Maybe, Just Maybe, Reading Grapes of Wrath on my iPad Won’t Erode my Synapses.

I don’t like Blogging.

I really don’t. I wouldn’t be doing this at all if it were not mandated by the course requirements.  It’s nothing against the form per se, I just do not particularly like working with the internet in an academic setting.  Sure, I will post pictures to Facebook, or argue in forums over who would win a fight between Thor and the Incredible Hulk…

Thor would win- in case you are wondering- he’s a F*&^ing GOD!

…but the internet is a place for slight pursuits.  Sure it simplifies how I do my research on various topics (including this one) and it has allowed me to not have to wait in line at the registrar’s office anymore to get next semester’s schedule booked, but scholastically I have found that writing FOR the internet has been burdensome and against my grain.  I concede that the tech revolution which occurred during the ten years between my undergrad and grad degrees has so altered HOW school is taught, that a large part of the problem is mine — I’m a bit stuck in my ways and slow to adapt.

But then again, how much of the change has been simply for the sake of change? I am reminded of a quote by Jeff Goldblum’s character from the original Jurassic Park (and apologies to classmates who already endured my previous trotting of this out during the seminar).  When talking about the dinosaurs roaming the park he says; “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should..” (this link is not to that quote- just some cool Dinosaur stuff).  Sure we CAN conduct an entire class online now, posting lectures for students to listen to at their leisure and conducting class discussion in iLearn forums and by email, but is there a benefit- is this inherently better for the students and their learning experience?  Or is this simply a combination of teachers playing with new toys, egged on by the pimps at Oracle who want to sell the latest software update at an inflated price to the University?  What about downsides?  Is there proof that this mode of learning might, in fact, be inferior in some way?  Everyone was all high on moving pictures when those first came out, and they wormed their way into the curriculum I was fed as a teenager- watching films on health, nature, puberty etc on crappy reel-to-reels.  But then brain scan technology comes along and shows that the human brain is less active when passively watching TV. Is there an equivalent problem with the current tech that we aren’t accounting for? Are all my rhetorical questions the basis for sound opposition or just the dying gasps of my antiquated belief system?  Let’s find out, shall we…

Part of my curiosity into this question was created by my happenstance discovery several years prior of a study by Herbert Krugman that rattled around in my brain pan.  In November of 1969, Krugman decided to monitor the effects of watching TV on the human brain.  He observed the brain waves and discovered that, when watching TV, the “alpha” waves in humans were activated.  These same waves are associated with meditative trances, passive, unfocused thought.  When the subjects switched from watching TV to reading a magazine the waves switched to Beta waves signaling greater focus and alertness.  The Alpha waves were not content driven either- just happened as soon as the screen flicked on.  In fairness, he did not study reading things on screen to determine which waves would be triggered (and that is at the heart of what we’re talking about here in a reading class) but it’s enough to make me curious.

I began my search among the various databases by simply using the key words “teacher” + “opposition” + “technology”  (as an aside, I am well aware that I use technology in order to decry it- so there is no need to point it out. [I’m also watching Real Madrid play Barca on espn3.com as I write this so it seems my hypocrisy is boundless]).  Immediately I get a decent number of hits from various databases serving psychological journals. Their focus is on exploring the root causes of technophobia in teachers (I also used one paper that explored that phobia in psychologists- the results were similar.) It appears that the primary root of opposition (technophobia) among teachers is based in large part on 3 factors A) the length of time a teacher has been at the discipline B) prior experience with Computers and C) Amount of exposure to computers (read here). Other articles I found echoed similar sentiments, portraying the psychological barriers involved.

That is all well and good, it helps establish the psychological bent of those who support my position (and establish my bent as well) but it doesn’t answer the question of whether there is an actual hindrance to the idea of using tech to teach reading.  It’s not an easy question to answer- certainly not in academic journals. I found the usual polemics for and against technology in general; articles citing the advent of the printing press or the apocalyptic Skynet.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you read that for class, Dave.”

However there is not a terrible amount of academic research on this. And when I say there isn’t a terrible amount  I mean I found one study linking the effects of technology to reading.  It’s about how an iPad helped a fifth grader with ADHD. Not exactly the stuff I can use to start an anti-tech revolution amongst my cohorts.

It seems that, after an exhaustive search that took up the better part of the halftime break,  I cannot locate any evidence establishing there is a detrimental effect.  Granted, the initial Krugman study raises the specter of  the possibility of there being potentially being one (if I squint really hard), but that is not enough to stake a thesis upon. I suppose a more daring fellow than myself would take this opportunity to launch there own investigation — drum up some grants, find test subjects, and rent an Soviet-era MRI.  However I have no experience, training, nor even an inclination towards the scanning of Alpha Waves.  This kind of research requires someone with at least 3 semester more study in neurobiology than I currently possess. I cannot present a convincing case to someone with that type of training that it is worth their time to investigate.

However, why should I utilize technology to teach reading?  In my search, I haven’t exactly found anything to tell me why it’s BETTER.  Sure, there is the argument that this is the way the world is moving.  And I can see that there are advantages to the speed in which certain things can be done — the hyperlinking of text allows faster research on tangential topics, Ctrl+F makes searching a text for a particular word or phrase easier.

And ultimately, if I am not going to investigate the neuro-pathway MRI imaging of a student’s brain as they read “This Wooden Shack Place” why should I occupy a position of resistance?  That just seems childish, an unwillingness to adapt for the sake of being petulant.  I would imagine at some point these kinds of studies will be done and it behooves me to stay current on the research, but opposition needs better backing than simply a “bad feeling” Besides — at the end of the day — how bad can it possibly be even at it’s worse?  I mean, I watched instructional films in HS and got nothing out of them, but it didn’t exactly rot my brain to the point where I cannot write a blog post for my class.  There just isn’t enough reason for me to continue fighting at this point.

But I still don’t like it, and will probably make my students read old timey bound books because, as their teacher, I just can. I’m all about abusing my authority.

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