“Questionable Classrooms”

It’s been awhile since Nicholas Carr has made an appearance, so here is Carr’s recent interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Some highlights below.

On technology and teaching:

Q. Some professors are interested in integrating social technology—blogs, wikis, Twitter—into their teaching. Are you suggesting that is a misguided approach?

A. I’m suggesting that it would be wrong to assume that that path is always the best path. I’m certainly not suggesting that we take a Luddite view of technology and think it’s all bad. But I do think that the assumption that the more media, the more messaging, the more social networking you can bring in will lead to better educational outcomes is not only dubious but in many cases is probably just wrong. It has to be a very balanced approach. Educators need to familiarize themselves with the research and see that in fact one of the most debilitating things you can do to students is distract them.

On recovering one’s attention span:

Q. If the Internet is making us so distracted, how did you manage to write a 224-page book and read all the dense academic studies that much of it is based on?

A. It was hard. The reason I started writing it was because I noticed in myself this increasing inability to pay attention to stuff, whether it was reading or anything else. When I started to write the book, I found it very difficult to sit and write for a couple of hours on end or to sit down with a dense academic paper. One thing that happened at that time is I moved from outside of Boston, a really highly connected place, to renting a house in the mountains of Colorado. And I didn’t have any cellphone service. I had a very slow Internet connection. I dropped off of Facebook. I dropped out of Twitter. I basically stopped blogging for a while. And I fairly dramatically cut back on checking e-mail. After I got over the initial period of panic that I was missing out on information, my abilities to concentrate did seem to strengthen again. I felt in a weird way intellectually or mentally calmer. And I could sit down and write or read with a great deal of attentiveness for quite a long time.

And on “smart classrooms” in colleges:

Q. Colleges refer to a screen-equipped space as a “smart classroom.” What would you call it?

A. I would call it a classroom that in certain circumstances would be beneficial and in others would actually undermine the mission of the class itself. I would maybe call it a questionable classroom.

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