Questioning the effects of being a Digital Nation

I recently finished watching the documentary Digital Nation, which is looking at pros and cons of being a digital nation.  Watching this documentary left me with many questions.  I don’t have all of the answers to these questions, but they are some things that I feel the need to question.

It’s probably a fair statement to say that most people have access to digital media at some point in their day, if not at all points during their day.  The first thing that I want to question is the amount of digital media that young children are exposed to on a daily basis before their brains are fully developed.  I have a young daughter, and I have always felt strongly that as a baby she does not need to watch tv or baby dvds.  I have also struggled with this, because there are many people that feel television can teach children things.  Before the age of 2 I feel that television should not really be a part of their lives, nor do I feel it should be used as a teaching tool.  The way babies are going to learn authentically is through experiences.

Recently, there was news that the popular Baby Einstein movies have been de-thowned according to several media outlets, researchers are now saying that having babies watch these videos may hinder their language skills.

That being said, as children get older, I feel that it is important to expose them to different forms of media – but I also feel that parents and teachers should be working together in order to be aware of the amount of time young people are spending “connected”.  They are still children, after all and I think they should be given the time to socialize and play in the real world also!

A principal at a middle school in South Bronx spoke on the documentary about how he raised math and language arts scores within their schools.  Each classroom put an emphasis on technology and the school worked to get computers for each child.  As a  result, attendance was up, aggressions were down, and the standardized test scores increased substantially.  At one point it was said, “Going into a classroom without technology must be like going into a desert for these kids”.  That was an AHA of sorts for me.  I’ve always supported and tried to include technology into the classroom in my experiences and that comment helped me to understand that using technology doesn’t just benefit me as a teaching tool, but it really helps my students to connect also.

The next thing I found interesting about this documentary was that there were people stating that students aren’t as academically advanced as before the “Digital Age”.  I struggle with that for a few reasons.  If I think back to the education my grandparents received, they were in school houses, and the highest education they received was to a maximum of grade 8.  In Saskatchewan, I think that was normal for many families.  If I look back to my parents educations, neither completed University.  What this says to me, is that more importance is placed on education as we continue on to present day.  I’m not saying that I am smarter than my parents or grandparents, but I do feel that the world has changed so much from what it was then.  Our school system is working toward becoming a constructivist environment, so we aren’t necessarily as focused on recitation and correct facts, as we are on constructing our own meanings.  What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think the level of academics is less, what I hope is that the focus is really different and people  haven’t accounted for that!

The final thing that struck me was the fact that college professors were stating that students really just write paragraphs, they no longer write essays.  The question that occurred to me was do papers and assignments always have to look the same to be acceptable?  As a pre-service teacher, I know that there are many styles of learning and expression, and writing essays isn’t always a strong point for people.  Is the fact that (for the most part) Universities remain archaic in the way they function for their students interfering with the potential for new insight on an “old” topic?  It was said in the documentary that there was an oral history that used to be perpetuated, but then we moved to printed literature and lost the oral retelling, and now we are moving to the digital era.  So yes, we have lost somethings over the course of history.   Is it unfortunate – absolutely.  Does the world end when we transition to something new?  I don’t think so!

I’m still hopeful for the Digital age.  I think as educators, we truly have the opportunity to help shape the “new way” our world is going to look and communicate.

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