Spitzer (2014). Information technology in education: Risks and side effects.

Spitzer, M. (2014). Information technology in education: Risks and side effects. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 3(3), 81–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2014.09.002

[Various negative outcomes …]

“… typing impairs reading and writing. Impaired reading and writing impairs learning and memory. IT leads to shallow processing, exemplified by the smaller amount of learning through the use of Google as compared to books, journals or newspapers. WLAN in lecture halls causes decreased student learning because of increased distraction. … In sum, the known risks and side effects of IT stand in marked contrast to the often claimed but largely unproven possible benefits.” (p 81)

[Chinese requires sounding out the characters for learning them …]

“Unlike in the Western world’s alphabetic languages, where the characters represent how an utterance sounds, the characters of the Chinese logographic system represent what the utterance means. It therefore comes as no surprise that the relationship between phonological awareness and Chinese reading is much weaker than that in western alphabetic languages.” (p 81)

[Typing Chinese characters decreased reading abilities …]

“… traditional handwriting significantly increased reading capability, whereas IT use in general and use of the _pinyin_ method in particular decreased it.” (p 81)

[Longhand writing beneficial to learning and brain development …]

“Recent studies from experimental psychology and neuroscience clearly found this bit of general wisdom to be true: compared to typing, handwriting — with longhand being superior to printing uppercase characters -– is superior for memorizing anything from the shapes of characters to the content of a lecture [28–30, 32, 33]. …experiencing handwriting is beneficial to brain development [22, 46], and the development of fine motor skills in particular [47].” (p 82)

[Handwriting eliminated from curricula …]

“In the light of these studies and facts, it is hard to believe that in 2013, handwriting has been eliminated from the elementary school curriculum in 46 US States.” (p 82)

[Computer in bedroom impacts learning results …]

“… data from the international PISA-Study (on no less than 250,000 15 year olds!) show that a computer in the teen’s bedroom lowers school performance [16].” (p 82)

[Media reports e-learning deficiencies; author vilified for publishing a book on e-learning deficiencies …]

“By the middle of the last decade, a large number of studies had demonstrated, over and over again, that computers either hinder learning in the classroom or -– at best -– have no effect on grades: this was widely publicized by the public presses, such as the _Wall Street Journal_ [50], the _Washington Post_ [7] and the _New York Times_ [21]. … when I published a book on the subject –- entitled _Digital Dementia_ –- I was viciously attacked by the media and by media education people for ‘being old-fashioned’ and for ‘causing fear of progress’.” (p 83)

[Ethics to protect children …]

“In medicine, if therapy A performs worse than Therapy B in small studies, ethical boards (internal review boards, IRBs) make sure that no large studies on therapy A are performed. In education, it seems, there are no such IRBs to protect children from harmful research.” (p 83)

[Learning requires effort …]

“… the negative effects of IT on learning are hardly surprising: the deeper any mental content is processed, the more learning takes place, is the main finding of the _levels of processing approach_ to memory [8, 9].” (p 83)

[Neuroplasticity; camera use for photos distracts attention …]

“… _neuroplasticity_. So the less you experience and think for yourself (by having IT do it for you), the less you learn. … [page break] … By the same token, taking pictures at a museum impairs your memories of the things you have seen [20], as you replace close looking by picture taking.” (p 83-84)

[Awkward fonts and effortful reading made for better learning …]

“The more effort you have to take, the better the learning outcome. … the students in the disfluent font condition performed significantly better than the students with the easy-to-read fonts.” (p 84)

[Multitasking seen as widespread …]

“According to one survey of a representative sample of students [4], the majority is engaged in various distracting activities…. _classroom multitasking_ …” (p 84)

[Evidence we can’t multitask …]

“… we have evidence that humans can learn how to multitask just about as much as they can learn how to fly.” (p 84)

[Worse learning when others are trying to multitasking …]

“… several studies have found that the engagement in such distracting behavior as classroom multitasking is detrimental to learning …. and one thing was found to be even more distracting than multitasking: watching two other people multitask in front of you …” (p 84)

[Grade school habits continue into post-secondary …]

“The detrimental effects do not vanish after school but are pronounced even at [page break] college age, when young adults should know better what to do during the time of study and learning. … In the light of these general findings, the spending of public money for ever more IT in classrooms should stop.” (p 84-85)

Selected References

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  • [32] Mikulak A. Getting it in writing. Writing the old-fashioned way may enhance learning and memory. APS Observer 27; 2014 [07.09.14].
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  • [46] Spitzer M. To swipe or not to swipe? – The question in present-day education Trends Neurosci Educ 2013;2:95–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tine.2013 (09.002i).
  • [47] Sülzenbrück S, Hegele M, Rinkenauer G, Heuer H. The death of handwriting: secondary effects of frequent computer use on basic motor skills. J Mot Behav 2011;43:247–51.
  • [49] Tan LH, et al. China‘s language input system in the digital age affects children’s reading development. PNAS 2013;111:1119–23.
  • [50] Vascellaro JE. Saying no to school laptops. The Wall Street Journal, August 31 http://www.post-gazette.com/business/technology/2006/08/31/Saying-no-to-school-laptops/stories/200608310442; 2006 [accessed via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 14.09.14.].
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