what do students choose to do when…..

……. in class but not engaged in formal learning?

An interesting side effect of the cold weather is that students stay in during their class breaks instead of heading outside for a cig or a coffee. In a double class today with a break in the middle I decided to have a peek at what students got up to. Here’s a summary –

  • Read football reports online – 1 student
  • Watch football movie clips on youtube – 1 student
  • Watch movie trailers on youtube – 1 student
  • Search wikipedia – 3 students, all in different languages, none of them english
  • Catch up on e-mail – 3 students
  • Catch up on Bebo – 3 students
  • Catch up on Facebook – 1 student
  • Play computer games – 2 students (on the same internet game, and sitting right beside each other)
  • Text on their phones – 1 student
  • Talk to each other – 3 students

Having spent an hour doing computer-based work, the vast majority of students volunteer to stay on that computer even though they dont have to. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Whichever, it shows how integrated undergrads are with technology.

What do I learn when I ask about their preferred breaktime habits –

Bebo and Facebook at most popular on Mondays. The same clubs and pubs are attended but everyones experience of a night out is different. So reading about each others reflections on said night out on Bebo or Facebook is a way of catching up with friends that can’t actually happen on the night out itself. How about that? Going out is only as interesting as what is said the next day about same night out. Social situations and environments are extended beyond the boundary of the night out.  Loosely jointed records are there for all to see. Students get to evaluate the social event from multiple perspectives, form opinions and feelings about people and scenarios, and then act on them in a way not possible without social networking sites.

youtube clips are short enough to be watched quickly and so avoid the need to commit to something in-depth that may not be interesting. Web design gurus tell us that it only takes a couple of seconds to decide whether we like a website or not. Is it the same with other aspects of the web – our attentions span is so low, we cant become engaged with anything online for any extended period of time. It’s digital fast food. We want our web content dished up in a bit-sized chunks that we can sample and decide yes / no very quickly

Wikipedia is a source of information that is considered trustworthy and reliable. While we would rather students read scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals, they prefer wikipedia. IS this such a bad thing? Wikipedia isn’t any more factually incorrect than Encyclopedia Britannica, its got a significant amount of inter-linkages, it alters the reader when pages are incomplete or need more work, it has a “by the people for the people” feel to it, its got enough members who care to keep the riff-raff vandals from sabotaging it.

Computer games are a means of having a laugh while spending quality time with mates. Classmates bonding has a positive effect on a class. And if new skills and abilities are picked up in the process of the bonding (the students were playing a co-operative game that required them to work together to solve a problem) then why arent we as educators embracing computer games more? Perhaps its becasue gaming technology doesnt map onto formally prescribed curricula so easily, or its a large scale effort that we simply do not have the time for?

Here’s the really interesting part – there was as much learning going on during the break as in the classtime. Yet the break time content doesn’t get any credit

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Posted on January 14, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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