LJN Radio Interview — Technically Speaking: Utilizing Technology in Education

I’m happy to announce that my second interview with LJN Radio, “Technically Speaking: Utilizing Technology in Education” is now available on the LJN Radio website.

From the website:

Various uses of technology can be invaluable when it comes to educational success and improved learning. At the same time, people need to be cautious in seeing all forms of technology as an easy fix to how people are taught. Jim Rovira, associate professor of English at Tiffin University, explains to Tim Muma how important it is to ensure students are matched with the appropriate use of technology. Whether it’s taking online classes or utilizing in-class technology for lessons and assessment, it’s imperative educators understand that each student has different needs and will succeed or fail based on the fit of the technology they use.

On Technically Speaking, we explore the latest social media applications for the modern day workplace. Together we’ll discover the hottest technology jobs on the market and keep up with the latest high-tech trends.

Duration: 18 Minutes

Why You Should Take Notes By Hand

Students From A Technical University Sitting In A Lecture Hall

UPDATES 9-7-2014: First, I’m proud to say that in just three days this post now has the top number of hits on my entire blog. It’s hardly viral, but it’s certainly been popular. My top four posts are all about higher ed followed by my post about Frozen. Next, I’m happy to say I’ve had some great and productive conversations about this topic on LinkedIn. I’ve added some insights from that conversation at the end of the post.


Why you should take notes by hand, or, how technology is working against your learning.

Here’s what happens according to a couple of well-designed studies:

1. Because of the way that human beings interact with laptops, studies indicated that students who take notes on laptops don’t learn nearly as much as those who write out their notes on notepads.

2. This learning differential doesn’t exist only because students are distracted on their laptops by other things. It’s actually the use of the laptop itself. What happens is that students taking notes on a laptop attempt to capture everything that’s being said, so that they’re acting more like passive recipients of information — like stenographers — than actually thinking about what’s being said.

On the other hand, students who take notes by hand have to think about what they’re writing down, because they can’t possibly capture everything. That means they’re more cognitively engaged with the lecture material than the laptop note taker. Even a week later, students who take notes by hand score higher on tests for both conceptual and factual content than laptop note takers.

3. But students ARE ALSO distracted by other things on their laptops: according to other studies, 40% of the time students are looking at non-course related material while in class if they’re using a laptop in class. Facebook, email, chats, etc.

The results:

1. Because students aren’t learning as much, they complain about the quality of their education (yes, a result noted in the study as well).

2. Administrators who have never taught a day in their lives or hardly at all listen to student complaints and pontificate about outmoded instructional methods (when they’ve never tried any of them and don’t know what it’s like to be a teacher in a classroom watching students as you teach).

3. To appear innovative, they then spend a lot of money on educational technology that puts learning onto a screen.

4. They have to spend millions of dollars on this stuff, and on their own bonuses, so they have to adjunctify the faculty pool. Adjuncts are not only cheaper, but they’re easier to control.

5. You have your current higher educational system that everyone says is “broken” because of “outmoded instructional methods” but that no one thought was “broken” until relatively recently (say the last ten to fifteen years).

The real fix: shut off the laptop and take notes on paper. Just read the reporting about the study linked above, and then read the study. Click the image above and see for yourself.

Some great points made during a LinkedIn discussion:

  • Handwriting on a tablet may well be a good middle way between typing on a computer and handwriting notes on a pad and paper, if you can get a good app for that. I haven’t had any luck. I get the impression others have. I use an iPad Air.
  • There is neuroscience supporting the idea that your brain processes things differently when handwriting rather than typing, so this may be a matter of how our brains and bodies work together as well. In fact, different areas of the brain are activated with printing out by hand compared to writing in cursive, so even different types of handwriting matter.
  • The study is just about one specific activity — note taking — so of course wouldn’t necessarily apply to group work and other tasks that require more engagement than passive recording of notes on a keyboard.

Technology and Higher Ed, Part 2

158399022Summing it up more simply:

When I was sixteen I took karate lessons with my friend Marty. Shōrin-ryū at the local Y. The first thing we asked our instructor was, When will we receive training with weapons? (Why did we ask this question? Because we were sixteen.) Our instructor told us that he didn’t train students to use weapons until they were at least a brown belt (one stage before black) because weapons are an extension of our bodies. We can’t learn to use weapons properly until we learn to use our bodies properly.

Similarly, technology is an extension of our minds. All the tech in the world won’t make us smarter if we haven’t developed our minds. Without that mental development, we’ll just be idiots with fancy toys, and God knows the world has enough of those already.

And considering the fact that “traditional education” using “outmoded methods” invented the computer, the cellphone, and put astronauts on the moon, I think it’s safe to say that educational tech is irrelevant to educational effectiveness. Yes, students need to learn how to use workplace tech. No, educational tech is not a magic bullet that will suddenly transform colleges into centers of effective learning (most of them actually are already).

I would like to encourage students getting ready to start a new school year to focus primarily on developing the most advanced technology that we all have: that highly complex processor wet-wired between your ears. Read a lot and read increasingly complex texts. Learn how to write well. Take the most advanced math that you can. No matter what your major, try to get in at least a year of calculus before you finish college, preferably one semester before you finish high school. If you develop yourself in these ways, your tech will be an extension of your highly developed mind enabling you to do things better and faster. If you don’t, your tech will do your thinking for you, and the only possibilities that you’ll ever be able to consider will be determined by the programming parameters of your equipment.