Yes, you may turn your final paper in as an interpretive dance

I am a veteran of the internet, having had my first home dial-up connection in 1992. I have seen much and consumed much on the internet, for better or for worse. As any ‘old-timer’ would say, things are cyclical and often times people are versions of archetypes. So are the complaints of the aged it seems. Thomas Sheridan described the youth of his time as experiencing “total neglect of this art (of speaking)”, his time being the late 18th century of course. In Book III of Odes, circa 20 BC, Horace wrote of the youth that they were “a progeny, yet more corrupt”, clearly he had yet to witness any of the abominations to come.

One concept that continuously emerges is the idea that this generation is particularly distracted and socially inept due to technology and that in the glorious old days, this wasn’t the case. However, this doesn’t keep the youth from firing back, drawing parallels between news papers and smartphones.

As you can imagine my delight when the Thompson reading makes the claim that the technology we are using is a new form of content delivery, but it’s much more than that. Yes, Carr, it is re-wiring our brains (or in some cases, wiring them differently from the get-go, because some of these kids have never learned to read like you have) but is that really an problem? Along the same vein as the first week’s blog prompt I pose the challenge that if technology is changing, is the student’s problem or educators?  The first people to use pen and paper over inkwell and parchment were also disparaging tradition, but were they wrong?

Technology has been used in every other facet of our lives to make things easier, safer, more efficient, and more accessible, why then should we be resistant to that change in the places where it can be most effectively applied? Of course a map’s battery is never going to die unlike your cell phone’s GPS, you can’t accidentally reply-all on a letter from grandma, and you’d be hard pressed to die in a DUI in a horse-drawn carriage, but using that logic would mean taking a stance against innovation simply because the current solutions have merit, on which they were used to begin with.

Why is it then that we allow this to be the argument against technology in education? If students for 15 hours of their day are surrounded by immersive and interactive technologies, why should they be forced to uninterestedly pen and paper their way through the 9 most important hours of it?  The most impressive educational experiences I remember having were ones where we were allowed to choose the medium in which we demonstrated our understanding. I chose to make an indie film about Jason and Argonauts set in modern day Blacksburg, Virginia. Some designed board games, while others used flash and dreamweaver to design online games paralleling ancient mythological quests. Both effort and accuracy were rewarded.

This can pose a challenge in math and science, but not a significant one. Reading the Carr article again triggers memories of Wikipedia “article-hopping” where one is reading about a concept, and ctrl-clicks on a link to look at later. This can be done in a classroom where it is acknowledged that attention spans are limited. Therefore, an example of the “ctrl-clicks” can be where a concept is explained briefly on the chalk-board, then an example of said concept is shown in a video, then an in-class demonstration is held, then a continuation of the chalk-board explanation that is referential to the “ctrl-clicks”, giving both a distraction/mental break and context to the lesson. Small micro-assignments can then be given out as a demonstration of understanding. This model is closer to how the student consumes and interacts with their information in the rest of their day to day lives.

This is different than how I had information given to me, which was a barrage of lessons, followed by a lab or a demonstration at a later day or in a different period after the relevance was lost on me, then an assignment that was done at home after I had forgotten completely what we had talked about, finally an assessment after a month or so, requiring review, memorization, and regurgitation.

Recently, I saw an undergraduate researcher’s year long project result in a dance routine presented at a research symposium. Earlier this year, for the first time ever, a doctoral student defended his dissertation thesis in the form of a hip-hop album.

I am always reminded of the frequently mis-attributed quote from Dolbear from 1898 about judging fish on their ability to fly, but as a comparative bio-mechanist specializing in animal physiology, I know better. Though he may have been talking about children in the same classroom, I like to think he is talking about students across generations.


  1. Now, I want to listen to this dissertation/hip-hop album so bad!! And oh, while I don’t entirely agree with Carr, I think what he is trying to do is to make us conscious of the effects of the changes we are making, be it good or bad. You can’t deny that he does have some point though?….

  2. I love the photos juxtaposing newspaper readers with screen readers. Reading a (paper) newspaper was definitely a solitary activity — you might talk to someone about an article after you read it, but I’m pretty sure everyone on the train kept their face buried in the paper until the train stopped. The people using their phones, on the other hand, are most likely doing something very social — texting or snapchatting with someone else, posting on Instagram, even trolling their Facebook feed. They are likely interacting with others.

  3. Final papers in the form of interpretive dance would be amazing for what I teach! But I would limit them to doing it as interpretive ballet because they’re learning about Russia.

  4. Very interesting and insightful post!
    There are always various kinds of comments or critiques for technology. I tend to believe that technology is useful in helping people away from low-efficient and labor-burdensome work and moving to high-efficient and mind-creative work. However, without a doubt, there is a cost for it. Technology broadens our perception of the world and expands our curiosity of the world by authorizing us easily accessible information/knowledge. This sometimes can be called “distraction”, depending on whether one is urged to focus on one’s own work.

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