Within a single generation, digital media and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialize and even conduct war. But is the technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? And is our 24/7 wired world causing us to lose as much as we’ve gained?
That, along with an in-depth exploration of what it means to be human in a 21st century digital world, is being explored in Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, airing Tuesday, Feb. 2, from 9 to 10:30 P.M. ET on PBS.
Frontline has produced Digital Nation in a way different from most documentaries. Award-winning producer, Rachel Dretzin, and commentator, Doug Rushkoff, continue a line of investigation beginning with the 2008 Frontline report Growing Up Online but also have incorporated The Digital Nation Web site. Launched more than 10 months ago as part of Frontline’s first multiplatform project, the site features short online video reports in addition to a mosaic of user-generated content called Your Stories designed to let visitors participate in the documentary process.
From the time I was invited to attend the kickoff for Frontline’s new multi-platform last March, I was fascinated to see what Dretzin and Rushkoff (pictured below right) might find or how they would tie together a variety of rich content spanning the globe and encompassing many topics. 10 months later, I had the opportunity to preview Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier that explores the issue of multitasking and asks whether in education or in real life, can we be successful at so many things at once?
The film begins on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, home to some of the most technologically savvy students in the world. Many of these “digital natives,” who have hardly known a world in which they weren’t connected 24/7, confess to having increasingly limited attention spans that make it difficult for them to read books or learn in conventional ways.
A multitasker herself, Dretzin travels to California to the Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab, where Stanford professor Clifford Nass has been studying the effectiveness of self-proclaimed multitaskers. After taking one of Nass’ tests, Dretzin is shocked by her poor results. “It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized. Recent work we’ve done suggests they’re worse at analytic reasoning,” Nass tells Dretzin. “We worry that it may be creating people who are unable to think well and clearly.”
As I watched the film, I couldn’t help thinking of the students in my elementary school. What kind of world are our kids growing up in and is such technology beneficial or ultimately harmful? Perhaps it isn’t the technology that is harmful, but rather our way of thinking in the profession of education. Education is often well behind the business world in innovation. Certainly the lack of funding and being plagued by budget cuts makes it more difficult to provide the kinds of technology and appropriate professional development for staff that would enable teachers to better reach this wired generation of children.
In the film, supporters of teaching with technology say it is vital for educators to keep students engaged by using the tools students have so thoroughly mastered in their everyday lives. “We have to be interactive, because [students] are accustomed to sitting in front of a screen, and they’ve got five windows up, and they’re talking to three people at the same time,” says Michael LaSusa, co-principal of New Jersey’s Chatham High School. “We have to capture the attention of students. We almost have to be entertainers.”
Entertainers, eh? As a teacher, I’ve never thought of myself as an entertainer but certainly standing center stage in front of an audience of children I am indeed one. My challenge as an educator is not only to engage my students through the use of technology but also to continue to teach the fundamentals in a way that will enable a student to be successful in later life. While the use of technology provides a different way for students to learn and construct knowledge, the importance of basic skills such as reading, math, and the ability to write should not be lost. There is certainly a place for technology in education as long as it doesn’t overshadow great instruction.
As you can see, I was captivated by the one hour twenty minute Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier and it is most definitely a must see. Beyond school, Digital Nation explores the phenomenon of multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and 3-D virtual worlds like Second Life — online destinations with millions of participants who have profound experiences via online personas, or avatars.
Frontline also examines how digital technology has transformed many aspects of warfare, from a controversial Army recruitment center that offers teens as young as 13 free access to commercial combat video games to Air Force pilots who sit at a base in Nevada but fly drones over the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to treating returning veterans’ post-traumatic stress disorder with virtual reality therapy.
Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier airs this Tuesday, Feb. 2, from 9 to 10:30 P.M. ET on PBS. Consult your local listings.
I consult for PBS Teachers but was not compensated for this post or to share this information. All opinions are my own.
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Original post by Tech Savvy Mama