As a Master’s student, I read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, and it resonated with me deeply. Skimming the GEDI syllabus a few weeks ago, it was interesting to see his name pop up in my coursework once again. I didn’t realize then that our course’s emphasis on technology would take a self-reflexive turn. This is encouraging. I think we could go further in trying to reconcile the realities of our hyper-networked lives with the fact that teaching and learning demand deep presence. Perhaps we will in class. This is relevant to all of us as instructors and students alike, and I’m afraid that a lot of the articles here lend themselves to simplistic analyses and easy takeaways. The conversation can’t end here.
I have a unique advantage with respect to tech use in the classroom. Critiquing information technology from a humanistic perspective is what I do. Critically examining “digital culture” is part of the courses I teach, and as a doctoral student, it is pretty much my raison d’etre right now. (In fact I am pretty sure my friends have been sick of me talking about the awfulness of social media since I started griping… when I was in high school). The syllabus from which I currently teach explicitly bans the use of Internet-connected devices in the classroom — including but not limited to laptops, smartphones and tablets — except in cases of disability (which is super important; I’ll come back to that). I have yet to come up with a more nuanced or flexible approach to this, in part because I simply can’t see any other way. To be clear, I don’t think Google is “making us stupid” (and I don’t think clickbait headlines foster any sort of useful conversation). But I absolutely believe that our engagement with information technology reflect addictive patterns of behavior, and that Internet use may be rewiring our brains. As with any addiction, to speak of “choice” with regard to our tech use, then, becomes more difficult. This compulsory behavior may not be a choice, so explicit technology bans may be the best option.
But explicit technology bans are a major injustice to people with disabilities and students who are not completely fluent in the course’s language. Darren Rosenblum’s article addresses “medical exemptions,” but I fear the way he phrases it glosses over the issue. Many people have disabilities that affect their reading and writing which can be aided by laptops and similar devices. These include vision impairment, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and motor impairment. Moreover, students who are not fluent in the language of the course may rely on translation software to help them in class. Making special exception for these students work, but it also forces them to “out” themselves in front of their peers. As an instructor, I’m uncomfortable with this. I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts on it.
I found Clive Thompson’s article extremely reductive. Honestly, in a lot of these readings, the use of the word “technology” did a lot of heavy lifting. It’s easy to appear to have an innovative idea on the use of technology when most of what you are doing is distinguishing between various forms and uses of tech. Suffice it to say that Thompson provided a very narrow account of human intelligence and our “cognitive past and future” (his article didn’t engage any major critiques of human cognition and intellectual milieu after the Enlightenment, the invention of the printing press, and so on). Many techno-optimistic writings like this advance their arguments based on cherry-picked sources, ranging from techno-hype that seems rather smart at first blush, but is mostly clever rhetoric use, to neuroscience, to arguments for the benefits of technology based mostly on how it optimizes our productivity. It’s just not that substantial.
In terms of pedagogy, however, that’s neither here nor there. Since we also have a focus on diversity this week, and ableism is a huge concern for engagement with diversity, I wonder if we can synthesize these two angles to develop a non-techno-optimist classroom tech policy that respects differences in ability.