This NY times article presents an interesting debate on whether the time kids are spending reading online is good or bad in the long term. I think that this whole debate is based on wrong categorization. Using old frameworks to evaluate new phenomenon is fundamentally wrong. Clayton Christensen’s new book, Disrupting Class – How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, has a chapter on the current state of educational research. He points out that historically education research has been using outcomes of the research to point back to known situations or circumstances and not to new or changing circumstances that the kids find themselves in. Yes, kids are reading more, but they are also reading differently. Making meaning by “weaving” different definitions, perspectives and representations trigger different skills and aptitudes. These in turn warrant different ways of looking and measuring.
I enjoyed Christensens’s earlier book on the Innovator’s Dilemma. Teaching will take on a very different process in many ways because the Web provides avenues for styles of learning that are not very easy to achieve using the standardized approaches we have today.
The Times article continues the same discussions we have already had. The questions should be how are children finding their information, how are they using that to create knowledge? Today, the expectation is that knowledge will be handed to the student by the teacher.
But today, students can find information much more rapidly. Their social networks can be utilized to help them find context and learn at faster rates. Because all of the processes become much more explicit when taking place online, we will have a lot more data to evaluate learning and to apply useful metrics.
But, there has to be a recognition that things can be different and that applying old style metrics may very well miss the boat. I am reminded of an article in Scientific American from 1997 claiming that 20 years of personal computers had no effect on productivity. But 3 years later, SciAm claims that the huge increase in productivity is due to computers and the Internet.
Sometimes the real benefits are not immediately apparent.