Richard Evans returns to his soap box on the issue of computers and their possibly negative impact on education
A recent BBC World Service programme presented by Michael Rosen raised a number of interesting issues regarding the impact of the declining use of narration in popular films on reading skills. An American film critic on the programme voiced his concerns about Hollywood productions which were increasingly superficial and undemanding on the audience. Too often, the films were formulaic in character e.g. car chases, explosions, sex and special effects with predictable and superficial story lines and plots. The audience were primarily passive. The imagery was all important and the audience were unchallenged by any real story lines or narrative. Compare this to the classic period of Hollywood e.g. film noir where the films reflected the dark side of America but comprised subtle plots and sub-plots on key issues about the country. Leaving aside notable exceptions in world cinema, there seems to be a trend towards a culture of passivity in the world of entertainment where the imagery and action is all that matters.
The impact of new technologies.
The discussion then focused on the possible impact on reading and narration of the new techniques of communication and the retrieval of information e.g. texting and emailing combined with the time spent on internet-based activities and playing games on the computer. I reflected on these issues and came up with a list of questions that I think merit further research and debate as they may impact on the teaching and learning of basic skills.
- Does the research over the past few decades show that there is a declining trend in reading skills?
- Does the introduction of ‘new’ technologies negatively impact on reading skills and create a culture of passivity reducing the skills of exploration, analysis, reflection and validation?
- If not managed effectively do the new technologies of communication and accessing information impair the development of higher order research and study skills?
- How can the educational world effectively accommodate and manage the newer forms of communicating and information retrieval with existing methods?
- How skilled and knowledgeable are teachers in combining all these methods and techniques?
Differences of opinion.
Differing opinions exist about whether reading skills are in decline in the country especially amongst certain groups who do not receive effective help and support from parents. For busy parents trying to survive financially or those who are not interested in reading to their children or do not encourage them to read books it is all too easy to let them watch TV or play on the computer for significant periods. Computer technologies can be very effective in developing a wide range of skills but the content that is being accessed must also be of high quality and, equally importantly, be monitored and managed by parents and teachers in order to maximise the learning experience.
In addition teachers often voice concerns about the learner’s ability to concentrate for any reasonable time and that increasingly pupils and students have short attention spans in lessons. It is also mooted that young people use the new technologies of information and communication for learning in different ways from those required of the traditional print media and not necessarily to greater benefit. ICT tempts with access to a range of techniques, sources and images, -encouraging a ‘quick fix culture’ , instant satisfaction and the simulation of a glossy ‘professional’ graphical presentation of a piece of work. The newer technologies do offer real benefits by enriching and enhancing traditional methods of teaching and learning but a serious and urgent debate is needed in order to obtain a sensible balance between these exciting developments and the existing proven methods of teaching and learning. Basic skills have a major and important part to play in these debates and their pivotal role must be recognised and the expertise of practitioners fully utilised.
There is obviously a relationship between practices touched on above and the fact that Universities and colleges are concerned about the increasing levels of plagiarism by students in writing their assignments and essays and some institutions have even introduced software to detect this worrying development. Websites offer a treasure trove of information but the material has not been fully validated or checked for accuracy and if copied wholesale, without further research or validation, can raise fundamental ethical issues about validity and intellectual property rights. Sadly a small minority of teachers are also plagiarising such material for their teaching that again raises some fundamental concerns.
Reading and handwriting skills will remain essential accomplishments in the future and the possible negative impact of the newer technologies must be recognised and managed by educationalists and society in general. Hopefully this important issue will be addressed in a careful and realistic fashion.
Dr Richard Evans is a regular contributor to Numeracy Briefing.