+ Technology Improves Visual Skills But Lessens Critical Thinking

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From Science Daily we learn that our visual skills have improved as technology took over our lives.  But our skills in critical thinking have declined, says researcher Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center in Los Angeles.

Learners have changed as a result of their exposure to technology, says Greenfield.  She analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and technology, including research on multi-tasking and the use of computers, the Internet and video games. 

Her research is published in the Journal Science (January 2009).

Reading for pleasure,which has declined among young people, enhances thinking and engages the emagination in a way that visul media such as video games and TV do not, Greenfield feels.

The question has been raised: how much new media should be used in schools, as opposed to reading and classroom discussion?

“No one medium is good for everything,” says Greenfield.  “If we want to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet.  Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops.”

She says that schools should make more effort to test students who use visual media  by asking them to prepare PowerPoint presentations, for example.

“As students spend more time with visual media and less time with print, evaluation methods that include visual media will give a better picture of what they actually know,” says Greenfield, who has used films in classes since the 1970s.

“By using more visual media, students will process information better.  However, most visual media are real-time media that do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games.  Technology is not a panacea in education, because of the skills that are being lost.

“Studies show that reading develops imagination, reflection and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary.  Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills.  Students today have more visual literacy and less print literacy.  Many students do not read for pleasure and have not for decades.”

She states that parents should still encourage their childrn to read, and should read to them as well.

One of the studies analyzed by Greenfield was a classroom study which showed that students who were given access to the Internet during class, and were encouraged to use it during lectures, did not process what the speaker said as well as students who didn’t have the Internet access.  Tested after class lectures, those who did not have Internet access performed much better than those who did.

“Wiring classrooms for Internet access does not enhance learning,” says Greenfield.

In another of the studies she reviewed, college students who watched CNN Headline News with just the news anchor on screen and without the “news crawl” across the bottom of the screen remembered significantly more facts from the broadcast than those who watched it with the “crawl.”

She feels these and other studies show that multi-tasking “prevents people from getting a deeper understanding of information.”

She does say that for certain tasks, divided attention is important.  “If you’re a pilot, you need to be able to monitor multiple instruments at the same time.  If you’re a cab driver, you need to pay attention to multiple events at the same time.  If you’re in the military, you need to multi-task, too.”

“On the other hand,” adds Greenfield, “if you’re trying to solve a complex problem, you need sustained concentration.  If you’re doing a task that requires deep and sustained thought, multi-tasking is detrimental.”

source: Science Daily report on 1/29/09.   www.sciencedaily.com

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