An interesting essay in the Journal of Management Education highlights “mounting evidence in the cognitive neuroscience literature that digital technology is restructuring the way our students read and think” (p. 374). It proceeds to explore the implications of this premise for higher education generally and for teachers more specifically.
It's a fascinating article—great for faculty reading groups—that reaffirms higher education's special role in developing students' deep thinking and analytical skills, mostly through reading. “No matter what label you affix, that is, reflexivity, critical thinking, learning, creativity, expert knowing, mastering depth remains the university's sweet spot. Depth is the generative midwife of knowledge and human ingenuity. But like reading, it is not stamped into our genes. It is by no means a sure thing. And powerful cultural imperatives make it clear that the university's brand of depth is not shared by everyone” (p. 389).
But it may be that what the article does best is to raise questions. Here are some examples:
Two key points are made at the end of the article. First, this does not need to become a zero-sum game of book literacy versus digital literacy; students can learn to be literate in both. However, we should not kid ourselves as to the challenges involved. “Perhaps you can lead a millennial to the library, but you cannot force her or him to read—deeply, anyway” (p. 390).
Second, our understanding of technology needs to be nuanced. It is not a neutral phenomenon. The devices we use have been designed by us, but now their design plays an important role in shaping us. As we think about digital classrooms, we must ask if and how they serve our students' interests and learning needs.
“As we have seen, a new generation of scanning techniques afford us a more sophisticated picture of how people learn, but questions far outnumber answers at this stage” (p. 388).
Reference: Cavanaugh, J.M., Giapponi, C.C., and Golden, T.D. (2016). Digital technology and student cognitive development: The neuroscience of the university classroom. Journal of Management Education, 40 (4), 374–397.