Ah, education and technology news... where to begin. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates have questioned the necessity for graduate-level teacher education. I visited Hacker News last night and read hundreds of comments that blame teachers and teachers unions -- who else? -- for the state of American education. So I wrote the blog post below with that in mind, as it's frustrating to read reports that continually posit educators as some of reactionary force and a drain on our resources. I should have hit "publish" last night.
Contrary to the reports that posit that students utilize social networking solely for distraction and that instructors find social networking to be a threat to learning, Junco's research points that Twitter promoted collaboration and active learning. He admits that the research isn't exhaustive, but I would go with the headline nonetheless: "Twitter Makes Students Smarter."
I woke up to the New York Times story this morning -- "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction." The article laments technology's impact on students, arguing it has destroyed their ability to focus on school. No longer do students pay attention in class and do all their homework. (Wait, what?) Teachers try to "trick" students into learning, the article seems to suggest, by incorporating technology into the curriculum -- but golly, imagine the dangers. And so instead of butting heads with hackers arguing on behalf of teachers, I found myself butting heads with some teachers (via a friend's Facebook wall) who were full of nostalgia for the good ol' days of when students read books (seriously, when the hell was that?!) and copied passages out of encyclopedias by long-hand. I am wary of news reports that point to teachers' suspicions with technology and social networking. I feel like they only serve to reinforce the stereotype that teachers are Luddites and that schools are somehow irreconcilable with the 21st century. Neither are true.
But All Facebook ran one such story yesterday, headlined "Survey: Half of Teachers Say Facebook Hurts Grades." The article was based on a Daily Telegraph article that casts the net a little wider with its headline: "Social Networking: Teachers Blame Facebook and Twitter for Pupils' Poor Grades."
The articles trot out the usual "research" -- time spent in front of computers leads to poor concentration, poor communication, and of course, poor grades. To its credit, All Facebook had the wherewithal to question the findings of the survey in the original Telegraph story. It was undertaken by "leading school trips provider JCA - which motivates personal and social development outside the classroom." It's hardly surprising that a company that wants people to step "outside the classroom" would decry anything that keeps us tuned in to our computers. "Rather than relying on life experiences, educational travel and face to face interaction with others, children are becoming obsessed with social networking and this is shaping their attitudes instead," says the JCA spokesperson. Oh dear!
More promising than the results a survey of 500 British teachers by a travel company may be the research from Reynol Junco, a professor at Lock Haven University. His paper "The Effect of Twitter on College Student Engagement and Grades" was recently published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. The paper describes a semester-long experiment with the use of Twitter in a one-credit class for pre-heath professional majors. Twitter was used to continue class discussions, to give students a "low stress" way to ask questions, to send class reminders, to offer academic and personal support, to organize study groups, and to facilitate students' and instructor interaction
Of the 125 students in the course, 70 were in an experiment group that used Twitter for a variety of "academic and co-curricular discussions." The study then assessed these students' engagement in the class, as well as their grades, and it found that both were significantly higher among Twitter users than in the control group.