I have recently been involved in several discussions regarding the use of technology in the classroom. This conversation first started with a discussion of Google Wave, a product that is still in its very early stages of development but has great potential, then moved to the iPad, and eventually found its way to all technology. We discussed everything including the obvious technology such as student laptops and response clickers to web applications and LiveScribe Pulse pens. So the question is what is useful and what is just to much?
Lets start with the old school, obviously pen and paper are a good start; this bit of technology is a bit better than the old stone tablets but how have we improved on this in the last century. The Pulse pen by LiveScribe is a good start. It brings the freedom of pen and paper, not restricting users to the confines of a program’s interface. The Pulse pen is a high tech recording device that captures the pen strokes and audio from the room as the user writes in a dot matrix printed notebook. The user can then download the notes they wrote and playback their handwriting with the audio recording on their computer; furthermore they can share these recordings with anyone across an easy to use website. Useful? I think so the person taking notes is still engaged in the conversation and there isn’t a lot to distract them, it’s just pen and paper right.
So then we take the next leap forward to tablet computers, laptops, notebooks, netbooks, and the newest craze a tablet hybrid such as the iPad or HP Slate. These impressive devices are great and can do just about anything we can imagine but do they really improve productivity in a meeting or classroom setting? The note taking software on these devices is often limited in its ability to take accurate notes and often lacks the accuracy and freedom of pen on paper. Most users who are taking notes can write significantly faster than they can type and unless they are intimately familiar with the software they are using to take notes they will often spend time fidgeting with the formatting to get the notes to appear the way they want them. So why are so many students and professionals taking this approach? First and foremost these devices often offer a multitude of resources which if used properly can improve an individuals ability to intelligently participate in a conversation. Say for example a conversation in a board meeting shifted to last years projected financials; you may not have that information on hand in printed form but with a networked computer and a bit of know how most users can access it in seconds. The only problem with this defense is that most users abuse their ability to access the outside world; they use the web for social media and games that disconnect them from the conversation rather than relevant information that involves them in the conversation. Some users believe they have an incredible ability to multitask allowing them to get more done than just attending a meeting; unfortunately as shown in this study (Multitasking Article) by Stanford most of these people are wrong. Another argument is that electronic copies of their notes reduces the amount of materials they have to carry around and improves the ability to organize data. In my opinion this is the only reason any of these devices may be useful in a meeting situation.
Lastly there’s the fun concept of forced participation. By handing out response clickers and requiring online surveys regarding the information relayed during a meeting, instructors and presenters are in essence requiring people to listen to what they are saying out of fear. Most people put in this situation don’t listen for anything other than key information and even fewer people retain the knowledge after they have overcome the challenge of responding correctly to a question or survey. So are these items useful, only under one situation, users must be involved in the conversation. The bottom line is lecture style presentations don’t work anymore, if technology has done one thing to our society it has encouraged people to be connected. Someone sitting in a lecture who never says a word may never feel connected to that information and may never actually absorb it.
In the end the lower the amount of technology and the higher the amount of direct interaction the better off we are when it comes to learning; but then again these are just my random thoughts.