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November 9, 2011
Digital Access Isn't Everything
There is a great article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) by Brian Cowan, 'Digital Natives' Aren't Necessarily Digital Learners, which takes on the concept of digital natives as digital learners, and concludes that while technology may deliver information in convenient ways, it will not necessarily motivate individuals to learn. Cowan describes four myths of digital learning:
- Myth 1: Digital natives are automatically digital learners.
- Myth 2: Students prefer using technology to learn.
- Myth 3: Cyberspace is the new classroom.
- Myth 4: Today's students are multitaskers.
His examples under each suggest these statements are not universal truths of learning they purport to be. Students may be confronted with information options that technology offers, but these are delivery mechanisms. Technology doesn’t always offer the evaluative tools for that information. Cowan’s article is not aimed at legal instruction, though it resonates.
I’ve said to legal writing students over the years that downloading and printing cases is not a substitute for reading them. Perhaps WestlawNext and Lexis Advanced are out to change some of that by delivering “relevant and related” information to the query. The underlying technologies for these services still require some form of evaluation and application of the information they present. Cowan notes that making information conveniently accessible does not lead to understanding the underlying ideas they contain. The distractions of everyday life do not make consuming them any easier despite the delivery mechanism.
One of the comments to the article cites another piece recently published in Wired. The Wired story, Clive Thompson on Why Kids Can't Search, describes a number of studies involving student search habits. One showed that students accepted page ranks as authoritative in circumstances where the pages in a Google results list were falsely-ranked. We don’t expect Google to manipulate page ranks in real life, but that does not mean the top ranked information is always the best information.
Another study showed that students did not question the authority of the information presented when they did not bother to check the credentials of the authors. The Wired piece concludes with the idea that a broad understanding of how the world works is necessary to evaluate information presented by machines. “Question authority” is the old saw from the 60’s. It should apply no less to search results via popular technology today. [MG]
Good points. I took many of my grad classes online and had no problem absorbing the information. I was an older student, did not go to grad school until I was around 40. Likewise, my son, now 25, can find out almost anything he wants to know by asking google. However, when he was younger, and up until just a couple of years ago, he didn't seem very good at locating anything online outside of his normal path. I chalk it up to maturity.
Posted by: Ruth | Nov 16, 2011 3:43:46 PM