The question of whether or not laptops or WiFi are permitted in classrooms is increasingly passe. A more engaging question is: how are students paying attention and what is the quality of that attention? With a multitude of information channels ever present while they listen to a professor lecture, or while they study in newly-built library information commons, how has “paying attention” changed, and what does it mean for learning?
Taking a step back, what exactly is information? I’m currently studying Information Science, and I can’t quite grasp the enormity of information being created and available on my blackberry and my laptop, waiting for me to tune in to the stream. The average American diet of information was recently reported to be 34 gigabytes per day, the equivalent of 100,000 words. The question is: what is our capacity as humans to absorb information? At some level, this is synonymous with our ability to learn. As educators, we spend a lot of time thinking about how students learn.
Last semester, one of my professors stopped in the middle of a lecture, and asked the students to close their laptops, stop Facebooking, Twittering, and taking Sporcle quizzes. Another professor told us on the first day of class that he doesn’t care if we come to lecture, if we come to lecture and sleep, or if we come to lecture and look at Facebook. His theory is that students today absorb information in a variety of ways, and we know ourselves well enough to pay attention in a way that works for us. While this works for engaged graduate students, would it be the same for undergrads?
Although I am young enough to have brought a laptop with me to college my freshman year, the very nature of learning in the classroom is different today than it was twelve years ago. I no longer have a spiral bound notebook for notes and a folder for handouts for each class. Now I edit papers as they are being written by group members in a shared Google doc, record lectures and take notes in Word documents, and download my PDF readings from course managment systems.
How technology serves academic learning is an endless debate. As Rosalie pointed out in her post, students expect a WiFi-enabled library, feeding them a constant stream of updates and google searching to supplement their academic work. Students enjoy a rich information diet while learning.
Each year in January the resolutions for healthy eating habits spawn advertisements and promotions for gyms and the latest diet craze. What are we feeding our brains? And what type of information do our brains want to absorb? What is our information diet?