I teach political science courses at Houston Baptist University in addition to my work as an administrator for the school. I also occasionally speak to young people in other venues. Something that I see now, which was nearly non-existent when I first gained teaching responsibilities as a grad student years ago, is the backside of a bunch of laptops facing me while I lecture.
Speaking to a colleague in the education department, I expressed my concern that students are too distracted by technology to pay attention and learn. She assured me these young people have different brains and can handle the multi-tasking.
I’m not so sure. I imagine that while I’m lecturing the students are partly listening and are dedicating the rest of their attention to online chat, email, facebook, fantasy football, and wedding planning. There may be some evolution of neural pathways, but I find it hard to believe there is any substitute for actually reading material, listening carefully to a lecture, asking questions, and discussing the subject matter without any other distractions.
And forget the immediate question of education in the classroom. Are these the kind of people who can pay sustained attention to public policy debates so they can participate meaningfully in the democratic process?
When I send my son (now 6 and pretty tech savvy) off to school, I may be looking for one that bucks the trend by promising me that he WON’T have a laptop in class.