize an area model of multiplication and understand multiplication is shorthand for addition.  Applying technology to do that which we think and dream about is amazing and artful – the highest form of communicating culture, humanity and knowledge. 

 My  example of the timing element  includes the fact that three year olds in Namibia and Kenya, where I have lived in rural villages, were able to bank a fire from the night before and cook porridge, something I would not even consider allowing a three year old in America to do…… this is because the three year old child in the village was never distracted by all the other things three year olds in America deal with and so they learned the art of survival.  Fire is technology and in America we worry when to let children start using matches safely.  The relevance here is  the use of fire technology is not  age related, it is based upon something deeper.  The deepness issue is what surrounds the use of any technology – when is it appropriate and when does our maturity allow it to be a beneficial use rather than believing because we have access, we should be able to use technology.

You can understand I am not a Luddite on the technology front – just thoughtful.   I have wanted to madly integrate technology into my teaching practice, unfortunately most public schools lack the funding for technology as described in the article above and in many cases the technology is obsolete by time a district achieves the funding threshold, especially in the economic climate of 2005- forward to the foreseeable future.  I have worked at schools where graphing calculators – the base model, were technology and yet we conquered algebra. I have taught students math in the sand with sticks for writing and this was indeed technology, so I have comparisons with which to reflect upon.

My undergraduate work (communicative disorders/speech pathology/audiology) allowed me to appreciate the understanding of how the mind works – based on the available technology to study the brain function.  I have chosen to be aware and follow non-mainstream ideas on child development (Thom Hartmann’s Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception) so when the question(s) inevitably arise about technology, learning and brain development, I feel I have a minimum of knowledge to engage in a discussion, although I enjoy learning more all the time. 

All of the above helps me to be average and so the most I can do is still stare at the sign on the forked road before deciding my current path in using technology. Even with GPS, I am not sure the correct  or most  parsimonious  path.  This is a problem as I am a tutor and teacher.  I work with children across a broad spectrum in age, ability, intellectual capacity and it would be nice to have an ‘answer’ more than a feeling when deciding how to tackle something.   When I suggest to a parent limiting computer game playing or texting, am I creating a problem or benefitting the student?  How will I know if the student’s brain is ‘mature’ enough to process the information in a positive manner and be able to quite literally shift ‘brain gears’ in their learning process?  Is a computer game with a moral outcome, which can be discussed, different than playing a game with no moral (solitaire) outcome, but is real time and space, with tangible cards on the table  better?

Should students have smart phones with all manner of apps – including readable apps and help them learn a balance in using technology and real world skills or would it be better to teach students code switching from classroom to home life, so they know what they need to do until my generation dies off?   Clearly reading Shakespeare in the illustrated comic book form is better than not reading Shakespeare at all – not reading is not a real option – or is it? Can a student learn Shakespeare via podcast and have it be called an intellectual pursuit of the brain – or not? 

Are grades important or relevant? Based on the article for this blog, grades seem to be losing ground in significance while experiences are upping the ante and yet experiences are based on access…..

Somehow I thought by leaving the classroom, my choices in educational practices and working with students would be easier and less complex.  The complexity remains, albeit on a different level and with a different form of trepidation.

I do not know the equivalent of ‘moral suasion’ in the financial world as applied to education and yet I feel there is a preponderance of evidence coming down the sluicing tube to suggest we will need to adhere to some basic, rudimentary processes of learning.   Technology of yesteryear – the wheel, fire, electricity, crowbar is nowhere near the technology of today. The tech in our hands today seems to both bypass certain aspects of traditional learning and shortchange the brain of intellectual pursuit, or does it?  Will anthropologists of the far distant future see a brain change we can not even study in it’s state of transformation?

Update: 24 November 2010

Paragraph Five and the last paragraph.  I don’t need to make a comment – Mr. Friedman said it nicely!